Sunday, November 18, 2012

Puerto Rico


The Taino people were native to this island (mostly migrated from the Orinoco River region in South America). While an excavation points to inhabitants here from 2000 BC, the Taino people were most dominant from 1000 AD. There were about 30 to 60 thousand people here when Christopher Columbus landed here on his 2nd trip on Nov 19, 1493. Life changed forever after that landing! 

Columbus called the island San Juan Bautista (the natives called it Boriken). Within a very short time, Puerto Rico became a Spanish colony. The native inhabitants were forced into slavery but most of them died because of European illnesses (small pox). Slaves from Africa were brought in to do the manual work but PR was known only for it's ports. Unlike other islands, there was no major plantations here. This was a port of entry for ships going up to North America, Central and South America. 

In 1607, the English ships taking people to establish the Jamestown, Virginia settlement docked at San Juan for re-provisioning. PR remained with the Spaniards for 400 years. In order to dilute any nationalistic movement, Spain in 1815 offered free land mainly aimed for non-Spaniards to immigrate to PR. People from all over Europe immigrated. 

Spain ceded PR to the US as part of the Spanish-American War in 1898. It has remained a US territory since. PR residents became US citizens in 1917. There is a referendum in the 2012 elections regarding statehood, independence or keeping the status quo (remaining a US territory).

Today, the people of PR, about 3 million strong, claim heritage from Europe, other islands in the carribean and South America. It is very mixed with a strong spanish and latin influence. 

Tourism is by far the biggest economic driver in PR. However, I feel for the people again. The big hotels are all US based companies - the Marriots and Hiltons. The local people work in the hospitality and tourism industry and wages are low. They cannot afford to eat in the restaurants of the hotels. The median income is less than $20,000, lower than the poorest state in the US (at $36,000). It is however richer than all other major Caribbean islands.  

I guess if you are an island without much resources, your options are limited. What is the fair balance between providing external financial resources and island labor? How do we set up systems so that it provides an equal playing field for natives and others? I do not know the answers. 

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