Today on July 25, 1952 the island of Puerto Rico was promoted by federal law from being a mere territory to a U.S. commonwealth. A status that continues to plague the beleaguered island as it tries to manage staggering debt, poverty and a mass exodus of its people to the U.S. mainland.
Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico (originally known as Boriquen) in his second voyage in 1493 and encountered the native Taino Indians, leading to Puerto Rico becoming a colony of Spain until 1898. Thanks to the Spanish-American War and the defeat of the Spanish that Puerto Rico became a possession of the U.S. and politely called a “territory” versus a possession.
The people of Puerto Rico have always sought a more permanent and defined relationship with the U.S. and have debated whether to become a state or become completely independent of the U.S.for much of its history. The status of “commonwealth” granted on July 24, 1952 was a happy medium. The status of commonwealth allowed Puerto Rico more control over its affairs, gave the island its own constitution – in essence special privileges not given to U.S. states.
So 65 years ago today, thanks to the people of Puerto Rico, Congress and President Harry Truman, Puerto Rico became an official U.S. commonwealth. Irrevocable citizenship had already been granted to Puerto Ricans in 1917. However the the commonwealth label is viewed by some as golden handcuffs since the U.S. government did not lessen control of the island or grant it the right to change it status.
This year in June the issue of statehood was voted on again and it overwhelmingly passed, however Congress is the only one that can welcome Puerto Rico as the 51st state. The vote came on the heels of the island filing for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the U.S. as a result of not being able to handle its $70 billion debt load. Puerto Rico was forced to take this drastic measure since as a commonwealth it is unable to restructure its debt like U.S. states are.
Today, Puerto Ricans have been struggling under a decade long recession coupled by a 45 percent poverty rate coupled and double digit unemployment. Therefore no one is sure if today is a day of celebration or lament.
HSN Staff Writers
HSN staff writers are a group of enthusiastic and talented creative-types that generate great story lines and write about current events with a distinctively Latino voice always respecting the audience it writes for.
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