November 26, 2007

A Super Short History of Puerto Rico, Part 1

All right, this is going to be Puerto Rican history in a nutshell.

Before Christopher Colombus arrived in Puerto Rico in 1493, the island, like much of the Caribbean, was populated by Taíno Indians. The Taínos became slaves for the Spaniards and were practically exterminated... there are a few different opinions to whether the Taíno is "extinct", I wrote a paper on this in Spanish so I'll be sure to upload that eventually. Anyways, in response to a lack of workers the slave trade was born. Other than this, Spain more or less ignored the island. It was attacked by the English, Dutch, and French for years and it was a popular place for pirates, notably Puerto Rico's own Cofresí.

About the time of the 19th century Spain began to get more involved with the island. At first they were heavily restricting freedom as all of their other colonies began to free themselves. To "end" unemployment and help out their sycophantical elite, Spain forced a really strange form of indentured servitude by placing imaginary debts on the peasants and forcing them to work it off. This was abolished in 1875, 2 years after the end of slavery. Meanwhile, illiteracy was at 83%, the highest in the West Indies. There was little electricity, almost no sewer system, a high death rate, and few roads. Not surprisingly, something had to be done.

The first consequence of this was El Grito de Lares, the rebellion of September 23rd, 1868 in the town of Lares. It was unsuccessful. I'll save the details for a later post since it's very important.

The second was the Autonomy Charter in 1897. It wasn't exactly because of Puerto Rico, but rather pressure from the United States worrying that problems on the island and on Cuba would affect the sugar market. The Charter gave Puerto Rico the right to vote for half of their parliament, free trade, creation of tariffs, and representation in Spanish Parliament. Most importantly, only the Puerto Rican legislature could change or remove the Charter. But only eight days into Puerto Rico’s first elected legislature, the U.S. military invaded Puerto Rico.

Well that's part one of this brief history of Puerto Rico. Part two should be up soon.

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