Puerto Rico and the Non-Hispanic Caribbean: A Study in the Decline of Spanish Exclusivism

Puerto Rico and the Non-Hispanic Caribbean: A Study in the Decline of Spanish Exclusivism

Puerto Rico and the Non-Hispanic Caribbean: A Study in the Decline of Spanish Exclusivism

Puerto Rico and the Non-Hispanic Caribbean: A Study in the Decline of Spanish Exclusivism

Excerpt

The Antillean area is a complex social mosaic, criss-crossed by the most diverse ethnic and cultural strains. It is, historically, the product of an intense struggle for power between the maritime states, in which each island and key was bitterly contested and stubbornly held. No community was able to develop in placid isolation, untouched by the surge of great imperial clashes or the turmoil of war. The sea was an open road which brought all kinds of travelers to the islands: the explorers and conquerors from Spain, the Portuguese slave traders, the French and English freebooters, the Dutch smugglers, and in a latter day, the North American privateer.

The foreigner was part of the dramatis personae in the evolution of each settlement, a human symbol of the inter-relationship of local history with that of the archipelago. Inter-island contacts were numerous, and not necessarily limited to aggressive forays or outright attacks. This was especially true of the middle Antillean area, where the proximity of diverse competitive settlements heightened the tensions, but also increased the opportunities for a direct exchange of goods and ideas.

This study aims to trace the impact of these contacts and communications on the social history of Puerto Rico, prior to the final breakdown of Spanish power in the American continent. It covers a broad span of time, but is particularly concerned with relations in the Eighteenth Century, a pivotal period in the development of the West Indies.

The choice of this subject has been dictated by insular as well as by general considerations. Little has been done in the way of modern historical research on the history of Puerto Rico after the process of Spanish colonization lost its initial momentum. The Seventeenth Century is largely a terra incognita, and there is no systematic work on the succeeding century. The need to throw some light on this neglected period is only too apparent, if local research is to be provided with a solid foundation for a reappraisal of later developments.

But to students of the West Indian area, there are reasons of a higher import in justifying the selection of a Puerto Rican subject. Puerto Rico was encompassed by the exclusivist wall which Spain vainly endeavoured to erect in the outskirts of her American domains. The colonial settlement soon proved a testing-ground for the validity and efficacy of Spanish monopolistic practices. Its location at the cross-roads of imperial lifelines exposed the island to unavoidable contacts with non-Hispanic peoples. The basic assumptions of the exclusivist doctrine were thus challenged by the pressure of overwhelming historical and geographical factors. There soon . . .

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