Puerto Rico became a colony in 1508, 15 years after Cristóbal
Colón's (Columbus) first arrival in America. The island's colonial
status is preserved to this day. The island has a strategic location
upon entering the Caribbean and was under Spanish rule for nearly
400 years. It was repeatedly attacked by English, Dutch and French
sailors and pirates for being captured by the United States in 1898. According to
Puerto Rico is a territory of United States located in Central
In the first decades of the 16th century, an economy was built in
Puerto Rico based on sugar cane production. Acc. a document from the
period had the island in 1560 15,000 slaves. Planting operations did
not last long, however. As late as the end of the century, leather
was the most important product, and thus the changes were repeated a
few years earlier in Santo Domingo (see Dominican Republic).
Like the neighboring islands, the indigenous people - the
Taino Indians - were exterminated through wars, illnesses and
hard work. It was necessary to import African slaves to replace them
in agriculture, which supplied most of the supplies for the Spanish
conquests to the continent. Puerto Rican culture thus became a
mixture of Spanish and African culture.
In addition to the attacks from outside, Spanish domination was
constantly threatened by the resistance of the Tainos and slaves. It
came, among other things. to slave revolts in 1822, 1826, 1843 and
1848. The independence struggles in Latin America also had
consequences in Puerto Rico. In 1812-40 an administrative reform was
carried out, and the independence movement that developed was
severely defeated by the Spanish forces.
Five years before the abolition of slavery, a group of patriots
led by Ramón Emeterio Betances in 1868 led the rebellion. In the
city of Lares, they proclaimed Puerto Rico's independence, and
launched armed struggle to liberate the island. The Patriots were
defeated, but the "call from Lares" led to the birth of the Puerto
1898 The United States occupies Puerto Rico
In the years that followed, the independence movement continued
to grow. In 1897, the Cubans rose to fight against the Spanish
colonial power led by José Martí, and this revolt spread to Puerto
Rico. US entry into the war accelerated the defeat of Europeans, but
for Puerto Rico it simply meant replacing one colonial with another.
The US colony administration on the island first had military and
then civilian character. It enforced English as the official
language and sought to transform the island into one large sugar
plantation and military base. In 1917, the Puerto Ricans were
declared North American citizens, even though they had no influence
on the island's government. Resistance to the colonial power
continued. In 1922, the Partido Nacionalista (Nationalist Party, PN)
was founded. In 1930 and 50 the party carried out independence
revolts, but they were brought under control through a violent
PN's main leader from 1930-65, Pedro Albizu Campos was punished
with exile and imprisonment for his anti-colonial activities.
During World War II, Puerto Rico was once again transformed into
a military garrison to maintain US control over the Caribbean. The
colonial power built 7 military bases on the island.
However, after extensive national and international pressure, the
United States was forced in 1947 to accept that Puerto Rico elected
its own governor. The election the following year entrusted this
office to Luis Muñoz Marín, the leader of the PPD, who wanted to
transform the country into a "free associate state" attached to the
United States. In 1959, the colonial power allowed the drafting of a
new constitution, which was subsequently adopted by a referendum and
ratified in the United States Congress two years later. Muñoz
Marin's program had thus been institutionalized.
The island's status as a free associate state is still in effect.
It gives the United States control over the economy and foreign
policy, the two countries have common citizenship and currency, and
finally there is free movement between the two countries.
With the island's new status according to the United States, the
colonial power was released as so far to report to the UN
Decolonization Commission, which felt that the colonial situation
was now abolished. However, in September 1978, this position was
abandoned by the Commission, and by a resolution of the UN General
Assembly in December of that year, the island was characterized as a
colony and the island's right to self-determination was established.
Muñoz Marín made significant efforts for the island's
industrialization. This was achieved through extensive investment
from the United States, where the multinational corporations were
attracted to tax exemption on the island and exemption from US
environmental law. Throughout the 1950's, the influx of North
American foods caused the island's agriculture to collapse, the
farmers to be displaced and today 50% of the food consumed on the
island is imported. The exclusion process in agriculture created an
extensive young proletariat that was more than adequate as cheap
labor in North Americans' development of the island's industry.
There was no work for everyone, and that led to an extensive
emigration towards the United States - especially New York - in the
search for work. The 1980 census estimated that 3 million Puerto
Ricans lived in the United States.
The widespread social upheaval in the 1960's led to the struggle
for independence again. Still, a 1967 referendum confirmed the
island's continued status as a free associate state. At the election
the following year, the PNP candidate was elected. This party
advocates the island's entry into the United States as the 51st
state of the Union. In the 1972 election, PPD regained the post of
governor with Rafael Hernández Colón. He was succeeded in 1976 by
PNP's Carlos Romero Barceló. He declared that if re-elected for a
second term, he would print a referendum on the inclusion of Puerto
Rico as the 51st state of the United States. In fact, Barceló was
re-elected in 1980, but by such a small margin that the plans for
conducting a referendum were shelved despite having the support of
then-US President Ronald Reagan.
Puerto Rico has only one representative in the United States
Congress, who can only vote in committees, not in the plenary
itself. Although they have North American citizenship, Puerto Ricans
have the right to vote only in the presidential election, although
those living on the mainland have the opportunity to take part in
At the November 6, 1984 governor election, Rafael Hernández Colón
was elected. He promised "4 years of struggle against unemployment
and corruption". At the same time, unlike his predecessor, he wanted
to preserve the island's status as a free associate state.
Colón was re-elected in 1988 with 48.7% of the vote compared to
45.8% for those who went for inclusion in the United States and 5.3%
for independence supporters.
In 1989, the UN Decolonization Commission expressed its wish that
the people of Puerto Rico could be entitled to sovereignty and
self-determination. The Commission resolution emphasizes the
distinct Latin American identity and culture of the Puerto Rican
In April 1991, Governor Hernández Colón signed a law that made
Spanish the official language. A few weeks later, the Puerto Rican
people received the prize of the Prince of Asturias given by the
Spanish crown "for the defense of the Spanish language being done in
At the end of 1991, a referendum was held in which various
strategies were developed for the island's development. The governor
succeeded in reconciling the moderate nationalists with the
supporters of independence. These brought the election campaign
together on a yes to self-determination, ending submissions
under North American jurisdiction, affirming Puerto Rican identity,
and preserving North American citizenship. But the alliance was
beaten by 55% of the vote, which supported the PNP's stance on
avoiding a rupture with Washington. Faced with this result,
Hernández's position within his own party weakened because he had
allowed the development of more autonomous-friendly sectors. In the
end, he resigned as leader of the party.
In January 1993, Pedro Roselló assumed the post of new governor.
He was in favor of annexation. But his proposal to make English the
only official language - rather than Spanish - triggered widespread
popular protests. English was eventually introduced as the official
language, but next to the already existing Spanish.
In November, a new referendum was held to determine the country's
political future. 48.4% of the vote was for continued status as a
free associate, 46.2% for annexation, while 4.4% for independence.
Some of the independence supporters had agreed to cooperate with
Roselló's "annexation government" - among other things. within areas
such as culture. But in May 1995, the governor replaced the director
of the Puerto Rico Cultural Institute, Awilda Palau, and the
opportunities for collaboration ceased.
In January 1997, Roselló was appointed a second term. US
President Bill Clinton took the opportunity to promise he would
speed up a motion in the United States Congress to hold a new
referendum to determine the island's political future. In February
1998, the President supported the holding of such a referendum that
would allow the Puerto Ricans to decide whether they would be
incorporated in the United States, gain independence or maintain the
island's status as a free associate state.
On September 12, 1999, 7 Puerto Rican activists arrived in Puerto
Rico after being pardoned by US President Bill Clinton. They had
spent 20 years in prison, convicted of bombing attacks in the United
States in support of Puerto Rico's independence. The activists, upon
their arrival at San Juan Airport, were welcomed as heroes by a
larger crowd waving the flag of Puerto Rico and singing nationalist
songs. The activists had been politically active in the United
States in the 70's and 80's.
In February 2000, several tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans
demonstrated against the resumption of US military exercises on the
island of Vieques. The island had been used for military purposes
for 50 years, but after a civilian accidentally killed during a
drill in April 1999, the drills had ceased. Clinton and Governor
Rosselló had resumed the exercises until April 2001, but civilians
organized by the church camped in the bombing areas of the island,
thus interrupting the "war doctor".
The conflicts surrounding the US military presence at Vieques
continued until January 2003, when Clinton's successor, George W.
Bush, decided that the last military exercises should be completed.
Most of the 8,000 residents of Vieques celebrated the North American
military's march. However, control over the former military areas
remains with the federal authorities as the Interior Department
takes over control.
Another area of conflict between the Puerto Ricans and the
United States authorities was partially resolved in July 2003. A
bestial murder in Puerto Rico prompted U.S. Attorney General John
Ashcroft to try to force the use of the death penalty against the
accused perpetrators. Otherwise, Puerto Rico had abolished this
penalty form in 1929. The attempt by Washington was strongly
condemned in Puerto Rico. The suspected perpetrators were acquitted,
but the United States continued efforts to force the country to
impose the death penalty.
In the 2004 election year a new party emerged, Partido Catañeses
Unidos (United Cataños Party). It covers the Cataño region and
consists of several former members of the PNP. The party supported
Pedro Roselló's candidacy for the governor post, and declared
himself in favor of the United States annexation of Puerto Rico.
On November 2, 2004, the Puerto Ricans massively participated in
the election to elect their governor, their commission in
Washington, the 27 senators and 51 representatives constituting the
legislative assembly as well as the 78 municipal councils on the
island. Slightly more than 2½ million. had registered as voters. The
choice was made according to. observers at ease. The result was an
almost dead run between Pedro Rosselló of PNP and Aníbal Acevedo of
PPD. It took a recount to determine the victor. Acevedo won by a
margin of 3,566 votes.
At the end of the month, more than 25,000 Puerto Ricans
participated in a "march for dignity" to protest a North American
court's intervention in the voting count.
In a July 2005 referendum, Puerto Ricans voted to replace their
two-chamber parliament with a one-chamber parliament.
Independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos died in September in the
village of Hormigueros in southeastern Puerto Rico after being shot
by FBI agents. Ríos was wanted in the United States for a million
robbery. Thousands walked on the streets of San Juan to express
their indignation at the killing. The government declared it would
conduct an internal investigation into the incidents.
In April 2006, the government announced that it was suspending
its activities for a 2-month period. The occasion was a public
deficit of DKK 738 million. US $ and opposition in parliament
against approving a loan to cover the deficit. The crisis meant that
1,500 schools had to close and 90,000 public servants were not paid.
The crisis lasted two weeks before the government and opposition
agreed on a settlement that could end the crisis.
In July 2007, the PPD sent a resolution asking for the status of
Puerto Rico to be discussed at the UN General Assembly, and for the
General Assembly to comment on the island's right to
self-determination. The country's colonial status has become
increasingly outdated and violates the national right of
In June 2009, the United Nations Special Committee on
Decolonization again adopted a call for the United States to promote
the process of allowing Puerto Rican independence.
In April 2010, the United States Congress decided to allow the
Puerto Ricans to conduct a referendum on whether or not to continue
the island's current political status in the United States. If they
do not want to change the current relationship, referenda must then
be conducted on the same topic every 8 years. If they want changes,
a new referendum will be held in which the population gets 4
choices: conversion to actual state of the United States, full
independence, independent state associated with the United States,
or continuation of the current colony status.
In July 2012, Puerto Rico's parliament passed amendments to the
Criminal Code prohibiting demonstrations that block public buildings
or interfere with local administration. The restriction on freedom
of demonstration was criticized by national and international human
In 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the United Nations Special
Committee on Decolonialization passed resolutions requiring the
United States to speed up a process that "will give Puerto Ricans
their inalienable right to self-determination and independence,
release all Puerto Rican political prisoners from superpower
prisons, clean up and cleanse all the areas of Vieques and Culebra
and giving them back to the people of Puerto Rico, investigating US
human rights violations on the island and investigating the FBI's
assassination of Independent leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios in 2005 ».
After several years of preparation, on November 6, 2012, a
two-string referendum was conducted. The first question in the poll
was whether the people wanted to continue their current status under
the United States Constitution. The second question posed 3
alternatives: incorporation as a state of the United States,
independence, or freely associated affiliation. For the first
question, 54% voted against continuing the current "Commonwealth".
The alternatives in question 2 were thus opened to the desired 61.1%
inclusion as a state in the United States. In December 2012,
therefore, Puerto Rico's parliament sent a request to the US
President and Congress requesting respect for the outcome of the
referendum. But in April 2013, the White House announced it would
spend $ 2.5 million. US $ to conduct a new referendum on the
island's future status.
Alejandro García Padilla won the governor election in December
2012, taking over the post in January 2013. As one of his first
steps, he set Puerto Rico's National Guard to patrol the sea around
the island to curb the flow of "illegal emigrants". He subsequently
raised taxes by 1.1% to reduce the budget deficit from $ 2.1
billion. US $ 800 million This move triggered a huge decline in his
popularity. In July 2013, he entered into a trade agreement with
Colombia, after which Colombia would import medicines from Puerto
Rico and send know-how the other way. Padilla has also been accused
of nepotism. 5 of his family members work for the government.
Puerto Rico is in deep economic crisis and has had negative
growth every year since 2006. Compared to the states of the United
States, Puerto Rico is poorer than Mississippi, the poorest state on
the mainland. 41% of Puerto Rico's population lives below the
poverty line. The economy improved slightly in 2012, but returned to
recession in 2013.
In June 2017, Puerto Rico conducted its 5 referendum on the
future status of the island. 97.2% voted to be admitted as an actual
state of the United States, 1.5% voted for independence and 1.3%
voted for unchanged status. However, turnout was only 23% and thus
historically low. The parties opposed to admission as a state in the
United States had called for a boycott of the vote in advance for
The debt crisis kept the country in a tight sweater. By August
2017, debt had grown to $ 72 billion. US $, unemployment had grown
to 12.4% and the size of the population living below the poverty
line was 45%.
In September, the country was hit by two violent hurricanes.
First Irma (category 5) and later the same month Maria (category 4).
The hurricanes caused enormous devastation and knocked out its
electricity supply. 10 Puerto Ricans killed under Irma, $ 1 million
people lost power supply and the southeastern islands of Vieques and
Culebre were declared a disaster area. Maria was not immediately
strong, but still hit the country much harder. 48 were killed and
117 were still missing 3 weeks after the hurricane. Entire
neighborhoods in San Juan were devastated. All the households on the
island lost power when the electricity supply was turned off
completely. Many subsequently had to be evacuated by helicopters as
the roads were destroyed. About 80% of the crops were destroyed and
the damage was likely to exceed the $ 8 billion. US $ the most
expensive hurricane Georges had caused. It was assessed, that it
would take 4-6 months to fully re-establish the electricity supply.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz was pissed on US President Donald
Trump because of the lack of US relief and because Trump had stated
that the disaster was Puerto Rico's own fault. At a press conference
13 days after Hurricane Maria, Cruz said, "We're dying here. I am
unable to understand why the world's best state is unable to develop
the logistics needed to help a small island 150 times 50
kilometers.... People have to drink water from the streams. So, for
me, it's kind of over. I can no longer be politically correct. I'm
angry as just the fuck... That's why I encourage you journalists to
send mine mayday out all over the world. We are dying
here... And if it does not stop, if we do not bring food and water
into the hands of the people, then we will experience something
approaching genocide ». Trump was unable to see the problem and
instead swindled the mayor. However, he met for a week on a one-day
visit to Puerto Rico, throwing kitchen towels at waiting Puerto
Ricans on a team.
The hurricane's consequences in Puerto Rico revealed that there
was a great difference between the superpower's willingness and
ability to provide disaster relief in Texas where another hurricane
had hit a month earlier and in Puerto Rico. A year later, new
records showed that Maria had cost nearly 3,000 people. The
hurricane's loss figures were therefore comparable to the numbers
killed on 9/9 2001 - but with completely different consequences.
Trump rejected the figure, claiming it was a campaign aimed at him.