Sunday, July 25, 2010

Enter on the Shores of Guánica

When General Nelson A. Miles, in 1898, set foot on the shores of Guánica, Puerto Rico, the promise of change from 400 years of Spanish colonialism seemed hopeful. An opportunity for freedom, prosperity and protection; with time, an opportunity to become a part of the U.S. or an independent nation.

What is General Miles importance to Puerto Rican history? A little background on this General reveals that he defeated Geronimo, Sitting Bull, and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe. How fitting that a General who played a leading role in many campaigns against American Indians (Indigenous peoples) and who believed that the US should have authority over the Indians, would come in peace to Puerto Rico. Not the case, for prior to the invasion spies were already in place and plans for an invasion had been drawn, resistance to the invasion there would be but the promise for em-betterment seemed greater. Some would welcome the coming troops with open arms and would be afforded positions in the invaded town. Such is the case of one, Agustín Barrenechea, who was appointed mayor of Guánica shortly after the first skirmish. Another campaign under the belt for General Miles and another opportunity at more authority. Now the case here is not to belittle General Miles for as one looks over his military career it is clear that from a military point of view he was an outstanding soldier.

There are always at least two sides to any story, such is the same in history. In the case of Puerto Rico, there were at least three battles fought prior to the invasion on the island but it was the capture of a Spanish freighter that set precedence. The capture of this freighter on May 8, 1898 set off a campaign which would lead to the invasion and many battles fought in Puerto Rico until the end of all military actions on August 13, 1898.
Simply believing that liberators were setting foot on the shores of Guánica and that the U.S was going to grant the island its independence made the campaign all that much easier. Unlike the battles fought against the indigenous peoples of the Americas for American expansion, Puerto Rico was not intended to be a part of this expansion. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, the era of manifest destiny had come to a point which would not include it.
Change was to come, not in the form of independence but rather in the form of the "Americanization" process. From the establishment of a military government headed by General Miles to a change in currency the process had begun. The military government changed the name of Puerto Rico to Porto Rico and it remained that way until 1932 when the U.S. Congress changed it back. Schools became the tool of Americanization with classes, initially, being taught entirely in English.
The shores of Guánica opened the door to what has become a state of dependence that continues to cripple Puerto Rico. Four hundred years under Spanish rule plus 112 more under U.S. control has amounted to nothing more than a colonial mentality by far too many.

Uncle Sam watches as the "Goddess of Liberty" heralds freedom for Cuba,
Puerto Rico and the Philippines

"uneducated, simple-minded and harmless people who are only interested in wine, women, music and dancing" - U.S. Senator George Frisbie Hoar describing Puerto Ricans c. 1899¹

1. See New York Times article, published on 2/22/1899, Americanizing Puerto Rico & Puerto Rican Campaign, pg.11

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