For Your Reference:

U.S. Occupation and Colonization of Puerto Rico

June 16, 2017

In order to provide our readers with some history and background on U.S. colonial domination of Puerto Rico, The Worker is printing the following reference material.

U.S. imperialism invaded and occupied Puerto Rico in 1898. Although U.S. imperialism loves to claim that it “liberated” Puerto Rico from Spanish colonialism the facts show that the U.S. declared war on Spain solely in order to thwart the on-going liberation movements in Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico and convert these nations into colonies of the U.S. rather than Spain.

After occupying Puerto Rico with 10,000 troops, the U.S. government immediately stripped the country of the limited autonomy which had been won from Spain in 1897. In order to firmly establish U.S. colonial rule, the U.S. military governors imposed martial law on the country, ruling with absolute authority. L.S.Rowe, U.S. chairman of the Puerto Rican Code Commission evaluated the role of the military in this way: “authority of military commanders is free from the constitutional limitations ...” “The army . . . stepped in and performed magnificent service in the interest of order and civilization. It impressed upon the more turbulent element of the native population the lesson, not likely soon to be forgotten – that American sovereignty means above all, respect for law and order, and that the slightest breach of this entails certain and swift punishment.”

After 2 years of military rule to teach the “turbulent element of the native population the lesson” of U.S. “order and civilization,” the U.S. imposed a colonial administration on Puerto Rico. Under the Foraker Act (1900) and the Jones Act (1917), the U.S. government declared itself the sovereign power in Puerto Rico, authorizing the President to appoint the country’s governor and giving the U.S. Congress veto power over any and all laws approved by the Puerto Rican institutions. The colonial status of Puerto Rico is well illustrated by the fact that while the Jones Act gave the Puerto Ricans the “right” to be drafted and to fight in U.S. imperialism’s foreign wars, until the 1950’s the U.S. colonial administration forcibly suppressed the teaching of Spanish in Puerto Rican schools.

In 1952, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 600 which created the current Commonwealth status for Puerto Rico. This was merely a continuation of the nation’s colonial status. As Congressmen Joseph Mahoney stated during the hearings on the Commonwealth law: “The U.S. Constitution gives the U.S. Congress complete control, and nothing in the Puerto Rican Constitution could affect or amend or alter that right.” Thus today the U.S. government decides all the affairs of Puerto Rico, including its foreign policy, its immigration policy, its economic system, etc., etc. The U.S. government retains, and continually exercises the right to expropriate any Puerto Rican lands or property.

Economic Penetration

Having established its colonial rule in Puerto Rico, U.S.imperialism rapidly began to plunder the wealth of the nation and super-exploit the people. As one U.S. colonial administrator pointed out in the early 1900’s: “American commerce followed sharply upon the heels of the American army.”

In order to facilitate U.S. economic penetration, special laws were passed making the dollar the official currency, bringing Puerto Rico under the system of U.S. protective tariffs, allowing the local government to seize land and sell it at fixed prices to U.S. corporations, etc., etc. These measures helped the U.S. corporations take complete control over Puerto Rico’s agricultural development and dominate the island’s export and import trade.

Puerto Rico’s self-sufficient agriculture was replaced by a cash crop economy in which the sugar and tobacco industries accounted for 86% of the country’s exports by 1930. By that time, 4 U.S. sugar companies controlled more than 50% of the industry while the tobacco industry was almost wholly U.S. owned. Despite the fact that the country’s population stood at only 2 million, it was the 2nd largest U.S. trading partner in Latin America and the ninth largest in the world – while the U.S. imported sugar and tobacco cheaply, in return it sold foodstuffs and manufactured goods at high prices.

Beginning in 1940, U.S. imperialism and the local colonial administration in Puerto Rico initiated the economic policy known as “Operation Bootstrap” in order to facilitate the setting up of U.S. industry throughout the country. Special tax codes were written allowing U.S. companies to forego payment of any income tax, open shop laws curtailing trade union rights were passed, etc., etc. During the next 30 years hundreds of big U.S. corporations established operations in Puerto Rico, making the country one of the top 20 industrialized areas in the world. Such monopoly outfits as Union Carbide, Phillips Petroleum, Kennecott Copper, General Electric, Ford, etc., etc. found the ability to secure profits 10 times greater than in the U.S. through the superexploitation of Puerto Rican workers. Today over 2,000 U.S. multinational corporations operate in Puerto Rico, controlling 90% of the country’s industry.

However, rather than improving the lives of the Puerto Rican people this massive industrialization has been carried out on their backs, throwing them into poverty and super-exploitation. Today the average per capita income in Puerto Rico is only $24,030 per year (or slightly more than 65% the per capita income of Mississippi, the poorest of the 50 states). The minimum wage in the U.S. is generally considered the maximum wage in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s Departamento del Trabajo y Recurso Humanos claims unemployment is 11.5% while 46.2% of the population fall below the official poverty line.


In order to maintain its colonial rule in Puerto Rico, in order to insure the super-exploitation of the workers by U.S. corporations, U.S. imperialism and its colonial apparatus in the country have carried out a systematic policy of repression against the working class, the popular masses and the movement for Puerto Rican independence. In the 1930’s the U.S. army and local police suppressed several militant struggles of the sugar cane workers, longshoremen, university students and others. Also in the 1930’s, the Puerto Rican patriot Albizu Campos launched the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party with the platform of self-determination and independence for Puerto Rico. Campos was indicted and tried by U.S. courts for “sedition and conspiracy” while brutal repression was unleashed against the nationalists, including the infamous Ponce massacre in 1937. In 1950 the Puerto Rican National Guard, an arm of the U.S. military, and the U.S. Air Force were called out to suppress the nationalist uprising in Jayuya. In 1947 U.
S. imperialism imposed Law 53, known as the “Muzzle Law” which made it a felony to “promote, advocate, advise or preach voluntarily and knowingly the necessity, desirability or suitability of overthrowing, paralyzing or subverting the insular government or any of its political divisions by means of force or violence.” This law made it a crime to organize against U.S. imperialist domination of Puerto Rico, outlawing the movement for independence. Since that time, thousands of Puerto Rican patriots have been imprisoned.

This history shows that U.S. imperialism is not about to voluntarily give up its colonial rule in Puerto Rico. In addition to plundering the vast natural resources of the country including copper, nickel and off-shore oil, the U.S. companies rake in superprofits through the super-exploitation of the Puerto Rican workers.

Yet despite decades of colonization and military repression, the Puerto Rican people are continuing their struggle for national independence and self-determination. It is the duty of the U.S. working class to support this struggle and demand that U.S. imperialism get out of Puerto Rico.