Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World / Edition 1

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Jose Trias Monge first describes the Spanish rule over Puerto Rico and then traces the impact of American colonial policies there, comparing them with those in the Pacific and the British, French, and Dutch experiences in the Caribbean. He argues that the large amounts of money the United States has given to Puerto Rico have not been productive: not only has the island become frightfully dependent on United States munificence but more than 60 percent of Puerto Rican families still live below the poverty line. Politically, the situation is even worse. The United States has granted Puerto Rico limited self-government but has ignored the wishes of the Puerto Rican people - as expressed in two plebiscites - for greater autonomy, since it cannot make up its mind which decolonization option best serves American interests. Trias Monge discusses the various options of Puerto Rican independence, statehood, and an enhanced commonwealth status and urges the United States to end its present policy of inattention and inaction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300076189
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 790,501
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

About the Author
Introduction 1
1 Puerto Rico Under Spanish Rule 5
2 The Annexation 21
3 Military Government 30
4 The Shaping of a Colonial Policy 36
5 Life Under the Foraker Act 52
6 The Jones Act 67
7 The Jones Blues 77
8 The Troubled Thirties 88
9 The Elective Governor Act 99
10 The Establishment of the Commonwealth 107
11 The Big Sleep 119
12 Puerto Rico and the United Nations from 1960 to the Present 136
13 Decolonization in the Caribbean and in Micronesia 141
14 Clearing the Way for a Second Look 160
15 Possible Paths to Decolonization 177
Notes 197
Glossary 215
Selected Bibliography 217
Index 223
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First Chapter


Puerto Rico Under Spanish Rule

Puerto Rico has had more than half a millennium of recorded colonial history. On November 19, 1493, in the course of his second voyage, Columbus was the first European to land on Puerto Rico. The smallest of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico was then peopled by tainos, a third wave of Amerindians. The first wave probably reached the Caribbean around 2300 B.C. A second wave, the igneris, originally from the Orinoco Valley in South America and as far north as the Guianas, preceded the tainos. The tainos, who were Arawak Indians, had a hierarchical political structure and organized agricultural techniques and hunted and fished for their subsistence. They had no calendar or writing system, and could count only up to twenty, using their hands and feet. They had not discovered the uses of the wheel. The tainos offered little resistance to the Spaniards.

When colonization started in earnest in 1508 the Spaniards, undoubtedly for evangelical reasons, distributed the Indians as slaves among themselves (the encomienda system). Being unaccustomed to good, Christian hard work, the tainos died in great numbers; those who survived fled to the hills or left the island. The tainos disappeared, but not their contribution to the culture. They had mixed with the colonizadores, and their influence left its imprint. Many place-names and words for various trees, fruits, vegetables, and other items in Puerto Rico and the other Greater Antilles are Arawak. Many English words, including tobacco, barbecue, canoe, and hammock, as well as many Spanish words, are of taino origin.

Soon, the Spaniards had to resort to African slavery, and their attention turned to saving the souls of the bracks. Things did not go very well. Puerto Rico was not Mexico or Peru. A 1530 census on the island showed a total of 327 white families owning 2,292 black slaves and 473 Indians. Indians outside the encomienda system, probably still a majority (but not for long), were not counted. By 1587 Puerto Rico's economy depended to a large extent on Mexican governmental yearly subsidies--the situado--the start of a long history of dependence which unfortunately has so far proved hard to shake. By 1765 the population of Puerto Rico stood only at 44,883, of which 5,037 (11.2 percent) were black slaves--a very low ratio, if not the lowest for the Caribbean.

San Juan, originally known as Puerto Rico, moved to its present site in 1521. Because San Juan was for a long time the first port of call of Spanish vessels sailing to the Caribbean and later a prime target of English, French, and Dutch pirates and privateers, fortification was begun soon after its founding and continued for two hundred years. Much of the impressive walled city remains today.

Puerto Rico's geographical position made it, until the end of the eighteenth century, basically a garrison or presidio, standing guard over other Spanish possessions in the area. Its economic status did not start to improve somewhat until the nineteenth century.

Spain kept its empire in the New World on a short leash. The Crown itself, assisted by the Council of the Indies--the Real y Supremo Consejo de Indias--ruled on all legislative, executive, judicial, military, commercial, and even ecclesiastical matters. All laws were drafted by the council, initially composed of four members appointed by the king, and presented to him for his approval. All colonial officials were appointed by the king, upon advice of the council. The council was also in charge of approving the budget for every colony and provisioning the fleets; in its spare time it served as the supreme court for the whole empire.

The king's power went unchecked for many centuries, with no parliament to meddle in the kingdom's affairs. A parliament existed on paper, the Cortes, but from 1521 to the early nineteenth century it was convened only four times.

Such concentration of power created, of course, enormous delays in acting upon the simplest matter. In practice the Governor, who in Puerto Rico also carried the military title of Captain General since 1580, could do pretty much as he pleased.

Puerto Rico, together with the rest of the Antilles, was technically a part of the viceroyship of Mexico, but in reality the viceroy rarely intervened in Puerto Rican affairs. The Governor was both the chief representative of the king and the head of the colonial government. The Captain General headed both the army and the fleet, supervised expenditures, presided over the municipal councils or cabildos, confirmed the election of the mayors or appointed them, and appointed the minor officials. He also controlled the police, enacted ordinances and decrees (subject to approval of the distant king), could suspend the execution of any royal order (also subject to the king's decision), and was in charge of land grants.

The Captain General also held the highest judicial office on the island, subject to appeal to the Real Audiencia of Santo Domingo, the highest colonial court, from which appeals could be taken to the Council of the Indies only in civil cases where a large amount of money was involved. The Real Audiencia, which also exercised a degree of administrative power, theoretically was one of the chief safeguards against gubernatorial despotism. Puerto Rico, however, did not rate an Audiencia of its own until 1832, and from then until 1861 it was presided over by the Captain General.

Prior to the establishment of the Audiencia, Puerto Rico did not have courts as such. The judicial power was wielded by the mayors or alcaldes, who headed the larger municipalities, and by the tenientes a guerra, the mayors of the smaller towns, all untrained in the law. Their decisions could be appealed to the Captain General. The cabildos (municipal councils) were composed of regidores (councilmen) chosen by the Captain General. The practice of selling these offices to the highest bidder became widespread early on. The regidores selected the alcalde in the larger towns.

The mayors of the smaller towns exercised military and police functions and were appointed by the Captain General, normally from the ranks of men of substance, hacendados and ganaderos (owners of sugar and cattle estates). The only offices open to Puerto Ricans until the nineteenth century were those of regidor, alcalde, or teniente a guerra, and even those were strictly limited to the moneyed elite and were often given to deserving Spaniards. Under the Spanish constitution of 1812 the alcaldes were elected, but most of the time the Governor appointed them and, in any case, had the power to dismiss them. As late as 1891 the Governor appointed the alcaldes in all of the towns but five.

Puerto Rico had no legislature until the end of the 1800s. When advocates of a constitutional monarchy were in power during parts of the nineteenth century, there was the Diputacion Provincial, which had only certain limited administrative and advisory functions but which provided a forum for local expression. Most of its members were elected, but the institution was suppressed several times, even under liberal governments. The Governor managed to control the Diputacion for a good part of its checkered existence and made it an instrument of his policies.

During the first three centuries of Spanish rule, side by side with the intricate web of laws, ordinances, and decrees, another order, less concerned with right and wrong, existed. The law restricted commerce to Seville, but smuggling was a main way of life. The Indians, who were supposed to be enlightened by the Spaniards and treated kindly, were promptly extinguished. Slave owners, who included the island's only bishop, ruled Africans with a heavy hand, contrary to standing instructions. The Captain General's discretion, supposedly limited by the imposing facade of the Laws of the Indies, knew no bounds. The population was expected to participate in certain minor elections, but they were held rarely or were manipulated by the Governor. What little representation was permitted to the local people, the criollos, was restricted to the wealthy. No political parties were allowed. There was a surfeit of laws, but, except for a very brief period, no jueces letrados or judges trained in the law to apply them. In 1509 King Ferdinand prohibited lawyers from going to the Indies without royal permission. The few who had traveled there, the wise king explained in his decree, had already created too much trouble.

To add to this, the population lived in constant fear of foreign attack. The French, the British, and the Dutch all raided this bastion of Spanish military strength several times. Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, John Hawkins, the Earl of Cumberland, Boudewijn Hendrickzoon, Sir Ralph Abercromby, and many others attempted to invade the island. In 1596 Puerto Rico actually became British for a number of days. The last attack occurred in 1797.

Puerto Ricans were not the only people in the area subject to barbaric rule. Britain, France, and the Netherlands also governed their New World possessions with a heavy hand. Residents of these colonies had a semblance of greater participation in consultative and even deliberative bodies, but the absolute subjection to the imperial will could not be hidden. The thirteen American colonies were the first to rebel. The American revolution led the way in the decolonization process of the New World. The Caribbean would not start to learn about freedom until much later.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the population of Puerto Rico tripled. In 1802, of 163,192 inhabitants, 78,281 were white, 55,164 mulattos, 16,414 free blacks, and 13,333 slaves. A great rate of growth was to be maintained through the nineteenth century, as economic conditions improved somewhat and the people acquired a political conscience.

The nineteenth century was a troubled one in Spain. From 1833 to 1892 alone Spain had seventy-five governments, of which sixty-eight were in power for less than two years; the longest lasted four years and seven months. There were several wars and uprisings during this time, and a blizzard of constitutions.

Subservient to France since 1795, Spain was forced by Napoleon in 1800 to cede Louisiana to France. In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain and installed his brother Joseph as king. The Spaniards, with the aid of the British, fought the French and four years later were able to expel them and restore Ferdinand VII to the monarchy. A weakened Spain then faced the Wars of Independence of the Latin American republics. Within a few years it lost all of its New World empire except for Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The Spaniards also fought other Spaniards. The followers of the old absolute monarchy warred against the believers in a constitutional monarchy, and all fought each other in wars of succession. The political fortunes of Cuba and Puerto Rico suffered through the century the vagaries of Spanish politics.

The first Spanish written constitution, forced upon Ferdinand VII upon his restoration to the throne in 1812, was ahead of its time. No other colonial power in the New World had granted so many rights and privileges to its possessions. The constitution was in effect a last-ditch attempt at keeping the Spanish-American colonies from seceding. The colonies, including Puerto Rico, were granted the status of Spanish provinces, with full voting representation in the Cortes, something that the English colonies never had, and which the French territories would not achieve until 1946, nor the Dutch, under a different kind of structure, until 1954. Puerto Rico has not known either under the United States, although its residents were given citizenship of sorts in 1917. Spanish citizenship, under conditions of full equality with Spaniards, was also extended to free Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico, together with the other colonies, also obtained the right to male universal suffrage, a right unknown to the French colonies until the Second Republic (1848), to the Netherlands Antilles until 1936, and to the British colonies until first given to Jamaica 1944. Puerto Rico was also granted for the first time a Diputacion Provincial, municipal offices again became elective, and freedom of expression and assembly and other human rights were recognized for the first time. Although formal political parties as such were not established, this was Puerto Rico's first experience with representative institutions.

The 1812 constitution--or the Cadiz Constitution, as it is also known--did not last long. In 1814 the conservatives overthrew it by force and restored absolute power to the king. Puerto Rico went back to its former condition of a colony subject to the unrestricted power of the Spanish monarch.

In 1820, the liberals staged another revolution and forced the king again to proclaim the Cadiz Constitution. Three years later, another insurrection repealed the constitution and Puerto Rico's freedoms were snatched away again.

Shortly after the Spanish lost the final battle for Latin American independence in 1824, Puerto Rico was subjected to as repressive a regime as it had ever known. The Spanish Governor was granted absolute powers (omnimodas) to rule, powers "as absolute as those enjoyed by the commander of a besieged city," the decree read. The subtle theory was that Spain had lost its American colonies not by reason of despotic government, but because too much freedom had been granted them. For a long time, Spanish political developments ceased having an effect on Puerto Rico. Liberal and conservative governments all agreed on giving Puerto Ricans as few human rights as possible. The omnimodas lasted until 1869.

When a new constitution was approved in 1834--the Estatuto Real, which was of conservative bent--it was not extended to Puerto Rico. Even when the Cadiz Constitution was restored in 1836 for a third time and a new liberal constitution was adopted a year later, Puerto Rico was still left out. Its deputies were denied access to parliament, and the islanders were stripped of their Spanish citizenship and earlier freedoms. The 1837 constitution simply stated that "the overseas provinces were to be governed by special laws."

In the absence of such laws (which were never enacted), the authoritarian regime continued. The constitutions of 1845 and 1854, again of conservative design, brought about no change. In 1869, after another revolution, the most liberal of nineteenth--century Spanish constitutions was adopted. The constitution's generous bill of rights was not extended to Puerto Rico until 1873, and some of the most despotic governors that Puerto Rico had ever known were sent to the island.

Under the 1869 constitution, political parties were first allowed to organize. The first political party in Puerto Rico, the Liberal Reformist party, was founded in 1870. Many of its principal leaders believed in full self-government for Puerto Rico, but the word autonomy was not used, as it was banned at the time. The party program was accordingly couched in guarded terms. It called for powers as extensive as those wielded by the Spanish provinces, a status that Puerto Rico had enjoyed under the 1812 constitution, as well as discretion "to solve such questions as were of the exclusive interest of Puerto Rico and its municipalities."

The Conservative party, later called the Unconditionally Spanish party, was founded a year later, in 1871. Men of property and all sorts of Hispanophiles flocked to its ranks. Its program was simple: believers "in the principle of authority, we have not and will not oppose the will of the Sovereign." The program further warned against Spain's extending too much liberty to the island and ended by proclaiming its pride in being Spanish subjects, "a condition to which we subordinate everything."

Upon proclamation of the First Republic in Spain in 1873, most of the demands of the Liberal Reformists were met. Freedom of speech and of the press, together with other provisions of the 1869 constitution, were extended to Puerto Rico, and slavery was abolished. In 1874, however, upon restoration of the monarchy, these liberties were again taken away. The newly established political parties were not suppressed, but they languished under the vigilant eye of the Governor, who did not hesitate to persecute their members, particularly the Liberals, on appropriate occasions, which happened to be many.

The 1876 constitution, which lasted until the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931, represented an attempt to bring internal peace to Spain by steering a middle course between the 1869 liberal constitution and the ultraconservative one of 1845. Its bill of rights was severely narrowed; universal male suffrage was abolished; the king was given greater power vis-a-vis parliament. The new constitution retained the Diputacion Provincial, as well as the elective cabildos, the right to representation in the Cortes (which had been reestablished in 1869), and Spanish citizenship.

The 1876 constitution was formally extended to Puerto Rico in 1881. The gesture did not mean much, as the necessary legislation to extend the human rights provisions to Puerto Rico was not approved until 1897.

In 1887, unsatisfied with the somewhat timorous Liberal Reformist party, many of the old leaders and a new generation of men who would lead Puerto Rico for most of the first three decades of the twentieth century established the Autonomist party. The new party asked, still in coded language, that the Diputacion Provincial (this now meant a local parliament) be vested with power, subject to Spanish approval, to attend to all local matters, which were defined specifically to include education, the budget, public works, health, agriculture, banking, the police, immigration, waters and harbors, commerce, duties, and commercial treaties. Assimilation to Spain as a province, as under the 1812 constitution, was no longer a goal. The demand for equality of treatment was reserved to such matters as representation in the Cortes, freedom of the press and of assembly, and anything else having to do with civil rights. The party's platform requested recognition of the human rights provisions in the constitution. The Autonomist party had strong ties to the criollo, as opposed to the peninsular or native Spanish element of the population.

The principal political parties in Spain reacted violently against the establishment of the Autonomist party. Nothing which "curtails the national sovereignty will ever be acceptable," intoned Praxedes Sagasta, the leader of the party in power, who favored provincehood or full integration with Spain and abhorred the word autonomy, no longer prohibited but still hateful to the peninsulares' ears. His words were echoed by the opposition and magnified by the dutiful Unconditionally Spanish party in Puerto Rico. Action soon followed words, and the Autonomists were hounded and occasionally jailed thereafter until the threat of the Spanish-American War loomed. Puerto Ricans reacted with a number of violent incidents and attempts at rebellion, including the insurrection at Lares, where independence was proclaimed, but contrary to the situation in Cuba, where agitation for freedom continued unabated, Spain was able to contain the rebels.

Thus more than one hundred years ago public opinion in Puerto Rico was divided in much the same way as it is now. A group, many of them in exile in Spanish times, clamored for independence; another wanted full integration or assimilation to the metropolis; and a third opted for a middle way.

The problems flowing from such a split, which is common in colonial societies, were compounded by Spain's indecision. On one thing Spain was clear: it did not want Puerto Rico and Cuba to go the way of the other Latin American countries. On the other hand, it hesitated between admitting them to Spain as provinces or granting them a significant degree of self-government while keeping close ties with the metropolitan country. Colonial powers frequently remain undecided as to whether to free their wards, admit them to their house, warts and all, under equality of conditions, or allow them full powers of self-government in association with the metropolis.

Increasingly concerned with the situation in Cuba, where the rebels were fighting for freedom, the United States pressured Spain for a prompt solution to the crisis. American sugar interests in Cuba were pressing for United States intervention. On September 18, 1897, the American ambassador to Spain formally asked the Spanish Secretary of State to give "before the first of November next, such assurance as would satisfy the United States that early and certain peace can be promptly secured; and that otherwise the United States must consider itself free to take such steps as its Government should deem necessary to procure the result, with due regard to its own interests and the general tranquility." At the end of October the Spanish government answered that it would grant autonomy to Cuba and Puerto Rico by November 23 or 25 at the latest.

Such was the genesis of the Autonomic Charter and the other decrees of November 25, 1897. The first steps toward them had been taken in 1892 and their main features had taken shape by August 1897, but the Cuban fighters for independence and the United States deserve the credit for provoking the final result. The new measures did not go through the normal parliamentary process. Indications were that the Spanish government would have been unable at the time to obtain consent from the Cortes. Autonomy was granted by decree, and an indemnity bill was later sought from the parliament, which reluctantly granted absolution for the constitutional infraction.

The Autonomic Charter went further than the demands of the Autonomist party itself. It was the most advanced document of any Caribbean colony until after the Second World War. Although it was flawed in several respects, the degree of self-government which it granted Puerto Rico was much greater in several aspects than what the United States has been willing to concede up to the present. The British dominion concept, well under development by the end of the nineteenth century, was evidently the chief model followed.

The Autonomic Charter granted Puerto Rico a local parliament composed of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Council of Administration. The entire House was elected by universal suffrage. The council had fifteen members, eight of them elected and seven appointed by the Governor, in the name of the king. The king could, however, disallow any law approved by the Insular Parliament or postpone its consideration. Bills could only be initiated by the Governor through the local minister, which meant that neither had the power to sponsor a bill on his own. Is spite of these limitations, familiar to other Caribbean colonial systems, Puerto Rico was ahead of the British, French, and Dutch colonies, none of which had a legislature with a majority of elected members until after the Second World War.

The powers of the Insular Parliament were extensive, as it could legislate on all matters not reserved to the Cortes or the peninsular government. This basically meant that the Insular Parliament could legislate, among other matters, on education, the treasury, economic development, import and export duties, banking and the monetary system, the public credit, public works, the public health, and municipal administration. The central government took care of foreign affairs, except that Puerto Rico could negotiate commercial treaties (subject to Spanish approval), defense, and general matters of national concern, such as the organization and administration of the judiciary, the Civil Code, and the Commerce Code. The concession of tariff autonomy was one feature that revealed the influence of the British treatment of certain major colonies outside the Caribbean area. Tariff autonomy had been enjoyed by Canada since 1859.

The Governor General wielded great power. In his capacity as representative of the king and his government he still commanded the armed forces (although no longer a Captain General), and he held some of the old attributes, such as acting as delegate of the Spanish ministries, heading the police, and confirming ecclesiastical appointments. He could, after consulting the Insular Council of Ministers, suspend freedom of speech, the press, and assembly, arrest people, order searches and seizures, and temporarily shelve other major civil liberties. He could also suspend the execution of any law or administrative act of the central government considered to be harmful to the national interests or those of Puerto Rico, this time with the consent of the Insular ministers.

As chief of the local government, the Governor appointed the Insular ministers, who in their turn were responsible to the Insular Parliament. In this respect, care should be taken to distinguish between the British and the Spanish ministerial systems. In British terms, "responsible government," which would not be achieved by any British, French, or Dutch colony in the Caribbean until after the Second World War, meant that the ministers were appointed by the Governor, but selected and subject to dismissal by the local legislature alone and thus solely responsible to it. Within the Spanish constitutional system, appointment by the Governor meant that the ministers were responsible to both the Governor and Parliament. The Insular ministers had to enjoy the confidence of both.

The ministers could be members of either chamber of parliament and as a matter of practice had to be. Except for functions derived from his capacity as representative of the king and the national government, the Governor could not take actions without the written consent of the minister involved. The Governor now appointed and dismissed all government employees, but he could not do either except at the request of the corresponding minister. The whole judiciary, however, continued to be appointed by the Spanish government.

The other autonomic decrees had to do with the extension to Puerto Rico of the Spanish laws required to make effective the provisions of the 1876 constitution relating to human rights, male universal suffrage, and Puerto Rico's right to full representation in the Spanish Parliament, a right which it had under the 1812 constitution and regained in 1869. Puerto Ricans also continued, as under prior constitutions, to be full Spanish citizens.

Perhaps the most significant trait of the charter was, finally, that it was not subject to amendment except by law enacted at the request of the Insular Parliament. The idea of a relationship based on such a compact has since been basic to autonomist thinking in Puerto Rico. One of the difficulties that the autonomist movement has had with the U.S. Congress in the second half of the twentieth century has been congressional reluctance to recognize in unequivocal fashion such a fundamental part of government by consent, which Puerto Rico enjoyed at the end of the nineteenth century, although largely on paper and with no guarantee, given the past history of rights bestowed and later withdrawn, that it would survive the swings of Spanish politics. In this respect the Autonomic Charter has been unduly romanticized by many, although the achievement of such a high level of self-government at the time should not be minimized, either.

The first elections under the charter were delayed in Puerto Rico because of a dispute which had arisen sometime before within the Autonomist party. A faction led by Jose C. Barbosa wanted no ties with the monarchist Liberal party, headed by Sagasta, while another splinter group, captained by Luis Munoz Rivera, had vowed to favor Sagasta, in spite of his earlier views, if he could bring about autonomy. A provisional cabinet was installed on February 10, 1898. Five days later the U.S.S. Maine blew up in Havana's harbor.

On March 27 parliamentary elections were held. Munoz Rivera won in a landslide against both the Barbosa faction and the incondicionales. The Insular Parliament was convened for April 25, 1898--the very day the United States declared war on Spain.

What was Puerto Rico like at the end of the nineteenth century? The island's population had grown by leaps and bounds in the course of the century, to in 953,243 in 1899. It was a young population: 31 percent was under ten years old, as compared to 24 percent in the United States. Only 11 percent was over forty-five years old; the comparable figure for the United States was 17.2 percent. Only 2.8 percent of Puerto Rico's residents were Spanish-born. Blacks and mulattos represented 38.2 percent of the population, somewhat higher than the 36.2 percent which inhabited the American Atlantic southern states.

Puerto Rico was still a rural society. In 1899, only 32,048 people lived in the largest city, San Juan, up from 9,0000 in 1800. A scant 8.7 percent inhabited towns with more than 8,000 people, as compared to 32.3 percent in the United States.

Spain's neglect of education in Puerto Rico was reflected in the illiteracy rate, which was the highest in the West Indies at 83.2 percent. "Education lost the Americas," a leading Spanish statesman said in the nineteenth century, regretting even the scant educational facilities that had been allowed there. Spain itself had an illiteracy rate of 75 percent in 1860 and 63 percent in 1900.

Aside from some scattered efforts by religious orders, there were no schools in Puerto Rico. A secondary school system was not established until 1882. There were 529 schools in the island, of which only six were housed in public buildings. There was no university; postsecondary studies had to be undertaken in Spain, although a few students went to France or the United States. There was no department of education until the issuance of the Autonomic Charter in 1897.

The economic situation was precarious. The insular annual budget amounted to a little more than $3 million. Out of that, Puerto Rico had to pay 250,000 pesos ($150,000 in 1899) to Spain as compensation for war expenses; another half a million pesos was retained as Puerto Rico's contribution to the expenses of the Spanish Ministry for Overseas Possessions; and 200,000 pesos went to the support of the clergy, a state obligation at the time.

Coffee was the most important crop in 1897 (prior to its devastation by a hurricane the next year), followed by sugar and tobacco. The value of all exports was less than 19 million pesos ($11. 4 million). Food amounted to 45 percent of all imports.

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