Americanization and a Tutelary Colonial State for Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of the War of 1898


On January 20, 1899, as one of the Puerto Rican commissioners traveling to Washington D.C. to discuss the future of the island, Eugenio María de Hostos, (one of Puerto Rico’s most prominent independence champion), urged President McKinley to reduce the American occupation forces in Puerto Rico and to create a native militia of at least three hundred men.79  

The same petition included the replacement of the military government with a civilian one while Congress decided, with the consent of the Puerto Ricans, the future of the island. Regarding education, Hostos proposed that “the military schooling of the people of Puerto Rico be considered as one of means we need for the education of our people.”

Military instruction, he argued, “is a tool for the physical strengthening and discipline of the life and character of the Puerto Rican people.”80 He also proposed the establishment of seven institutes in which military training would be used to promote discipline of the body and soul and to teach strong work ethics and concepts of rights and obligations.

Why Was Eugenio Maria de Hostos One of Puerto Rico's Brightest Minds?

Hostos believed that the right type of military training promoted civic virtues. He envisioned “civilian schools to be military schools and the military training in our schools to be civic learning for life.”81 For Hostos, military service could speed up the Americanization process, which he understood as the political modernization of the inhabitants of the island and as a way to lead to self-determination, democracy, and modern republicanism.82

Hostos thought that Americanization “would prepare Puerto Rico to effectively assert its independence.” Those thoughts were not contradictory. Hostos believed in self-determination but feared that centuries of oppression had weakened the Puerto Ricans to the point to where they might not even constitute a people.

According to Hostos, to exercise self-determination, the Puerto Rican needed to adopt the ideals guiding the creation of the United States, which he considered to be “the most complete civilization in existence.”83  For Hostos, military education and service might very well serve to speed the Americanization—understood as political modernization—of the Puerto Ricans and their eventual self-determination.

Other prominent political leaders adopted or shared Hostos’s philosophy.84 The popular masses were viewed by the local elites as ignorant, weak, complacent, and docile and thus collaborated in the establishment of a tutelary state in Puerto Rico.85

Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, one of the founders of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico and initially an annexationist, shared some of the ideas espoused by Hostos regarding Americanization. To Matienzo Cintrón, Americanization meant democratic modernization.

Political freedom, democratic rights, secular education, separation of church and state, workers’ and women’s rights, and the utilization of research and science for the betterment of all aspects of human life were part of Matienzo Cintrón’s understanding of democratic modernization. This radical position, as argued by Rafael  Bernabe, would eventually lead him to organize the Partido de la Independencia in 1912.

Porto Rican Battalion of  Volunteers, “American Colonial Army”
ready for inspection in front of San Felipe del Morro Castle, San Juan, P.R., 1899

Like many others who admired the founding principles of the United States, Matienzo Cintrón grew  disillusioned with the colonial apparatus established on the island by the McKinley administration via the Foraker Act of 1900. Like Hostos, Matienzo Cintrón denounced the “false Americanization” taking place. He believed that if Americanization was “democratic modernization,” then by imposing a colonial regime on the Puerto Ricans, the U.S. government was engaging in false Americanization and thus betraying its founding principles.

Although Hostos preferred an independent Puerto Rico, and ideally to be part of an Antillean Confederation, he considered that if the people of Puerto Rico so desired it, the island should become a state. In 1900, disillusioned with the policies of the McKinley administration, he stated that the president had betrayed the goal of Americanizing the island.

Many others who welcomed or trusted, and even admired the United States and its institutions would soon feel equally betrayed and abandon statehood as a solution to the island’s political status.

In the aftermath of the War of 1898, the United States’ policies quickly turned the goodwill, trust, and admiration that most Puerto Rican leaders professed for the “Republic of Republics” into distrust, resentment, and in some cases resignation. While some would content with having a say in administering the tutelary colony and return to ever-mutating autonomist formulas, others continued to push for independence and statehood.

Thirteen decades later, in 2021, the Puerto Rican reformed colonial state, the ELA, continues to be a battleground where these options are repackaged and sold as brand new- never seen before options.

And just like with the original tutelary state, the politcal future of the archipelago is in the hands of Congress. Those taking decisions that will affect the future of the archipelago do not live there, do not know Puerto Rico’s history and its people’s idiosyncrasies, and respond to partisan and group interests when they expressed their opinion regarding Puerto Rico. Borinquen continues under a tutelary colonial state.

Read more in: Soldiers of the Nation: Military Service and Modern Puerto Rico, 1868–1952  https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9780803278677/

78. Rafael Bernabe has discussed many of the political responses to American imperialism developed by Puerto Rican leaders by the turn of the nineteenth century. In a work that demystifies early independence and statehood defenders, Bernabe argues that many of the latter were in fact radical anticolonialists. Bernabe, Respuestas al colonialismo, 29–36.

79. Hostos, Los rostros del camino, 154–56.

80. “Deseo que la enseñanza militar del pueblo de Puerto Rico sea considerada como uno de los recursos que necesitamos para la educación de nuestro pueblo . . . la instrucción de los puertorriqueños en la enseñanza militares un medio para su fortalecimiento físico y para la disciplina de la vida y del carácter.” See Negroni, “Hostos y su pensamiento militar,” 272–85,

Quoting Hostos, Obras completas, 5:91–92.

81. “Nuestras escuelas cívicas sean escuelas militares y que la enseñanza militar en las escuelas sea enseñanza cívica para la vida.” See Negroni, “Hostos y su pensamiento militar,” 283–84, quoting Hostos, Obras completas, 5:251.

82. In 1900, disillusioned with the policies of the McKinley administration, he stated that the president had betrayed the goal of Americanizing the island. Although Hostos preferred an independent Puerto Rico and ideally to be part of an Antillean Confederation, he considered that if the people of Puerto Rico so desired it, the island should become a state. “En vez de un plan de gobierno que habría americanizado a Borinquen en cuanto el Americanismo es un bien, y la habría preparado para ejercer eficazmente su independencia en la vida de relación con los demás pueblos de la tierra, McKinley y el sindicato político que no ven más allá de la continuación del partido republicano en el poder, no vieron otra cosa en Puerto Rico que el campo de explotación que creían dar a la codicia de sus parciales o a la vana gloria del vulgo americano.” “Carta al Director de La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico,” October 1900, in Hostos, Los rostros del camino, 156–58.

83. Bernabe, Respuestas al colonialismo, 35–37, quoting Hostos, Madre Isla: Campaña Política por Puerto Rico, 8, 13, 15–17,24–25,82, 305.

84. Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, one of the founders of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico and initially an annexationist, shared some of the ideas espoused by Hostos regarding Americanization. To Matienzo Cintrón, Americanization meant democratic modernization. Political freedom, democratic rights, secular education, separation of church and state, workers’ and women’s rights, and the utilization of research and science for the betterment of all aspects of human life were part of his understanding of democratic modernization. This radical position, as argued by Rafael  Bernabe, would eventually lead him to organize the Partido de la Independencia in 1912. Like many others who admired the founding principles of the United States, Matienzo Cintrón grew  disillusioned with the colonial apparatus established on the island by the McKinley administration via the Foraker Act of 1900. Like Hostos, Matienzo Cintrón denounced the “false Americanization” taking place. He believed that if Americanization was “democratic modernization,” then by imposing a colonial regime on the Puerto Ricans, the U.S. government was engaging in false Americanization and thus betraying its founding principles. Bernabe, Respuestas al colonialismo, 30, 32-35.

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