The US Gets Involved

Misgivings about US intentions before the Spanish-American War had prompted Puerto Rican emissaries to ask President McKinley for self-determination in case of Spanish withdrawal (he ignored the request). But things were changing too quickly for inexperienced and fragmented local leaders to keep up. Despite the fears of some educated islanders that they might end up trading one colonial ruler for another, most Puerto Ricans simply welcomed US troops in a state of euphoria at the end of400 years of Spanish sovereignty. The US promised "justice and humanity," as well as wealth, according to a proclamation by the US major who led the invasion. Perhaps naively, there was a general feeling of surprise when the United States set up a military government on the island and began giving orders in the English language. Since then, US influence in Puerto Rico has often been seen as a double-edged sword. Although the americanos immediately began to improve schools, roads and sanitary conditions, and in 1900 set up a civilian government, they exerted de facto control of all important decisions about the island's future. The US granted citizenship to all Puerto Ricans just before World War I (partly under pressure from locals and partly to recruit soldiers for the war effort). The island's economy became wholly dependant on the fortunes of the US mother ship, and when the Depression struck, it hit Puerto Rico with whiplash force. In 1933, unemployment hit 65%. Increasingly, Puerto Ricans called for change and a reconsideration of its status - whether independence, autonomy or statehood. Demonstrations culminated on Palm Sunday in 1937, when hundreds of nationalists marched in Ponce. In a confrontation with police, 19 demonstrators were killed in what became known as the Ponce Massacre.

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