BECK index

Puerto Rico 1850-1935

by Sanderson Beck

   Puerto Rico’s Quest for Freedom 1850-98
   Puerto Rico & the United States 1898-1908
   Puerto Rico & the United States 1909-35

Puerto Rico’s Quest for Freedom 1850-98

Puerto Rico 1744-1850

      Ramón Emeterio Betances was born in Puerto Rico in 1827. In 1837 he went to school in Toulouse, France, and he became a medical doctor and a surgeon. After visiting Puerto Rico he studied at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris from 1848 to 1855. Having observed the 1848 revolution he became an advocate for Puerto Rican independence. After his father’s death in 1854 he and his sister Ana Maria inherited the Hacienda Carmen. He returned to Puerto Rico in July 1856 during a cholera epidemic, and he was one of five doctors treating 24,000 people in Mayagüez. He and future historian Salvador Brau founded an abolition society. In Mayagüez they gave money to parents of slaves being baptized so that they could buy their freedom later.
      Puerto Rico’s Governor Juan de la Pezuela Cevallos had issued strict Regulations in 1849 that lasted until the 1870s, and he enforced the strict libreta (license) system that led to the arrests and deportation of many Creoles including the abolitionist Julio L. Vizcarrondo and the liberal playwright Alejandro Tapia. Gov. Pezuela founded the Royal Academy of Belles Letters, and he banned popular horse races, private dances, and annual festivities. The next Governor Fernando de Norzagaray shut down the newspaper El Ponceño in July 1854 for publishing Daniel Rivera’s poem “Agüeybaná El Bravo” about an Indian chief who told Spaniards to go back to Spain. Vizcarrondo lived in New York from 1850 to 1854 when he returned to Puerto Rico. In 1857 he founded the El Mercurio newspaper, and he started the Spanish Abolitionist Society in 1864.
      In 1858 Puerto Rico’s Governor Fernando Cotoner threatened Betances with exile for being an abolitionist, and he went to France. He returned to Mayagüez in 1859 and worked as an ophthalmologist, and he introduced aseptic surgery. That year his friend Segundo Ruiz Belvis joined the Secret Abolitionist Society that Betances had founded, and for that Governor Fernando Cotoner banished the two Creole physicians.
      Abolitionists pointed out that the 1860 census showed that only 10,000 of the 41,000 slaves were workers, and Puerto Rico had 70,000 other workers who were more productive than slaves. That 1860 census counted 300,406 whites and 282,775 people that included Africans, mulattoes, and mestizos. Only about 16% of Puerto Ricans were literate, and the rest lived in poverty. Spain imposed taxes and tariffs on its Puerto Rican colony.
      In 1861 Betances and Ruiz fled persecution by joining the independence movement in the Dominican Republic. Betances began the use of chloroform in surgery in November 1862. He led the social hygiene movement in exile in the Dominican Republic where they became friends with the leaders General Gregorio Luperón and the priest Fernando Arturo de Meriño. Betances and Ruiz returned to Puerto Rico, and in January 1865 they founded the Hospital San Antonio to take care of the poor. In 1865 Ruiz returned to Madrid, and he advocated abolition in the Cortes Generales. In October Spain’s government ordered the colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico to pay the interest on Spain’s debt in 1866. That year his father died, and Ruiz inherited the Josefa hacienda and freed the slaves. That year he and Betances went to New York where they started the Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico.
      On 7 June 1867 the artillery garrison at San Juan mutinied and asked for political reforms in Puerto Rico. The Governor, General José María Marchessi, used this as an excuse to execute the rebel Benito Montero and to exile eleven Creoles as potential revolutionaries. Betances and Ruiz in July went to the Dominican Republic while the other nine obeyed the order to go to Madrid. Betances and Ruiz then went to New York where they joined the Sociedad Republicana de Cuba y Puerto Rico that the exiled physician José Francisco Basora of Mayagüez had co-founded with Cuban exiles. Betances and Ruiz returned to Santo Domingo in September 1867 to plan a revolution. Ruiz went to Chile to raise money, but he died in Valparaiso on November 2. That month Betances wrote his famous “Ten Commandments of Free Men.”

    1.  abolition of slavery
    2.  the right to fix taxes
    3.  freedom of religion
    4.  freedom of speech
    5.  freedom of the press
    6.  freedom of trade
    7.  freedom of assembly
    8.  the right to bear arms
    9.  inviolability of the citizen
    10. the right to elect one’s officials.1

During his exile he also proclaimed,

We must conspire because of the five million pesos
that we pay in taxes annually,
more than half finds its way to Spain,
to never return, under the pretext of surplus,
or savings belonging to the (peninsular) employees.
The other half is squandered
in an unnecessary military force,
in a ravenous public treasury,
in an immoral administration,
in faulty public works,
and in a secret police (that spreads terror everywhere).2

      Betances met with the Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico on 6 January 1868, and that month they drafted a constitution. Manuel Rojas and Francisco Ramírez had been exploited by the Spanish government. Spaniards also discriminated against racial minorities. The revolutionaries recruited supporters and planned the revolt to begin at Camuy. When they learned that an informer had alerted authorities, they changed the place to Lares. About 600 men gathered at the estate of Rojas. The revolutionary committee had twelve generals, and they met on September 20.
      Three days later their poorly equipped army took over the town of Lares, arrested the mayor and his assistant, and proclaimed the Republic of Puerto Rico with Francisco Ramírez Medina as president and a cabinet of five ministers with the mulatto Bernabé Pol as Secretary of State and Manuel Rojas as the Commander-in-Chief of the Liberation Army. They revolted against Spain and demanded independence. The revolution called the “Cry of Lares” or “Lares Grito” spread on the island of Puerto Rico. By December 523 rebels had been captured; 10 had been killed; and 20 escaped. A military court sentenced seven to death, and 80 died in prison of yellow fever. The rest were released by a general amnesty in January 1869. Cuba’s major revolt was on 10 October 1868.
      In elections Creoles managed to win three of the eleven contested seats. The prominent liberals José Julian Acosta and Román Baldorioty de Castro went with the rebels to Madrid. Spain’s Overseas Minister Segismundo Moret introduced a bill to abolish slavery in 1869 for state-owned slaves, those over 60 years, and slave children born after 17 September 1868. Governor José Laureano Sanz y Posse (1868-70) persecuted liberal Creoles. Governor Gabriel Baldrich arrived on 28 May 1870 with instructions to implement a liberal policy. In November 1870 he authorized political parties in Puerto Rico. The Liberal Reform Party was mostly Creoles, and the Conservative Party supported the Spaniards. Baldrich’s liberal policies ended on 13 September 1871. On 17 February 1873 Joaquín María Sanromá during a debate in Spain’s Cortes on compensation during abolition said,

Do you know how I look at compensation?
As an advance made to the planter
for the benefit of the slave;
as a fund for paying wages to the free worker.
In this sense, and in no other,
I am prepared to vote for compensation.3

On March 23 a Republican government in Spain abolished slavery in Puerto Rico for the 31,635 slaves, though they had to serve for three years as apprentices of their former owners. Eugenio María de Hostos published his novel La peregrinación de Bayoán in 1873 about a Taino who had no friends but poor workers.
      Rafael Primo de Rivera in July abolished the hated libreta system that had rationed food. The Liberal Reform Party began to demand provincial status for Puerto Rico. Governor Sanz came back for a while in 1875. He suspended constitutional rights and suppressed voting so much that only 3,000 of over 20,000 eligible actually voted. Puerto Rico’s governors for nearly two decades followed the policies of Sanz. The liberal Baldorioty founded the newspaper La Crónica, and he advocated fiscal autonomy to reform trade treaties and tariffs. Conservatives restricted voting so much with an electoral law in 1880 that only 2,004 male adults voted out of the 374,640 who were eligible.
      In February 1887 the Liberal Reform Party met in Ponce with 295 delegates debating Baldorioty’s suggested platform for the party. In March they proposed the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (PAP) that moderates hoped would form an alliance with a party in Spain. Baldorioty agreed to be president of that party, and many left the party including 200 who moved to New York City. Conservatives supported the Autonomists. As PAP gained power in municipalities some Incondicionales turned to destroying property of PAP candidates. Autonomists boycotted Spanish businesses who then refused to supply Creole-owned stores. Governor Romualdo Palacio González retaliated by arresting 80 PAP members including Baldorioty and 15 other leaders. Spain replaced Palacio in November, and they ordered the new Governor Juan Contreras Martínez to stop the violence. Salvador Baru opposed the boycott, and he managed to make a friendly agreement with Spanish merchants. The black physician José Celso Barbosa negotiated with Spanish republicans.
      On 11 February 1891 Luis Muñoz Rivera, editor of La Democracia, began publishing articles proposing a pact with Spain’s Liberal Fusionist Party of Prime Minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta. That year the Autonomist Party met in Mayagüez, and the faction led by Muñoz Rivera had a majority of the 62 delegates, and they formed the Orthodox Autonomist Party. Muñoz Rivera then renamed Fusionist PAP the Liberal Party. In 1892 in New York City the Puerto Ricans left the Cuban Revolutionary Party (CRP) to form the Puerto Rico Section (PRS), and Betances in Paris was appointed their delegate general to the CRP. Puerto Ricans began planning a military expedition against the Spaniards in Puerto Rico, and they enlisted Juan Rius Rivera who had fought in the Ten-year Cuban War that ended in 1878. Muñoz Rivera rejected that plan, and he hoped to negotiate self-government with Spain.
      On 28 December 1896 Santiago Iglesias and others organized the Regional Workers Federation and later the weekly newspaper Ensayo Obrero with socialist ideas.
      Práxedes Mateo Sagasta became Prime Minister of Spain for the third time in October 1897. Puerto Rico established an autonomous government on November 9, and on the 25th Sagasta authorized that government. Puerto Rico had a governor general, a bicameral legislature, and an administrative council with a president, five ministers appointed by the governor general, a provincial assembly, municipal governments, and 3 senators and 16 deputies in the Spanish Parliament. The Autonomic Charter reorganized Spain’s Cortes with proportional representation on November 28.
      An Autonomous cabinet was chosen in February 1898, and legislative elections were held in March. Luis Muñoz Rivera was elected Chief of the Cabinet. That March the PRS president José Julio Henna and Secretary Roberto H. Todd met with the US Senator Henry Cabot Lodge who promised to bring up Puerto Rico in the Foreign Relations Committee and in the Senate. Lodge also sent them to talk to his friend Theodore Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Betances wrote to Henna in early July warning him not to trust the United States. The Autonomous legislature met on July 17. On the 21st a White House press release stated that Puerto Rico would be kept and would “never be released.”

Puerto Rico & the United States 1898-1908

      On 15 February 1898 the USS Maine was sunk by an explosion in the Havana harbor, and on April 25 the United States declared war against Spain. On May 12 the US Rear Admiral William T. Sampson led eleven warships into San Juan Bay, and they opened fire on the city without a provocation or a warning. General Nelson Miles sent Captain Henry Whitney to spy on Puerto Rico, and he reported that the southern area was not well protected and that the people did not want Spaniards there. The United States began the invasion of Puerto Rico on July 25. The gunboat USS Gloucester was sent to the Bay of Guánica, and they killed four Spaniards and landed 28 Marines and sailors. The town of Yauco and the city of Ponce welcomed the American troops. The USS Massachusetts and ten transport ships would soon bring 3,415 more troops. Some Puerto Ricans helped the Americans remove Spaniards from political positions. In 17 days of fighting 17 Spaniards and 7 Americans were killed, and the total casualties were 105 Spaniards and 52 Americans.
      The United States had already defeated Spain in the Philippines and Cuba, and on August 12 President McKinley signed a pending armistice. On the 26th he proclaimed that Puerto Rico had “become a territory of the United States” and that its people were “dependencies of the United States.” He ordered military officers “to maintain law and order” and to encourage “peaceful economic pursuits.” On August 27 autonomists led by José Celso Barbosa said,

   We aspire to be another State within the Union
in order to affirm the personality of the Puerto Rican people,
accepting in the meanwhile whatever transformations
the Congress deem necessary in accordance
with the civic and cultural state of the country.4

Later on October 21 this group issued a manifesto that called for US citizenship and full self-government. They found that military government was not compatible with American freedoms and should be ended. Labor leaders in October formed the Regional Federation of Puerto Rican Workers.
      On August 29 about 35 armed men with faces darkened by coal had looted and ransacked Lares, and in the next two months authorities in Mayagüez reported 70 similar incidents. The Autonomous Government in Puerto Rico let the occupying American forces restore order. Some Puerto Ricans refused to obey the military ordinances or pay local taxes or cooperate with soldiers investigating criminal cases.
      On October 18 the Spanish government in San Juan officially surrendered to the American military. With Congress adjourned President McKinley announced military rule on the island. He said it would be temporary until the US Congress decided what to do. He appointed a Special Commission to study Puerto Rico’s laws, customs, and economy, and he asked for their recommendations regarding the government. Eugenio María de Hostos was for independence, and he formed a League of Patriots to urge the end of military government and to let Puerto Ricans decide by a plebiscite on independence or annexation. He suggested there could be a 20-year US protectorate to prepare for independence.
      The US General John R. Brooke became the first military governor on October 18, and he put General Guy V. Henry in charge of civil jurisdiction with headquarters at Ponce and General Frederick D. Grant for military jurisdiction from San Juan. On October 26 the name was changed to Porto Rico, and English was proclaimed the official language of the government. A new Supreme Court was put in charge of all pending appeals. Luis Muñoz Rivera edited La Democracia, and he criticized General Brooke and a “cloud of adventurers.” The Orthodox faction defended the Americans in La Nueva Era and called the Autonomists “Hispanophiles.”
      On December 10 the Paris Treaty recognized Cuba as an independent nation and that Spain had ceded Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico to the United States. Article IX stated that the US Congress would determine the civil rights and political status of those born in Puerto Rico.
      When General Henry replaced Brooke in December, those on the Autonomist Council resigned. Henry refused to accept that, and then he reorganized the government so that they had little power. The Insular Councilmen resigned in protest, and Henry abolished the Insular Council on 6 February 1899. He made a civilian the chief of police, and then he appointed Commander Josiah Pierse to direct the Department of Agriculture and Public Works. He told General John Eaton to hire American teachers for $50 a month and to accelerate the instruction of English. Schools were to have a code and were to be co-educational.
      Gov. Henry also added two regiments of cavalry, created military commissions, and put all criminal cases under military authority. To increase revenues he lowered tariff rates and duties, and he allowed trading with the United States and foreign nations. He lowered the value of the peso compared to the US dollar. He abolished the tax on bread and fresh meat, and he suspended the lottery. When he put a one-year moratorium on debts, creditors made fewer loans. He separated church and state by abolishing the state’s subsidy of the clergy, and he ruled that only Catholics could be buried in Catholic cemeteries. He ordered the state to take over what churches had done for education, health, and civil services. He applied US rules to immigration. Newspapers criticized his policies, and he forbade them doing that “without conclusive proof.” Henry prosecuted editors and suspended La Metralla. General Henry resigned on April 30.
      The American Socialist Party celebrated Labor Day on May 1, and General Henry ordered the 8-hour day for all of Puerto Rico. In July the Free Federation of Workers and the Socialist Workers’ Party were founded.
      General George W. Davis arrived on May 9 and governed for almost a year until the US Congress approved the Puerto Rican government. Davis reformed the judicial system to make it like the United States judiciary.
      On August 8 the hurricane San Ciriaco devastated the island, killed 3,000 people, made 250,000 homeless, and destroyed most of the crops. Davis organized a Charity Board to coordinate donations, and he asked Washington for support. He set up a Board of Health to prevent diseases, and made mayors enforce the vaccination program and sanitary laws. The US Secretary of War Elihu Root sent food, clothing, and medicine; but distribution was difficult, and many were suffering. Davis informed Root that children could not go to school because they were “anemic, half-starved and often naked.”
      A Board of Education was formed, and they replaced the bachelor degree with a secondary school certificate. Gov. Davis limited voting to the literate, tax-paying males over the age of 21. Elections were only for municipal governments, and they were supervised by the military. Davis wrote Washington that Puerto Ricans were presently “unfit for self-government” because they lacked middle-class reforms and honest elections. Root replied that they had “no legal right to assert against the United States” except “a moral right to be treated by the United States in accordance with the underlying principles of justice and freedom which we have declared in our Constitution.”5
      A census in 1900 found that Puerto Rico had 953,243 people with 62% classified as white and 38% as colored. About 150,000 were born in Spain, and 14,000 were from France. Coffee had become the largest crop with twice as much acreage as sugar. Coffee made over 12 million pesos per year and sugar over 4 million. McKinley’s Special Commission recommended free trade and citizenship. Senator Joseph Foraker agreed with that; but the Congress removed citizenship which could imply statehood, and they emphasized ways of increasing revenues in the final bill passed on 12 April 1900.
      Charles H. Allen became the first civil governor of Puerto Rico on May 1. That month the United States Congress declared that Puerto Rico was a territorial possession of the US entitled only to a colonial government with minimal representation. They should have an appointed governor with an executive council and a unicameral legislature. Gov. Allen followed McKinley’s advice to appoint four Puerto Ricans to his council. They were the Republicans José Barbosa and Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón and the Federals José de Diego and Manuel Camuñas. William H. Hunt was the executive secretary. A conflict developed between Muñoz Rivera and Barbosa with barosistas strong in San Juan and muñocistas active inland. Gov. Allen signed a bill that imposed a 1% tax on real property to increase revenues. Federals criticized that during the economic crisis. Allen predicted that the tax would cause even more profits for the sugar industry. Muñoz Rivera campaigned and published The Puerto Rico Herald that was sold in New York and Washington.
      Samuel Gompers led the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and in December 1900 Santiago Iglesias became his devoted disciple. In October 1901 Iglesias went to see President Roosevelt who dictated a letter for him to give to Governor Hunt. The Republican Party’s labor group was the Federación Regional, and their turbas shot at the headquarters of Iglesias. The judge at San Juan sentenced Iglesias to three years in prison. In December the Federación Libre de Trabajadores (FLT) met, and 500 workers voted to affiliate with the AFL. Appeals were sent to Washington, and in April 1902 the Insular Supreme Court overturned the conviction and released Iglesias. Gompers would visit Puerto Rico in early 1904. The FLT would begin working for woman suffrage in 1908. Their organ Unión Obrera was published from 1902 to 1935.
      The former US Judge William Henry Hunt became Governor of Puerto Rico on 15 September 1901. He signed many executive orders and established Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day as holidays. He favored the Republicans, and they got a majority in the elections on 4 November 1902. The Federals elected 10 of the 25 members of the House of Representatives. The Republican Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón was on the Executive Council and supported the American policy. He was a Social Darwinist, and at a meeting in February 1902 he suggested that Puerto Ricans had moral weakness and should emulate American self-reliance. His ideas led to the founding of the Union de Puerto Rico on 19 February 1904. Muñoz Rivera returned from New York, and he worked for independence with José de Diego.
      In his annual message to the US Congress on 5 December 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt wrote,

I earnestly advocate the adoption of legislation
which will explicitly confer American citizenship
on all citizens of Porto Rico.
There is, in my judgment, no excuse for failure to do this.
The harbor of San Juan should be dredged and improved.
The expenses of the Federal Court of Porto Rico
should be met from the Federal Treasury
and not from the Porto Rican treasury.
The elections in Porto Rico
should take place every four years, and the Legislature
should meet in session every two years.6

The Secretary of State Elihu Root visited Puerto Rico in July 1906. De Diego asked the House of Delegates to show Root the Puerto Rican petition for American citizenship and an elected Senate. President Roosevelt on his way back from the Panama Canal stopped at Puerto Rico in November. He admired the beauty of the land. He felt the people were “pathetic and childlike.” Yet he praised those in the administration. On December 11 he presented a “Message Regarding the State of Puerto Rico” in which he discussed their economy. Again he expressed his desire for them to have “full American citizenship.” He noted the “complete and absolute autonomy in all their municipal governments.” Election frauds were settled in courts. He saw their progress in accepting the American principles of majority rule and not disregarding or trampling on minority rights.
      In June 1907 De Diego spoke at a conference in Virginia and presented the Unionist perspective. He met with President Roosevelt and gave him a message from the House. Muñoz Rivera said that the Council had “six caciques or bosses,” and the governor could not control them. In the 1908 elections the Union Party got twice as many seats as the Republicans.
      Puerto Rico’s total exports increased from $17,502,103 in 1901 to $68,595,326 in 1910. In 1901-02 there were 874 common schools with 42,070 students, and in 1909 they had 1,912 schools and 114,367 pupils.

Puerto Rico & the United States 1909-35

      In a serious message to Congress on 10 May 1909 the United States President William Howard Taft called for more discipline and responsibility in Puerto Rico. In 1909 Nemesio Canales in the House of Delegates introduced a bill for female suffrage.
      Henry L. Stimson became Secretary of War in 1911, and on 7 May 1912 he met with a US Senate committee and suggested that most Americans would like to have Puerto Ricans “exercise supervision over their own fiscal and local self-government.” In 1912 Matienzo Cintrón and other radicals started the Independence Party, and the proposed state ownership of banks, railroads, telephone and telegraph services, guaranteed employment, a minimum wage law, 8-hour day, old-age pensions, equal rights for women, and cooperatives. López Landrón believed that only a “cosmopolitan movement of labor” could counteract the “cosmopolitan movement of capital,” and he suggested that the United States had replaced the “aristocracy of birth” with the “aristocracy of money.”
      The Unionist Muñoz Rivera called for home rule and the same rights as other countries. He believed that citizenship without self-government was worthless, and at an extraordinary meeting in November 1913 the Unionists called for full independence or independence under a protectorate. That year US President Woodrow Wilson appointed Arthur Yager the Governor of Puerto Rico, and he served for eight years. Wilson in his message to Congress in December noted that overseas territories should not be exploited, and he promised them “ample and familiar rights and privileges.”
      On 18 January 1914 Senator John F. Shafroth of Colorado introduced a bill for individual citizenship and civil government for Puerto Rico. On February 27 Muñoz Rivera offered a bill to Congress for home rule, an elective Senate, and citizenship, and he urged Barceló and De Diego to come to Washington. De Diego wrote a Memorial opposing US citizenship, and Muñoz supported that in the House of Delegates. In 1914 Lloréns Torres published El Grito de Lares about the 1868 revolution.
      The work of Gompers and Santiago Iglesias developed local socialist unions. They advocated worker legislation, abolishing the death penalty, the 500-acre law, and votes for women. In 1914 Gompers went to Arecibo, and he was concerned about growing unemployment among sugar workers. That year Arecibo got 2,871 votes and took control of the local government away from the Unionists. In 1914 there was a cigar strike, and in 1915 about 17,000 sugar-cane workers went on strike.
      William A. Jones of Virginia was the head of the House Committee on Insular Affairs, and they proposed making “Porto Rico” a “permanent territory of the United States.” On 5 March 1916 Muñoz Rivera spoke in the House for self-government and against the Jones Bill that did not provide home rule. He warned that if the United States did not provide moral support, he might turn elsewhere. The House of Representatives passed the Jones Bill on May 23. The Senate approved it on 20 February 1917 and with a prohibition amendment on March 2. President Wilson signed the Jones Act on March 4. This liberalized some of the Foraker provisions and granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans.
      After the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917, Puerto Ricans supported the war effort by offering a selective draft. More than 236,000 men registered, and about 18,000 were selected. Puerto Rico’s regiment became part of the army in May, and 4,000 enlisted men were sent to Panama. Other troops stayed on the island for training. Puerto Rico raised a war fund of $112,000. They voted to prohibit alcohol 102,413 to 64,227. On May 14 the General Assembly passed a resolution to be an incorporated territory heading for statehood, and they demanded an elected governor and to remove the US district court. After the war the Federación Libre de Trabajadores (FLT) had tripled in size and had 28,000 members.
      In 1919 the Resident Commissioner Félix Córdova Dávila advocated an elected governor, and the Congress promoted that. Governor Arthur Yager increased the civil servants to 5,953. In the 1920 elections the Socialists received 23% of the votes. They elected four legislators and controlled eight municipalities. By 1920 about 45,000 Puerto Ricans were living in New York City. Women organized the Liga Femínea in 1917, and they made it the Liga Social Sufragista in 1921. Literate women would be able to vote in 1932, and all women could vote by 1936.
      The United States President Warren Harding appointed Emmet Montgomery Reily the next governor in 1921, and he was very incompetent and imposed English supremacy in the schools. The co-founder of the Republican Party, Roberto H. Todd, called Reily a “damn fool.” Eventually a grand jury charged Reily with misusing public funds, and he resigned in March 1923. In 1922 Nemesio Canales argued that only abolishing capitalism and its militarism could save the world from a conflagration.
      President Harding appointed Horace Mann Towner of Iowa the next governor, and he gained good will by choosing competent Puerto Ricans for his cabinet. Towner went to Washington and called for an elected governor and extending federal laws to Puerto Rico. US President Calvin Coolidge was cautious and opposed those. In November 1924 an Alliance of two parties defeated the Socialists and dissident Republicans. In 1925 Santiago Iglesias was appointed the head of the Pan American Federation of Labor which tried to keep workers from supporting nationalists or socialists.
      The Alliance (Alianza) won the 1928 elections by only 9,410 votes, and Republicans led by Martínez Nadal merged with the conservative Socialists. On 13 September 1828 the hurricane San Felipe devastated Puerto Rico killing 300 people and destroying 250,000 homes. About 500,000 people were destitute, and damage was over $85 million.
      In early September 1929 the US President Herbert Hoover appointed Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the former President, the Governor of Puerto Rico. His policies promoted vocational schools and rural centers to help small farmers, and he set up a Department of Labor led by the Socialist Prudencio Rivera Martínez. Roosevelt enforced the taxes on the wealthy and absentee corporations, and he promoted manufacturing. He made the liberal José Padín head of the Department of Education, and he helped rural schools and defended the use of Spanish as well as English. Republicans called him anti-American. In 1930 the Brookings Institution found that the average income of rural workers was only $150 a year, and town workers got only a little more. Most rural workers had no land, and poverty and disease were spreading since the hurricane and the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. The 500-acre limit on land had not been enforced, and since 1917 at least 477 persons and corporations owned over 500 acres for a total of 537,193 acres. In 1931 Gov. Roosevelt appointed the Puerto Rican mycologist Carlos E. Chardón the chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico. There students could study the works of John Dewey as well as the great Spanish writers Miguel Unamuno and Ortega y Gasset and the Mexican revolutionary José Vasconselos.
      Theodore Roosevelt Jr. would publish Colonial Policies of the United States in 1937 to defend American policies, and he criticized officials who did not speak Spanish and who assumed cultural and racial superiority and domination by capital. He did not think Puerto Rico could afford to be a state, and he recommended dominion status with self-government.
      Pedro Albizu Campos was born a mulatto in a barrio of Ponce on 12 September 1891, and his father did not acknowledge him until Pedro was at Harvard University. Albizu met leaders of India’s independence movement, and he also supported Irish independence. He learned eight languages, earned a law degree and clerked for the US Supreme Court before working for the US State Department. A racist professor at Harvard by delaying his exams blocked Albizu from giving the valedictory speech as the top student. He returned to Puerto Rico in June 1921. He joined the Alianza, and he was for independence and a constitutional convention. When that party opposed such a convention in the spring of 1924, Albizu joined the Nationalist party that had begun in 1922. From 1927 to 1930 he traveled to Santo Domingo, Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela before returning to Puerto Rico. He agreed with Vasconcelos who defended Latin America as the cosmic race. Albizu worked to unify his party, and in May 1930 he was elected president of the General Assembly. He lectured and gave speeches on independence. In the 1932 elections he got 11,000 votes, but his party received only 5,257 out of 383,722. He had fought as a volunteer in the Great War, and now he considered his small party as patriotic soldiers.
      Luis Muñoz Marín, the son of Muñoz Rivera, was born on 18 February 1898. By 1920 he was a socialist, and in New York he worked as a journalist for The Nation and The American Mercury. He became a friend of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and praised his policies. In 1926 he returned to Puerto Rico, and Antonio Barceló hired him to edit La Democracia. In 1929 he wrote,

By now the development
of large absentee-owned sugar estates,
the rapid curtailment in the planting of coffee …
and the concentration of cigar manufacturing
in the hands of the American trust, have combined
to make Puerto Rico a land of beggars and millionaires,
of flattering statistics and distressing realities….
It is now Uncle Sam’s second largest sweat-shop.7

      Muñoz Marín returned to Puerto Rico in 1931, and after the Alianza split he helped found the Liberal Party. In August 1932 Muñoz Marín guided Eleanor Roosevelt on a tour of the island, and he called her the “American conscience in Puerto Rico.” In the elections on November 8 he was elected a senator, and the Liberal Party got 170,794 votes; but the Republican Union with 110,794 votes and the 97,438 votes of the Socialists had a coalition that won a majority. The Nationalists had only 5,257 votes. Eleanor’s report persuaded her husband Franklin Roosevelt to include Puerto Rico in his New Deal, and Muñoz Marín supported the implementation of the programs. He opposed the plutocrats and proposed that the government buy the properties of the United Porto Rico Sugar Company. The land would be divided, and small farms would be distributed to the landless. On 14 June 1934 the Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Chandón proposed extending this plan beyond the sugar industry.
      In January 1932 US President Herbert Hoover appointed James R. Beverley governor of Puerto Rico, and he was the only US governor who spoke Spanish and lived on the island. He served until Franklin Roosevelt replaced him with Robert Hayes Gore in July 1933. In August about 7,000 tobacco workers including 5,000 women went on strike in Caguas. From 1930 to 1933 the average income of Puerto Ricans was reduced by 30%. After Gore was called the “worst blunderer,” he resigned on 1 January 1934.
      The Communist Party led by Jesús Colón, Consuelo Lee, Andreu Iglesias, and José Luis González became active in Puerto Rico in 1934. Blanton Winship of Georgia was adjutant general of the War Department. He became Governor of Puerto Rico on February 5. He was a reactionary army man and wanted to increase tourism. US President Franklin Roosevelt moved Puerto Rican affairs from the War Department to the Interior Department under Secretary Harold Ickes. The Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration (PRERA) helped tens of thousands get employed, and they provided food for even more. The Costigan-Jones Act gave bonuses to land-owners who did not grow sugar cane. Liberal James Bourne supervised social welfare, free maternal health clinics, the investigation of poverty, public works, home gardens, canning centers, and rural cooperatives. He hired many Liberals, and the Legislative Assembly declared him a public enemy in 1935.
      When Pedro Albizu Campos criticized students at the university in October, the students protested. Police stopped a car filled with Nationalists, and they killed three of them. Albizu blamed Gov. Winship and Police Chief Francis Riggs, and he threatened revenge.


1. Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900 by Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim, p. 166.
2. Ibid.
3. From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean 1492-1969 by Eric Williams, p. 331.
4. Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History by Arturo Morales Carrión, p. 141.
5. Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900 by Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim, p. 221.
6. Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908, Volume XI, p. 1176.
7. Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History by Arturo Morales Carrión, p. 225.
8. Ibid., p. 237.
9. Ibid., p. 250-251.
10. Ibid., p. 258.

Copyright © 2023 by Sanderson Beck

Latin America & Canada 1850-1935 has been published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Latin America & Canada to 1850

Brazil 1850-1935
Uruguay 1850-1935
Argentina 1850-1935
Paraguay 1850-1935 
Bolivia 1850-1935
Chile 1850-1935
Peru 1850-1935
Ecuador 1850-1935
Colombia 1850-1935
Venezuela & Guianas 1850-1935
Haiti & Dominican Republic 1850-1935
Cuba 1850-1935
Puerto Rico 1850-1935
Panama 1850-1935
Costa Rica 1850-1935
Nicaragua 1850-1935
El Salvador 1850-1935
Honduras 1850-1935
Guatemala 1850-1935
Mexico 1850-1935
Canada 1850-1935

Chronology of Latin America to 1935
Chronology of Canada to 1935
Chronology of North & South America to 1786
Chronology of North & South America 1787-1844
Chronology of North & South America 1845-1896
Chronology of United States to 1896
World Chronology to 1830


BECK index