As of 2017, Ten United States Presidents have made official visits to Puerto Rico. Nine of those presidents have been honored by life-sized bronze statues adorning the walkway, Paseo de los Presidentes, on the south side of San Juan, Puerto Rico's El Capitolio de Puerto Rico - the island's capitol building. President Barack Obama was the ninth president to visit the United States territory on June 14, 2011 and his statue was erected on President's Day, February 20, 2012.
On November 19, 1493 Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto
Rico, known as Borinquen by the Taino Indians
who lived there. Columbus claimed the land for Spain and named it San
Juan Bautista and, later, the Spanish began calling the island Puerto Rico,
which means “rich port.” The island remained under Spanish rule until
1897, when Puerto Rico was granted autonomy by Spain through the Charter of
Autonomy. Unfortunately, the autonomy was short-lived as the Spanish-American
War broke within the year. In July 1898, American troops landed in Puerto Rico,
and the United States acquired Puerto Rico through the Treaty of Paris. Puerto
Rico remained under direct military control, until Congress ratified the
Foraker Law, in 1900, to establish a civilian government.
In 1917 the Jones Act replaced the Foraker Act,
granting American citizenship to Puerto Ricans and providing them with
protection under the Bill of Rights. In 1947, the United States government gave
Puerto Rico the right to elect its own governor and Luis Munoz Marin became the
first elected governor of Puerto Rico. In 1950, the United States Congress authorized
Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution. Finally, on July 25, 1953, Puerto
Rico was transformed from an American territory to a commonwealth. However, it
is important to note that Puerto Rico operates as a territory. As recently as
2011, Former President Barack Obama’s Task Force determined that under the Commonwealth option, Puerto Rico
would remain, as it is today, subject to the Territory Clause of the U.S.
Constitution. Again, while Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, they
cannot vote in the general presidential election, do not pay federal income taxes,
and their one Congressional representative has limited voting privileges.
Ten United States presidents have made
presidential visits to Puerto Rico since the islands became a U.S. territory in
the aftermath of the Spanish–American War of 1898. President Theodore Roosevelt
was the first sitting president to visit Puerto Rico arriving on November 21, 1906 after inspecting the Panama Canal. The second president to
visit was Herbert Hoover in March of 1931. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
visited Puerto Rico July 6th and 7th in 1934 on board the
USS Houston. President John F. Kennedy and his wife visited Puerto Rico on
December 15th and16th in 1961, spending the night as guests of Governor
Luis Muñoz Marín. President Barack Obama made his official visit in June 2011
and President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017, after
hurricanes devastated the island. Unofficially, four United States presidents
made trips to Puerto Rico during their administration. President Dwight D.
Eisenhower also visited Puerto Rico on his way to a goodwill visit to South
America on February 22, 1960. Harry S. Truman spent one day on the island on
February 21, 1948. President Lyndon B. Johnson privately visited Ramey Air
Force Base in Aguadilla from March 2nd through the 4th in
1968. Finally, President Gerald Ford spent three days in Puerto Rico in June
1978 and although it was an unofficial visit, he was welcomed to the island by
then Governor, Rafael Hernandez Colon upon his arrival.
2008, the first seven of the life-size bronze statues were unveiled to the
public including, Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D.
Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Gerald
Ford, and erected in February 2010. Notable figures like Margaret Hoover,
Former President Bill Clinton, and Reverend Michael Ford, helped to unveil the
statues of Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Gerald Ford,
respectively. On February 20, 2012, Puerto Rican officials unveiled the two
newest bronze statues along the Paseo de los Presidentes, Lyndon B. Johnson and
Barack Obama. At this time, it is unclear if the Puerto Rican
legislature will commission a statue honoring President Donald Trump’s 2017 visit after
trip that earned Former President Obama his bronze statue, took place in the
summer of 2011 when he addressed a crowd in San Juan regarding the Puerto Rican
economy, employment, and thanking Puerto Ricans for their service, specifically,
Juan Castillo, a World War II and Korean War veteran, as well as other vets
serving in Iraq and Afghanistan from Puerto Rico. Obama met with Puerto Rican officials, toured the Governor's mansion, and attended a campaign fundraiser.
Puerto Rico and her people
have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with the United States since the
Treaty of Paris. There is much debate regarding the future of Puerto Rico’s status with the
United States, with the majority of residents split between statehood and
remaining as a commonwealth. A smaller population advocates for independence. However,
during the Obama administration, many Puerto Ricans were enamored by the nation’s first African
American president and, like many other across the U.S., saw themselves
represented for the first time by a person of color.