December 23, 2007

A Super Short History of Puerto Rico, Part 2

For part 1, click here.

So, the Spanish-American War ends after the U.S. blockades Puerto Rico for long enough that the people were very welcoming to the American troops. It doesn't help that they were promised the liberty that the Spaniards didn't give to them. Of course, as you might have noticed, that's not really what they got.

The first effect of the invasion was the complete devastation of the economy. Americans had no interest in Puerto Rico's strong coffee so almost all industry turned to sugar, causing the loss of a lot of jobs. American companies bought up farmland and forced many owners of small-property to lose their land and just added to the pockets of American corporations, who in turn invested their money back into the U.S. The population exploded because of new American medicines saving lives without anyone considering its effects or how to deal with consequences, particularly unemployment. The conversion from pesos to dollars was poorly organized and allowed many merchants on the island to charge up to 40% more for even basic foods. Even worse, food was increasing imported from the U.S., eventually making up about 75% of all food on the island, so even though PR could have grown a lot of its own foods it turned to more expensive American products.

However, it was the Americanization that really wrecked havoc on Puerto Rico. First off, all education was suddenly English-only, even though no one spoke English. Censorship began to silence newspapers. American governors disapproved of any thoughts of independence and encouraged Congress to think of Puerto Ricans as too racially impure to manage a government. Citizenship was imposed in 1916 with the Jones Act...

Let me take a moment here to explain. Citizenship was offered to Puerto Ricans as a choice, which is something that most people bring up when defending statehood. However, it should be noted, despite a tiny minority refusing it, most people were indeed forced to accept American citizenship, because no employer would hire someone without it.

Also... the Navy began to occupy large parts of the island around WWII and refused to leave afterwards since their bases were good training areas. This continued until 2004, when they finally left Vieques.

Puerto Rico at first attempted peaceful compromises with the American government but as Congress ignored them more and more many islanders became violent. There were occasional protests on the island, some of which ended in tragedy for a few nacionalistas. A few attacks also occurred on the mainland, like the 1954 shooting in Congress and an attempt on President Truman's life. In response, the FBI became heavily involved in the independence movement. They profiled and blackmailed many important pro-independence politicians. In a sense the FBI was very successful, as the movement for independence has faded away since the 70s and now lags behind statehood and continuing the Commonwealth.


Minerva said...

Interesting. Finally I learn why the - seemingly economically suicidal - Puerto Rico independence party exists.

Speaking Boricua said...

Yeah! They actually have a really interesting history that I'll be sure to delve further into later.