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The Spanish-American War in Puerto Rico

Throughout the 19th century, South American countries were winning their battles for independence. Mexico had won its independence in 1823. By the dawn of the 19th century, only Puerto Rico and Cuba remained Spanish colonies. Puerto Rico had developed a cultural and national identity distinct from Spain and began demanding more autonomy. Puerto Ricans wanted educational reform, less taxation, more representation. They wanted Puerto Ricans, as opposed to Spaniards, in local government positions. In 1812, Puerto Ricans secured a more liberal constitution and the right to Spanish citizenship.

Efforts continued on the part of Puerto Rican citizens to win full independence; Spain's response was to tighten its rule over Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans continued the struggle and in 1897 an agreement was reached with Spain whereby Puerto Rico was granted local governmental control. By July 17, 1898, Puerto Rico had voted for its first independent governor.

However, on April 25, 1898, the US declared war on Spain. The Spanish-American War lasted only a few months. After the fall of Santiago in Cuba, General Miles took personal charge of an expedition to Puerto Rico. His force of about 3,000 men landed at Guanica on 25 July 1898, and an additional force under Maj. Gen. John R. Brooke landed at Guayama. Four columns of American troops quickly overran the island. There was some light skirmishing in which a few Americans were wounded, but the population as a whole received the Americans with enthusiasm.

When the war ended, the United States was in possession of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines. Under the 1899 Treaty of Paris, Puerto Rico found itself a US protectorate with fewer rights of self-government than it had recently won under Spain.

In 1900, the United States declared Puerto Rico a United States territory. A civil administration replaced the transitional military government. This allowed for local elections of Puerto Ricans to a House of Delegates that made laws relating to internal affairs. The United States President appointed an American governor to head the House of Delegates. This appointed American governor had final say over the affairs of the island. In addition, in 1900 a heavy tariff was added on products coming out of Puerto Rico in order to protect U.S. sugar and tobacco interests from Puerto Rican competition. Many Puerto Ricans protested these arrangements. However, the US Supreme Court ruled the U.S. could govern its territories this way. This ruling gave rise to strident Puerto Rican political efforts to change the status quo. Due to these efforts and the threat of WWI, President Woodrow Wilson granted U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans. This also meant that Puerto Ricans were subject to the draft.



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