Though Puerto Rico’s contact with Spain started with Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus) in 1492, our two histories were destined to catch up with each other in the 19th century. Like the Philippines, Puerto Rico was also a capitania-general(captaincy- general) administered by the Virreinato de Nueva España (Viceroyalty of New Spain, now Mexico) until 1821, when Mexico and other South American colonies triumphed in their anti-colonial independence wars against the Spanish empire. “Madre España” was left with only three colonies — Cuba, the Pearl of the Antilles; Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient; and Puerto Rico, the Gateway to the Antilles. By virtue of the Treaty of Paris (1898), the United States of America took possession of the last three jewels of the Spanish Crown.
Like Cuba and the Philippines, Puerto Rico was colonized and Christianized by the inseparable “Sword and Cross” and the indissoluble union of Church and State. Towards the end of the 16th century, from 1595 to 1598, Puerto Rico was a favorite prey of British pirates; Sir Francis Drake once sailed in with 2,500 men though he was repelled by Spanish forces and was unable to take over the island. In June 1598, England sent no less than its Royal Navy commanded by the Earl of Cumberland, George Clifford, who crushed Spanish resistance but had to abandon Puerto Rico after only a few months because his troops were stricken with dysentery. There were intermittent incursions especially during the 7 Years War in the 18th century; likewise, the British invaded the Philippine colony in 1792; they looted Intramuros, stayed on until 1794, and left when the war between Spain and England ended.
The 1812 Cadiz Constitution granted Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines a number of political rights, most significant of which was representation in the Cortes; the three were considered provinces of Spain and Puerto Ricans were granted conditional citizenship.
In general, Puerto Rico’s economy was based on agriculture with cane sugar and tobacco as main crops; world market prices were usually favorable. In 1815, a Royal decree opened the island to foreign trade and enticed immigrants from Spain, Portugal, and other European countries to settle in Puerto Rico, offering free land to those who pledged loyalty to Spain and the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, all that ended when Royalists returned to power after the fall of Napoleon and the Cadiz Constitution was abrogated. After those waves of liberalism swept through, Puerto Rico was never the same again. Queen Maria Cristina abolished slavery in 1835, and in 1851, the Royal Academy of Letters was founded to upgrade education and foment intellectual and literary activities. In 1858, Samuel Morse established a telegraph system in Puerto Rico.
Like in the Philippines, there were many revolts against Spain, the most legendary being a rebellion of slaves in 1821 led by Marcos Xiorro. On 23 September 1868, the “Grito de Lares” took places, heralding the revolutionary struggle led by Dr. Ramon Emeterio Betances, founder of Comité Revolucionario; he had been exiled to Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic). When the patriots of “Grito de Lares” were apprehended, most of them were exiled to New York. Undaunted, Puerto Ricans took up arms once again in the “Intentona de Yauco” (Uprising of Yauco). In 1897, the Prime Minister of Spain, Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, granted the island autonomy and allowed trade with the USA and Europe; town councils were established which curtailed the political influence of the Spanish governor. Both in Puerto Rico and the Philippines, those reforms came much too late to improve relations between “Madre España” and daughter-colonies. Moreover, these were rendered useless by the Spanish-American War which began in 1898.
By opening the book of our common past, we have learned about our similarities and, most importantly, about alien ambitions and policies that have derailed our attempts at nation- building. The success of our anti-colonial independence movements against Spain were nullified by the imperial exigencies of the United States of America. According to American historian Frederick Merck, by mid-1890’s, industries in the USA were producing so much surplus that market prices took a nosedive, driving the economy into prostration. A young would-be senator from the West, Albert J. Beveridge, articulated that concern. He said: “American factories are making more than the American people can use; American soil is producing more than they can consume. Fate has written our policy for us, the trade of the world must and shall be ours…Our institutions will follow our flag on the wings of commerce…!” Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines suffered the same fate as victims of that imperialist expansion.