On 16 Nov., 1493, on his second voyage, the mountain El Yunque, on the
north-east coast of the island then known as Boriquen, was seen by Columbus,
whose fleet anchored in the port near Aguadilla. A monument erected in
the fourth century of the discovery marks the site between Aguada and Aguadilla,
where presumably the admiral took possession of the newly discovered territory
in the name of his sovereign. The island was named San Juan in honour of
St. John the Baptist.
Among those who accompanied Columbus was Vincent Yañez, the younger
of the brothers Pinzon, who had commanded the ill-fated "Niña" on
the voyage of the year previous. In 1499 a royal permit was granted him
to fit out a fleet to explore the region south of the lands discovered
by Columbus. After coasting along the shores of Brazil and advancing up
the River Amazon, then called Marañon, he returned by way of Hispaniola,
to be driven for refuge from storm into the port of Aguada.
From the natives, who received him kindly, it was learned that there
was considerable gold in the island. On his return to Spain, Pinzon sought
to obtain certain privileges to colonize San Juan de Boriquen. It was only
after the death of Isabella that he obtained a royal permit from Ferdinand
the Catholic, dated 24 April, 1505, authorizing him to colonize the island
of San Juan de Boriquen, without intervention on the part of Columbus,
on condition that he would secure means of transportation within one year.
Failing to do so his permit was without effect.
The colonizer and first governor of the island was another companion
of Columbus, Juan Ponce, surnamed de Leon after his birth-place in Spain.
The eastern portion of the Island of Hispaniola (Haiti), separated from
Porto Rico by the Mono Channel, was at this time under his command.
In 1508 he secured permission to leave his command in the province of
Higuey, in Hispaniola, and to explore San Juan de Boriquen. With fifty
chosen followers, he crossed the channel, landing in Porto Rico 12 Aug.,
1508, and was received by a friendly native cacique, who informed him of
the existence of the harbour of San Juan on the north coast, then unknown
to Europeans, which de Leon named "Puerto Rico" on account of the strategic
and commercial advantages it offered for the colonization and civilization
of the island. Having explored its interior, de Leon returned to his command
in Hispaniola, now the eastern portion of Santo Domingo, to arrange with
King Ferdinand and Orando to lead an expedition for the conquest and colonization
of Boriquen. He made special request to have a body of priests assigned
for his assistance.
In March, 1509, he sailed direct to the north coast for the harbour
which he had named Puerto Rico, now known as San Juan. Anchoring about
one mile from the entrance he established the first European settlement
at a place then known as Caparra, now Pueblo Viejo, which remained capital
of the island until it was officially transferred to the present site of
San Juan in 1519.
Populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples, the island was claimed
by the Spanish Crown in 1493 following Columbus' second voyage to the Americas.
In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population
nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was
ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. Teddy Roosevelt
and his famous Rough Riders gained their fame during this war.
Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. Popularly-elected
governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing
for internal self government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998,
voters chose to retain commonwealth status. Support for the independence
of Puerto Rico is weak on the island with most citizens desiring continued
commonwealth status while others seek to join the United States of America
as a state.
Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region.
A diverse industrial sector has far surpassed agriculture as the primary
locus of economic activity and income. Encouraged by duty-free access to
the US and by tax incentives, US firms have invested heavily in Puerto
Rico since the 1950s. US minimum wage laws apply. Sugar production has
lost out to dairy production and other livestock products as the main source
of income in the agricultural sector. Tourism has traditionally been an
important source of income, with estimated arrivals of nearly 5 million
tourists in 1999. Growth fell off in 2001-03, largely due to the slowdown
in the US economy.