Puerto Rico was discovered by Christopher Columbus during his second exploration of the new world in 1493. He named the island San Juan Bautista, after St. John, the Baptist. But it came to be known as Puerto Rico meaning ‘rich port’ because of the gold found in its river. The capital city was given the name San Juan.
Fifteen years after Columbus’s visit, a soldier named Juan Ponce de Leon, came back to invade Puerto Rico and became its first governor. The locals of the island, especially the Taino and Carib Indian races were enslaved by him and were used for mining. Over a period of time, the frequent rebellions by the locals brought down their numbers. With mining resources becoming scarce, sugarcane cultivation was given more importance. For fieldwork, slaves from African countries were brought in, as they were much cheaper.
Under the Spanish rule, Puerto Rico flourished and ships laden with treasures from this new world sailed the Carribean Sea. These ships were always under attack from the French, Dutch and English pirates. The island saw many unsuccessful attacks from them. To guard the island against the enemies, the Spanish constructed many forts on the island. The El Morro de San Felipe Castle and San Cristobal Castle are notable among them, as they protected their inhabitants from various incursions.
Puerto Rico was an overseas province of Spain till 1898, when after the American invasion, it became a territory of America under the Treaty of Paris.
When America took over, Puerto Rico was an agricultural economy. But by the middle of the century, the industrialisation effort known as Operation Bootstrap brought about a drastic change. Cheap labour and attractive tax laws brought a lot of American investors. Tourism and manufacturing gained prominence.
With its cobble stones streets, hanging balconies, interior patios, plazas, chapels and historic forts, Puerto Rico is a very attractive tourist destination today.
Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala