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United States Control, Efforts to Establish a Free Status
Foraker Act, Sugar companies, Jones Act, sugar industry, Puerto Ricans
Puerto Ricans began a long series of efforts to decide on and establish a dignified, free status for the island. By 1909 opposition to the Foraker Act was so intense that, as a protest, the Puerto Rican legislature refused to enact any legislation at all. By this time, many Puerto Ricans were talking about independence.
After several years of debate about the islandís status, in 1917 the U.S. Congress passed the Jones Act. This act granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and allowed them to elect both of Puerto Ricoís legislative chambers, replacing the appointed Executive Council with an elected Senate. However, the president still appointed the governor, executive officers, and Supreme Court judges. Furthermore, the U.S. Congress could annul any Puerto Rican legislation.
After the United States gained control of the island, the economic situation also changed dramatically. Puerto Rico, which for years had conducted most of its trade with Spain and other European countries, now found itself cut off from its traditional trading partners. After 1900 sugar became Puerto Ricoís main export crop. The U.S. government granted the islandís sugar tax-free entrance into the U.S. market. United States investors jumped at the opportunity and invested heavily in Puerto Rican sugar estates. By 1930 the islandís sugar production had risen by about 1,000 percent. Puerto Rican farmers exported almost all of their sugar to the United States, where it was refined and sold. Most of the profits from sugar sales went to sugar-refining companies in the United States.
There was another fundamental problem with Puerto Rican sugar production after the United States took control of the island. Investors from the United States soon played a dominant role in the sugar industry, and large businesses squeezed out independent local farmers. Sugar companies bought up parcels of land and consolidated them into large estates. By 1930 U.S. companies owned or had rights to about 25 percent of all of the islandís sugarcane land, and corporations controlled more than 45 percent of all of the land. Puerto Ricoís small landowning farmers had little place in this era of modern, large-scale agriculture.
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