The history of Puerto Rico – 3 of 3

Despite attempts to neutralize any thought of revolution, a pro-independence plot was uncovered in 1838. The government’s response was swift and the plot’s leaders were either shot or driven into exile.

By the 1850s, the Puerto Rican independence movement was headed by Ramón Emeterio Betances. When the government discovered his secret society, the French-educated doctor – who campaigned the abolition of slavery – was exiled in France. Returning to Puerto Rico with arms, the government again infiltrated his movement and the leaders were arrested.

Several hundred members of the pro-independence movement took control of Lares in the west of the island, shouting what is known as the Cry of Lares:

“Puerto Rico Libre!” – [Long Live] Free Puerto Rico!

Today that cry still symbolizes the pro-independence movement.

The republic that followed lasted just six weeks with most of its supporters dead or in jail. However, revolution continued elsewhere – in Spain by a military junta overthrew the monarchy and Cuba started a 10-year civil war.

However, a new pro-independence leader emerged – Luis Muñoz Rivera – and with a more moderate government installed in Spain, he won independence for Puerto Rico in 1897, although it was overseen a Spanish governor.

In 1878, just when things looked to be in Puerto Rico’s favor, Spain declared war on the United States.


The Spanish-American war and its aftermath

On the same day that Puerto Rico’s parliament was first opened, July 17, Spanish troops surrendered to US forces in Cuba. One week later US troops arrived on the south coast of Puerto Rico and quickly overcame the Spanish forces.

The war ended the same year with the Treaty of Paris in December, and one of the United States’ spoils of war was to be Puerto Rico.

Although US rule brought the benefits of modern medicine, it took longer for other benefits to emerge. Muñoz Rivera continually pressured the United States government for more freedom, and eventually they granted US citizenship in 1917.

The 1930’s depression finally finished Puerto Rico’s boom period, after the benefit of US investment – again political dissatisfaction set in. Public disorder was commonplace and in one of the demonstrations against US rule ended in Ponce in 1937 ended in the deaths of 19 people.

In the following year, Luis Muñoz Marín – son of Luis Muñoz Rivera – formed the Partido Popular Democratico.


Postwar industrialization to the modern day

Elected governor in 1948, Muñoz Marín believed in the industrialization of Puerto Rico as a means of creating wealth and instigated a program known as “Operation Bootstrap”.

Operation Bootstrap resulted in over 2,000 factories in the island by promoting external investment and using local labor and imported raw materials, finished goods were exported to the United States. Muñoz Marín was re-elected 4 years later, in the year in which the Puerto Rican flag was officially adopted and again in 1956 and 1960.

In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire in the US House of Representatives and wounded five congressmen. The rebels were sentenced to 50 years in jail, although Jimmy Carter later reprieved them.

Meanwhile, an alternative to independence emerged and in 1967, the Partido Estadistas Unidos was founded to campaign for statehood. The following year Luis A. Ferré became the first pro-statehood governor.

Further investment in Puerto Rico followed the introduction of section 936 of the United States Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, which allowed US companies to make tax-free profits in the island. Although repealed in 1996, it allowed existing corporations to benefit for 10 years longer.

Today, Puerto Rico remains part of the Commonwealth of the United States. The issue looks like it will continue to run although voters rejected an amendment to review PR’s commonwealth status in 1991 and “Project Young” was introduced by congress in 1997 to provide a process leading to full government for the island.

What is clear though is that Puerto Rico’s status quo cannot continue to exist. Although many Puerto Ricans are worried about change, particularly about losing investment from the United States, is has two real options for the future – full independence, or statehood.

Whichever route is chosen need not mean the loss of investment either. Any new government would surely want to create a business environment and tax system that would ensure increased prosperity for Puerto Rico and its population.

The history of Puerto Rico: 1|2|3