Important Dates in Puerto Rican History

Pre-1492: Island is a homeland of the Taínos, a native people with links to the southern Arawak peoples of South America. They call the island Borikén.

1493: November 19—Christopher Columbus lands on the island of Borikén on his second voyage to the Western Hemisphere, claiming the island for Spain.

1508: Spanish colonization begins.

1511: The Taínos revolt against Spaniards with no success. Ponce de León orders 6,000 shot; survivors flee to mountains or leave the island.

1513: Spaniards begin massive forced transport of enslaved Africans to the island.

1854: Vieques annexed to Puerto Rico.

1865: Cuban and Puerto Ricans living in New York City form Republican Society to agitate for independence from Spain.

1868: El Grito de Lares Rebellion, demanding Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain.

1873: Slavery abolished in Puerto Rico.

1898: U.S. troops invade Puerto Rico during Spanish-American War. Spain cedes Puerto Rico to U.S. under Treaty of Paris.

1899: August 8—San Ciriaco hurricane.

1900: U.S. Congress passes Foraker Act, establishing a U.S.-controlled civilian government.

1917: Puerto Ricans made U.S. citizens under the Jones Act.

1922: Nationalist Party founded, demanding Puerto Rico’s independence from the U.S.

1930s: Thousands of Vieques residents migrate to Saint Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands) in search of work in the wake of the closure of sugar mills.

1937: March 21—Ponce Massacre unfolds when 20 are killed, 100 injured after police fire on a peaceful Nationalist Party protest.

1938: Luis Muñoz Marín founds the Popular Democratic Party.

1940s: U.S. Navy expropriates 26,000 acres (72 percent) of Vieques territory for maneuvers, bombing practice and storage of military explosives. The economic crisis deepens and the last sugar mill, Playa Grande, is forced to close.

1946: Puerto Rican Independence Party founded.

1947: U.S. Department of the Interior plan to forcibly relocate Vieques’s entire population to St. Croix is defeated by policymakers.
Operation Bootstrap industrialization plan begins, prompting mass emigration to the U.S.

1948: Luis Muñoz Marín becomes first elected governor of Puerto Rico.

1950: Nationalist uprising. Thousands of independence sympathizers are jailed.

1952: Commonwealth status implemented.

1967: New Progressive Party founded, advocating U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico.

1972: United Nations Decolonization Committee declares Puerto Rico a U.S. colony and demands self-determination for the island.

1973: Born out of community demand, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York is established as the first and only research institute dedicated to the study of the Puerto Rican Diaspora.

1980: U.S. Congress recommends that U.S. Navy leave Vieques.

1987: Puerto Rican population living in the U.S. reaches 2.5 million.

1989: Governor asks U.S. Congress for a plebiscite on the island’s future status.

1991: In an island-wide vote, Puerto Ricans reject an amendment that would have “reviewed” their commonwealth status.
Puerto Rico declares Spanish its only official language.

1996: Phasing out of Federal Tax law 936 which gave U.S. businesses tax incentives for working in Puerto Rico.

1998: December 13—Voters reject choices in non-binding referendum on political status by choosing “none of the above.”

1999: April 19—Civilian accidentally killed by U.S. military forces during a training exercise on Vieques.
September 11—Eleven pro-independence Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) members responsible for bombings in the New York and Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s are released from federal prisons after accepting a controversial clemency offer from President Bill Clinton; five others refuse the clemency and remain jailed.

2000: November 7—Sila M. Calderón elected Puerto Rico’s first female governor.

2003: U.S. government announces that it will no longer use Vieques as a site for military exercises. Additional dates to bring the timeline to the present will be added soon.

2010: Student Strikes at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras call attention to the continual disparities, including tuition hikes. The strikes draw national attention, particularly due to police violence against the student body.

2015: Governor Alejandro Padilla officially declares the Puerto Rican government bankrupt. As a U.S. colony, Puerto Rico does not have the ability to declare bankruptcy in the same way a U.S. state or city would.

2016: After attention drawn by Puerto Rican policy makers and organizations, Congress appoints a body of economic officials in charge of managing the Puerto Rican public debt. The body is called Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability (PROMESA). Many grassroots activists protest PROMESA arguing that it continues a history of colonial restraints.

2017: In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria leave an aftermath of natural and manmade disasters. Policy makers and activists clash about the political and economic choices for “reimagining” Puerto Rico.

2019: In July 2019, Puerto Rican’s protest in the streets for 11 days and successfully call for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello (PNP). Activists had been calling for accountability regarding the public debt and federal funds after Hurricane Maria, and protesting privatization of schools and labor contracts in Puerto Rico for years. The leaked Telegram Chat in which Governor Rossello and members of his cabinet mock women, feminists, LGBTQ communities, and even Hurricane Maria’s dead, ignited a series of PR wide protests and marches, joined by artists, authors, athletes, and educators, unprecedented people’s unity and power Puerto Rico’s history.

2020: Starting on December 28, 2019, Puerto Rico, particularly its southern and southwest areas, begin experiencing earthquake activity. On January 7, 2020 Puerto Rico experienced a 6.4 earthquake which damages homes, schools, and landmarks, particularly in the southern areas. Once again since Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s power grid collapses. Immediately, Puerto Ricans begin looking for ways to aid hurting communities, including building tent cities and holding cultural and education activities outdoors. On January 18, a group of Puerto Rican ciudadanos in Ponce find a warehouse full of stocked supplies left over from Hurricane Maria which was never distributed by local government. Indignation against the local and federal government is renewed in protest movements calling into question government corruption and accountability. 2020 is an election year in Puerto Rico in which for the first time the political party Victoria Ciudadana will participate.


Caribbean Connections: Puerto Rico

This piece is from the upcoming third edition of Caribbean Connections: Puerto Rico, edited by Marilisa Jiménez García, which introduces students to the history, economy, environment, and culture of Puerto Rico through essays, poetry, and fiction.

Learn more.