The Cyber-Cave

Reflections on the political, technological, cultural and economic trends of the world

A brief history of Puerto Rico

POPULATION: 3.5 million
LEGAL STATUS: Puerto Rico is US territory, but it is not officially a US state.
LOCATION: Antilles

-1493: discovered by Columbus in his second expedition. Previously Puerto Rico was inhabited by the indigenous Taino people of the Caribbean. Many Taino people died because of European diseases like smallpox since they had no immunity. Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony from 1493 to 1898. During Spanish colonialism, Puerto Rico was part of the slave trade. Slaves in Puerto Rico worked in sugar cane plantations and mining.

In Spain’s colonial caste system the social hierarchy reflected the following order:
1) The Peninsulars were Spanish-born citizens who generally had the highest-ranked political roles
2) The Criollos were non-Spanish born, but descended from the early Spanish colonialists. Generally the criollos were landowners.
3) The Mestizos were people with a mixed ancestry: half-European and half- Amerindian (or half ‘indios’, ‘nativos’ as the Spanish say).
4) Mulatos were of mixed Spanish and black ancestry
5) The Indios
6) The Zambos (mixed indios and mixed black)
7) Negros

-In the second half of the 19th Century, Puerto Rico witnesses the rise of independence movements. One of the key leaders is the freemason Ramón Emeterio Betances-nicknamed ‘El Padre de los Pobres’ for his social efforts. Betances was inspired by the values of the French Revolution.
-In 1898, after the Spanish-American War, the United States and Spain sign the ‘Treaty of Paris’ agreement. Spain cedes Puerto Rico to the USA.
Three factors may have led to the American interest towards Puerto Rico:
-After a brief period of a US-backed military government, the 1900 Foraker Act allows Puerto Rico to have a civil government. However the first governo, Charles Hebert Allen, is directly appointed by Washington. Allen was previously Assistant Secretary of the Navy during President McKinkey’s administration. After his governorship in Puerto Rico, he created a big sugar refining (American Sugar Refining Company) that operated in Caribbean countries, including Puerto Rico. Allen’s company was one of the major American companies involved in the sugar business in Puerto Rico.
The American Congress had imposes in 1898 a “500-acree limit on the amount of land a corporation could own in Puerto Rico”[3] to prevent the rise of a few powerful corporations.
In the 20th Century Puerto Rico’s economy becomes more and more depended on U.S.A. trade.

-In 1917 Puerto Ricans are granted American citizenship. Legislative chambers are made democratic, though the U.S still maintains discretionary powers over Puerto Rico’s internal affairs

-In 1930 Pedro Albizu Campos is elected President of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Campos wants to achieve independence from the USA.


-In June 2015 Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla declared that Puerto Rico’s debt is ‘not payable’, thereby creating tense negotiations between bondholders and Puerto Rico’s government. Many commentators have described Puerto Rico as the ‘American’ Greece. Puerto Rico has been experience a net population loss since 2005 due to a prolonged economic stagnation.

-According to journalist Greg Palast, Senator Rubio changed his views on Puerto Rico’s debt crisis during the 2016 Presidential campaign because he received a significant amount of donations from the financier Andrew Herenstein [1]. Previously, Sen. Rubio was in favour of defending Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy rights- but later he stated that Puerto Rico’s government should tighten its belt rather than using its bankruptcy rights [2]. Herenstein is the chief-investment officer at Monarch Alternative Capital- Monarch is an investor in Puerto Rico’s debt. It goes without saying that Monarch would suffer a loss if Puerto Rico were to use its bankruptcy rights. When governor, Allen did not hide the fact that he wanted to tax the Puertorican sugar landowners “I’d tax a little life into them. Every Portorican has a right to demand that every acre of rich sugar land should be developed, and I’d tax it until they had to put up or shut up” [3]

[3] ‘Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898’ by Caesar J. Ayala & Rafael Bernabe, p.37 (2007- The University of North Carolina Press)

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