Puerto Rico

Official name:

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico).

Digraph: PR/QR


Commonwealth associated with the US. The island's inhabitants possess1 all the rights and obligations of United States citizens, except for the right to vote in presidential elections and the obligation2 to pay federal taxes.

Interesting Fact:

The term 'United States' when used in a geographical sense on official documents, acts and/or laws; includes the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa.
The U.S. has twelve unincorporated territories, also known as possessions, and two commonwealths. The major possessions are American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virigin Islands. All of these have a non-voting representative in the US Congress. The major commonwealths are Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas. Commonwealths have their own constitutions and greater autonomy than possessions, and Guam is currently in the process of moving from the status of unincorporated territory to commonwealth. The residents of all of these places are full U.S. citizens, with the exception of those on American Samoa who are U.S.nationals, but not citizens.

Total Area: 3,515 sq mi (9,104 sq km or 100 by 35 miles).
Land Area: 8,959 sq km

Borders: Puerto Rico is under the U.S. customs jurisdiction3. Borders are open between P.R. and the U.S., allowing for free movement of people and merchandise.

Capital: San Juan (founded in 1508, by Juan Ponce de León).

Major Cities: Ponce, Caguas, Mayagüez, Bayamón, Carolina, Arecibo, Guaynabo, Cayey, Aguadilla, and Fajardo.

Most Popular City Destinations: San Juan, Ponce, Mayagüez, Bayamón, Fajardo, San Germán Cayey, and Caguas.

Native language: Spanish and English are the official languages.
English is spoken for about 1/4 of the population-with limited capabilities4. English is required in all federal matters. English is spoken in all major tourist areas (%80 Spanish, %20 other).

Interesting Facts:

Language has been a central issue in Puerto Rican education and culture since 1898. Until 1930 U.S. authorities insisted5 upon making English the language of instruction in the schools, the intent being to produce English-speaking persons of American culture in the same way this is done in the United States public schools. But strong resistance to the policy finally brought a change to the use of Spanish as the basic school language, English becoming a second language studied by all. In 1991 the Puerto Rican legislature, following the lead of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party and the governor, Rafael Hernández Colon, endorsed6 a bill that made Spanish the island's official language, thus reversing a 1902 law that gave both Spanish and English official recognition7. In 1993 the pro-statehood governor, Pedro J. Rossello, signed legislation restoring8 equal status to Spanish and English.


 Puerto Rico is a territory (Commonwealth) of the United States of America and they have common citizenship, currency and defense. Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, residents of Puerto Rico pay no federal income tax (but neither can they vote in presidential elections). Over 2 million Puerto Ricans live in the United States, primarily in the northeast.

Interesting Fact:

Puerto Ricans consider themselves American but are fiercely9 proud of their island and their culture.

Flag :

Five equal horizontal bands of red (top and bottom) alternating with white; a blue isosceles triangle based on the hoist10 side bears a large white five-pointed star in the center; design based on the Cuban flag.

Population: 3,828,506 (July 1997 est.)

Interesting Fact:

Puerto Rico's population density11 of 1,100 people per square miles is among the world's highest - only Bangladesh, The Maldives, Barbados, Taiwan, South Korea and the city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore are more crowded.


The 3.580 million people that inhabit the island of Puerto Rico make it one of the most densely12 populated islands in the world. There are about 1,000 people per square mile, a ratio13 higher than within any of the 50 states in the United States. It is estimated14 that some 2 million Puerto Ricans have migrated to the United States. Had these people remained in Puerto Rico, the island would be so densely populated that there would be virtually15 no room for people to live. Because of the massive migration to the mainland, more Puerto Ricans are said to live in New York City than in San Juan. In recent years, many Puerto Ricans have returned to their island home, in large part because of inadequate16 economic opportunity in the United States.

On the island, one-third of the population is concentrated in the San Juan/Carolina/Bayamón metropolitan area. When the United States acquired17 the island in 1898, most Puerto Ricans worked in agriculture, but today, most jobs are industrial and are situated in the metropolitan areas.

The people of Puerto Rico represent a cultural and racial mix. When the Spanish forced the Taíno people into slavery, the entire indigenous18 population was virtually decimated, except for a few Amerindians who escaped into the remote19 mountains. Eventually they inter-married with the poor Spanish farmers and became known as jíbaros. Because of industrialization and migration to the cities, few jíbaros remain.

Besides the slaves imported from Africa (Sudan, Kongo, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leona, and the Gold, Ivory, and Grain coasts), other ethnic groups brought to work on the plantations joined the island's racial mix. Fleeing Simón Bolívar's independence movements in South America, Spanish loyalists fled to Puerto Rico - a fiercely conservative Spanish colony during the early 1800s. French families also flocked20 here from both Louisiana and Haiti. As changing governments or violent revolutions depressed the economies of Scotland and Ireland, many farmers from those countries also journeyed to Puerto Rico in search of a better life.

During the mid-19th century, labor was needed to build roads. Initially21, Chinese workers were imported for this task, followed by workers from such countries as Italy, France, Germany, and even Lebanon. American expatriates22 came to the island after 1898. Long after Spain had lost control of Puerto Rico, Spanish immigrants continued to arrive on the island. The most significant new immigrant population arrived in the 1960s, when thousands of Cubans fled from Fidel Castro's Communist state. The latest arrivals to Puerto Rico have come from the economically depressed Dominican Republic.


Education is a matter of high priority for Puerto Rico, it is evident in the island's overall literacy rate of 90 percent and its budget for education, approximately 40 percent. Education is obligatory23 between 6 to 17 years old. Primary school consists of six grades; the secondary levels is divided into 2 cycles of 3 years each.

The school system is administered by the Department of Education and has several levels of learning. The language used in the schools is Spanish, however, English is taught from kindergarten to high school as part of the school curriculum24.

Puerto Rico has more than 50 institutions of higher education. Puerto Rico has achieved one of the highest college education rates in the world (6th) with 56% of its college-age students attending institutions of higher learning, according25 to World Bank data.


The Constitution guarantees freedom for all faiths. The major religions are: Catholic (85%), Protestants (8%), non religious (2.3%), and others (3%). Some islanders ascribe to spiritualism (espiritismo), and others practice Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean belief system brought to Puerto Rico from Cuba. There is also a small Jewish community.



Taino Indians who inhabited the territory, called the island Boriken or Borinquen which means: 'the great land of the valiant and noble Lord. Today this word -used in various modifications- is still popularly used to designate26 the people and island of Puerto Rico. The Taino Indians , who came from South America, inhabited the major portion of the island when the Spaniards arrived.


Christopher Columbus discovered the island in his second voyage to the New World (Nov. 19). He found the island populated by as many as 60,000 Taino or Arawak Indians. The Taíno Indians who greeted Columbus made a big mistake when they showed him gold nuggets in the river and told him to take all he wanted. Originally the newcomers called the island 'San Juan', for St. John the Baptist and the town Puerto Rico. It was not until later that the two names were switched. Thanks in part to the enthusiasm of ambitious Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant to Columbus, the city of Puerto Rico ('rich port') quickly became Spain's most important military outpost in the Caribbean.


Spanish colonization begins.


The Taíno Indians revolt against Spaniards with no success. Ponce de León orders 6,000 shot; survivors flee to mountains or leave island.


The Burgos Law was issued on Dec 27, by Ferdinand II, the Catholic, of Aragon, regulated relations between Spaniards and the conquered Indians, particularly to ensure the spiritual and material welfare of the latter27, who were often severely treated. (December 27) 


African Slaves were introduced into the island. (January 27)
Caribe Indians attacked San Juan.


King Carlos V authorized the importation of 4,000 slaves to the Caribbean.


Concerned about potential threats28 from European enemies, Spain began constructing massive defenses around San Juan. El Morro Castle featured 18-foot-thick walls; San Cristóbal and San Geronimo Forts also garrisoned troops. Next the Spaniards constructed a wall, parts of which still survive, around the entire city. Government Center was moved to the isle of San Juan. The ever arriving Spaniards settlers, many of them gold-seekers, brought no women on their ships. To populate the country, the Spaniard took Indian woman. With the arrival of African slaves, other elements were added. This historic intermingling has resulted in a contemporary29 Puerto Rico without racial problems. 


Sugar became the most important agricultural product.


In 1803, Denmark abolished the slave trade, and Britain followed in 1807, France in 1817, Holland in 1818, Spain in 1820, and Sweden in 1824. Slavery itself was finally abolished in the British colonies in 1833, in the French colonies in 1848, and in the Dutch colonies in 1863; it was abolished in the Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico in 1873 and Cuba in 1880.


Puerto Rico reachs a population of 656,328; its population recorded as 346,437 whites and 309,891 'of color' (this category included blacks, mulattos and mestizos). The majority of Puerto Ricans lived in extreme poverty. Agriculture, the main source of income, was limited by lack30 of roads, rudimentary31 tools and equipment, and natural disasters, such as hurricanes and periods of drought32. While illiteracy33 was 83.7 percent, the intellectual minority remained34 relatively active within the limitations imposed35 by local Spanish authorities.


Several hundred women and men revolted against Spain for Puerto Rican independence, the event took place in Lares and is better known as the Cry of Lares ('Grito de Lares'). The most important figures in the uprising were Manuel Rojas, Mathias Bruckman, Joaquín Parilla, and Francisco Ramírez. The main leader was Ramón Betances but he was not given permission to enter the island. Manuel Rojas plantation in the town of Lares became the headquarters for like-minded revolutionaries who would push for a split from Spain. (September 23) The rebellion was planned by a group, led by Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis, who in January 6, 1868 founded the 'Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico' (Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico) from their exile in the Dominican Republic.


The 'Carta Autonómica' was approved in which Spain concedes36 political and administrative autonomy to the island. It allowed the island to retain37 its representation in the Spanish Cortes, and provided for a bicameral legislature. This legislature consisted of a Council of Administration with eight elected and seven appointed38 members, and a Chamber of Representatives with one member for every 25,000 inhabitants. (November)


On July 18, General Nelson A. Miles, commander of the invading forces, received orders to sail for Puerto Rico.
On July, 25 General Nelson Miles came ashore39 with the first contingent of 16,000 American troops, landed unopposed40 at the town of Guánica in the South of Puerto Rico. Upon arrival, the ship met with Spanish resistance the morning of August 26. By August, the whole island was practically invaded.
Spanish-American War, conflict between the United States and Spain that ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in U.S. acquisition41 of territories in the western Pacific and Latin American. (August 8)
Peace protocols were signed in Washington, D.C. on August 12, 1898.
The island was turned over to the U.S forces, and General John R. Brooke became military governor. (October 18)
On December 10, Treary of Paris was signed (ratified by the U.S. Senate Feb. 6, 1899), treaty42 concluding the Spanish-American War. The American peace commission consisted of William R. Day, Sen. Cushman K. Davis, Sen. William P. Frye, Sen. George Gray, and the Honorable Whitelaw Reid. The Spanish commission was headed by Don Eugenio Montero Rios, the President of the Senate. Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, also negotiated43 on Spain's behalf44. Spain renounced45 all claim46 to Cuba, ceded47 Guam and Puerto Rico to United States, and transferred sovereignty48 over the Phillipines to the United States for $20,000,000


President Theodore Roosevelt leaves Washington D.C. for a 17 day trip to Panama and Puerto Rico, becoming the first president to make an official visit outside of the U.S. (Nov. 6)
During a visit to Puerto Rico, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the Puerto Rican Congress and recommended that Puerto Ricans become United States citizens.


A delegation from Puerto Rico, accompanied by the Gov. Arthur Yager, traveled to Washington in order to ask Congress to grant49 the island more autonomy.


The Jones Act was approved50, with this law: (Dec. 5)

1.     Puerto Rico becomes U.S. territory.

2.     U.S. nationalizes all Puerto Ricans as a citizens and allows Puerto Ricans to elect their legislature. (300 rejected the citizenship and many others refused to join the army.) Amended in 1921, 1927, 1928, 1931, 1935, 1938, 1940, 1947.


President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act. Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States 'organized but unincorporated,' and it gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and a bill of rights and also established51 a locally elected Senate and House of Representatives. However, the Foraker Act still determined52 economic and fiscal53 aspects of government. (March 2)
The first elections under Jones Act were celebrated. (July 6)
20,000 islanders are drafted into World War I.
The Organic Act was approved. This gave the island a legislature (19 senators, 39 representatives) elected freely by the Puerto Rican people.


The Congress of United States approved a law to change back the name of the island Porto Rico, to its original name, Puerto Rico. (May 17) 


President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched54 the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration, which provided for agricultural development, public works, and electrification of the island. 


The United States Congress grants U.S. Citizenship to Puerto Rican Natives.


United States began to establishes military bases in the islands of Culebra and Vieques. 


Puerto Ricans began to emigrate to United States. Looking for job and better economic situation.


The first governor is elected by the Puerto Ricans. Luis Muñoz Marin is elected. 


The New Constitution is approved by voters, and Puerto Rico is proclaimed55 as Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (July 25)


Law Number 1 of 1993 declares English and Spanish as the official languages of Puerto Rico. In the Referendum, Commonwealth status was reaffirmed56 by voters.

·       Statehood. 788,296 (46.3%)

·       Commonwealth.826,326 (48.6%)

·       Independence.75,620 (04.4%)

·       Nulls 10,748 (00.7%)


Puerto Rican culture is somewhat complex,  colorful. Culture is a series of visual manifestations and interactions with the environment57 that make a region and/or a group of people different from the rest of the world. Puerto Rico, without a doubt has several unique characteristics that distinguish58 their culture from any other.

Lets consider that the people of Puerto Rico represent a cultural and racial mix. During the early 18-century, the Spaniard in order to populate the country took Taino Indian woman as brides59. Later on as labor was needed to maintain60 crops, and build roads. African slaves were initially imported, shortly followed by the importation of Chinese immigrants, then continued with the arrival of Italians, French, German, and even Lebanonize people. American expatriates came to the island after 1898. Long after Spain had lost control of Puerto Rico, Spanish immigrants continued to arrive on the island. The most significant new immigrant population arrived in the 1960s, when thousands of Cubans fled from Fidel Castro's Communist state. The latest arrivals to Puerto Rico have come from the economically depressed Dominican Republic. This historic intermingling has resulted in a contemporary Puerto Rico without racial problems.


Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region. Industry has surpassed61 agriculture as the primary sector of economic activity and income. Encouraged by duty free access to the U.S. and by tax incentives62, U.S. firms have invested heavily in Puerto Rico since the 1950s (U.S. minimum wage laws apply). Recently the economy has suffered budget cuts from U.S.

The economy depends heavily on the tax incentives (known as Section 936) given to US mainland companies and on federal transfers. In 1993, President Clinton aimed to cut the Section 936 tax exemption for U.S. companies and introduced legislation to Congress to replace it with a more modest63 tax credit linked to wages paid by those companies in Puerto Rico rather than to profits. It is estimated that 100,000 Puerto Ricans are employed by companies operating under Section 936 (of which 23,000 are in pharmaceuticals) and another 200,000 are indirectly employed. On the other hand, the agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) also has implications64 for Puerto Rico because of competition for jobs and investment. Although wage levels are lower in Mexico, Section 936 gives companies in Puerto Rico an advantage in pharmaceuticals and hi-tec industries. In low-skill labour-intensive manufacturing, such as clothing and footwear, Mexico has the advantage. Puerto Rico currently employs 30,000 in the clothing industry.

Important industries include pharmaceuticals, electronics, textiles, petrochemical, and processed foods. Sugar production has lost out to dairy production and other livestock65 products as the main source of income in the agricultural sector. Tourism has traditionally been an important source of income for the island, with estimated arrivals of nearly 3.9 million tourists in 1993. The main government expenditures66 are on health, education, and welfare.


Manufacturing accounts for 55.5% of GDP: manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, machinery, electronics, apparel67, food products, instrument, textiles, clothing, and tourism.


Receipts from visitors: U.S.$1,826,100,000 (1995)

Expenditures by national abroad: U.S.$833,000,000 (1995)


Accounts for only 3% of labor force and less than 1% of GDP - crops - sugar cane68, coffee, milk, eggs, fruits (pineapples, plantains, bananas), vegetables; livestock - cattle, chickens, pork; imports a large share of food needs (1993).

Interesting Facts:

Migration has played a large role in social and economic changes since the 1950s. In the 1950s and 1960s, the government encouraged a massive migration of poor agricultural workers to the east coast of the US to help create a predominantly69 industrial economy. The number of Puerto Ricans is now about equal to the island's population.

Puerto Ricans are another immigrant group that has had a significant impact70 on the economy and culture of New York since World War II. Several hundred thousand reside71 in the state, mostly in New York City. After a heavy immigration of Puerto Ricans during the 1950s and early 60's, the growing economic strength of Puerto Rico led to a considerable reduction72, with those entering the state being largely offset by those returning to Puerto Rico.

Some of the best-educated young people leave because of better opportunities and labor conditions on the mainland.

Statistics show that it has some of the most favorable economic conditions in the Caribbean and Latin American, but in comparison with the United States, Puerto Rico is still below that of the poorest state in the mainland, Mississippi.


Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States. Puerto Rico has authority over its internal affairs. United States controls: interstate trade, foreign relations and commerce, customs administration, control of air, land and sea, immigration and emigration, nationality and citizenship, currency, maritime laws, military service, military bases, army navy and air force, declaration of war, constitutionality of laws, jurisdictions and legal procedures, treaties, radio and television--communications, agriculture, mining and minerals, highways, postal system; social security, and other areas generally controlled by the federal government in the United States. Puerto Rican institutions control internal affairs unless U.S. law is involved, as in matters of public health and pollution. The major differences between Puerto Rico and the 50 states are its local taxation system and exemption73 from Internal Revenue Code, its lack of voting representation in either house of the U.S. Congress, the ineligibility of Puerto Ricans to vote in presidential elections, and its lack of assignation of some revenues reserved for the states.

The Executive Power is exercised by the Governor, who leads a cabinet conformed by 15 ministers. The Governor is elected by statewide elections every four years. The secretary of state succeeds the governor should the latter resign, die, or be removed from office. The governor, with the consent of the legislature, appoints the heads of the commonwealth's executive departments. The Legislative Power resides in the Senate and in the Chamber of Representatives. The Senate consists of 27 members, 2 per electoral district, and 11 elected according to the different districts proportion of population. The Chamber of Representatives consists of 53 members, one per electoral district and 11 elected proportionally. Legislators are popularly elected to four-year terms. The bicameral legislature determines how to spends the island's tax revenue. Unless specifically stated, Puerto Rico is also subject to all laws and most regulations of the U.S. government, which sometimes cause jurisdictional problems. Most U.S. agencies are represented on the island.

The Judicial System is directed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is formed by 7 judges (a chief justice and six associate justices) named by the Governor. The structure of the Judicial System includes a Court of Appeals, Superior Court, a District Court(civil & criminal), and Municipal Court. There are 12 judicial districts

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also has a district court comparable to those of the states of US. Each district court has at least one district judge and can have more than a score of district judges, as well as a clerk, a United States Attorney, a United States Marshall, one or more United States Magistrates, bankruptcy judges, probation officers, court reporters, and their staffs74.

President: Bill Clinton

Vice President: Al Gore

Governor: Pedro Rosello

Government Form: Republican; executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Ruling Party: New Progressive Party (NPP).

Constitution:  ratified 3 March 1952; approved by U.S. Congress 3 July 1952; effective 25 July 1952.

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal.

Voter Participation: over 80% (1996 general elections)

Fiscal year: 1 July - 30 June.

Legal system: Puerto Rican civil and commercial codes are fashioned after Spanish models; penal75, procedural76, and public (including constitutional) law are fashioned after U.S. models.

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