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Puerto Rican Independence

Puerto Rican Independence

Puerto Rican Independence. In the most recent referendum, carried out in 2012, only 5.5% of voters declared themselves in favor of independence.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, currently a self-governing territory of the United States, has a long history of independence movements. From being a Spanish colony, to its present-day status within the US, throughout history there have always been challenges to its political status. The Puerto Rican independence movement therefore refers both to secession from Spain and the US.

For centuries the island was populated by the indigenous Taino tribe, until it was discovered during Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas in 1493, when the Spanish crown began to colonize it. The island’s first governor was Juan Ponce de Leon, who was charged with consolidating Spanish power and quelling Taino opposition by enslaving them. It was not until the 1800s that a vibrant separatist element came into play, at the time when Simon Bolivar was attempting to liberate South America from Spanish rule. In 1868 a popular uprising occurred – known as the Grito de Lares – and a Republic of Puerto Rico was declared, however the rebellion was quickly quashed by Spanish troops.

In 1897 the Spanish government granted the island sovereignty, but this was quickly rejected by the US, which claimed the land as part of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico became a US territory in 1898. The US refused to grant independence, prompting the establishment of the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP). Despite this, in 1948 the party only won just over ten percent of the vote share in elections.

The PIP campaigns on the basis that Puerto Rico becomes an independent sovereign nation, no longer depending economically and politically on the US. Pro-independence campaigners are also concerned about the increasing American influence on the island and the subsequent loss of its Latino roots. Those opposed to independence argue that Puerto Rico would be relegated to a status of that of Cuba or the Dominican Republic without the economic support of the US. In their view, Puerto Rico has the best of both worlds: political and economic ties to the world’s most powerful country and other English-speaking nations, and cultural ties with the rest of Latin America.

The mid-twentieth century saw heightened tensions, and provoked violent nationalist uprisings. In 1948, singing Puerto Rican patriotic songs or displaying the island’s flag became a criminal offence. In 1954 armed nationalists stormed the US congress building, opening fire on the representatives who were debating in the chamber at the time. Five were wounded, and the perpetrators were sentenced to life imprisonment, although they were pardoned by President Carter in the 1970s.

A plebiscite was held in 1952 to determine the future of the territory’s status, in which an overwhelming majority voted for Commonwealth status – its present form. A similar referendum was held in 1967, which gave the same result. It would therefore seem that support for Puerto Rico becoming an independent nation is low. In the most recent referendum, carried out in November 2012, only 5.5% of voters declared themselves in favor of independence. Meanwhile, about 61% of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of the island become the fifty-first US state. The US congress is currently debating the issue of Puerto Rican statehood (as of October 2013).