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Puerto Rico Information
By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 4, 2003, 08:08

Puerto Rico is a self-governing unincorporated organized territory of the United States located in the northeastern Caribbean. Its official name is Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico or The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico .

Puerto Rico, the smallest of the Greater Antilles, is located to the east of the Dominican Republic and to the northwest of the Lesser Antilles. It consists of the main island, commonly called by Puerto Ricans as "La Isla Grande" (the Big Island) and a number of smaller islands, of which only Vieques, Isla de Culebra are inhabited. It is divided in 78 municipalities.

Puerto Rico was called Borikén by the indigenous Taínos before Christopher Columbus named it San Juan Bautista (after John the Baptist). The name Puerto Rico means "rich port" in Spanish.


The island of Puerto Rico was originally inhabited by a group of Arawak Indians known as Taínos. The first European contact was made by Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Antilles, on November 19, 1493. The island was originally named San Juan Bautista, in honor of Saint John the Baptist. Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon became the island's first governor of Puerto Rico to take office, while Vicente Yáñez Pinzón was the first appointed governor, though he never arrived at the island.

The island was soon colonized becoming the most important stronghold of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean. Concerned about threats from its European enemies, Spain began construction of massive defenses around the city of San Juan. Fortresses such as La Fortaleza, Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristobal would be built. The French, Dutch and English made attempts to capture Puerto Rico, but failed.

In 1809, Puerto Rico was recognized as an overseas providence of Spain with the right to send representatives to the Spanish Court. Puerto Rico was granted its first constitution, allowed to engage in free commerce and continued to develop its own identity in aspects such as culture, music, and arts.

Toward the end of the 19th century, poor economic and political situations with Spain led to an attempted uprising in 1868 known as "El Grito de Lares". The Puerto Rican goal was to achieve personal freedom, the abolition of slavery, and full self-government. The uprising was easily and quickly crushed. Champions of this autonomist movement were such political leaders as Ramon Baldorioty de Castro, and towards the end of the century, Luis Muñoz Rivera. In 1897, Muñoz Rivera persuaded a liberal Spanish government to agree to an Autonomic Charter for the island. The following year Puerto Rico's first autonomous government was organized with Muñoz Rivera as its leader.

On July 25, 1898 Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States of America with a landing at Guánica Bay. Spain was forced to cede Puerto Rico to the United States under the Treaty of Paris (1898). The twentieth century began under the military regime of the United States with officials including the governor appointed by the President of the United States. In 1917, the United States Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Natural disasters and the Great Depression impoverished the island. Political leaders demanded change, some like Pedro Albizu Campos would lead a nationalist movement in favor of independence. Later, José T. Piñero became the first Puerto Rican governor designated by United States. In 1948, the United States granted the right to democratically elect the governor of Puerto Rico. Luis Muñoz Marín would become the first elected governor of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico adopted its own constitution in 1952 adopting a commonwealth relation with the United States. During the 1950s Puerto Rico experienced a rapid industrialization, with such projects as Operation Bootstrap which aimed to change Puerto Rico's agicultural-based economy into an economy based on other industries such as manufacturing. Present-day Puerto Rico has become a major tourist destination and a leading pharmaceutical and manufacturing center. Still, Puerto Rico continues to struggle to define its political status.


The archipelago of Puerto Rico consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and various smaller islands, including Vieques, Culebra, Mona, Desecheo and Caja de Muertos. Of the small islands, only Vieques and Culebra are inhabited. The mainland measures some 170 km by 60 km (105 miles by 35 miles). It has a population of approximately 4 million. The capital city, San Juan, is located on the main island's north coast and has a population of approximately 430,000.


Puerto Rico is composed of Cretaceous to Eocene volcanic and plutonic rocks, which are overlain by younger Oligocene to recent carbonates and other sedimentary rocks. Most of the caverns and karst topography on the island occurs in the northern Oligocene to recent carbonates. The oldest rocks are approximately 190 million years old (Jurassic) and are located at Sierra Bermeja in the southwest part of the island. These rocks may represent part of the oceanic crust and are believed to come from the Pacific Ocean realm. Puerto Rico lies at the boundary between the Caribbean and North America plates. This means that it is currently being deformed by the tectonic stresses caused by the interaction of these plates. These stresses may cause earthquakes and tsunamis. These seismic events, along with landslides, represent some of the most dangerous geologic hazards in the island and in the northeastern Caribbean.


The government is composed of 3 branches: the Executive branch headed by the Governor, the Legislative branch consisting of a bicameral Legislative Assembly (a Senate and a House of Representatives) and the Judicial branch. The legal system is based on the Spanish civil code.

The Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved through refendum in 1952, and ratified by the U.S. Congress, which maintains ultimate sovereignty over Puerto Rico. Under this constitution, Puerto Rico is a territorial commonwealth of the United States and is permitted a high degree of autonomy. Although Puerto Rico does not have representation in the U.S. Electoral College or U.S. Congress, it is permitted a non-voting Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although citizens of Puerto Rico are also U.S. citizens, they do not pay federal income tax on income from island sources. The Jones Act of 1917, which imposed citizenship on the island, also allowed the U.S. armed forces to draft many Puerto Rican men into the military service.


The economic conditions in Puerto Rico have improved dramatically since the Great Depression due to external investment in capital-intensive industry such as petrochemicals pharmaceuticals and technology. Once the beneficiary of special tax treatment from the US government, today local industries must compete with those in more economically depressed parts of the world where wages are not subject to US minimum wage legislation.


It has been stated that everyone in Puerto Rico originated somewhere else as they are a people comprised primarily of Taino, African and European origin.

Recent genetic research revealed a surprising picture about Puerto Rican heritage. On the one hand, Mitochondrial DNA analysis, showed that at least 61% of Puerto Ricans have American Indian maternal heritage. This means that if you could trace back in time from daughter to mother, you would eventually reach women who lived in Puerto Rico in precolumbian time. The rest divides between 27% with female African ancestors and 12% with female European ancestors. On the other hand, Y-chromosome analysis, which corresponds to paternal heritage, showed over 70% of Puerto Ricans as having male European ancestors, 20% have male African ancestry, but less then 10% have male Native American ancestors.

Although pure Taíno numbers had dwindled due to disease, warfare and forced intermarriages...many, if not most, of the marriages between Spanish men and Amerindian women were actually quite amicable. The "Limpeza de Sangre" documents on the island (used until the 1870's) sheds light on this reality. This document was used by Mestizos and Amerindians to move up in their society ---becoming "whiter" was the only way they could achieve that status. Later, waves of Corsican, French and Portuguese Europeans, along with a large amount of immigrants from the Canary Islands, arrived in Puerto Rico. Many other persons from Spain's other colonies migrated into the island as well. The mestizos (Taino mixed with European) were fully absorbed into the general population. Other settlers have included Irish, Germans and many others who were granted lands from Spain during the Cedula de Gracias of 1815. This decree allowed "white" European Catholics from anywhere in Europe to settle in the island with a certain amount of free land and enslaved persons.

A noticible Asian minority also settled in Puerto Rico. Most Asians are Chinese, who were brought as railroad workers. Another group of Chinese also settled Puerto Rico, most of them are victims of World War II, Mao Zedong's republic, and return of Hong Kong and Macau to mainland Chinese control. They came from other places in mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. Some Chinese from other Latin American countries also came to Puerto Rico. Other Asians also settled in Puerto Rico — mostly ethnic Japanese and Koreans.

According to the 2000 census, 95% of the population consider themselves of Puerto Rican descent (regardless of race or skin color), making Puerto Rico one of the most culturally unified societies in the world. Since its colonization, Puerto Rico has become the permanent home of over 100,000 legal residents who immigrated from not only Spain, but from other Latino Nations as well. Cubans, Dominicans, Colombians, Panamanians, Curacaoans, and Santomeños can also be accounted for as settlers. The variety of surnames which exist in Puerto Rico suggests widespread immigration to the island from many regions.

The Roman Catholic religion is dominant and the religion followed by most Puerto Ricans, although there is a notable Protestant presence imported from the United States during the Spanish-American War and subsequent occupation. Taino religious practices have to a degree been rediscovered/reinvented by modern populations. Kongo belief, known as Mayombe or Palo, has been around since the days of the arrival of enslaved Africans. Although, Santeria (stronger and more organized in Cuba) is practiced by some, Mayombe is the most widely practiced African-derived religion, but still a minor religion in this country.

Puerto Rico currently has its own Olympic team, as well as international representation in many other sporting events including the Summer Olympics, the Pan-American Games, the Central American Games, and the Caribbean World Series. Boxing and baseball are considered to be strong amongst Puerto Ricans. This is probably traceable back to the days when the indigenous population was known for its bateyes (ceremonial arenas in which a game was played with a rubber ball).


As a commonwealth associated with the United States, Puerto Rico does not have any first-order administrative divisions as defined by the U.S. Government, but there are 78 municipalities (as well as Isla Mona, a non-municipality that belongs to Puerto Rico) at the second order. Each municipality has a mayor and a municipal legislature elected for a 4 year term.

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