Every now and then I like to get out a map and reassure myself that when not knowing the location of Yemen, or Utah, or Antiqua (for example) all I have to do is look it up on a map. A paper map, preferably, but sometimes even an online map will do.
So I wanted to see if Puerto Rico was really far out in the middle of the ocean someplace, or, as I suspected…in the Caribbean. So I did a search “Puerto Rico” and Bing zeroed in on a nice map of the island, in great detail of cities and even roads and topographical details like mountains. Zooming out to get the big picture…including the Pacific Ocean and all of Russia…the exact location of Puerto Rico became instantly remembered.
Looking Southward, from Florida, the island is sort of beyond Cuba, north of Venezuela, and in a line with other islands and chains of islands in the Caribbean, forming a line of defense reinforced by territories possessed by friendly allies: the French, Dutch, and British. This was perfect—especially back in the days of the conquest by Spain of the New World.
Actually the United States was interested in keeping the Spanish at bay as much as possible, while maintaining a strategic position of buffering between the British (our best friends forever) and “other” European or South American nations from getting any ideas. Or Japan…or anyone else.
The last good-size war the U.S. had with Spain was the Spanish-American War, which effectively booted the Spanish out of the area and declared US hegemony in the close-in islands, including Puerto Rico. It is true that the U.S. had a good line of defense in the Caribbean, and although U.S.-Cuban relations suffered during the Cold War…to the point where until the Cubans would acquiesce in being beaten by the U.S. Embargo, which effectively put Cuba and the Castro Dictatorship in its place as an oppressed and bullied island which “refused to straighten out” and endured sixty years or so of hardship and political hassles because of it.
At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1899, part of the spoils agreed on by the two nations was the prize of Puerto Rico…ceded to the U.S. by Spain. One of the results was that the Spanish-speaking citizens were required to speak and use English-only.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, and thus Puerto Rican citizens are citizens of the United States, and are entitled to vote in U.S. elections…except for the office of President. They elect representatives to the U.S. Congress, who are on the same basis as reps and Senators from the 50 other states.
One difficult hang-over from the early 20th Century is THE JONES LAW, which forbids Puerto Rico to receive shipments of any materials or products from any sources except on officially sanctioned United States registered Ships. The result of this is that now that Hurricane Maria has devastated the Puerto Rican island, the Jones Law limits what foreign aid they can receive. The U.S. Congress has the power to rescind or modify the law…but has so far declined. It may be nteresting to note that the Jones Law has been suspended in other U.S. ports under emergencies created by Hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida, as well as other U.S. controlled islands in the Caribbean.
The U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Comfort has, as of this Wednesday morning, been sent to Puerto Rico. The reasons for the delay apparently have been worked out, especially the excuse of the ship being “too big to park in the harbor…” and the hospital ship will anchor off-shore and apparently transfer patients from the mainland of the island by helicopter.