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United States Control, Growing Discontent

Pedro Albizu Campos, island legislature, worldwide depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, world prices

In the late 1920s and 1930s, economic and natural disasters struck the island. San Felipe, a hurricane that hit the island in 1928, destroyed a quarter of a million homes, and another hurricane struck in 1932. During the worldwide depression of the 1930s, the situation worsened. Puerto Rico depended heavily on the sale of its exports, especially sugar, but world prices for these commodities dropped severely. The depression caused unemployment to mount. The situation was also made worse by the increase in the size of the islandís population, which had expanded since 1900 as a result of improved health conditions and a rising birthrate. During the 1930s, much of the islandís population suffered from severe economic deprivation. The establishment of various relief programs as part of the New Deal policies of U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt did little to alleviate suffering on the island.

A movement to establish Puerto Rican independence erupted during this period, led by Pedro Albizu Campos and his small Nationalist Party. Albizu Campos, a fiery public speaker, was a graduate of Harvard Law School and had served in the U.S. Army. Unsuccessful at the polls in 1932, the Nationalists demanded independence at once, as a right to be taken violently if necessary. They marched in protest against the island legislature. Assassins killed the chief of police of San Juan in 1936, a murder that was attributed to members of the Nationalist Party. The worst violence occurred in Ponce in 1937, when police stopped a Nationalist Party parade. It is not clear who was responsible for the outbreak, but about 20 people were killed and 100 wounded. Albizu Campos was arrested and sentenced to prison terms on several occasions for advocating and planning violence against the U.S. government.

In response to this agitation for independence, two bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1936 and 1937 demanding independence for the island. Neither bill passed. Opponents argued that Puerto Ricoís economic and social conditions had to be improved before its status could be settled.

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