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Puerto Rico in the Great Depression

From Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquén
Federal Writers Project, 1940

Publishing Information
  1. Puerto Rico, a tiny part of the new world, was an unsuspected treasure laid at the feet of their Spanish Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, by Christopher Columbus. Columbus returned from his first voyage with living proofs of what lay beyond the mysterious ocean, astonishing the people with the sight of red-skinned captive Indians, samples of strange plants and animals, and offering them the prospect of finding fabulous quantities of gold and precious gems in the new land.

  2. News of the discovery created such enthusiasm that when the Admiral announced that a second expedition was being organized, he was besieged by hidalgos anxious to share with him new glories and riches. In addition, there were monks and priests, whose religious zeal was stimulated by the prospect of converting to Christianity natives of unknown lands; struggling merchants, who hoped to mend their fortunes with the gold to be had, as they thought, for the picking up; and finally, the protégés of royalty and of influential persons at court, who sought lucrative places in the new territories. As a result, the Admiral counted among the fifteen hundred companions of his second expedition representatives of every class in Spain.

  3. At daybreak on September 25, 1493, the second expedition, an armada of seventeen ships, sailed from Cádiz. Columbus, son of a Genoese woolcarder, stood on the deck of his flagship, equal in rank to the noblest hidalgo in Spain, Admiral of the Indian Seas, Viceroy of all the islands and continents to be discovered, and title holder of one-tenth of all the expected gold and treasures.

  4. Among members of the expedition were Bernal Diaz de Pisa, accountant of the fleet; thirteen Benedictine friars, at their head Boil, who, with Mosén Pedro de Margarit, the strategist, respectively represented religious and military authority; Roldán, the first alcalde of Hispaniola; Juan de Esquiveal, the future conqueror of Jamaica; Father Marchena, the Admiral's first protector, friend, and counselor; the two knight commanders of military orders, Gallego and Arroyo; the queen's three servants, Navarro, Peñasoto, and Girau; the pilot, Antonio Torres, who was to return to Spain with the Admiral's ship and first dispatches; Juan de la Cosa, cartographer, who traced the first map of the Antilles; the father and uncle of Bartolomé de las Casas, the apostle of the Indies; Diego de Peñalosa, the first notary public; Fermín Jedo, the metallurgist; Villacorta, the mechanical engineer; Luis de Ariega, afterward famous as the defender of the fort at Magdalena; Diego Velázquez, the future conqueror of Cuba; and Diego Columbus, the Admiral's young son. Among the men-at-arms, one was destined to play the principal role in the conquest of Puerto Rico. His name was Juan Ponce, a native of Santervas de Campos in the kingdom of León, a poor hidalgo and a veteran of the Moor wars.

  5. The first island discovered on this voyage was near the middle of a chain which stretches northwest from Trinidad, near to Puerto Rico. Columbus shaped his course according to the order in which the islands appeared, one after the other, merely touching at some for the purpose of taking formal possession in the name of Spain and obtaining what information he could. In some places, upon entering the native huts, the conquerors found much cotton, spun or ready for spinning, household articles, and human stable soon had occasion to exercise his judiciary powers, for Diego Columbus, in defiance of the orders of the king, had named Juan Cerón as Governor of the Island, and appointed other officials. These Sotomayor promptly arrested, and Ponce sent them back to Spain.

  6. To work the gold mines, the Spaniards in Puerto Rico employed the system of repartimientos in effect in Santo Domingo. This consisted of distributing among officials and colonists fixed numbers of Indians. The first repartimiento in Puerto Rico took place in 1509. Although the Spaniards, by the terms of the agreement, were obliged to pay the Indians for their labor and to teach them the Christian religion, they soon reduced the Indians to a condition of abject slavery.

  7. Soon after the death of the friendly cacique Agüeybana, the Indians, desperate at their cruel treatment and their chain-gang existence in the mines, determined to wipe out the Spaniards. The interpreter Juan González, painted like an Indian, managed to attend a secret meeting of caciques in February, 1511, at which a plan was decided upon. In spite of the warning, Guaybaná (or Agüeybana), son of the former cacique, killed Sotomayor and his men, and gravely wounded González. Meanwhile, Guarionex, cacique of Utuado, reduced the town of Sotomayor to ashes and killed eighty of its inhabitants. Juan Ponce thereupon organized a campaign, and after hard fighting killed Guaybaná and two other caciques and put down the rebellion.

  8. Meanwhile Juan Cerón, who had arrived in Spain under arrest, was adjudged by the king's council to be the Governor of the Island, and accordingly Ferdinand ordered Ponce to yield the governor's post to Cerón. As a recompense Ponce was given an authorization to explore new lands. In 1512, accordingly, he set out in search of the land of Biminí, where, according to the legend, were a miraculous fountain of youth and much gold. He found neither, but did discover Florida, which he thought an island. Returning from his voyage of discovery, after difficulties with the authorities in Puerto Rico he set out for Spain in June, 1514, taking with him 10,000 pesos in gold, smelted at a mint he had constructed in Caparra a few years before. Ferdinand heard him graciously, ratified his titles and added new ones, so that the once poor man-at-arms now rejoiced in the appellation of Governor of Florida and Biminí, Captain by Sea and Land of the Island of San Juan Bautista, Lifelong Alderman of the Municipal Council of the City of Puerto Rico, and Lifelong Captain of the Regiment of Boriquén. Laden with honors, Ponce returned to the Island in 1515.

  9. Ponce's first act was to divide the Island into two administrative districts, bounded by the Camuy and Jacaguas rivers. The smaller, western district he called the District of San Germán; the larger, eastern one the District of Puerto Rico. Again, however, quarrels arose between Ponce and crown officials.

  10. The transfer of the capital from Caparra to the present site also caused dissension. Ponce was opposed to the change, and when the city was transferred in 1519 to the little island that today is the old quarter of the capital, Ponce remained in his fortified house at Caparra. The city and the Island exchanged names, and the City of San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico became the official capital in 1521.

  11. In 1521 Ponce organized his last expedition, setting out again for Florida. Wounded by the fierce Indians there, he took refuge on the island of Cuba, where he died. His remains were brought to San Juan in 1559, and transferred in 1908 to the Cathedral of San Juan, where they are today.

  12. The Island settlements suffered from plagues, hurricanes, raids of Caribs, and attacks by the French and British. The colony was constantly on the point of being abandoned. When the news of fabulous riches discovered in Peru reached the Island, Governor Lando wrote to the king in 1534: "... two months ago there came a ship here from Peru to buy horses. The captain related such wonderful things that the people here [San Juan] and in San Germán became excited, and even the oldest settlers wanted to leave. If I had not instantly ordered him away the Island would have been deserted. I have imposed the death penalty on whosoever shall attempt to leave the Island."

  13. The first hurricane following the colonization had occurred in 1515, a second in 1526. In 1530 three hurricanes visited the Island within a period of less than two months; others wrought havoc in 1537, 1568, and 1575. By 1570 the gold mines were utterly exhausted, having produced altogether only about $4,000,000 in gold.

  14. Incursions of Caribs from the neighboring islands made the existence of the colony precarious. Wherever a new settlement was founded, Caribs descended, killing the Spaniards, destroying the plantations, and carrying off natives. They destroyed a settlement along the banks of the Daguao and Macao rivers that had been founded by Diego Columbus in 1514. A new settlement which had sprung up along the border of the river Humacao met the same fate in 1520. In 1521 the Caribs attacked the south coast, and by 1529 they dared even attack the capital itself. Between 1564 and 1570 they were particularly active. Loíza, which had been resettled, was destroyed for a second time in 1582 and a year later Aguada was attacked. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, the Carib strongholds were occupied and the Caribs themselves subdued by the French and British sea-rovers, not out of any desire to assist Puerto Rico, but because Spain's ultramarine possessions offered tempting prizes to these privateers.

  15. The quarrels, jealousies, and mutual accusations between the colonists and the Government officials, that kept the Island in a continual ferment, were the natural consequence of the prerogatives exercised by Diego Columbus, which permitted him to fill any government position in the Island. Don Diego was deprived of his right to appoint officials in 1537, and henceforth the alcaldes (mayors) and chief alguaciles (high constables), to be elected from among the colonists by a body of eight regidores (aldermen), were to exercise the governmental functions for one year at a time, and could not be re-elected until two years after the first nomination. The system of annually electing officials among the residents lasted until 1544.

  16. A law passed in 1541 increased confusion and discord. This law made the pastures of the Island, as well as the woods and waters, public domain. The result was aggression on the part of the landless and resistance on the part of the land owners, with consequent scenes of violence and civil strife.

  17. From 1528 to 1554 the French unsuccessfully attempted to capture the Island. In 1528 they sacked and burned San Germán. All the other first settlements-Guánica, Sotomayor, Daguao and Loíza-had disappeared. Only the capital remained. In 1529 there were 120 houses; the Cathedral was completed; and the Dominican Convent was under construction.

  18. The Island remained almost defenseless against the nations with which Spain was constantly at war. After frequent and urgent petitions by the inhabitants, the construction of the first fort, the Fortaleza, was begun about 1533 and concluded in 1540. It is now used as the residence of the Governor. Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo denounced it as a piece of useless work which "if it had been constructed by blind men could not have been located in a worse place," and in harmony with his advice fortifications were begun in 1540 on the rocky promontory called El Morro, and slowly improved through the years.

  19. The history of early settlements illustrates the constant danger which the colonists faced. The original settlement of San Germán, constructed on the beach of Añasco, was burned by the French in 1528. The town was rebuilt and fortified, and in 1543 again destroyed by the French. New Salamanca, today San German, was established on its present site in 1570-73, burned by French corsairs in 1576, and again rebuilt. Guadianilla, settled on the bay of Guayanilla in 1556 was attacked by Caribs in 1565 burned to ashes by the French in 1573.

  20. In 1582 there were in San Juan, the most heavily fortified town, only eighteen cannon. Repeated attacks on the Island, particularly during the late 1500's, convinced Spain that if Puerto Rico were to be held its defenses must be strengthened. Elaborate extensions to El Morro were made from 1599 to 1609. The picturesque city wall, a great part of which is still preserved, was begun in 1630, and its construction continued for a decade. The defensive program was carried on for a period of almost two centuries, to terminate with the construction of Fort San Cristóbal in 1771.

  21. Sir Francis Drake, hero of the battle of the Spanish Armada, and Sir John Hawkins, the first English slave trader, were operating in the Spanish Main. In 1595 they learned that a galleon with vast treasure, en route from South America to Spain, had put into San Juan harbor. The Spaniards managed to remove from the galleon two million pesos in silver and gold and secrete it in La Fortaleza. In the battle Hawkins was mortally wounded by fort guns, and Drake, who saw his forces nearly annihilated by heavy fire from the forts, sailed in defeat toward South America, to die before he reached Porto Bello. The English, who had destroyed the Spanish Armada a few years before, failed here to get their hands on more gold than the whole Armada had contained.

  22. Again in 1598 the English returned to Puerto Rico, this time with a fleet of twenty ships under George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland. Landing at Santurce, the British tried to force San Antonio Bridge, and later landed troops at the Escambrón and marched into San Juan. The capital surrendered for the first time in its history, but disease broke out among the invaders and they abandoned the Island after holding it over five months.

  23. At the end of the sixteenth century, only two towns of consequence existed-San Juan and San Germán. In the capital were only 170 residents and heads of families and 14 priests. Some twenty families lived at Coamo, ten families at Arecibo. A few colonists had settled on the banks of the Bayamón, Toa, Jacaguas and Loíza rivers. In all there were not over 2,500 whites, and the eastern portion of the Island had no white inhabitants at all.

  24. There remained, of the thousands of Boriquén Indians at the time of Columbus' discovery, probably less than 1,500 on the Island at the close of the century. When Charles V of Spain decreed that the Indians should be freed from slavery, the Bishop was able to discover, in the year 1544 when he attempted to put the decree into effect, only 70 Indians. Others, wandering in the mountains, and still others, mixed with Negro slaves in the corrals or hidden by their owners, were ultimately set free.

  25. Father Bartolomé de las Casas, the "Apostle of the Indies," had in the beginning of the century suggested that in place of Indian slaves Negroes be imported. The introduction of slavery into the Antilles should not be attributed to the good father, however, for in 1502 Governor Ovando had brought with him to Santo Domingo slaves for his domestic use. Other slaves had been brought over from Seville to work the mines of Santo Domingo, and in 1510 Vicente Yáñez Pinzon brought from Seville to Santo Domingo 110 Negro slaves, purchased in Lisbon. The general introduction of slaves into the Antilles was authorized in 1513, and by 1531 over I,500 Negro slaves had been imported to Puerto Rico. Three years later, Governor Lando wrote, "The Island is so depopulated that Spaniards are scarcely seen-only Negroes." To avoid smuggling of Negroes those imported legally were branded with a hot iron-the carimbo. Any slave not so branded could be confiscated and sold at public auction. By the end of the century, Negro hands had replaced Indian ones in field and sugar mills.

  26. The principal products were cassava, corn, sugar-cane, ginger, and fruits. There were considerable cattle, wild and domesticated, and hides were an important article of export. Coconut palms had been introduced from the Cape Verde Islands, and fowl from Guinea. The principal industry was the production of sugar. Christopher Columbus had brought sugar-cane from Santo Domingo to Puerto Rico on his second voyage, and by the end of the century there were in all eleven sugar-mills on the Island. Trade was insignificant; the only means of travel were the rivers and paths formed by the Indians; and the people lived in ignorance and misery.

    COLONIAL PERIOD: 1600-1798

  27. The powerful Dutch Indies Company, organized for war as well as trade, early in the 17th century presented Puerto Rico with a threat from a new quarter. Juan de Haro had been Governor of the Island only twenty-six days when the Dutch squadron arrived on September 24, 1625, under command of Bowdoin Hendrick. The Dutch entered the harbor of San Juan and besieged the city. Hendrick sent a message to the Spanish governor to surrender El Morro.

  28. When the governor refused, hostilities were resumed on the land side of El Morro and continued until the 24th of October, when Hendrick sent another message announcing his intention of burning the city unless the Spaniards surrendered. To this letter the governor replied that there were timber and stones in the Island with which to construct another city, and he wished the whole army of Holland might be there to witness Spanish bravery. Thereupon the invaders burned the city, destroying over 100 houses, the bishop's palace, the library, and the city archives. The Spaniards then attacked the enemy in front and rear and the Dutch were forced to abandon the Island, leaving behind them a ship and over 400 dead.

  29. In 1663 the French West Indies Company took possession of Tortuga. About 1665 the French Governor of that island, Beltrán D'Ogerón, planned the conquest of Puerto Rico. He appeared off the coast with three ships, but a hurricane dispersed his expedition, and he returned to Tortuga, preparing for another invasion. On his second effort the stout resistance of the armed jíbaros (peasants) forced him to re-embark. French and English buccaneers and filibusters established bases on neighboring islands, harried Spanish ships, and occasionally sacked Puerto Rican towns.

  30. From that time to the end of the eighteenth century, England, too, persisted in her attempts to capture the two most coveted Antilles, Cuba and Puerto Rico. These incessant attacks, not only on Puerto Rico, but on all the other Spanish possessions, and the reprisals they provoked, created such animosity between the people of both countries that open hostilities had commenced before the declaration of war between England and Spain (October 23, 1739). Puerto Rico fortunately did not participate to any great extent, and for about fifty years the Island was left in peace.

  31. Smuggling flourished throughout this period, and a Governor of Puerto Rico, Matías de Abadía, officially encouraged it from 1731 to 1742. Vain attempts were made to have San Juan declared a free port. Coffee was introduced from Cuba, and soon became important to the economy of the colony. The agricultural situation was so bad, however, that Charles III sent Alejandro O'Reilly to the Island to report on conditions. O'Reilly made his report in 1765, and some of his suggested reforms were carried out in 1815 (see Agriculture). According to O'Reilly's census, the number of inhabitants was 44,883, of whom 5,037 were slaves.

  32. The throne of Spain came into the possession of the Bourbons in 1701, and soon thereafter England, Austria, and the Netherlands entered into an alliance against Spain. The English unsuccessfully attacked Arecibo in 1702, and Loíza in 1703; the Dutch also attempted in 1703 to invade the Island by way of the port of Guayanilla. Other raids followed, including one by the English on Boca Chica in 1742. Ships of several nations used the Danish islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix (today part of the American Virgin Islands) as bases for raids and smuggling. After several expeditions from Puerto Rico, the Spaniards successfully dislodged the British from the island of Vieques, but never succeeded in organizing an expedition to the Virgin Islands.

  33. When the American colonies declared their independence of Britain in 1776, Spain took their part, hoping to profit by a weakening of the power of Great Britain in the New World, without realizing, however, the possible consequences which the example of the British colonies might have for her own possessions later on. When two American vessels the Endawock and the Henry, pursued by the British man-of-war Glasgow, took refuge in the port of Mayagüez, they were assisted by the inhabitants. The Mayagüezanos ran up the Spanish flag on both vessels, whereupon the Glasgow abandoned the chase.

  34. Toward the end of the 18th century, the defenses of San Juan were greatly strengthened. For about fifty years after the Boca Chica raid, Puerto Rico was left in peace. Then the English, who had taken possession of the island of Trinidad in 1797, again attempted to capture San Juan. Sir Ralph Abercrombie landed a large force at Santurce in 1797, threw up trenches, and placed batteries on Miramar Hill in preparation for a long siege. After two weeks of cannonading and ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, the British were obliged to abandon the attack, and retreated with a loss of nearly 250 dead, many prisoners, and a large quantity of guns, ammunition, and supplies.


  35. Citizens of the young French Republic aided Puerto Ricans in the defense of San Juan against the English in 1797. The American and French revolutions made themselves felt in the Spanish colonies of the New World, which began to break the bonds that united them to the mother country.

  36. While the great Spanish Empire rapidly disintegrated, Puerto Rico made great strides not only politically, but intellectually (see Cultural Life). At varying periods from 1808 on, Puerto Rico enjoyed the status of a Spanish province, with representation in the Cortes. This and other privileges were withdrawn, then re-granted, as the control of the home government shifted between Monarchists and Republicans.

  37. The first formal move toward making Puerto Rico a sovereign state occurred during the first decade of the nineteenth century, when the Puerto Rican representative to the Spanish Cortes, Ramón Power y Giralt (1775-1813), demanded the Island's independence. Power's demand derived strength from the revolutionary effervescence in Venezuela, which reached its climax in 1811, and in Santo Domingo (1821). Underground movements, directed in part from St. Thomas, shook the Island in 1823 and 1824. A few years later the first serious step toward secession took place-the uprising of 1835, in which more than 1,500 civilians participated, and which was crushed only after ruthless reprisals. Nonetheless, the revolutionary spirit flared up again three years later in the Military Revolt of 1838.

  38. During the 1860's the independence movement came to the fore in at least three uprisings: that of 1864, directed by Luiz Vizcarrondo Padial; that of 1867, sponsored by Benito Montero, Dr. Goico, Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances and Ruiz Belvis; and especially the Lares Rebellion of September 23, 1868. Generally known as the Grito de Lares, this armed protest took place in the town of Lares, with Doctor Betances its spiritual leader. The military leadership was assumed by two foreigners, Matthew Bruckman from the United States, and Manuel Rojas of Venezuela. The Puerto Ricans gallantly defended their three one-star flags embroidered by Mariana Bracety, Dolores Cos, and Eduviglia Beauchamp, but were finally, outnumbered by the Spanish forces, and the rebellion was crushed. The leaders were killed or exiled and hundreds of men died of yellow fever in the fetid prisons of Arecibo and Aguadilla.

  39. During the 1870's and 1880's more uprisings occurred: in Yabucoa (1872), Camuy (1873), San Juan (1885), and in Yauco, twelve years later, under the leadership of Fidel Vélez, only eight months before the Royal Decree of Autonomy. But the movement was also carried on by parliamentary methods. Parties were formed: the Union Puertorriqueña, headed by Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón; the Partido de la Independencia, headed by Dr. Zeno Gandia and Rafael del Valle; and finally the Partido Unionista which, under the leadership of Luis Muñoz Rivera (1859-1916), became, after 1885, one of Puerto Rico's major political parties. Of historical importance were the Autonomist Assemblies which convened in 1887 and 1891. The latter, held in Mayagüez, brought together the two champions of Puerto Rico's independence, Muñoz Rivera and José de Diego. After 1890 Mufioz Rivera gave the movement its sharpest weapon, the daily newspaper La Democracia. Autonomist assemblies convened in 1894, 1895, and 1896. Finally in 1897 Puerto Rico, together with Cuba, was granted autonomy by Royal Decree, and on February 11, 1898, the new regime was inaugurated, continuing until United States troops occupied San Juan, October 18, 1898.

  40. An examination of the political status of Puerto Ricans under the Decree of Autonomy yields little evidence of actual independent government. The political machinery consisted of a governor general and an insular parliament composed of two houses. The governor general represented the king, and as commander-in-chief of the land and naval forces of Puerto Rico exercised military as well as civil authority. He was given the power to refuse to promulgate the laws and resolutions of the parliament, being required only to transmit to the Spanish government a report of why he considered such action necessary. He could thus suspend at will civil rights and constitutional guarantees, and dissolve parliament, enforcing such actions if necessary by ordering out the military and naval forces. In addition, special qualifications, such as ownership of property yielding an annual revenue of at least 4,000 pesos, or the possession of a degree from a recognized university, limited membership in the upper house of parliament to the landholding and professional classes. Severe restrictions were also placed on the right to vote.

  41. Many Puerto Rican leaders, among them Félix and Rafael Matos Bernier, saw in the occupation by the Americans a means of hastening total independence, and applauded the sovereignty of the United States. The Liga de Patriotas Puertorriqueños, however, which had been founded by Eugenio Maria de Hostos, demanded a plebiscite. The movement for independence continued under United States rule, finding leaders such as José de Diego. and Muñoz Rivera. It took various forms, as in the platform and manifestos of the Unionist Party, the Asociación Independentista, the youth movement Juventud Nacionalista, and more recently in the Partido Independentista and the Nationalist Party.


  42. After San Juan had been ineffectually bombarded, on July 25, 1898, General Nelson A. Miles landed 3,400 men at Guánica on the south coast, 15 miles west of Ponce. Miles issued a proclamation assuring peace and justice to the Puerto Ricans, in which he said, "We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but, on the contrary, to bring protection, not only to yourselves but to your property, to promote your prosperity, and to bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our Government." Ponce surrendered on July 28, and after a campaign of only two weeks hostilities were suspended on August 12.

  43. Fortunately the Island was spared the destruction of life and property that normally accompanies war. American troops were not seriously opposed by the Puerto Ricans and the Spanish troops offered no determined resistance. In the occasional fighting, few on either side were killed, and the number of troops on both sides totaled less than 33,000. Within less than three months the Spanish governor and his staff and troops were headed homeward. On October 18, 1898, Spanish colors were lowered and American flags hoisted in San Juan. The Island and its dependent islets was ceded to the United States on December 10, 1898, by the treaty signed at Paris and ratified on February 6, 1899. In the latter year the first American census, made by the War Department, showed a population of 953,243.

  44. Many Spanish residents would have followed their troops to Spain had their departure been made easy. Actually many found it impossible to leave, for most, if not all their possessions were in Puerto Rico. Efforts to convert property quickly into cash added to the confusion of the early occupation period. As one means of checking confusion, before it became chaos, the foreclosure of mortgages was suspended pending the establishment of more stable conditions. While this policy resulted in instances of individual hardship, it paved the way for an orderly readjustment.

  45. For the next year and a half, until May 1900, the Island was under the rule of a series of military governors, preparatory to the establishment of civil government. The military governors exercised both military and civil functions. General Guy V. Henry, who succeeded General John R. Brooke in December 1898, established by decree four civilian departments of government-state, justice, interior, and treasury. He also brought about the establishment of an Insular police force, which is still the chief law-enforcement body. Both through the military and civil branches of government there was a conscientious attempt to adapt the new regime to long-established customs.

  46. General George W. Davis succeeded to Island command in May 1899. Freedom of assembly, speech, press, and religion were decreed and an eight-hour day for government employees was established. A public school system was started and the U. S. Postal service was extended to the Island. The highway system was enlarged, and bridges over the more important rivers were constructed. The government lottery was abolished, cock-fighting was forbidden, and a beginning was made toward the establishment of a centralized public health service. Two battalions of soldiers were organized as native troops, and many soldiers who formerly had served under Spain enlisted.

  47. On August 18, 1899, the San Ciriaco Hurricane swept the Island, particularly the southern coast and coffee regions of the mountains, causing the greatest destruction of life and property in decades. Aid in money, food, and clothing was sent from the mainland, $200,000 being appropriated for the purpose.

  48. Congress approved the Foraker Act, on April 12, 1900, giving the Island its first constitution under the American Government. This act, in effect for 17 years, provided for temporary civil government and the raising of revenues to maintain it. The general administrative officials-the Governor, the Secretary of Puerto Rico, the Attorney General, the Auditor, the Treasurer, the Commissioner of Interior, and the Commissioner of Education-were named by the President, subject to the approval of the United States Senate. The Secretary of Puerto Rico served as acting governor in the absence of the Chief Executive, there being no lieutenant-governor.

  49. The six department heads, together with five others appointed by the President, formed an Executive Council to which was entrusted much of the necessary detail of organization. The five Executive Council appointees were required to be natives of the Island. (The Governmental structure in general provided for participation of both Puerto Ricans and continental Americans in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.) Besides its other functions the Executive Council was designated as the upper house of the Legislative Assembly. The Council divided the Island into seven legislative districts, prescribed qualifications for electors, and chose November 6, 1900, for the first election under the new regime.

  50. A Resident Commissioner to Washington and 35 members of the House of Delegates were chosen. Charles S. Allen, a banker, of Massachusetts, became the first American civil governor of Puerto Rico on May 1, 1900. He had previously served in the American Congress and as an Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The Island was constituted a judicial district with a United States District Court. On June 29 the Supreme Court was organized, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices-two Americans and three Puerto Ricans-being appointed by the President.

  51. Inhabitants of the Island who were Spanish subjects on April 11, 1899-the date on which cession from Spain was formalized-and their children born subsequent to that date, were held to be citizens of Puerto Rico, unless they preserved their Spanish status. These citizens, together with citizens of the United States residing in Puerto Rico, were constituted a body politic under the name of the People of Puerto Rico. Island laws and ordinances not inconsistent or in conflict with the statutory laws of the United States were continued in force.

  52. The use of Puerto Rican money was abolished in 1899 and United States currency substituted on the basis of 60 American cents for one peso. This necessitated readjustment of local values, temporarily to the disadvantage of the Island whose economy was based on the peso. At the time coffee was the economic mainstay of the Island, which exported 58,000,000 pounds. The coffee planters, encouraged by a consistent demand for their product in European markets during the latter half of the nineteenth century, had gone into an orgy of coffee production. They mortgaged their properties in order to buy more land, and the change of currency automatically increased their mortgage burden. This situation, together with the ravages of the San Ciriaco hurricane in 1899 which completely destroyed the coffee plantations, was a death blow to the coffee economy of Puerto Rico. Losing their properties, the planters were forced to migrate to the towns and cities. The coffee workers followed them and were forced to squat on the outskirts of urban communities, giving rise to malodorous slums still in existence. The ruin of the industry, which afforded work to more than half the population, was only a single dramatic instance of the ruin that devaluation of the local currency brought about.

  53. The first Legislative Assembly which met December 3, 1900, had the difficult task of enacting laws in harmony with the policies and theories of the new democratic government, while preserving most of the accumulated laws of four. centuries not incompatible with the new sovereignty. By early July 1901, the Legislature had provided new revenue laws for the Island and for the first time in the Island's history a tax was levied on real and personal property.

  54. At the same time free trade was established between Island and mainland, import duties previously levied on Island products entering the United States were abolished, while the full tariff protection given to products of United States origin and manufactures was extended to Puerto Rico. This inclusion of the Island within the American tariff wall was the most important factor in determining Puerto Rico's future economy. Coast-wide shipping laws were made applicable to the Island-all freight between Puerto Rico and the United States had to be carried in American bottoms (the most expensive in the world). As a result, 90 per cent of the Island's trade, formerly carried on with other countries, is now with the United States.

  55. An important item incorporated into the Organic Act was a resolution of Congress limiting corporations or individual planters to 500 acres of land. Efforts to enforce it, however, were delayed for more than thirty years.

  56. The failure of Congress to grant the Island a territorial form of government and make its people citizens of the United States, as recommended by Henry K. Carroll, special commissioner for the United States to Puerto Rico, who made a careful study of the general social, economic, and political conditions of the Island in 1899, was a great disappointment to the people. They construed the action of Congress as a reflection on their ability to take up their duties as American citizens. Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt consistently recommended American citizenship for Puerto Ricans.

  57. With civil government established, the Island began to attract North American capital. The tobacco and sugar industries, with their tariff protection, were among the first to be expanded. Sugar soon displaced coffee as Puerto Rico's dominant industry, its fortune linked with the mainland's tariff. Plantation factories making moscavado sugar on individual estates gave way to modern sugar centrals where cane from thousands of acres could be ground. Family properties merged into corporations. By 1900, the 22 centrals and 249 individual sugar haciendas reported in 1899 had been merged into 41 highly modernized sugar centrals.

  58. The growth of the sugar industry to a considerable degree shifted agriculture economy from that of direct consumption crops to commercial crops for export. Development of the tobacco and citrus fruit industries followed the same lines, but coffee, the chief export crop during Spanish days, was not protected by the tariff and sank to an unimportant place.

  59. Other factors contributed to the Island's growth and progress. Construction of highways and public schools afforded wide government employment of labor. The University of Puerto Rico was founded. Construction was commenced on a large hydroelectric project to provide San Juan and the adjacent area with increased power facilities. The campaign against hookworm was renewed after a lapse of ten years. The Island's first passenger elevator was installed in a San Juan department store. Women entered business in greater numbers, and sought careers in the professions. Passenger ships in Island service installed improved long-range wireless equipment. At the beginning of 1914 the first postal savings bank was opened in San Juan. A few months later the government allowed unification of the many local telephone systems. In July 1914, the Federal building at San Juan, costing $500,000 and under construction for three years, was opened to house the district court, post office, and customs house; it was the first of many United States Government buildings erected during the next twenty years.

  60. With a new administration at Washington in 1912 stimulus was given to Islanders' political aspirations. For the first time Puerto Ricans were appointed to cabinet positions, and within a few months Martin Travieso, Jr., Secretary of Puerto Rico, became acting governor during the absence of the governor-the first Islander to serve as chief executive. Efforts were renewed at Washington for enactment of a new organic act which would extend American citizenship and greater home rule.

  61. The war in Europe gave new stimulus to most Island activities, the effects of which-many of them beneficial- were to be felt for almost a decade. The increase in money value of exports and imports was phenomenal. Sugar, because of its unprecedented high price, experienced the greatest expansion. Coffee, important for the first time under the American regime, reached an export value of $9,034,028 in a war year, and tobacco exports reached a total value of $12,416,388, the highest figure on record. Other products such as coconuts, cigars, citrus fruits, and cotton, which previously had never counted for much in the Island's export trade, played an important part in rolling up the large increase in exports.

  62. In 1916 incomes in excess of $50,000 each were reported by 20 persons, one of them receiving more than $100,000. Sugar companies began distributing bonuses to laborers from war earnings; the American Railroad placed sleeping cars on its night trains between San Juan and Ponce; jitneys made their first appearance in San Juan; instruction in pie-making, Yankee style, was given for the first time in home economics classes in the public schools; the first storage tanks for fuel oil were erected in San Juan; and announcement was made of the proposed submarine telephone to link Key West and Havana, the beginning of a project designed to connect the mainland and the chief islands of the West Indies.

  63. The year 1917 began a new Island epoch. On March 2 Congress passed a new organic act conferring collective American citizenship on Puerto Ricans. The same law gave the Island more home rule, with a completely elective legislature, and transferred from the President of the United States to the governor appointive power for all but two department heads, such power being subject to the advice and consent of the Insular senate.

  64. The new act raised many legal and political questions. Within a few months the Insular and United States District Courts ruled in effect, that the granting of American citizenship implied Territorial status for the Island, but the Supreme Court of the United States, in January 1918, reversed local decisions, resulting in much discussion as to the value of the citizenship attained, a question which became a partisan issue and intensified efforts for statehood and independence.

  65. On July 16, 1917, Islanders, voting as American citizens, chose the first elective legislature and approved prohibition (to become effective in March 1918, more than two years earlier than national prohibition). The legislature, exercising new powers, met the following month.

  66. The declaration of war against Germany by the United States was quickly followed by a request from the Insular Government for army and navy recruiting on the same basis as in the mainland. Actual evidence of war had come early in August 1914, with the appearance of the German cruiser Karlsruhe in San Juan, where it took on fuel and food supplies and hastily departed. War fever ran high in the Island following the torpedoing, on June 2, 1917, of the passenger steamer Carolina of the Porto Rico Line, on its way from San Juan to New York, by a German submarine off Atlantic city, with a loss of 16 lives. Many of the passengers escaped in life boats, and the schooner Eva B. Douglas rescued 252 persons, taking them to New York City. In July 1917, 104,986 men of military age were registered, from whom 12,852 were called for service the following November. The Puerto Rican regiment was the first United States Army troop to be moved during the War, being transferred to the Canal Zone.

  67. The war gave rise to a number of new problems and difficulties in the administration of the Island. There arose the danger of interrupted communications with the mainland, through the loss or withdrawal of ships engaged in trade. The mere possibility of restricted shipping facilities not only filled the people with alarm, since most of their foodstuffs came from the United States, but it also tended to increase food prices. But a law was passed creating a food commission to guard against food shortage and profiteering, prompting a campaign for the increased production of local crops. Ten weeks after its organization, the Food Commission announced that 127,000 acres were under cultivation and had produced crops valued at $3,977,000.

  68. In October 1918, a severe earthquake was felt throughout the Island, causing great damage and loss of life at Mayagüez, and lesser damage along the west coast. The tremors continued for several weeks.

  69. With the war over, Puerto Rico experienced another period of economic dislocation. Fortunes were lost, principally from the collapse of the sugar industry, the product suddenly dropping from a record 23 cents a pound to 3 cents. The low prices of other crops, chiefly coffee and tobacco, strained the financial structure of the Island, and the readjustment of wages that followed the war also brought about a drop in price of local products.

  70. With "normalcy" restored, the spring legislative assembly of 1919 planned for an era of economic development. There was great activity in public improvements, municipalities as well as the Insular Government expending many millions of dollars, obtained from the sale of bonds for schools, hospitals, irrigation, highways, bridges and hydroelectric expansion. The employment thus provided offset in many instances the temporary inactivity of private enterprise. The needlework industry, started in a small way about this time, continued to expand until it became the second largest industry in the Island, employing more than 50,000 women in the neighborhood of Mayagüez, the center. The industry passed, early in its development, from one of high individual skill to mass production. Formerly it had been a home occupation for women who created veritable masterpieces on imported linen and other expensive material. Today the cut cotton fabric is shipped from New York to be handsewn in Island factories run by native managers. Since 1932 the industry has increased in volume from twelve to twenty million dollars. In 1939 this industry went through a period of readjustment due to the provisions of the Federal Wages and Hours Law (see Labor).

  71. On the political scene there appeared a trend toward liberal thought. The legislature passed a minimum wage law for women. The election in 1920 of Santiago Iglesias (died 1939), as the first Socialist senator, marked the rise of the Socialist Party as a major party in insular politics. Iglesias was also elected Resident Commissioner at Washington in 1932 and 1936. Women became active in public affairs, and in 1932 gained the franchise. In April of that year more than 150,000 women registered for the first time, preliminary to November voting, in which Puerto Rico elected the first woman legislator in Latin America.

  72. The opening of the School of Tropical Medicine, in 1926, marked an important achievement. Jointly sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico and Columbia University, New York, it became the first school of tropical medicine in the Americas. As a graduate school for advanced research it soon achieved an excellent reputation.

  73. With increasing frequency political leaders were voicing their aspirations. In October 1927, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House sent a lengthy memorial to President Coolidge urging him, before his retirement, to seek from Congress legislation to give Puerto Rico an elective governor. This move was urged as a step to strengthen, not weaken, ties between Island and mainland. The following January, during the Pan American Conference at Havana, the same officials cabled the President requesting that Puerto Rico be made a Free State. A similar message to the American people was entrusted to Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh upon his visit to the Island in 1927. To this President Coolidge replied, "The United States has made no promise to the people of Puerto Rico that has not been more than fulfilled."

  74. The Island's agriculture, in its various aspects, was on the threshold of an economic crisis. Sugar had not been profitable since its collapse in 1921, which had reduced employment and wages, wiped out previous profits in many instances, and increased indebtedness in many more. Moreover, the San Felipe hurricane of September 13, 1928 completely ruined the fruit and coffee industries. Some weeks later a survey fixed the losses at $85,000,000-the greatest the Island had ever known. The American Red Cross was prompt with aid and Congress later created the Hurricane Relief Commission providing $6,000,000, largely for rural reconstruction.

  75. In March 1929 leaders of the Republican and Socialist parties presented a memorial to President Hoover asking for an Island loan of $100,000,000 to refund public indebtedness and provide for a program of health education and industrialization. This memorial was the first attempt to outline a program of Island reconstruction.

  76. The Brookings Institution of Washington, an organization devoted to public service through research and training in the humanistic sciences, in an effort to present to the American public a true picture of conditions in Puerto Rico, made an extensive socio-economic survey of the Island. Its report, published in 1930, became the basis of later plans which were carried into effect by emergency and reconstruction agencies.

  77. Puerto Rico was further demoralized by another hurricane, on September 27, 1932, St. Ciprian's Day. Two hundred people were killed, a thousand injured, and property damage reached $40,000,000.

  78. Relief came a year later, when in September the Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration (PRERA) was established and given a credit of $900,000, two-thirds of it from the Federal treasury. This was the beginning of a new policy toward the Island, which within two years was to expand into a program of rehabilitation and reconstruction for which many millions would be allocated.

  79. The Federal government soon realized, however, that relief alone could not solve the difficult problems that had accumulated with the years. Something had to be done toward finding a way for a permanent reconstruction of the Island's socio-economic structure. The Puerto Rico Policy Commission, composed of outstanding Island leaders of science and letters, was called to Washington late in 1933 to prepare and present a study of Puerto Rico's problems, and to make recommendations for their solution. The Commission presented its findings in June 1934, stating in general terms what came to be known as the "Chardón Plan." It said in part that "the economic problem of Puerto Rico, insofar as the bulk of its people is concerned, may be reduced to the simple terms of progressive landlessness, chronic unemployment, and implacable growth of the population. A policy of fundamental reconstruction should, therefore, contemplate the definite reduction of unemployment to a point, at least, where it may be adequately dealt with by normal relief agencies; the achievement of this, largely by restoration of the land to the people that cultivate it, and by the fullest development of the industrial possibilities of the Island."

  80. Shortly thereafter President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the Island. His visit was preceded by the earlier ones of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and of Federal officials, who informed him on actual conditions. Conferences were held in Washington on the feasibility of a land policy for the Island tending to bring about a progressive reduction of the large estates and the redistribution of land by means of an extensive homestead program.

  81. Several circumstances served to bring new revenues into the Island's depleted treasury. Prohibition repeal by constitutional amendment re-established the rum, alcohol, and beer industries which prior to the Volstead Act had afforded much employment to the Island's large population. In 1938 rum and alcohol exports reached 694,216 gallons with a value of $3,106,279. The lottery was legalized again, in 1934, after 36 years: nearly one million dollars was thus made available in 1938-9 to combat tuberculosis and to provide health and charitable services to municipalities of the second and third classes. Cockfighting, a favorite pastime on the Island, was also legalized.

  82. In June 1934 the President by Executive Order created the Division of Territories and Island Possessions in the Department of the Interior, and transferred to it the supervision of Puerto Rican affairs which had been held by the Bureau of Insular Affairs in the War Department.

  83. In May 1935 the President issued an Executive Order creating the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration to outline a program of approved projects for providing relief and work relief, and appointed Ernest Gruening, the Director of the Division of Territories, as its Administrator. Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes visited the Island in January 1936. In the enforcement of the 500-acre law Secretary Ickes saw a fundamental move toward a solution of the Island's troubles and declared, "The heavy population of Puerto Rico presents a very serious problem. Moreover, the greater part of the cultivated land in Puerto Rico is in the hands of a few big companies. The breaking of these big sugar estates into small holdings and the enforcement of the 500-acre law in accordance with the mandate of Congress has been too long delayed." The Insular Department of Justice, immediately thereafter, instituted legal proceedings against Rubert Hermanos, Inc., a sugar corporation, and on July 30, 1938, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico handed down a decision in favor of the Insular

  84. Government. This decision was reversed in 1939 by the Court of Appeals in Boston, the judicial district to which the Island is attached. However, on a writ of certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States in 1940 reversed the Boston Court, and a decision was rendered in favor of the Insular Government. Other similar cases are now pending before the courts.

  85. Under the successive administering by Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, and Admiral William D. Leahy, Governor of Puerto Rico, the program of the PRRA has followed the objectives pointed out in a letter of President Roosevelt dated August I, 1935, in which he said, "Diversification of agricultural production will be sought by the program in order that the Island may approach a self-sustaining status. Cheap and available electric power, good roads, reforestation, and adequate housing are also essential." For its operation the Act provided a special fund consisting of sums allocated to the Island under the E.R.A. Act of 1935, which remain available for obligation until June 30, 1940, and a revolving fund derived from the operations financed out of the special fund and the proceeds of disposition of property acquired. Up to March 31, 1940, Federal funds amounting to about $66,000,000 had been allocated for the operation of the plan. Since 1939 the emphasis of the PRRA has shifted from furnishing work relief as such to the continuing of rural rehabilitation for needy persons. Work relief was taken over by WPA in 1940.

  86. Despite sincere and earnest efforts on the part of Federal authorities and Island leaders to bring Puerto Rico out of chaos, unrest became acute early in the thirties. The problems arising from widespread low standards of living were intensified by the constant increase in population which since 1899 has grown at the rate of 40,000 per year, and unemployment, which by the summer of 1934 had reached a total of approximately 350,000 and is estimated to have affected 75 per cent of the entire population. In an effort to alleviate population pressure, the Insular Government passed a birth-control law in 1937, but its enforcement was delayed by a test of its constitutionality in the Federal courts. Findings of the courts and amendments to the Puerto Rican penal code now make it legal to advertise means of preventing conception.

  87. One manifestation of unrest attracted wide attention in Puerto Rico and the United States: the revolutionary actions of members of the Nationalist Party, founded by Pedro Albizu Campos in 1922. Fervid Nationalists in the 1930's clashed violently with constituted authority. Albizu and other leaders were sentenced in 1936 to seven years in the Federal penitentiary at Atlanta for conspiring to overthrow the United States Government in Puerto Rico and for recruiting an army to oppose the authority of the United States.

  88. Puerto Rico hopes to continue its economic and cultural advances. With its excellent strategic position; its Latin American history and language, and its North American citizenship, the Island is destined perhaps to fulfill a role of meeting place between the two great cultures of the Western Hemisphere.