reached the island and claimed it for Spain on November 19, 1493. He named
it San Juan Bautista. It became known as Puerto Rico after 1521, when the
city of San Juan had been founded and given the island's original name.
Spanish Conquest and Settlement
Puerto Rico was conquered for Spain in 1509 by Juan Ponce de León, who became the first governor. The island was originally peopled by the Taíno, an agricultural people who were enslaved and largely exterminated as the result of harsh treatment. As the Native Americans were decimated, they were replaced by black African slaves who worked the plantations and sugar mills.
Privateers and pirates harassed the island's residents during the early colonial years. The Spanish constructed strong fortifications and in 1595 defeated the English navigators Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins when they attempted to capture Puerto Rico; Hawkins was mortally wounded. Raids, however, continued for a long time. San Juan was burned during a Dutch attack in 1625, and the English sacked Arecibo in 1702.
Puerto Rico was opened to foreign trade in 1804, and in 1808 it was accorded representation in the Spanish Parliament. Short-lived uprisings against Spanish rule occurred a few times during the 19th century (the most serious uprising, known as El Grito de Lares, took place in 1868), but all were quickly suppressed. Slavery was abolished in 1873. The island was granted autonomy in 1897.
Spanish-American War and U.S. Control
As a result of the Spanish-American War (1898), Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris, December 10, 1898. In 1900 the U.S. Congress established a civil government on the island. U.S. citizenship was granted to Puerto Ricans in 1917, and the United States instituted measures designed to solve various economic and social problems of the overpopulated island. From 1940 to 1948 a hydroelectric-power expansion program was instituted to attract U.S. industry and to provide more employment for Puerto Ricans. Irrigation projects were also initiated. During World War II (1939-1945) the island became a key U.S. military base. Naval bases were constructed in San Juan harbor and on Culebra.
Under the leadership of Luis Muñoz Marín, head of the Popular Democratic Party, a development program known as Operation Bootstrap was launched in 1942, resulting in greatly increased manufacturing and a large rise in the general living standard. In 1948, Muñoz became the first elected governor of the island.
On June 4, 1951, Puerto Rican voters approved in a referendum a U.S. law that granted them the right to draft their own constitution. The constituent assembly began its deliberations in the following September. In March 1952 the electorate approved the new constitution, and on July 25 Governor Muñoz proclaimed the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The commonwealth held its first general election under the new statute on November 4; Muñoz and the Popular Democratic Party received an overwhelming majority. The Nationalist Party, which advocated independence, did not participate.
The attainment of commonwealth status did not halt agitation for total independence. Proindependence sentiment, which had led to an attempt on the life of U.S. President Harry S. Truman in 1950, again erupted violently in March 1954, when four nationalists fired shots into the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five members. The reelection of Governor Muñoz in 1956 and 1960 was regarded as a popular endorsement not only of his economic and social policies but also of commonwealth status. In a July 1967 referendum, Puerto Ricans once more voted to remain a commonwealth.
The Statehood Question
In the election of 1968, Luis Alberto Ferré, candidate of the New Progressive Party, was elected governor. He favored statehood for Puerto Rico, but not until the island's economy was stronger. In 1972 the Popular Democratic Party returned to power with Rafael Hernández Colón, a supporter of commonwealth status, as governor. The electorate shifted again in 1976, as the New Progressives regained control of the legislature and Carlos Romero Barceló was elected governor.
Romero, a firm advocate of statehood, chose to play down the issue after the 1980 elections, in which he retained his office by only a narrow margin, and the Popular Democratic Party scored impressive victories in legislative and mayoral contests. Meanwhile, extreme nationalist groups such as the U.S.-based Armed Forces of National Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or FALN) used terrorist tactics in the late 1970s and early 1980s to press the cause of independence. In 1984 Hernández Colón won the governorship as his Popular Democratic Party established commanding majorities in both legislative houses; he was reelected in 1988. The legislature voted to make Spanish the official language of Puerto Rico. After losing a symbolic plebiscite on the commonwealth question in 1991, Hernández Colón decided not to run for another term. In 1992 Pedro Rosselló of the New Progressive Party was elected governor on a pro-statehood platform. He pressed the issue in a 1993 plebiscite, but 48 percent of the voters elected to petition the U.S. Congress to retain the commonwealth, with enhanced status; 46 percent chose statehood and 4 percent chose independence.