PUERTO RICO (HISTORY, GEOGRAPHY AND CULTURE)
The Caribbean before the landing of Columbus served almost as a bridge between the north coast of South America and Florida for the Amazonian tribes in the south and the north american inhabitants. When Christopher Columbus on his second trip in 1493 landed in Puerto Rico and claimed it for Spain, he found the island populated by as many as 60,000 Arawak or Taino indians, which for the most part, were friendly compared to the Carib indians in some of the more southerly islands which were warlike and to some degree cannibalistic.
The conquest of the island didn't take long, and the peaceful Tainos were put to the task as slaves for the purpose of mining the gold that was found on the island. The gold didn't last long and in 1511 there was an uprising of the Tainos, who up to this point had believed that the Spaniards were Gods, and took a soldier by the name of Sotomayor and dunked him head first in a river for several hours to see if he would die. Just in case, they had prepared a feast for the Spaniard if he came out alive. However, it wasn't the Spanish sword that took most of the lives of the Arawaks, but the diseases that were brought from Europe and for which the indians had no defenses.
In 1508 the first governor arrived, Juan Ponce de León (who is more famous as the searcher for the fountain of youth and discoveror of the state of Florida). The island remained Spanish despite harassment and numerous conquest attempts by buccaneers and pirates and English and Dutch expeditions. To defend the island against these threats, two forts, El Morro and San Cristóbal,were built to guard the approaches to San Juan harbor. Defense of these forts foiled attempts by Sir Francis Drake in 1595, by another English fleet in 1598, and by the Dutch in 1625 to capture Puerto Rico for their respective empires. The defeat of the British in 1797 finally thwarted that country's designs on the island, and the Spanish colony was kept intact.
During the 16th to the 19th century Puerto Rico was characterized primarily by underpopulation, poverty and neglect by Spain. It was mainly a garrison for the ships that would pass on their way to or from the other and richer colonies. During this time as much as 10 or 11 years would pass between the arrival of ships from Spain and as trade with other countries was prohibited, the island reverted to contraband trading with ships from England, Netherlands or whomever would trade for the main produce of the island, which at that time was ginger. This peasant agriculture continued until the early 19th century, when Spanish law was changed to allow unrestricted trade with the neighbors.
The 19th century in Puerto Rico was characterized by a series of strict if not brutal military governors which stifled the independence movements in Puerto Rico that were shaking the foundations of its other American colonies. Slavery and the importation of slaves reached its peak, with the need for workers on the sugar and coffee plantations. Slavery, however, never reached the alarming proportions of freemen to slaves as it did on the other colonies or even on parts of the United States. While in Haiti in 1789 the slaves comprised 90% of the population and in Jamaica 85%, in Puerto Rico in 1834 the census established that 11% of the population were slaves, 35% were colored freemen and 54% were white. It was only until 1873, however, that slavery was finally abolished in Puerto Rico.
During the 19th century there was also increased immigration from the colonies that were being lost by Spain and this influx of people and capital allowed for creation of many towns and cities. The economy grew as a result and export-oriented agriculture became prominent, especially coffee and sugar. In 1897 home rule was established for the first time by the Autonomic Charter granted by the Spanish government and Puerto Rico was given the status of a Spanish dominion. This autonomy was short lived, however, as the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War and was ceded Puerto Rico in 1898.
The Foraker Act of 1901 established the relationship of the United States with Puerto Rico and many of its provisions are still in force. During this period the Puerto Ricans were in a citizenship limbo as they weren't citizens of Spain and the title "Puerto Rican citizen", although it applied, meant little, as Puerto Rico was not a free country or legally part of another. This ambiguity was finally solved by the Jones act of 1917 by which Puerto Ricans became American citizens and Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory of the United States. During the years between 1900 and 1940, Puerto Rico and its people suffered through enormous hardships created by lack of jobs and by poor pay in those jobs that existed. The economy was basically agricultural and one-crop, sugar cane, and the lands producing it and the factories to extract the sugar were mainly owned by corporations from the United States mainland who paid low wages and repatriated all the profits. Partial self-government was granted in 1947, enabling citizens to elect their own governor for the first time. In 1952 a new constitution made Puerto Rico an autonomous part of the United States called the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico. The Flag and Seal of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico were adopted by the legislative assembly in 1952.
This subtropical island has developed into the only Caribbean island where industry and commerce has exceed primary agricultural production. The island and its approximately 3.3 million citizens are self-governed as a free associated state of the United States. Puerto Ricans now have most of the benefits of American citizenship, including federal welfare aid but Puerto Ricans are unable to vote in United States presidential elections despite being subject to service in the armed forces. There is great public interest in resolving the political status issue and the main difference in the political parties is their differing views of the status issue. The Partido Independista calls for total independence as a nation-state, the Populares support the present commonwealth status, and the Partido Nuevo Progresista advocates statehood, hoping to see Puerto Rico become the 51st state of the United States.
The people of Puerto Rico have a love of their country, or "patria", that accepts the free association with the mainland but emphasizes loyalty to their own culture, way of life, spirit, folklore, hospitality, and ways of getting along with others. Many Puerto Ricans move between the island and United States mainland to get the "best of both worlds"; culture, identity, and a familiar environment in the former; material wealth, education, acquisition of skills, and opportunities for their children from temporary residence in the United States. Many return to the Caribbean; many stay in the United States; and the constant circulation of Puerto Ricans between homes is now an enduring feature of the island's experience.
Economically Puerto Rico has a greater variety of industrial, commercial, and financial service activities and a better developed transportation network than other Caribbean islands. Statistics show that it has some of the most favorable economic and demographic conditions in Latin America and the Caribbean. In comparison to the United States, however, Puerto Rico's position is still quite below that of the poorest state of the Union, Mississippi.
The island of Puerto Rico is almost rectangular in shape, and is the smallest and the most eastern island of the Greater Antilles. Its coasts measure approximately 580 km, and if the adjacent islands Vieques and Culebra are included the coast measures approximately 700 km. To the north and south seas capes measure 8.525 m for the Grave of Puerto Rico and 5.000 m for the Grave of Tanner. In addition to the principal island, the Commonwealth includes: Vieques, Culebra, Culebrita, Palomino (known by some by the Spanish Virgin Islands), Mona, Monito and various others isolated islands. Deep oceans waters fringe Puerto Rico. The Mona Passage, which separates the island from Hispaniola to the west, is about 75 miles (120 km) wide and more that 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) deep. Off the northern coast is the 28,000 feet (8,500 meters) deep Puerto Rico Trench, and to the south the sea bottom descends to the 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) deep Venezuelan Basin of the Caribbean.
Puerto Rican culture is somewhat complex, -others will call it colorful. Culture is a series of visual manifestations and interactions with the environment that make a region and/or a group of people different from the rest of the world. Puerto Rico, without a doubt has several unique characteristics that distinguish their culture from any other.
Lets consider that the people of Puerto Rico represent a cultural and racial mix. During the early 18-century, the Spaniard in order to populate the country took Taino Indian women as brides. Later on as labor was needed to maintain crops, and build roads. African slaves were initially imported, shortly followed by the importation of Chinese immigrants, then continued with the arrival of Italians, French, German, and even Lebanese people. American expatriates came to the island after 1898. Long after Spain had lost control of Puerto Rico, Spanish immigrants continued to arrive on the island. The most significant new immigrant population arrived in the 1960s, when thousands of Cubans fled from Fidel Castro's Communist state. The latest arrivals to Puerto Rico have come from the economically depressed Dominican Republic. This historic intermingling has resulted in a contemporary Puerto Rico without racial problems.
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