History of Puerto Rico:
Discovery of the island by Europeans in 1493:
Christopher Columbus (aka Christopher Colon) sailing out of Cadiz, Spain 'discovered'
the island for Spain on his second voyage to the 'new' world - the half some people didn't
know about. He immediately christens the island "La Isla de San Juan Bautista" in honor
of St. John the Baptist apparently not realizing that the people he found on the island
might already have named it. He names the main port 'Puerto Rico" or Rich Port. He
meets the Taíno chief of the island who bestows the highest honor he can upon
Columbus,his own name Agueybana. So Columbus becomes Agueybana and Agueybana
becomes Columbus. The Taíno name for their island was 'Borinquén' which means "land
of the almighty lord". The Caribs also inhabited the island but were a warrior tribe
whereas the Taínos were "the good and gentle people" which is the what Taíno means.
They are generally considered to be a part of the Taíno-Arawak people who traveled from
the Orinoco-Amazon region of South America to Venezuela and the islands now known as
Colombus' and Spain's quest for gold and the Taínos lack of immunity to the diseases the
European brought caused the Taínos to become largely extinct (unidentifiable as a group
- however a project such as African Ancestry could help to identify Puerto Ricans who are
descendants of the Taínos.
Some words we use today from the Taínos are as follows:
and huracán (hurricane)
Recent History of Puerto Rico (1998-current):
Puerto Rico became a part of the United States of America in 1998 after the
Spanish-American War (a 4 month long war which Spain lost which was started by the
Spanish sinking of the USS Maine). The war was ended with the Treaty of Paris which
gave control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam (Spanish colonies) to the
United States (for $20 million dollars - about $440 million in current dollar). Cuba and the
Philippines were working on their independence during or prior to the war and thus were
allowed to continue that process after the war and become independent nations (Cuba,
1902 & Philippines, July 4th, 1946). When Americans came to take their prize they mistook
the name and called it "Porto Rico" and they forced small farmers off their land to create
large plantations for sugar cane (sugar was the gold crop at the turn of the century and
was not grown on the U.S. mainland at that time). Puerto Rico currently has
Commonwealth status which means it has its own constitution.
Here are some interesting items:
1906 - President Theodore Roosevelt, in a speech to the Puerto Rican legislature,
recommends that Puerto Rican citizens be given U.S. citizenship.
1917 - U.S. Congress finally grants citizens of Puerto Rico U.S. citizenship.
1946 - On July 21st President Harry Truman appoints Jesús T. Piñero, a Puerto Rican,
governor of the island, the first since U.S. control.
1947 - U.S. Congress approves law allowing Puerto Ricans to vote for governor.
1948 - Luis Muñoz Marin becomes first elected governor.
1950 - July 3rd, U.S. Congress allows Puerto Rico to establish its own constitution.
1952 - March 3rd, new constitution is approved.
1967 - July 23rd, first ever plebiscite to decide if Puerto Rico should become a state.
Vote: Commonwealth 60%, State 39% & Independent 1%
1993 - Novermber 14th, second plebiscite.
Vote: Commonwealth 48.6%, State 46.3%, Independence 4.4%
1998 - December 13th, third plebiscite.
Vote: Territorial "Commonwealth" .06%, Free Association .29%,
State 46%, Independent 2.5%, None Above 50%
(there was much confusion over the Commonwealth and Free
2003 - May 1st, U.S. military leaves the island of Vieques.