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Collection Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives

Party Consolidation and Civil Crisis

Between 1876 and 1898, the two liberal factions united around the goal of political autonomy for Puerto Rico, abandoning that of assimilation with Spain. During the mid-1880s, they developed a party platform calling for self-government and renamed their party the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (Autonomous Puerto Rican Party). Meanwhile, in exile, the pro-independence movement planned several invasions, which never materialized for lack of funds and support.

"Tobacco Plantation (cutting leaves), Mayaguez." [Detail] A recent campaign in Puerto Rico by the Independent Regular Brigade under the command of Brig. General Schwan. General Collections, Library of Congress.

Towards the end of the 1880s, Puerto Ricans suffered a severe economic crisis. The local monopoly enjoyed by Spanish merchants fueled resentment and led to the establishment of secret societies promoting the boycott of Spanish merchants and greater support for local business. Many incidents of looting, arson, and other forms of violence were directed against Spanish commercial establishments. The government and the Spanish Civil Guard responded with a series of raids and imprisonment, applying the severe measures of torture known as compontes. Social conditions on the island were also in crisis during this period. In addition to the lack of civil liberties, approximately 85 percent of the population remained illiterate, and malnutrition and extreme poverty were widespread throughout most of the countryside.