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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Porto Rico

PORTO RICO, or Puerto Rico (“Rich Harbour”), an island of the United States of America, the most easterly and the fourth in size of the Greater Antilles, situated between 17° 50' and 18° 30' N., and between 65° 30' and 67° 15' W., about 70 m. E. of Haiti, and 500 m. E. by S. of Cuba. It is about 100 m. long from east to west, 40 m. wide near the west end, and somewhat narrower towards the east end, and has an area of 3435 sq. m.

EB1911 Porto Rico.jpg
Emery Walker sc.

Physical Features.—A range of mountains, varying in height from 2000 ft. to about 3750 ft. on El Yunque Peak in the north-east corner, traverses the island from west to east and descends abruptly to the sea at each end. The south slope rises precipitously from the foothills; the north slope is more gradual, but it is much broken by rugged spurs and deep gorges. On the north there is little coastal plain except at the mouths of rivers, but on the south coast there is a plain of considerable extent broken only by the remains of eroded foothills. The water parting is about twice as far from the north coast as it is from the south coast, the rainfall is greater on the north slope, and the principal rivers—Rio Loiza, Rio de la Plata, Rio Manati and Rio Arecibo are on the north side. There are eight other rivers on the same side, seventeen on the south side, six at the east end and four at the west end, besides more than 1200 smaller streams, and the deep valleys cut by the streams add to the broken surface of the country. None of the rivers is navigable for more than a mile or two from the coast. The coast-line has few indentations sufficient to afford safe harbourage. Under the same jurisdiction as Porto Rico are the fertile island of Vieques (21 m. long and 6 m. wide) and the smaller and nearly barren island of Culebra off the east coast, the island of Mona, covered with deposits of guano, off the west coast, and numerous islets.

Fauna.—The native fauna is scanty. The agouti and the armadillo are practically extinct and the only other mammals are ground squirrels, rats, a few other small rodents, and some bats. A huge land-turtle is peculiar to the island. Reptiles are scarce, and venomous reptiles unknown. Noxious insects are less numerous than is usual in tropical countries. There are no large game birds, but song birds and doves are numerous on the mountains, and flamingoes and other water-birds frequent the coast. There are a few species of fresh-water fish, but food-fishes are scarce both in the rivers and along the coast.

Flora.—The flora is beautiful and varied. The more rugged districts and higher elevations are clad with such tropical forest trees as ebony, Spanish cedar, sandalwood, rosewood and mahogany. There are several species of palms, flowering trees, trees with beautifully coloured foliage, tree ferns, resinous trees and trees bearing tropical fruits. There are about thirty species of medicinal plants, twelve used for condiments, and twelve for dyes and tanning. In the semi-arid districts on the south slope of the mountains the flora consists chiefly of dry grasses, acacias, yuccas and cactuses.

Climate.—The climate is somewhat more healthy than that of the other West Indies. The temperature is moderated by the north-east trade winds, which, somewhat modified by local conditions, blow throughout the year, briskly during the day and more mildly during the night. It rarely reaches 100° F. or falls below 50°, and the mean annual temperature is about 80° (75.2° in January, 80.4° in August). The mean daily variation at San Juan is 11.5°; on the mountains the mean daily variation is 23°. The average annual rainfall on the north-east coast, at the foot of El Yunque Mountain, is 120 in. or more, while other districts are semi-arid or subject to severe droughts. At San Juan the average annual rainfall is about 55 in.; nearly two-thirds of this falls from June to November inclusive. Most of the rain is in showers, frequently heavy; and on the windward slope showers are an almost daily occurrence. The island is visited occasionally by hurricanes.

Soil.—Close to the coast the soil is for the most part a coral sand. Farther inland in the level districts and river bottoms it varies from a sandy to a clay loam containing much alluvium. On the foothills and in the less rugged mountain districts there is a thin but rich clay soil derived from coral limestone.

Industries.—A little more than one-fourth of the land is under cultivation and in 1899 more than three-fifths of the working population were engaged in agriculture. There were over 39,000 farms, nearly all of them small, and the average number of acres cultivated on each was not more than fifteen. Sugar on the lowlands, coffee on the upper, and tobacco on the lower mountain slopes are the principal crops. In 1909 there were 185,927 acres of sugar, yielding 244,257 tons for exportation, and valued at $18,432,446. The coffee plantations were greatly injured by a severe hurricane which visited the island on the 8th of August 1899, but the yield for exlport increased from 12,157,240 ℔ in 1901 to 38,756,750 ℔, value at $4,693,004, in 1907. The acreage, however, decreased from 178,155 acres in 1906 to 155,778 acres in 1909, and in the latter year the crop fell to 28,489,263 ℔. Java coffee has been grown with success in Porto Rico. Tobacco of a superior quality is grown extensively on the lower northern slopes and much tobacco is now grown under cloth. The total acreage of tobacco increased from 12,871 acres in 1906 to 27,596 acres in 1909; the total value of the exported tobacco products increased from $681,642 in 1901 to $5,634,130 in 1909. Cotton, Indian corn, sweet potatoes, yams and rice are small crops. The culture of citrus fruits, principally oranges and grape-fruit, and of pineapples and coco-nuts has been rapidly extended. About 13,000 head of cattle were exported annually from 1901 to 1905, but much of the best grazing land has since been devoted to the cultivation of sugar-cane. A project for irrigating the district south of the mountains between Ponce and Patillas was adopted by the Porto Rican government in 1909. The Federal government has an agricultural experiment station at Mayaguez.

The mineral resources are very limited. Brick clay and limestone are abundant, and there are on the south coast a sand marl rich in phosphates and productive salt deposits. Iron ore, lignite, copper, mercury, molybdenite, nickel, platinum and other minerals have been found, but the quantity of each is too small, or the quality too poor, for them to be of commercial value. There are important mineral and thermal springs in various parts of the island.

The only manufacturing industries of much importance are the preparation of sugar, coffee and tobacco for market, and the manufacture of cigars, cigarettes, straw hats, soap, matches, vermicelli, sash, doors, ice, distilled liquors and some machinery.

Transport facilities are inadequate. The American Railroad of Porto Rico, about 190 m. long, connects the principal cities along the north and west coasts and those as far east as Ponce on the south coast; a railway between Ponce and Guayama, farther east, was virtually completed in 1910, and the Vega Alta railroad connects Vega Alta with Dorado on the north coast; but there are no inland railways and most of the products of the interior are carried to the coast in carts drawn by bullocks or on the backs of mules. The mileage of wagon roads was increased from about 170 m. in 1898 to 612 m. in 1909. The principal harbours are San Juan on the north and Ponce on the south coast; the former is accessible to vessels of about 30 ft. draught, and the latter has a natural channel which admits vessels of 25 ft. draught. Two lines of steamboats afford regular communication between San Juan and New York; one of them runs to Venezuelan ports and one to New Orleans; and there are lines to Cuba and direct to Spain.

The commerce of Porto Rico is principally with the United States. The value of its exports to the United States increased from $5,581,288 in the fiscal year ending on the 30th of June 1901 to $26,998,542 in 1909, and the value of its imports from the United States increased during this period from $7,413,502 to $25,163,678. In the meantime the value of its exports to foreign countries increased only from $3,002,679 to $4,565,598, and the value of its imports from foreign countries only from $1,952,728 to $3,054,318.

Population.—The population increased from 583,308 in 1860 to 798,565 in 1887, and to 953,243, or 277.5 per sq. m., in 1899. Of the total population in 1899, 589,426, or 61.8% were whites, 304,352 were of mixed blood, 59,390 were negroes and 75 were Chinese. In 1910 the census returned the population as 1,118,012. The proportion of whites is greater at the west end than at the east end, greater on the north side than on the south side, and greater in the interior than along the coast. Only 13,872, or about 1.5% of the total population of 1899, were foreign-born, and of these more than one-half were born in Spain. The married portion of the population was only 16.6% in 1899. The principal towns, with the population of each in 1910, are: San Juan, 48,716; Ponce, 35,027; Mayaguez, 16,591; Arecibo, 9612. The Roman Catholic is the predominant church and the bishopric of Porto Rico (1512) is one of the oldest in the New World.

Government.—The constitution of Porto Rico is contained in an act of the Congress of the United States (the Foraker Act) which came into operation in May 1900. The governor is appointed by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate for a term of four years, and associated with the governor is an executive council consisting of the secretary, treasurer, auditor, attorney-general, commissioner of the interior, commissioner of education, and five other members, all appointed in the same manner and for the same term as the governor. The constitution requires that at least five of the eleven members of the Executive Council shall be native inhabitants of Porto Rico; in practice the six members who are also heads of the administrative departments have been Americans while the other five have been Porto Ricans. The insular government, however, has created a seventh administrative department—that of health, charities and corrections—and requires that the head of this shall be chosen by the governor from among the five members of the Executive Council who are not heads of the other departments.

The Executive Council constitutes one branch of the legislative assembly; the House of Delegates the other. The House of Delegates consists of 35 members elected biennially, live from each of seven districts. The right to determine the electoral franchise is vested in the legislature itself and that body has conferred it upon practically all adult males. The governor has the right to veto any bill, and for passing a bill over his veto an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of each house is required. All laws enacted by the insular legislature must also be submitted to the Congress of the United States, which reserves the right to annul them. Railway, street railway, telegraph and telephone franchises can be granted only by the Executive Council with the approval of the governor, and none can be operative until it has been approved by the President of the United States. The governor and Executive Council have the exclusive right to grant all other franchises of a public or quasi-public nature and Congress reserves the right to annul or modify any such grant.

The administration of justice is vested in a United States district court and a supreme court, district courts, municipal courts and justice of the peace courts of Porto Rico. The judge of the United States district court and the chief justice and associate justices of the supreme court are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate, and the judges of the district courts by the governor with the consent of the Executive Council.

The principal local government is that of the municipalities or municipal districts, but for the Spanish municipal government the insular legislature has substituted one resembling that of small towns in the United States, and it has reduced the number of districts from 66 to 47. Each municipal district elects biennially a mayor and a municipal council, the membership of which varies from five to nine according to the population of the district. The mayor appoints practically all municipal employés and may veto any ordinance of the council; his veto, however, may be overridden by two-thirds of the council. The police force of each municipality, or rather of each of 66 police districts, is maintained and controlled by the insular government; justice in each municipality is also administered by the insular government; the building, maintenance and repair of public roads are under the management of a board of three road supervisors in each of the seven insular election districts; and matters pertaining to education are for the most part under the insular commissioner of education and a school board of three members elected biennially in each municipality; nearly all other local affairs are within the jurisdiction of the mayor and municipal council.

Education.—In 1899 more than three-fourths of the inhabitants ten years of age or over were unable to read or write, and when in the following year the present system of government was established large powers were given to the commissioner of education. He controls the expenditure of public money for school purposes, the examination and the appointment of teachers, whose nominations by the municipal school boards are referred to the commissioner. The school system comprises preparatory schools, rural schools, graded schools, three high schools and the university of Porto Rico. The university at Rio Piedras was established by act of the insular legislature in 1903, but in 1910 only two departments had been organized—the insular normal school and the department of agriculture. Numerous scholarships have been established at government expense in Porto Rican schools and in colleges or universities of the United States. The average daily attendance in the public schools increased from 47,277 in 1906-1907 to 74,522 in 1908-1909. Each municipality is required to pay to its school board 25% of its receipts from the general property tax.

Finance.—Trade between Porto Rico and the United States is free, but upon imports to Porto Rico from foreign countries the Federal government collects custom duties and pays the net proceeds to the insular government. Other principal sources of income are excise taxes, a general property tax, an inheritance tax, and a tax on insurance premiums. For the fiscal year ending June 1909 the net income of the insular government was $3,180,111.75 and the net bonded indebtedness was $3,759,231.22.

History.—On his second voyage Columbus sighted the island, to which he gave the name San Juan Bautista, and remained in its vicinity from the 17th to the 22nd of November 1493. In 1508 Nicolás de Ovando, governor of Hispaniola (Haiti) rewarded the services of Juan Ponce de Leon, one of Columbus's companions in 1493, by permitting him to explore the island, then called by the natives “Borinquen,” and search for its reputed deposits of gold. Ponce's hospitable reception by the native chief, Aquebana or Guaybaná, and his fairly profitable search for the precious metal led King Ferdinand in 1509 to give him an appointment as temporary governor of the island, where his companions had already established the settlement of Caparra (Pueblo Viejo, near the present San Juan). In 1510 the king through Ovando's influence made this commission permanent. Meanwhile Ferdinand had also restored to Diego Columbus, son of the discoverer, the privileges of his father, including the control of the islands of Haiti and Porto Rico. The new admiral removed Ponce and appointed Juan Cerón to administer the affairs of Porto Rico. The quarrels between these two leaders disturbed the affairs of the island for the next two years, but in the end Ponce was forced to yield the political control to the representatives of Columbus. While Ponce was exploring Florida in 1513 the conquerors of Porto Rico had established their domination in the upper western portion of the island by a series of settlements. The ruthless methods by which the Spaniards forced the natives to labour for them caused a change in the attitude of the erstwhile friendly Borinqueños. Both Ponce and his rivals had introduced the system of repartimientos established by Columbus in Haiti. A preliminary distribution of 1060 natives in 1509-1510 was the direct precursor of the rebellion of the natives in 1511. For a time the Borinqueños, aided by Caribs from the neighbouring islands, threatened to destroy all vestiges of white occupation in Porto Rico, but in the end the Spaniards prevailed. Immediately after this rebellion a second distribution of more than 4000 natives foreshadowed the rapid disappearance of those unfortunates, despite the well-meaning regulations of the Council of the Indies. For some decades the inevitable extermination was postponed by the fact that the Spaniards were not numerous enough to occupy the southern and eastern portions of the island. Here a remnant of the Borinqueños, assisted by the Caribs, maintained a severe struggle with the conquerors, but in the end their Indian allies were subdued by English and French corsairs, and the unfortunate natives of Porto Rico were left alone to experience the full effect of forced labour, disastrous hurricanes, natural plagues and new diseases introduced by the conquerors. By 1520 philanthropic churchmen directed their attention to the miserable conditions of the natives; but remedial legislation was largely nullified by the rapacity of subordinate officials, and before the end of the 16th century the natives disappeared as a distinct race.

To replace the natives as a labour element and also to preserve them from extermination African slavery was early permitted, and by 1530 there were over 1500 negro slaves in Porto Rico. Although the extravagant prices paid at first almost ruined the planters, the traffic continued to flourish in hands of foreign concessionaires until 1820, when through English influence it was abandoned. At this period negroes were an important element of the population, but by no means the most numerous one.

At no period of its history has Porto Rico enjoyed great prosperity. Besides the causes already indicated the evil character of many of the white settlers conspired to retard its development. In 1515 its European population may have been 400. Until 1782 the island was divided into the eastern district of Puerto Rico and the western one of San Germán. In 1513 the arrival of its first bishop, who later also exercised the function of general inquisitor, added one more to the discordant elements ruling the island. About 1520 Caparra was abandoned for a more healthy site, and the city of San Juan de Puerto Rico was founded as the capital of the eastern district. In time Puerto Rico became the name of the whole island. In 1536 legislation for changing the method of general government and regulating common pasturage's and public property caused extreme dissatisfaction, but for many years thereafter the form of control alternated between alcaldes selected by the inhabitants and annual governors appointed by the Council of the Indies.

To the difficulties caused by disaster, depopulation and maladministration there was added the danger of foreign invasion when war broke out in Europe between Francis I. of France and the emperor Charles V. In 1528 San Germán was plundered by a French corsair and twenty-six years later utterly destroyed. In 1533 the fortaleza, now the governor's palace, was begun at San Juan, and in 1539-1584 Morro Castle was erected at the entrance of the harbour. Possibly these slight fortifications preserved the capital from the destruction which overwhelmed all the other settlements; but these measures for defence were due more to the loyalty of the inhabitants than to the efforts of the home government, which at this time remained indifferent to appeals for help from the island.

In 1595 San Juan was unsuccessfully attacked by an English fleet under Sir Francis Drake; two years later another English force, led by Sir George Cumberland, occupied the city for some weeks. The city was attacked in 1625 by a Dutch fleet, which was easily repulsed. The buccaneers or filibusters, who during the 17th century were drawn to the West Indies by the prospect of plundering the possessions of decadent Spain, often invaded Porto Rico, but that island escaped the conquest which Haiti experienced. The English attacked the island in 1678, 1702, 1703 and 1743; and in 1797 an English force attempted to reduce San Juan, but was repulsed by the strong fortifications vigorously manned by resident volunteers. After this event the city was permitted to add the words “very noble and very loyal” to its coat of arms.

Porto Rico was comparatively unaffected by the great Spanish-American uprising of the early 19th century. During the struggle of Spain against Napoleon, the island, in common with the other American dominions, was represented in the Spanish Cortes and had its first legislative assembly. Trade with the United States was permitted in 1815, although only in Spanish ships. The island suffered from the reactionary policy of Ferdinand VII., but the few sporadic attempts at revolution between 1815 and 1820 were readily suppressed. Columbian insurgents made ineffectual attempts to invade the island during 1819-29. Governor Miguel de la Torre, who ruled the island with vice-regal powers during the second period of Ferdinand's absolutism, sternly repressed all attempts at liberalism, and made the island the resort for loyal refugees from the Spanish mainland. This policy, coupled with certain administrative and revenue reforms, and some private attempts in behalf of public education, made the last seven years of his rule, from 1827 to 1834, the most prosperous in the Spanish regime. The unsettled political condition of Spain during the next forty years was reflected in the disturbed political conditions of Porto Rico and Cuba. The suffrage was restricted, the Press was placed under a strict censorship, and the right of public assemblage was unknown. Economically the island in 1868 was in a much worse condition than thirty years before. The Revolution of 1868 in Spain promised such salutary changes for the Antilles as the introduction of political parties, the restoration of representation in the Spanish Cortes, and the enfranchisement of the slaves; but the imprudent “Insurrection of Lares,” and other outbreaks of 1867-68, delayed these anticipated reforms. The reactionaries feared separation from the mother country. Under the short-lived republican government in Spain Porto Rico was in 1870-1874 a province with a provincial deputation, and in 1873 slavery was abolished. After the restoration of the monarchy under Alphonso XII. there was some improvement in the commerce of the island, but politically it displayed all the evils of an obsolete system of administration disturbed by a premature liberalism. In 1877 the provincial deputation was re-established, but it was not until 1895 that the home government attempted, far too late, to enact a series of adequate reform measures, and in November 1897 followed this by a grant of autonomy.

When in April 1898 war broke out between Spain and the United States the former strongly garrisoned the island, but the fortifications of the capital were largely of the massive stone construction that had repelled Abercrombie a century before, most of the artillery was of an obsolete pattern and the few cruisers in the harbour were antiquated in type. The American invasion of the island occurred in July. On the 25th of that month, while a few vessels made a demonstration before San Juan, the main American fleet was landing some 3400 troops under General Nelson A. Miles at Guánica, a small town on the southern shore, some 15 m. west of Ponce. Three days later the latter town surrendered, amid demonstrations of joy on the part of the inhabitants. The people seemed to regard the American flag as the harbinger of a new era. General Miles's policy in affording employment for the natives likewise served to make the new American régime acceptable.

Meanwhile the Spanish governor-general, Manuel Macias y Casado, had ordered the forces under his command in the southern part of the island to fall back towards the ridge of mountains intersecting it from east to west, just north of the town of Coamo. Reinforcements were also brought up from San ]uan and preparations made to resist an attack by the Americans, despite the current rumours of approaching peace. On their part the American forces, now numbering about 10,000 men, prepared to advance by separate routes across the island in four columns. Guayama, Mayagüez and Coamo were occupied; one portion of the army was within 20 m. of the northern coast and another had advanced along the main military road nearly to Aibonito, when the signing of the peace protocol on the 12th of August caused an immediate suspension of hostilities. The advance of the Americans had been rapid and decisive, with a small loss of life—three killed and forty wounded—due to the skill with which the military manœuvres were planned and executed and the cordial welcome given the invaders by the inhabitants. By November the Spaniards had evacuated the greater part of the island, after Captain General Macias embarked for Spain, General Ricardo Ortega was governor from the 16th to the 18th of October, when the island was turned over to the American forces. In the work of policing the island, in the accompanying tasks of sanitation, construction of highways and other public works, accounting for the expenditure of public funds, and in establishing a system of public education, the military control, which under the successive direction of Generals John R. Brooke, Guy V. Henry and George W. Davis, lasted until the first of May 1900, proved most effective in bridging over the period of transfer from the repressive control of Spain to the semi-paternal system under the American civil government. But it was hardly adapted to teach a people utterly without political experience the essential elements of self-government. To meet this problem the Congress of the United States passed the “Foraker Act,” under which civil government was instituted, and which, with certain modifications is still in force (see Administration). Under this act the American element has exercised the controlling power, and this has proved distasteful to certain Porto Rican politicians.

On the 8th of August 1899 the island was visited by the most destructive cyclone in its history, causing a loss of about 3500 lives and a property damage amounting to 36,000,000 pesos, the coffee industry suffering most. This calamity afforded the American people an opportunity to display their generosity toward their new colony. Charles H. Allen became the first civil governor in May 1900; he was succeeded in August 1901 by William H. Hunt, who served until July 1904; Beekman Winthrop was governor in 1904-1907 and Régis H. Post from April 1907 until November 1909, when he was succeeded by George R. Colton. The island now has free trade with the United States, and receives into its general revenue fund all customs duties and internal taxes collected in the island. Its political leaders in the House of Delegates are restive under the control exercised by the Executive Council, but an attempt to hold up necessary appropriations resulted in the passage in July 1909 of an act continuing the appropriations of the previous year, whenever for any cause the lower house fails to pass the necessary financial legislation. In 1910 the coffee industry had not yet recovered from the effect of the cyclone of 1899 and the unfortunate mortgage system that prevailed under the Spanish régime. The fact that its product is shut out of its natural markets, without gaining that of the United States, is also a great handicap. The civic status of the people is still unsettled, but there has been under American rule a notable advance in the well-being of the island.

Bibliography.—The main source for the history under the Spanish is Fray Inigo Abbad, Historia geografica civil y natural de San Juan Bautista de Puerta Rico (Madrid, 1788; a new edition with notes by Jose J. Acosta was published in Porto Rico in 1866). Abbad makes extensive quotations from early historians of Spanish America. The best modern critical account in Spanish is Salvador Brau, Puerto Rico y su historia (Valencia, 1894). Probably the best account in English, although one leaving much to be desired, is R. A. Van Middeldyk, The History of Puerto Rico (New York, 1903). R. H. Davis, The Cuban and Porto Rican Campaigns (New York, 1898), is a sketch of the invasion of the island in 1898. L. S. Rowe, The United States and Porto Rico (ibid., 1900) treats clearly and briefly of the problems arising from American control, and a like characterization may be made of W. F. Willoughby, Territories and Dependencies of the United States (New York, 1905). Van Middeldyk gives a brief bibliography of historical works, and a more extensive list is given in General George W. Davis's Report on the Military Government of Porto Rico. See also Annual Reports of the Governor of Porto Rico (Washington, 1901 sqq.); H. M. Wilson, “Porto Rico: Its Topography and Aspects,” in the Bulletin Amer. Geogr. Soc. New York, Vol. xxxii. (New York, 1900); W. A. Alexander, “Porto Rico: Its Climate and Resources,” in the same, vol. xxxiv. (ibid., 1902); Report on the Census of Porto Rico (Washington, 1900); W. F. Willoughby, Insular and Municipal Finances in Porto Rico for the Fiscal Year 1902-1903, issued by the Bureau of the United States Census (ibid., 1905); R. T. Hill, Cuba and Porto Rico (New York, 1898).