The U.S. Army's "Country Trip" in Puerto Rico: Facts and Anecdotes

By Luis F. Clemente


General:

Of  all the places where the Spanish-American War was fought, Puerto Rico was one of those that posed the least resistence to the American troops, even showing happiness and cooperation to the soldiers. This essay will focus on the reasons this happened.

Part I: Antecedents

By the 19th. century, Puerto Rico was emminently a sugar-coffee-tobacco producer, with all its plantations being owned by a strong and rising local bourgeois class. The local plantation owners waged a struggle with the local Spanish authorities and its loyals for commercial liberalization, and with all its dependent classes, not willing to be controlled. Trying to stop the problem, they tried to reunite all sectors of Puerto Rican society, with them heading, into what they called "gran familia puertorrique~na" ("great Puerto Rican family"), an abstract scheme that deffended the establishment of a Puerto Rican state supposedly to affirm its national identity, devised by them, against the Spanish rule, but it was actually targeted at taking over the society and expand commerce for their own interest, facing also the fact that not all "family" members thought the same way. Also, the autonomical rule given by Spain in 1897, though permitting the creation of self-rule in the island, kept local authority on a Spain-appointed Captain General (Governor) and the last word on the metropolitan nation. Although the local bourgeois took over the majority on the new rule, thus promoting their own interests, it wasn't enough for some people. Both situations were catalysts for a constant growing of an annexionist sentiment in Puerto Rico.

The United States represented two things in Puerto Rico: democracy and profit. Some local political leaders were impressed by the American government's upholding of democracy and liberty, and thought that it was the better than Spanish rule and a better option than independence. By their own way, the local bourgeois desired to penetrate in the American market to advertise and export their produce intensively, since it was the first importer of sugar and the foremost consumer of coffee in the world. For both sectors, annexation to the United States was an opportunity they couldn't refuse, some to get rid of colonialism, others as commercial partners.

In April 25th, 1898, Spain declared war on the United States, and the Spanish-American War begun. The stage was all set for the U.S. Army's "country trip" in the island.

Part II: Is This An Occupation of What?

The war between the United States and Spain began, as we mentioned earlier, on April 25th, 1898. At the first mews of the state of war, Puerto Rican newspapers El Pais, owned by loyalists; and most surprisingly La Democracia, official newsletter of the local bourgeois; published a series of articles attacking the U.S. and giving loyalty to the Spanish crown. Also, General Manuel Macas y Casado, Captain General of Puerto Rico, suspended individual rights, and groups of volunteers were formed as Guerrillas Montadas ("Mounted Guerrillas") and given the order to assist the now activated Spanish Army units in the defense of the island. The capital city of Puerto Rico, San Juan, held allegiance ceremonies to Spain and suspects of treason were arrested and even deported. With this background, anyone could suppose that there wasn't no cooperaton at all, but it happened otherwise.

The ground assult on Puerto Rico began with a beachhead in Guanica, at the southwestern coast of the island, on July 25th. According to Puerto Rican historian Carmelo Rosario, this town was chosen as landing for the U.S. troops not only because of its bay, suitable for cruisers to dock, or of its poor defenses, but because there were lots of unloyals to Spain, whether independentists or annexionists. Ultimately, the annexionists, were the ones who helped the U.S. Army in their campaign in the island, mainly with logistic work and by winning hearts and minds for the troops on Puerto Rican soil with speeches in favor of them. With this help, the 3,415 U.S. soldiers only took 13 days to occupy 23 of the 70 Puerto Rican towns. Spanish Army didn't offer armed resistence, though there was some kind of heavy fighting in places like Villodas and Monte del Gato, in towns like Guayama (eastern Puerto Rico) and Salinas (southern Puerto Rico), and in the beachhead area and its neighboring towns (Guanica, Yauco and Guayanilla). The most well-known of all that fighting is the battle of Asomante, in Aibonito (center part of P.R.), but all that were exceptionsto the rule.

As we said before, the local bourgeois desire to participate in American market some people's dissapointment with Spanish rule and the current view of the United States as the cradle of liberty and democracy determined the lack of difficulty in its take-over of Puerto Rico. Public opinion was predominantly with the idea of annexation to the U.S. as a first step towards statehood or, if that wasn't possible, to start another autonomous rule, like the one during Spanish government. With that in mind, expressions of rejoice and of decided cooperation were experienced. Here are some examples:

 In towns like Yauco, Juana Diaz, Santa Isabel, Sabana Grande and Maricao, on southwestern Puerto Rico, the people cheered the troops as they arrived.  In Ponce, the most important city on southern Puerto Rico, some of its most important people made flattering comments to the U.S. Army and acknowledge the help of the Vice-Consuls of the United Kingdom and Germany, the Consul of the Netherlands and the British citizen Robert Graham on surrending the town. On the same place, just three days after the invasion, a ball was held in the Ponce Casino, a place of high society activities, in honor of General Miles, commander of the U.S. troops.  In San German, another town in southwest P.R., General Schwan, who established its accomodations in the house of Joaquin Servera, a distinguished gentleman of the town, was greeted by the town's high class people.   Rodulfo Figueroa, an inmate of a Spanish prison in Ponce paroled by the U.S. military authorities, gathered some riders and, with them, assaulted Spanish advance parties and intercepted their supply routes. He also waved the Amerivan flag through the streets of Juana Diaz and Santa Isabel.  There were Puerto Ricans, some of them of respectable position, who served as spies, scouts and surveilance soldiers.  The brothers Santiago and Miguel Veve, Angel Garcia, Jorge Bird and the brothers Enrique and Jesus Bird-Arias hoisted the American flag in Fajardo (eastern P.R.) before hiding from Spanish troops and fleeing to Ponce, seeking protection.

Another sign of cooperation to was the acceptance of mayorships drafted by the American generals, some govererned by the military, others by pro-annexionists. Here are some examples:

 Major D.E. Clarke appointed the new mayor of Yauco.  General Schwan, the one greeted in San German, was appointed mayor of the town by the people. The mayorship of Mayaguez (western P.R.) took oath of office after suggestions done by the U.S. generals. The new mayor was Santiago Palmer.  The mayor of Guayama, on a short note, said that he was reappointed tothe charge.

The cooperation to the American troops was almost overwhelming and, certainly, unvaluable. Without that, the the United States' military campaign in Puerto Rico wouldn't be this effective. Puerto Rico would experience a different situation after the war finished, but this isn't the time or the place for such a discussion.



Bibliography:

Melendez, Edgardo. Movimiento anexionista en Puerto Rico. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993.

Silen, Juan A. Historia de Puerto Rico. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Distribuidora de Libros, 1993.

Silvestrini, Blanca G. and Luque, Mara D. Historia de Puerto Rico: Trayectoria de un pueblo. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Editorial Cultural, 1991.

Toro Sugranes, Jose. Almanaque puertorrique~no. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Edil, 1990.

Quintero, Angel G. Conflictos de clase y politica en Puerto Rico. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Ediciones Huracan. Fifth edition, 1986.


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