“[But] to understand how big of a deal, where that hostility really came from, and why it took so long to end, you’ve got to go back… way back!”
Shoutout to Vox for condensing the history of U.S.-Cuba relations into a six-minute video.
As the the video points out, the relationship between both countries goes back to the 1850s, when southern states wanted to take over Cuba — by purchase or by force — to expand its agricultural-based economy. American economic interest in Cuba didn’t stop there, and it didn’t change until the rise of communism.
So why should you care? Because the history of the U.S. relations with Cuba is pretty much a stand-in for the history of American interest in other Latin American countries, like Guatemala and Nicaragua. Also, because learning something know won’t kill you, you philistine!
Over the last couple of years, Puerto Rico has been in the news probably more than ever. From the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria to the resignation of the island’s governor over a sexist and homophobic scandal, Puerto Rico has seen its share of environmental and political drama. Meanwhile, the island is also home to some of the world’s top artists – Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, Residente – just to name a few.
But unless you or your family are actually Puerto Rican, very few people really know the island. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll uncover all manner of surprising facts far beyond the white sands and crystal-clear waters. Whether it’s science, geography or politics, here are nine fascinating insights into this unique and beautiful island.
1. Rum, Rum, And Más Rum
Rum is the libation of choice, the island’s chief export, and the base ingredient in many of Puerto Rico’s best cocktails. Puerto Rico and rum go way back, about 400 years, give or take a decade. Bacardi and Don Q are the largest producers on the island.
Puerto Rico is the only rum producer in the world to maintain a minimum aging law for its rum. You can get three main categories of rum here: light, dark, and añejo, or aged.
2. It’s About The Size Of Connecticut
Given its population (it’s one of the most densely populated islands in the world), Puerto Rico is a relatively small place. If it were a state, it would be down near the bottom of the list in terms of size, even if you include the network of islands around the mainland.
3. It’s Home To The World’s Largest Radio Telescope
Not known as a scientific hub, Puerto Rico has a technological marvel nestled in the hills of Arecibo. The dish measures 1,000 feet in diameter, spans about 20 acres, and is the most sensitive radio telescope in the world.
There’s a chance you’ve seen the Arecibo radio telescope, even if you’ve never been to Puerto Rico before. In the climactic last scene in the James Bond movie Goldeneye, the (inevitable) showdown between 007 and the bad guy takes place right here.
4. It’s Mascot Is The Unique Coquí Tree Frog
Anyone who has been to Puerto Rico is familiar with the incredible coquí, which is native to the island. The inch-long amphibian has a powerful and melodic voice, and its high-pitched, chirrupy song can be heard for miles.
The coquís sing from dusk to dawn, and while the locals find this a lilting lullaby, unsuspecting foreigners aren’t always comforted by their song. But they are cute, and a much-loved symbol of Puerto Rico.
5. It’s One Of The World’s Beauty Queen Capitals
The Miss Universe beauty pageant is one of the biggest and most famous across the globe. Among the countries whose representatives have won the title more than once is Puerto Rico. Despite the island’s small size and population in comparison with other countries, 5 winners have come from Puerto Rico: Marisol Malaret, Deborah Carthy Deu, Dayanara Torres, Denise Quinones, and Zuleyka Rivera.
6. The Island Was Home To Real Life Pirates
El Pirata Cofresi is Puerto Rico’s most famous, real-life pirate as the legend goes. Born in the seaside town of Cabo Rojo, he was encouraged to dream about exploring the sea from sailors in town.
According to Cofresi Palm Resort, as a pirate Cofresi would attack boats and share his spoils with the poor and as a result, people would help him hide. Compared to Robin hood for his actions, there is a story that says that some of his treasure may still be hidden.
7. It’s Home To Its Own Version Of The Galapagos Islands
Off the western shore of mainland Puerto Rico you’ll find Mona Island, a natural reserve unspoiled by man. It has been compared to the Galapagos Islands for its natural beauty and its colony of iguanas. These iguanas, known as the Mona Iguana, are found nowhere else on earth, adding to the uniqueness of this ecosystem.
8. Coconuts Aren’t Native To Puerto Rico – Or The Americas At All
You might picture yourself on the beach sipping delicious coconut water out of a freshly cut coconut, but did you know that coconuts are not native to the Americas?
The coconut was introduced to Puerto Rico in 1542, after the Spanish imported it from the Far East. Soon after it became part of the colonial Spanish diet and eventually emerged in one of the most popular drinks on the island – the Piña Colada.
9. San Juan Served As Headquarters During The Spanish Inquisition
The Catholic Church has played an important role in the history and development of Puerto Rico since the early 1500s. As mentioned before, the oldest church still in use in the Americas was built in Old San Juan in 1522, yet, in 1519 Pope Leo X declared Puerto Rico the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World.
As a result, Puerto Rico became the epicenter of the Spanish Inquisition – one of the most barbaric and infamous events of Western civilization.
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Mexico is struggling to combat the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. So far, the country has almost 25,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, with the worst still expected to come. With the country confronting one pandemic, it’s been forced to look back into history at another pandemic of epic proportions some 500 years ago.
We all know that the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas brought disease and famine that left millions of Native Americans dead. However, one epidemic in particular has always mystified both modern-day scientists and Indigenous cultures that survive to this day.
During the 16th century, Mexico suffered a demographic catastrophe with few parallels in world’s history. In 1519, the year of the arrival of the Spaniards, the population in Mexico was estimated to be between 15 and 30 million inhabitants. Eighty-one years later, in 1600, only two million remained.
Cocolitzli was a massive epidemic that killed millions of Indigenous Mexicans – particularly the Azteca – shortly after the arrival of the Spanish.
From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died. Locally, it was known as cocoliztli, but the exact cause or causes has been a mystery for the past 500 years.
Based on the death toll, this outbreak is often referred to as the worst disease epidemic in the history of Mexico. Subsequent outbreaks continued to baffle both Spanish and native doctors, with little consensus among modern researchers on the cause.
It’s long been accepted that Europeans brought with them smallpox and other contagious diseases that wiped out Native populations. In fact, before the cocolitzli outbreak, smallpox killed an estimated eight million Indigenous Mexicans in just over a year.
What did this cocolitzli outbreak look like across the country?
The outbreak started in 1545 when disaster struck the Aztec nation. The disease had a very short course, lasting three to five days. It started abruptly with high fever, vertigo, severe headache, insatiable thirst, red eyes and weak pulse. Patients became intensely jaundiced, very anxious, and restless. Subsequently, hard painful nodules appeared behind one or both ears, sometimes so large that they occupied the entire neck and half of the face.
Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.
Scientists have tried to identify the cause of the epidemic and it turns out it might have been from a common type of bacteria.
According to study author Åshild Vågene from the Max Planck Institute, the strain is a bacterial infection that causes a type of enteric fever nearly identical to typhoid. While that specific strain of salmonella is much rarer today, Vågene says it would have spread similarly. Any food or water contaminated with the strain would have turned deadly once ingested.
Salmonella enterica—subset Paratyphi C to be exact—was present in the DNA of ten different individuals buried at the only known burial site, Teposcolula-Yucundaa, associated with cocoliztli.
Historians and archaeologists have long suspected that a blood-borne illness was responsible for cocoliztli. Depictions by both Spanish and indigenous artists show the infected with nose bleeds and coughing up blood.
“This is one of the diseases that doesn’t leave any visible clues on the skeleton,” Vågene told National Geographic, adding that very few diseases do.
The epidemic has many worried about Covid-19’s effects on today’s Indigenous communities.
It’s difficult to say why the cocoliztli was so deadly for the Indigenous community, but they may also have been suffering from malnourishment as a result of a great drought that afflicted the region at the time.
If the bug wasn’t present in the Americas before European arrival, the locals may have lacked a strong natural immune response to the disease and made them more susceptible. Whatever the pathogen, it swept through the region like a storm. At the time, historian Fray Juan de Torquemada wrote, “In the year 1576, a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians … the place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.”
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