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How to Use
the Readings


Inquiry Question

Historical Context


Reading 1
Reading 2



Table of

Determining the Facts

Reading 3: The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

During the 19th century, most of Spain's New World colonies revolted and gained their independence. By the 1890s, the only remnants of the once far flung Spanish empire were Cuba and Puerto Rico. When a revolution in Cuba sparked the Spanish American War, a United States naval flotilla bombarded San Juan. This May 1898 barrage caused no great damage, and there was no further United States military action against the city.

Two months later, however, Gen. Nelson Miles landed American troops on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. As his troops were advancing through the outskirts of San Juan, the United States and Spain signed an armistice bringing fighting to an end. On October 18th, the American forces under Gen. John R. Brooke took formal possession of Puerto Rico.

The Treaty of Paris (1898), which officially ended the war, established the San Juan Military Reservation. An Act of Congress in 1903 then reserved it for military use. In World War I, the American military used Puerto Rico much as the Spanish had: it served as an outpost against threats to U.S. shipping, in this case through the newly-built Panama Canal. Other parts of the fort were adapted to new uses, as old bunkers and batteries were modernized and El Morro became part of the sprawling administrative, housing, and hospital complex. Changes continued during World War II. The United States army added coastal defense observation posts and hidden command and communication centers within both El Morro and San Cristóbal; these blocky concrete additions can still be seen. In 1943, the installation was officially designated Fort Brooke in honor of Major General Brooke, who was the island's first American governor.

The status of Puerto Rico also was changing. By the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Rico had become an incorporated territory of the United States. The territory received partial self government in 1947, when its residents received the right to elect their own governor. They wrote their own constitution and began electing a non voting Congressman to represent them in Washington, D.C. Today, the people of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, but they are unable to vote in presidential elections.

After World War II, the American military decided it no longer needed all of Fort Brooke. On February 14, 1949, El Morro, San Cristóbal, El Cañuelo, the gate of San Juan, and most of the city wall became San Juan National Historic Site, which is administered by the National Park Service. Old San Juan retains many elements of colonial times, such as cobblestone paving, inner patios and courtyards, overhanging balconies, and religious shrines. Its most impressive features remain, as they have for 400 years, the old fortifications that once guarded the city. They now attract more than two million sightseers to America's jewel in the Caribbean. Their historical importance is perhaps best illustrated by their designation as a United Nations World Heritage Site—a place with exceptional and universal cultural value.

Questions for Reading 3

1. How did Puerto Rico become part of the United States?

2. How were the old Spanish fortifications used during World War 11?

3. How did the National Park Service obtain several of the fortified sites?

Reading 3 was adapted from The Forts of Old San Juan (Washington, D.C: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service).


Comments or Questions

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