Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898

Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898

Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898

Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898


Offering a comprehensive overview of Puerto Rico's history and evolution since the installation of U.S. rule, Cesar Ayala and Rafael Bernabe connect the island's economic, political, cultural, and social past. Puerto Rico in the American Century explores Puerto Ricans in the diaspora as well as the island residents, who experience an unusual and daily conundrum: they consider themselves a distinct people but are part of the American political system; they have U.S. citizenship but are not represented in the U.S. Congress; and they live on land that is neither independent nor part of the United States.

Highlighting both well-known and forgotten figures from Puerto Rican history, Ayala and Bernabe discuss a wide range of topics, including literary and cultural debates and social and labor struggles that previous histories have neglected. Although the island's political economy remains dependent on the United States, the authors also discuss Puerto Rico's situation in light of world economies. Ayala and Bernabe argue that the inability of Puerto Rico to shake its colonial legacy reveals the limits of free-market capitalism, a break from which would require a renewal of the long tradition of labor and social activism in Puerto Rico in connection with similar currents in the United States.


In 1941, publisher Henry Luce announced the coming of the American Century from the pages of Life magazine. the moment symbolically marked the rise of the United States as a global power. It has been pointed out many times that American influence as proclaimed by Luce in 1941 and as built by U.S. strategists after 1945 did not imply the construction of a new colonial empire following the British or other European models. This is undoubtedly so, but it should not lead us to forget that there were exceptions. For some, the American Century had begun much earlier, on the eve of the twentieth century, when the Spanish-American War of 1898 led to the installation of U.S. colonial governments in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. While the Philippines became independent in 1946, Puerto Rico and Guam remain under U.S. sovereignty to this day. Puerto Rico thus became an anomaly: a colony of a fundamentally noncolonial imperialism. It is this exceptional case that concerns us here.

The objective of this book is to acquaint the reader with the history of Puerto Rico since 1898. Such a project is never a neutral or value-free operation. We bring to it a particular perspective and set of interests. While we relay many findings of past contributions in this field, we also depart from some prevalent views regarding many of the events, processes, and historical figures discussed here. But before we go into these, it is appropriate to begin with some facts and a brief overview of the terrain we will cover.

Puerto Rico is the smallest and easternmost of the Greater Antilles (see Maps I.1 and I.2). Although often referred to as an island, it is in fact formed by three inhabited islands: Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra, the latter two being much smaller than the former. the three islands have a combined area of roughly 3,500 square miles. Following convention, we will use the term “Puerto Rico” or “the island” to refer to the three insular territories taken as a unit. in 2006, Puerto Rico had close to four million inhabitants. It is therefore densely . . .

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