Why Are We In Puerto Rico?

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We can argue whether Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee to replace retiring Justice David Souter, would be the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court. It's beyond dispute that she would be the first Puerto Rican. Sotomayor was born and raised in the Bronx, but her parents migrated to New York from Puerto Rico, and Sotomayor retains a strong ethnic identification with that Caribbean island....

Almost from the beginning, the U.S. was at a loss about what to do with Puerto Rico. An 1899 book by Frederick A. Ober titled Puerto Rico and Its Resources rhapsodized about the new colony's ability to provide sugar cane and coffee to the continental U.S., which in turn could sell Puerto Rico machinery, flour, cotton, and wool. But Latin America was awash in sugar cane and coffee, and the Puerto Rican population was too poor to provide much of a market for manufactured goods. (The island wouldn't industrialize in any significant way until 1935, when President Roosevelt created the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration.) Ober made a more compelling case for the island's military value, "with numerous excellent harbours for the assembling and refitting of our fleets." Various military installations would be built there, but after World War II the island became strategically negligible. Today only one Army base remains.

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