The Spanish Hold Slips Away

Her glory faded, Spain faced increasingly daunting problems at home during the 18th and 19th centuries, such as de facto rule over the country by France and costly wars fought on the French behalf. In a bid to gain at least some revenues from Puerto Rico, the Spanish crown loosened restrictions on the island's economy in the mid-1760s. Immigrants rushed to take advantage of the new economic freedom, and the island's population tripled to 150,000 within three decades. Whereas roads, schools and a coherent economy had been almost nonexistent before, the island began to pick itself up by the bootstraps as waves of new arrivals breathed new life into San Juan and the sleepy, far-flung settlements. In 1805, when British Admiral Nelson destroyed the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar -effectively shutting down most of Spain's trade with the Americas - the Colonial hold on the island slipped to mere military and administrative capacities. In the rest of the Americas, it slipped even further. Revolutions toppled Colonial governments from Argentina to Mexico, and by the middle of the 1820s the once-glorious Spanish empire in the Americas had dwindled to two Caribbean islands - Cuba and Puerto Rico.

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