The Intriguing History of Puerto Rico
The island of Puerto Rico was first discovered by the famed Christopher Columbus. He found it quite by accident while looking for land to rest on and get new supplies of fruit and water. The crew walked onto the island on 19 November 1493. Christopher Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista. No-one came back to island for many years, but fifteen years later Juan Ponce de Leon would bring hardship, slavery and suffering to the inhabitants of Puerto Rico.
It is with the arrival of Juan Ponce de Leon that the history of Puerto Rico really begins. He invaded the island with an army on 12 August 1508. The inhabitants of the island, the Taino, were not prepared to fight off such a sophisticated army and the Spaniards soon took control of the island. The Taino tried to defend their land, but could not win the battle, forcing many natives to flee into the safety and cover of the dense forests or across the waters to other islands. The Taino that were captured and enslaved chose to commit suicide after killing their children, which left Ponce de Leon hunting for new slaves anywhere he could find them. The 30 000 Taino that lived in Puerto Rico were reduced to a mere 4 000 by the year 1514. The Museo Del Indio in San Juan provides fascinating insight into the history of the Taino people.
In the following years, buccaneers, pirates and other armies often plundered, looted and attacked the island of Puerto Rico, but the Spanish managed to regain control every time. The history of Puerto Rico shows that the island suffered greatly under the Spanish rule. This suffering reached a climax in the nineteenth century with the importation of slaves and the demand for sugar and coffee. In 1873 slavery was finally abolished in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican history changed dramatically in 1898 when Puerto Rico was grudgingly handed over to the United States of America after they defeated the Spanish and brought an end to Spanish rule. A military government was formed in Puerto Rico and this new leadership brought about improved health care facilities, postal services, bridges and infrastructures. But most importantly the change brought freedom – the freedom of media, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. A civil government was instituted in 1900 and by 1916 the Jones Act was implemented. This Act allowed Puerto Rico to remain a part of the United States and to enjoying local leadership. Soon U.S. citizenship was extended to Puerto Rican nationals.
Puerto Rico gained its status as a local autonomy in the year 1952 but it has not gained its independence from the United States and it is still regarded as being U.S. territory. Puerto Rican history has always been filled with political struggles and it remains that way today. The island has also become a popular tourist destination with amazing sights, fascinating multi-dimensional culture and a very complex and turbulent history.
Last updated: January 30, 2020