History of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is home to more than 3 million Puerto Ricans and possesses an eclectic mix of African, Spanish, Taino and American influences on it's thriving culture. The island was originally inhabited by indigenous people called the Taíno, and Taíno culture had a large influence on modern day Puerto Rico as well as the United states and Caribbean.

Puerto Rico was officially given commonwealth status after Spanish colonial rule, which allowed Puerto Rico to become a state territory in 1952 and a largely independent from the early 20th to the late 20th century.

The island Borikén as it was originally called by Taíno Caciques (chiefs) and is preferred to be called today by Puerto Ricans due to oppression of the Spanish, was once a major source of gold production for the Spanish. Puerto Rico was an important European settlement, and one of the first in the Western Hemisphere. Puerto Rico's economy later moved towards agriculture such as sugar cane and sweet potatoes production due to cheap labor from African Slaves.

During Spanish colonial rule Puerto Rico was an important military outpost, it's forts still stand today and can be seen and visited by tourists in places like Old San Juan. Today however, most of Puerto Rico's modern economy is built from tourism. The island called Isla de Encanto (Enchanted Island) has become a popular tourist destination for many Americans and Europeans, due to Puerto Rican culture, food, beaches, Tropical Rainforest and mountain forests.

Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico is a rather large, although the smallest of the Greater Antilles, Caribbean island located in the West Indies. It is comprised of roughly 3,500 square miles and is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles chain. This chain also includes Hispañola (modern day Haiti and Dominican Republic), Jamaica, and Cuba.

When you hear about Puerto Rico many people immediately think of it's gorgeous beaches, blue sea water, warm weather and friendly Puerto Rican families. How did Puerto Rico become so incredibly popular though? It has a rich cultural history that has affected its identity, from foods to music and including the term "Boricua" still used by Puerto Ricans today. Let's take a look at what started everything, what the island's name means and why Boricua is used here.

A Brief History of Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or Free Associated State of Puerto Rico was called Borikén, or Borinquen by the Taíno. Many Puerto Ricans still call the island by it's indigenous name to this day. It is a Caribbean island made of of it's main island, and smaller islands of Mona, Vieques and Culebra. It lies about 1000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida in the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean island is an unincorporated territory of the United States, where Spanish and English are both the official languages. Due to Hurricane Maria and many other factors, many Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island to the United States. Once home to over 4.5 million Puerto Ricans, the population is currently around 3.2 million. San Juan is it's capital and most populated city.

Before Puerto Rico was colonized and pillaged by the Spanish Conquistadors in 1508, it was once settled by indigenous peoples. Scholars dispute the exact dates but sometime between 4000-2000 years ago the Ortoiroid, Saladoid, and finally the Taíno settled the island in succession. Although Puerto Rico remained in Spanish control for 400 years, it was contested and fought over by the English, French and Dutch in failed attempts to take over the island. African slaves brought over to work the coffee and sugar plantations helped change the culture of the nation. A true Puerto Rican identity emerged in the later 1900's as Puerto Rico came into it's own. Today Puerto Rico has an has an attractive culture shaped through an fusion of Taíno, Spanish American and African influences. centered around a fusion of indigenous, African, and European elements.Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States took possession of Puerto Rico.

Who Are The Taíno?

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The beautiful island we call Puerto Rico today was first discovered and populated by an indigenous group known as the Taíno. In their native language, the native people called the island Borikén, or Boriquén, meaning the vast land of the valiant and noble lord. Sometime around the seventh century the Arawak settled the island. These indigenous people began to develop into the Taíno culture. Around approximately 1000BCE had become dominant.

The origins of the Taíno people can be traced back to the Arawak inhabitants of the Venezuelan hamlet of Saladero on the Orinoco River. It is widely believed that the Tano traveled through the Lesser Antilles to reach Puerto Rico. Once, before the invaders from Spain arrived on the island of Boriquén, they all resided in small villages led by chiefs (caciques). These villages were known as Yuayeques, and the modern day island of Vieques derived it's name from these villages. All activities and decisions were overseen by the chiefs known as caciques. The Taíno were known to lounge around lazily in their hammocks when not fishing or farming pineapple, yucca, sweet potatoes or gathering fruits.

Native Population

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At the time of Columbus' arrival, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico were estimated to have a population 30 to 60 thousand Taíno Amerindians. They lived in peace and subsisted on hunting, gathering and fishing. Columbus took captive Taínos to Spain returning from his first voyage to Santo Domingo and returned them on his second expedition.

The first European colonists began their construction, located at the Caparra settlement, along a bay at the northern coast of the Caribbean island in 1508. Caparra was originally renamed in 1521 Puerto Rico, as the name was later adopted for the entire island Cappara became known as San Juan. In 1508, Sir Ponce de León was chosen by the Spanish Crown's Queen Isabella to lead the conquest and enslavement of the Taíno natives for gold mining operations. Thus began Spanish colonial rule.

When the Spaniards came in 1493, the south American Carib natives were already at war with the Taíno and moving up the chain of the Antilles and conducting raids. The Taino rule of the island was nearing its end, and the Spanish arrival marked the beginning of their end. They were believed to be extinct as the Taino were eventually forced into slavery and decimated by European diseases and murder. We now know otherwise, as the Taíno people live on in their descendants, the Puerto Ricans of today. This has been confirmed by DNA testing and archaeological finds of skeleton remains at ancient small villages.

How did Puerto Rico Get its Name?

Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Puerto Rico in 1493 during his second expedition to the "New World". There he met the native people of the free land for the first time called the Taíno. With hopes of forming an alliance with the Spanish crown to protect the island from invading Arawak, the natives showed Columbus gold and other the great resources of the island. However, Columbus planned on taking over the island to gain access to it's resources and that is exactly what he did. The islands name that was originally called Borikén by the Taíno was changed to San Juan Bautista, after Spanish arrival and Spanish rule began.

San Juan Bautista

Originally christened San Juan Bautista by Christopher Columbus, after Saint John The Baptist when he landed here in 1493. The island contained many riches and became known for gold in it's streams and rivers, so the name was renamed Puerto rico meaning "rich port". The Spanish government later named the capital city San Juan, located on the North coast.

Spanish Rule

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Juan Ponce de León set sail on March 3, 1513, from "Punta Aguada" in Puerto Rico with a crew of 200 individuals, including women and free blacks. Puerto Rico was the historic gateway to settling the Southern United States, as on this voyage he "discovered" Florida. Upon this new land that would many years later become part of the United States of America, the Spanish European colonies introduced many things. During this settlement, horses, sheep, cattle, Christianity and of course the Spanish language itself. This was over a century before the Pilgrim's landed at Plymouth Rock.

Spanish slave importation from Arica increased heavily during 1616 to the port of San Juan. The slave labor was used to farm, at the time important cash crops such as sugarcane, ginger, coffee and tobacco. The Spanish were also busy with fortifying San Juan to become an impenetrable military outpost. They also spent considerable resources building a fortified palace (La Fortaleza) for the governor. African slave labor was used to construct the stronghold with the two large forts of San Felipe Del Morro and San Cristobal. These forts have become tourist attractions and can be visited today in Old San Juan.

Puerto Rico is a land of richness and culture, and is also strategically located in the North Caribbean Sea. This meant that at the time, other sea exploring countries wanted the island for themselves as a military outpost. In a series of failed attempts, the island of Spain was attacked by the Dutch, English and French. The impressive citadels of forts and castles like El Morro and San Cristóbal thwarted any attempts to take control of the strategically significant island.

Spain's South American colonies, (where Mexican mines were booming) wave of independence movements reached Puerto Rico by the mid-19th century despite experiencing varying levels of economic prosperity over the centuries under Spanish colonial rule. What would become known as "El Grito de Lares, occurred in 1868. In the small mountain town of Lares, there was an uprising attempted by approximately 600 people. El Grito de Lares is still celebrated and is a moment of great national pride for Puerto Ricans, even though the Spanish military crushed the rebellion. Go figure.

The Impact of Spanish rule on The Taíno

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Every time the Taíno faught back, no matter how valiant, all attempts were always crushed by Spain and in the end Ponce de León subjagated the Taíno people. They were used in the production of cattle and crops such as sugarcane, coffee and ginger root, and in the mines to extract gold for Spain on the island borikén. Slavery and these European illnesses caused high mortality for the Taíno. Smallpox, one of the diseases brought by the Spanish soon wiped out the vast majority of the Taino population. Taíno that did not perish from European diseases were enslaved by the Spanish to mine silver and gold, and also to construct settlements. By 1520 a vast majority had been wiped out and a census showed that just 1,148 Taíno still resided in Puerto Rico. This caused the introduction of slaves from Arica as a high demand for labor still remained for Spain.

The Taíno's were destined for extinction after the arrival of the plunderers from the sea, as were most tribes of the "new world". Already at war with the Caribs, another indigenous group migrating to the Antilles, the Taíno's began to lose territory, and under Spanish rule, the original Boricua's ceased to exist. However, remaining part of contemporary Puerto Rico today is their culture. Musical instruments such as maracas and güiro, the hammock, (Kammok originally a fish net) and words of towns in Puerto Rico, such Mayagüez, Arecibo, Caguas. Other words that have found their way into our culture are iguana, canoe, tobacco and BBQ (barbecue). The Spanish learned of the barbecue technique from the Taíno, a little known fact known today. Probably the most famous and widely used word though is Hurricane (huracán) of which Puerto Rico and the Caribbean is well familiar with, ask anybody in San Juan. So next time you are watching the news about a hurricane, think of the Taíno.

Spain Ceded Puerto Rico

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The United States military occupied Puerto Rico on the south shore of the island, at Guánica, in July of 1898 during the brief Spanish-American war. Upon the Paris agreement that officially stopped the war earlier in the year, known as the "Treaty of Paris", Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Philippines to the United Staes.

Puerto Rican citizens often react badly to this day, because the US government, during the last years of Spanish colonization, was unable to control Puerto Rico. The short-lived military administration set up in Puerto Rico after Congress passed the Foraker legislation altered the status quo ended in 1900.

Foraker Act

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After Congress passed the Foraker Act, which officially established a civil government in Puerto Rico, the U.S. military government that had been established on the island came to an end in 1900. Many Puerto Ricans resisted the control exercised by the United States and demanded civilian government because they had previously experienced a significant amount of autonomy under Spanish colonial rule. Some people wished to remain under Spanish control and be a part of the Spanish government if exercising self-government was not an option.

All Puerto Ricans were granted United States citizenship when Congress passed the Jones Shafroth Act in 1917. At least 18,000 Puerto Rican residents were consequently drafted into World War I since this made Puerto Ricans eligible for the draft.

Operation Bootstrap

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Major changes occurred in Puerto Rico following World War Two. Puerto Rican voters were allowed to select the governor for the fist time changing the political status of the island. This was due to legislation passed by Congress in 1948 and changed the political status of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico had the opportunity of new government and own constitution through powers that came four years later when Puerto Rico began to become officially sovereign.

During this time, a very ambitious industrialization effort was started by the joint governments of the United States and P.R. called Operation Bootstrap. The goal was to attract big American companies to Puerto Rico. This was successful for a while and the island seen a large influx of American sugar companies. The island and San Juan also became a center for manufacturing and tourism. There was however, a decline of it's agricultural industry, although San Juan reamins a popular tourist destination. This caused many natives to seek employment opportunities in America and elsewhere, many from San Juan.

An astonishing 25% of the islands population fled Puerto Rico between 1950 and 1970. This mass exodus of more than 500,000 Puerto Ricans became known as La Gran Migración by the Puerto Rican government. Today, more Puerto Rican people live in the United States than on the island. It is estimated that over 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the United States, while only 3.4 million remain on the island. Major communities made up of large populations of people of Puerto Rican descent, include San Antonio, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago and especially New York City. Most residents fled from Puerto Rico in an exodus that is still ongoing, mainly from the capital city of San Juan and surrounding suburbs.

Is Puerto Rico Part of the United States?

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Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States with it's own Constitution but Puerto Rico is not a state of the United Staes of America. As such, Puerto Rico can elect an elected representative, the governor general, and vote in the presidential election, but they don't have to vote in senate or presidential elections because Puerto Rico isn't included in the electoral system.

Over the years this has turned into a heated debate and has caused much controversy between Puerto Ricans that want the island to be its own independent nation with self government, those who favor commonwealth status and those who want full fledged statehood of the U.S.. Interestingly, some even wonder what life would be like if Spain still ruled in the Commonwealth.

Puerto Rico's commonwealth status was reaffirmed on three separate occasions. Once in 1967, again in 1993, and further still in 1998. In a 2012 referendum, voters claimed they were not satisfied with the status quo, and said they wanted statehood. However, hundreds of thousands of other voters didn't fill out that part of the referendum, leaving the topic open to further debate. On 2017 in San Juan, a fifth referendum took place. Again the majority of voters said they favored statehood, but a historically low number of voters, at only 23% turned out.

Economic Crisis

The governor in San Juan was forced to announce that Puerto Rico couldn't meet it's debt obligations any longer. Puerto Rico’s tourism growth in San Juan and it's economic growth slowed, since 2010. This caused it's national debt to expand rapidly, causing the worse economic crisis the island has ever faced.

Two years after the announcement, to help Puerto Rico cope with it's economic crisis, Congress passed legislation for the commonwealth to declare bankrupcy. A debt of over $70 billion, mostly to U.S. investors who have businesses in San Juan and across the island, was wiped out. After an investigation, it turns out that most of that 70 billion was stolen by corrupt leaders on the island. This has led to a cry for Liberal reforms and caution not to give another financial subsidy to the commonwealth.

A crippling Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150mph struck the island in September of 2017. Hurricane Maria made direct landfall and further compounded the islands economic crisis. Maria also created a new humanitarian crisis for the 3.4 million residents of the island, especially in the most populated city of San Juan. Tourism suffered greatly including on Puerto Rico's beautiful but isolated West Coast, and in San Juan. The people of the island also faced debilitating shortages of water, food and fuel.

At this time Puerto Rico is left with a very uncertain future. Tourism will always remain a vital part of the island's future and has recovered after hurricane Maria. No matter what shall happen in the future concerning statehood, or finances, somethings will ever change. Puerto Rico will never lose it's beauty, culture or charm, and the beautiful people of the island will never lose their compassion, warmth or culture.

What Was Puerto Rico Originally Called?

The island was originally known as Borikén by the Taíno people before Christopher Columbus landed here in 1433. He originally called the island San Juan Bautista, but the island became known by its gold in the rivers as Puerto Rico or the "rich port". Today the port city is known as San Juan and is also it's capital.

Where did Puerto Ricans originate from?

Puerto Ricans are an eclectic mix of the original inhabitants of the island the Taíno, Africans who were brought to the island as slaves, and Spanish sailors who settled the interior of the island. A mix of traditions emerged giving Puerto Rico a new identity that consists of characteristics from the three groups.

What is the brief history of Puerto Rico?

A Brief History of Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico was called Borikén, or Borinquen by the Taíno. Many Puerto Ricans still call the island by it's indigenous name to this day. Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Puerto Rico in 1493 during his second expedition. Subsequently enslaving the Taíno for gold mining and agriculture. Later, African slaved were brought over to take up the work once the Taíno were wiped out do to disease and murder. Spain then ruled the island for centuries until the Spanish- American War. After this brief war the U.S. gained control when Spain ceded the island during the Treaty of Paris. Puerto Rico became a state territory of the United States in 1917. Today Puerto Rico embraces it's history and diversity with with an eclectic mix of Spanish, American and African influences.