Brief History Of Puerto Rico: The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico located in the northeast Caribbean Sea is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America.
Puerto Ricans are natural-born citizens of the United States, use the US dollar as their currency, but cannot vote for the United States President or elect voting members for Congress, which governs the territory with full jurisdiction under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950.
Puerto Rico is “appurtenant to” and belonging to the United States,but not incorporated into it.
So how did this Caribbean archipelago become owned by but not part of America?
Our story begins on the ninth of February, 1898.
The New York Journal publishes a letter under the headline:“Worst Insult to The United States in its History”
This letter had been written by Enrique Dupuy de Lome, the Spanish ambassador to the United States to the Foreign Minister of Spain was passed onto the New York Journal by those.
Who intercepted it; Cuban Rebels who have been fighting the Spanish for almost three years in their third attempt at winning independence.
In the letter, de Lome expresses his view that President McKinley was a weak leader.
Spanish American relations were already fragile.
The American populous was morally outraged at the Spanish treatment of civilians, who were being imprisoned in concentration camps in order to keep them separated from the rebellion, and many were dying in horrendous conditions.
While the Spanish for their part were frustrated by the American’s inability, or perhaps their unwillingness, to curb the flow of weapons from America to the rebels.
Calling for a response to the diplomatic insult the Press began a campaign opposed to the Ambassador,despite the fact he had sent in his resignation a day before.
This further enhanced anti-Spanish feelings in America.
The resignation, having done little to curb American anger,was followed by a formal apology on the fourteenth of February.
But whatever respite that achieved would be short-lived.
The following day disaster would strike.
The American Battleship the USS Maine had being anchored in Havana for the last three weeks.
Officially on a friendly diplomatic visit, but also present to protect US nationals in the ongoing war of independence and remind the Spanish of the American military capabilities.
That night a massive explosion would destroy the forward third of the ship, a later inquiry would find the cause to be a design flaw causing 5.1 tons of powder charges to detonate.
But for now, the first investigation would find there was only one villain who would be seen responsible for the act, the Spanish.
This was political manoeuvring; America had aspirations of becoming a world power, and to do so she would need coal refuelling stations, on islands such as Puerto Rico.
American politicians believed war was now inevitable allocating fifty million dollars of additional funding to the military, and with the backing of the United States Congress the President issued an ultimatum to the Spanish Government; leave Cuba.
The Spanish did not accept; expelling US diplomats from Madrid and severing ties.
The two nations were at war.
American forces quickly occupied Spain’s New World holdings, the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific, and Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.
In just under three months Spain sued for peace.
The war would end with the Treaty of Paris.
Cuba became independent but as a protectorate of the United States and Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam, and crucially for our story Puerto Rico to the control of the United States as spoils of war.
But the white political establishment didn’t want Puerto Rico a place of color to become a state.
In 1900, the Foraker Act gave Puerto Rico some limited popular government, but the governor and executive were to be appointed by the President and Puerto Ricans were given Puerto Rican citizenship over US citizenship.
Puerto Rico’s status would be challenged a year later in the US Supreme court.
Samuel Downes, a merchant importing oranges from Puerto Rico was forced to pay import duties, in accordance with the Foraker Act which levied customs specifically on imports from Puerto Rico.
Downes argued that this fell short of Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution which states “all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States”.
The court had to decide on the status of Puerto Rico, and the legality of the tariffs.
In doing so the Justices drew upon an older law as precedence – the Guano Islands Act.
In the 1840s sea, bird excrement was prized for its use as a fertilizer, but the British controlled a monopoly and prices were skyrocketing.
The United States responded with the Guano Islands Act.
This Act allowed companies to claim islands covered in Guano for the US, and if necessary allowed the president to deploy the military to protect these interests.
But these islands were not to be part of the United States, but to “be considered as appertaining to the United States” belonging to America but not a part of it.
Drawing upon this idea The Supreme Court decided that “Porto Rico is a territory appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States within the revenue clauses of the Constitution” the taxes were decided to be constitutional.
With their ruling, the Justices said Porto Rico was “foreign to the United States in a domestic sense” neither a state of the union or an independent nation, and placing Porto Rico in an in-between limbo, that she still finds herself in today.
There are many who argue that Porto Rico should become a state and others who argue for independence.
And the quill of history continues to write, and later in June 2017 Porto Rico will hold a referendum with “Statehood” and “Independence/Free Association” as the options; however, the United States Congress will still need to implement changes to the status of Puerto Rico.
But, what do you think? In the comments, tell me; should Porto Rico become a state, or an independent nation or remain a territory of the United States?
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