In 1898, Puerto Rico was an aging, yet heavily defended, jewel in the crown of the Spanish Empire. The very colonies, haciendas, ports, and mines Puerto Rico helped defend had matured into Latin American republics, while the combative British colonies of the continent had become the United States. Its ancient forts, El Morro and San Cristobal, still defended the old city of San Juan and the harbor with Ordoñez guns and weathered walls. Puerto Rico had 3 Provisional Battalions with modern artillery and well trained soldiers. A further 7,000 Spanish Imperial troops garrisoned the city. Spain was an old, outdated empire who’s peak was far behind even in 1898. But they had Puerto Rico, its relatively docile (we’ll discuss the 1867 Grito de Lares later, I promise) island in comparison to the combative, racially tense, and unruly Cuba. Yet in four months the half millennia Spanish Empire would come to its end as the U.S took what the Spanish had taken from the Taino 405 years earlier.
The United States’ empire had its foothold in strategy and prestige. Controlling Puerto Rico is, in essence, controlling the Americas. Its chief trade routes, its proximity to other nations, and its defensive geography all made it an ideal bastion for naval warfare. But the 900,000 residents of the island, many of them traced back to the original Spanish settlers, had no idea how these new arrivals would change things. The modern era had arrived on the shores of Borinquen. Trailing behind the Stars and Stripes and the fragile promises of the island’s elites- many of whom would betray their own for the sake of wealth and stability. Weathered walls and old haciendas aside, the American century would show itself in San Juan first. Dragged by her hair kicking and screaming, Puerto Rico would be a prelude of things to come for Latin America. For better or worse.
Taken on August 15, 2016 on a Blackberry Priv.
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