The Strategic Value of Puerto Rico

Wear the Stars and Stripes

Uncle Sam Offers Puerto Rico the Stars and Stripes

An Editorial Perspective on Why the United States Valued Puerto Rico in 1898

The history between the United States and Puerto Rico appears to be a series of coincidences, beginning with the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898 which gave the United States a reason (some would say an excuse) to go to war with Spain. The truth is in fact, that the United States had offered to purchase Puerto Rico from Spain in 1868.[1] Thus we can see the United States' interest in Puerto Rico in 1898 was not arbitrary. Not only was Puerto Rico abundant in resources, but it was also in a strategic position that would allow the United States to position forces for training and deployment to Central and South America. By having a base in the Caribbean, the U.S. could reach the Panama Canal more easily, a project which would make travel possible between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through Panama. Upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1898), Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam were ceded to the United States.

Under the leadership of men such as Luis Muñoz Rivera, Román Baldorioty de Castro and José de Diego, Puerto Rican autonomy had been realized under the Spanish regime, and was eventually achieved under American control as well. The Jones-Shafroth Act granted Puerto Ricans American citizenship through an Act of Congress and two months later, a draft was enacted when voluntary military recruitment proved fruitless. Approximately 20,000 Puerto Ricans would serve in World War II, serving in Panama to protect the Panama Canal and on the Western Front in Europe. [2] Puerto Ricans have served with honors in both World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf Wars.

American companies and investors took over much of the land and began to develop Puerto Rico, although it was not entirely benign or equitable, creating an imbalanced relationship between Puerto Ricans and Anglo-Americans. Today, the U.S. Navy utilizes the Vieques Naval Base for training, which has become a hot-button political issue as local residents demand the shut-down of bombing practices.

[1] Stephan Palmié, "The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples", Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011, p.538.

[2]  “Jones Act”, The World of 1898: The Spanish American War. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/jonesact.html, Accessed on April 15, 2014.