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The Spanish American War and Puerto Rico
by Daniel Lopez

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Puerto Rican FlagAn Introduction: On February 15, 1898, the battleship USS Maine, stationed in Havana Harbor (Cuba), exploded and sank to the bottom of the sea. The explosion and its aftermath killed two of the 26 officers, and 250 of the 329 sailors and marines aboard. It was the explosion of the Maine that precipitated the outbreak of the Spanish American War which was declared by President William McKinley in April, 1898.

The Maine was in Cuba, then a colony of Spain, to protect American property during a period of revolution and upheaval. However, the Spanish Government did not appreciate America’s presence in Cuba. To this day, the question still remains as to what caused the explosion. After an inquiry into its cause, the U.S. Naval Board of Inquiry blamed it on a Spanish mine.

An important aspect of the Spanish American War was the United States’ military plans, battles, and excursions, both in Puerto Rico and in Cuba. This war lasted a little over three months, or from late April to early August, 1898. (The signing of the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war on December 10, 1898.)

Since 1998 marks the 100th Anniversary of the United States’ involvement in the affairs of Puerto Rico after almost 400 years of Spanish rule, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon our historical past. The United States has influenced not only the people in Puerto Rico, but also the nearly three million Puerto Ricans residing in the United States.

According to some historians, the Spanish-American War has had an on-going, as well as a long-lasting, effect on those countries that were somehow involved. For example, both Puerto Rico and the United States, as well as Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Hawaii, were all directly impacted by this war. In the book "Extraordinary Americans," by Susan Sinnott (1991), Ms. Sinnott ponts out in the chapter entitled "Remember the Maine: The Spanish American War and Its Aftermath" that "The Spanish American War was short but the results were far-reaching. The Spanish lost their holdings in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The United States was left, if not in control of the colonial empire, then at least in a much more responsible position than before. The end of the war pushed the United States into the world arena—it was now a major international power."

The book, "Everything You Need To Know About Latino History" (Himilce Novas, 1994, pp. 152-154), offers a description on how Puerto Ricans felt about Spanish rule toward the end of the 19th Century.

Further, Himilce Novas observed that just prior to United States’ involvement and subsequent occupation of Puerto Rico in July, 1898, Spain had earlier granted local government control, as well as the right to elect native representatives to local government, and these representatives would have full say over local taxes, budgets, and education. Ironically, on July 17, 1898, just a scant eight days before the United States’ "military expedition" landed and hoisted the American Flag in Guanica, Puerto Rico (July 25, 1898), Muñoz Rivera was voted Puerto Rico's first independent governor. This was a first step toward Puerto Rico’s hope for independence.

As a result of the Spanish American War, Puerto Rico became a United States protectorate. This was the beginning of a complex relationship (referred to by different names over the years) that continues until today, as well as the ongoing debate on what the status of Puerto Rico should be.

I have reviewed the New York Times newspaper articles published during 1898, specifically, those which had as a headline the Spanish American War as it related to Puerto Rico.

Source: The Puerto Rican Connection  Newsletter (February 1998)


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