PUERTO RICO History & Legal System Aitza M. Haddad, J.D. November 2010
Demographic Facts Language: Spanish/English Size: 115 miles from W to E and 42 miles from N to S Population (2009 estimate) - 3,967,179 127th in the world; 27th in U.S. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, PR does not have any first-order administrative divisions (as defined by the U.S. government), but has 78 municipalities at the second level. Subdivided into wards or “barrios”, and those into “sectors”. Each municipality has a “mayor” and a “municipal legislature” elected for a four year term.
“Borikén – Borínquen –San Juan Bautista – Porto Rico”
Pre Colombian Era What is known today about the indigenous population of PR comes from scarce archaeological findings and early Spanish scholarly accounts. Fray Íñigo Abbad y Lasierra – wrote the first comprehensive book of the history of Puerto Rico in 1786; almost three centuries after the first Spaniards arrived on the island. Few and rare cave drawings, rock carvings and ancient recreational activity sites that have been identified with some degree of speculation as to who left them behind.
Spanish Colony Between the 7th and 11th centuries the Taíno culture developed on the island, and by approximately 1000 AD had become dominant. Christopher Columbus - arrived in Puerto Rico in November 19, 1493. Island was inhabited by a group of Arawak Indians known as Taínos who called the island "Borikén" or, in Spanish, "Borinquen“ Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honor of Saint John the Baptist.
Slavery & Trade under Spain Eventually, traders and other maritime visitors came to refer to the entire island as "Puerto Rico", and "San Juan" became the name of the main trading/shipping port. In 1508, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León became the islands first governor to take office. The importation of Sub-Saharan African slaves was introduced to provide the new manual work force for the Spanish colonists and merchants. Coffee and Sugar Cane
Spaniards Forts PR soon became an important stronghold and a significant port for Spanish Main colonial expansion. Various forts and walls, such as La Fortaleza, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal, were built to protect the strategic port of San Juan from numerous European invasion attempts. The City of San Juan use to close its gates at night. San Juan served as an important port- of-call for ships of all European nations for purposes of taking on water, food and other commercial provisions and mercantile exchange.
PR Government under Spain Ramon Power y Giralt was appointed as the first Spanish parliamentary representative of the island, dying after serving a three-year term in the Cortes. His parliamentary and constitutional reforms were in force from 1810 to 1814 and again from 1820 to 1823. The Spanish Crown revived the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815, printed in Spanish, English and French, with the intent to attract Europeans of non-Spanish origin. Hope for the independence movements to lose their popularity and strength with an increase of new loyalist settlers with strong sympathies to Spain. As an incentive to immigrate and colonize, free land was offered to those who wanted to populate the two islands on the condition that they swear their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church.
Rebellion against Spain “Grito de Lares” - Toward the end of the 19th century, poverty and political estrangement with Spain led to a small but significant uprising that began in the rural town of Lares but was later subdued in the neighboring town of San Sebastián. Leaders of this independence movement included Ramón Emeterio Betances, considered the "father" of the Puerto Rican independence movement, and other political figures such as Segundo Ruiz Belvis and later under U.S. Pedro Albizu Campos .
PR Autonomous Government In 1897, Luis Muñoz Rivera and others persuaded the liberal Spanish government to agree to Charters of Autonomy for Cuba and PR. July 17 1898 – PR had its first autonomous government by General elections. Was organized as an overseas province of Spain. Maintained a governor appointed by Spain, which held the power to annul any legislative decision, and a partially elected parliamentary structure.
Unites States & PR Since 1894, the Naval War College start formulating contingency plans for a war with Spain. 1895 - Jorge Rodriguez Beruf, a researcher on United States militarism in PR, wrote that PR was considered valuable as a naval station and for having abundant coffee and sugar. 1896 - the Office of Naval Intelligence had prepared a plan which included military operations in Puerto Rican waters. On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish- American War, PR was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded PR, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris.
Foraker Act 1900 U.S. and PR began a long-standing relationship - PR began the 20th century under the military rule of the U.S. with officials, including the governor, appointed by the President of the United States. Natural disasters, including a major earthquake, a tsunami and several hurricanes, and the Great Depression impoverished the island during the first few decades under U.S. rule. The Foraker Act of 1900 gave PR a certain amount of civilian popular government, including a popularly elected House of Representatives, also a judicial system following the American legal system that includes both state courts and federal courts establishing a PR Supreme Court and a United State District Court; and a non-voting member of Congress, by the title of "Resident Commissioner".
Jones Act U.S. Citizenship In 1917, "Puerto Ricans were collectively made U.S. citizens” via the Jones Act. The same Act also provided for a popularly elected Senate to complete a bicameral Legislative Assembly, a bill of rights and authorized the election of a Resident Commissioner to a four-year term. As a result of their new U.S. citizenship, many Puerto Ricans were drafted into World War I and all subsequent wars with U.S. participation in which a national military draft was in effect.
“Gag Law” On March 21, 1937 - a march was organized in Ponce by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. It turned bloody when the Insular Police opened fire upon unarmed and defenseless cadets. Nineteen were killed and over 200 were badly wounded, many in their backs while running away. An American Civil Liberties Union report declared it a massacre and it has since been known as the “Ponce Massacre”. 1946 - President Truman appointed the first Puerto Rican-born governor - Jesús T. Piñero. On June 11, 1948, Piñero signed the "Ley de la Mordaza" (Gag Law) or “Law 53” as it was officially known, passed by the Puerto Rican legislature which made it illegal to display the Puerto Rican Flag, sing patriotic songs, talk of independence and to fight for the liberation of the island. It resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States
Public Law 600 (P.L. 81- 600) In 1947, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to elect democratically their own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín was elected during the 1948 general elections, becoming the first popularly elected governor of PR. In 1950, the U.S. Congress approved Public Law 600 (P.L. 81-600) which allowed for a democratic referendum in PR to determine whether Puerto Ricans desired to draft their own local constitution. This Act left unchanged all the articles under the Jones Act of 1917 that regulated the relationships between PR and the U.S.
Rebellion against U.S. On October 30, 1950, Pedro Albizu Campos and other nationalists led a 3-day revolt against the U.S. in various cities and towns of PR. Jayuya Uprising – U.S declared martial law and attacked Jayuya with infantry, artillery and bombers. Utuado Uprising – culminated in what is known as the Utuado massacre. On November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate President Harry S Truman. Torresola was killed during the attack, but Collazo was captured and served 29 years in a federal prison, being released in 1979. Don Pedro Albizu Campos also served many years in a federal prison in Atlanta, GA for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government in PR.
PR Constitution The Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved by a Constitutional Convention on February 6, 1952, ratified by the U.S. Congress, approved by President Truman on July 3 of that year, and proclaimed by Governor Luis Muñoz Marín on July 25, 1952. The anniversary of the July 25, 1898 landing of U.S. troops in the Puerto Rican Campaign of the Spanish- American War.
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico” Puerto Rico adopted the name of Estado Libre Asociado (E.L.A.) Literally translated as “Free Associated State”; officially translated into English as Commonwealth. The U.S. Congress legislates over many fundamental aspects of PR life, including citizenship, currency, postal service, foreign affairs, military defense, communications, labor relations, the environment, commerce, finance, health and welfare, and many others.
Government and Politics PR government is based on the formal republican system, and is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. PRs head of state is the President of the U.S. and its current powers are all delegated by the U.S. Congress providing full protection under the U.S. Constitution. From 1952 to 2007, PR had have three political parties which had stood for the three distinct political scenarios struggling to define its political status. Three plebiscites have been held in recent decades to resolve the political status, but no changes have been attained.
The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) - seeks to maintain the islands "association" status as a commonwealth, improving it and/or seek a true free sovereign-association status or Free Associated Republic. It has won a plurality vote in referendums on the islands status held over six decades after the island was invaded by the U.S. The New Progressive Party (PNP) seeks statehood – Complete U.S. annexation. The Puerto Rican Independence Party seeks independence, complete separation from U.S. In 2007, a fourth party, the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPR), was ratified claiming that it seeking to address the islands problems from a status-neutral platform. Non-registered parties include the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, the Socialist Workers Movement, the Hostosian National Independence Movement, and others.
Three Branches Executive - headed by the Governor, elected by popular vote every 4 years. Currently Luis Fortuño Legislative - consists of a bicameral Legislative Assembly made up of a Senate (upper chamber) and a House of Representatives (lower chamber). The Senate is headed by the President of the Senate, while the House of Representatives is headed by the Speaker of the House. Legislators are elected by popular vote every four years. Judicial: is headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of PR. The legal system is a mix of the civil law and the common law systems. Members of the Judicial branch are appointed by the governor with the "advice and consent" of the Senate.
PR Judicial System Courts all of General Jurisdiction The Supreme Court is formed by 7 judges A chief justice and six associate justices named by the Governor. The structure of the Judicial System includes a Court of Appeals, Superior Court, a District Court (civil & criminal), and Municipal Court. There are 12 judicial districts. The Commonwealth of PR also has a district court comparable to those of the states of US. United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico Puerto Rican civil and commercial codes are fashioned after Spanish models; penal, procedural, and public (including constitutional) law are fashioned after U.S. models.
International Relationships While residing in PR, Puerto Ricans cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections, but we can vote in primaries. Puerto Ricans who become residents of a U.S. state can vote in presidential elections. PR is represented in the U.S. Congress by a nonvoting delegate, formally called a Resident Commissioner - currently Pedro Pierluisi. Current legislation has returned the Commissioners power to vote in the Committee of the Whole, but not on matters where the vote would represent a decisive participation. As PR is not an independent country, it hosts no embassies. It is host, however, to consulates from 41 countries, mainly from the Americas and Europe. CARICOM (observer), ECLAC (associate), FAO (associate), ICFTU, INTERPOL (sub-bureau), IOC, WCL, WFTU, WHO (associate), WTO (associate). Most consulates are located in San Juan.
Cornell University’s Observatory; Arecibo PR April 16, 2008 -- Washington, DC – Senator Hillary Clinton announced that she introduced legislation to ensure continued support for Cornell University’s innovative Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.