28 November 2016

Charter of Autonomy 1897 – Spanish American War 1898

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

In 1897, the Spanish prime minister signed the Charter of Autonomy which granted Puerto Rico the right to its own legislature, constitution, tariffs, monetary system, treasury, judiciary, and international borders. After 400 years of colonial rule, the charter created the free Republic of Puerto Rico. Elections for the new legislature were held in March 1898, and the new government was scheduled for installation in May.

On May 12, 1898, cannon blasts awakened everyone in San Juan as twelve US battleships, destroyers, and torpedo boats bombarded the city. San Juan became a ghost town as 30,000 residents fled the city. The Spanish-American War, declared by the United States on April 25, had arrived in Puerto Rico. On July 21, 1898, the US government issued a press release stating, “Puerto Rico will be kept, once taken it will never be released. It will pass forever into the hands of the United States.” On July 28, 1898, General Nelson Appleton Miles, commander in chief of the American army, marched into Ponce.

The national US perception was clear: Puerto Ricans were ignorant, uncivilized, morally bankrupt, and utterly incapable of self-rule. The US would protect them, tame their savagery, manage their property, and deliver them from four hundred years of solitude. Eugenio Maria de Hostos, the great Puerto Rican educator, summed it up as follows: “How sad and overwhelming and shameful it is to see Puerto Rico go from owner to owner without ever having been her own master, and to see her pass from sovereignty to sovereignty without ever ruling herself.”

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