Puerto Rico, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of the Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico, geographically, is composed of an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands, the largest of which are Vieques, Culebra, and Mona. The main island of Puerto Rico is the smallest by land area and second smallest by population among the four Greater Antilles, which also include Cuba, Hispaniola, and Jamaica. Ethnically, the people of Puerto Rico, according to a Special Committee of the United Nations, "constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation that has its own unequivocal national identity".
Puerto Ricans often call the island Borinquen, from Borikén, its indigenous Taíno name. The terms boricua and borincano derive from Borikén and Borinquen respectively, and are commonly used to identify someone of Puerto Rican heritage. The island is also popularly known as "La Isla del Encanto," which translates in English to "The Island of Enchantment."
Puerto Rico consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and various smaller islands, including Vieques, Culebra, Mona, Desecheo, and Caja de Muertos. Of these last five, only Culebra and Vieques are inhabited year-round. Mona is uninhabited most of the year except for employees of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources. There are also many other even smaller islands including Monito and "La Isleta de San Juan" which includes Old San Juan and Puerta de Tierra.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has an area of 5,325 square miles (13,790 km2), of which 3,425 square miles (8,870 km2) is land and 1,900 square miles (4,900 km2) is water. The maximum length of the main island from east to west is 110 miles (180 km), and the maximum width from north to south is 40 miles (64 km). Comparing land areas, Puerto Rico is 8/10 the size of Jamaica and 8/100 the size of Cuba, the next smallest and the largest countries in the Greater Antilles, respectively. Compared to U.S. states, it is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, but slightly smaller than Connecticut. The main island is mostly mountainous with large coastal areas in the north and south. The main mountain range is called "La Cordillera Central" . The highest elevation in Puerto Rico, Cerro de Punta (4,390 feet; 1,338 m), is located in this range. Another important peak is El Yunque, one of the highest in the Sierra de Luquillo at the El Yunque National Forest, with an elevation of 3,494 feet (1,065 m).
Puerto Rico has 17 lakes, all man-made, and more than 50 rivers, most originating in the Cordillera Central. Rivers in the northern region of the island are typically longer and of higher water flow rates than those of the south, since the south receives less rain than the central and northern regions.
Puerto Rico is composed of Cretaceous to Eocene volcanic and plutonic rocks, overlain by younger Oligocene and more recent carbonates and other sedimentary rocks. Most of the caverns and karst topography on the island occurs in the northern region in the carbonates. The oldest rocks are approximately 190 million years old and are located at Sierra Bermeja in the southwest part of the island. They 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 American plates and is being deformed by the tectonic stresses caused by their interaction. 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 most recent major earthquake occurred on October 11, 1918 and had an estimated magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale. It originated off the coast of Aguadilla and was accompanied by a tsunami.
The Puerto Rico Trench, the largest and deepest trench in the Atlantic, is located about 75 miles (121 km) north of Puerto Rico at the boundary between the Caribbean and North American plates. It is 1,090 miles (1,750 km) long and about 60 miles (97 km) wide. At its deepest point, named the Milwaukee Deep, it is 27,493 feet (8,380 m) deep, or about 5.2 miles (8.4 km).
Located in the tropics, Puerto Rico enjoys an average temperature of 82.4 °F (30 °C) throughout the year. Temperatures do not change drastically throughout the seasons. The temperature in the south is usually a few degrees higher than the north and temperatures in the central interior mountains are always cooler than the rest of the island. The Hurricane season spans from June to November. The all-time low in Puerto Rico has been 39 °F (4 °C), registered in Aibonito.
Species endemic to the archipelago are 239 plants, 16 birds and 39 amphibians/reptiles, recognized as of 1998. Most of these are found on the main island. The most recognizable endemic species and a symbol of Puerto Rican pride is the Coquí, a small frog easily identified by the sound of its call, and from which it gets its name. Most Coquí species live in the El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest in the northeast of the island previously known as the Caribbean National Forest. El Yunque is home to more than 240 plants, 26 of which are endemic to the island. It is also home to 50 bird species, including the critically endangered Puerto Rican Amazon. Across the island in the southwest, the 10,000 acres (40 km2) of dry land at the Guánica Dry Forest Reserve contain over 600 uncommon species of plants and animals, including 48 endangered species and 16 endemic to Puerto Rico.
The Spanish soon colonized the island. Taínos were forced into slavery and were decimated by the harsh conditions of work and by diseases brought by the Spaniards. In 1511, the Taínos revolted against the Spanish; cacique Urayoán, as planned by Agüeybaná II, ordered his warriors to drown the Spanish soldier Diego Salcedo to determine whether the Spaniards were immortal. After drowning Salcedo, they kept watch over his body for three days to confirm his death. The revolt was easily crushed by Ponce de León and within a few decades much of the native population had been decimated by disease, violence, and a high occurrence of suicide. Half the native population of Puerto Rico was killed by smallpox within a few months in 1519. By 1520, when Charles V issued a royal decree that collectively emancipated the remaining Taíno population, the Taíno presence had almost vanished. African slaves were introduced to replace the Taíno. Puerto Rico soon became an important stronghold and port for the Spanish Empire. Various forts and walls, such as La Fortaleza, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal, were built to protect the port of San Juan from European enemies. France, The Netherlands and England made several attempts to capture Puerto Rico but failed to wrest long-term occupancy. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries colonial emphasis was on the more prosperous mainland territories, leaving the island impoverished of settlers.
In 1809, in the midst of the Peninsular War, the Supreme Central Junta based in Cádiz recognized Puerto Rico as an overseas province of Spain with the right to send representatives to the recently convened Spanish parliament. The representative, Ramon Power y Giralt, died after serving a three-year term in the Cortes. These parliamentary and constitutional reforms, which were in force from 1810 to 1814 and again from 1820 to 1823, were reversed twice afterwards when the traditional monarchy was restored by Ferdinand VII. Nineteenth century reforms augmented the population and economy, and expanded the local character of the island. After the rapid gaining of independence by the South and Central American states in the first part of the century, Puerto Rico and Cuba became the only Spanish colonies found in the Americas. The Spanish Crown revived the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815. This time the decree was printed in three languages — Spanish, English and French — intending to attract Europeans of non-Spanish origin, with the hope that the independence movements would lose their popularity and strength with the arrival of new settlers. A free homestead was offered to those who wanted to populate the islands on the condition that they swear their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church.
Toward the end of the 19th century, poverty and political estrangement with Spain led to a small but significant uprising in 1868 known as "Grito de Lares". It began in the rural town of Lares but was subdued when rebels moved to the neighboring town of San Sebastián. Leaders of this independence movement included Ramón Emeterio Betances, considered the "father" of the Puerto Rican independence movement, and other political figures such as Segundo Ruiz Belvis. In 1897, Luis Muñoz Rivera and others persuaded the liberal Spanish government to agree to Charters of Autonomy for Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1898, Puerto Rico's first, but short-lived, autonomous government was organized as an 'overseas province' of Spain. The charter maintained a governor appointed by Spain, which held the power to annul any legislative decision, and a partially elected parliamentary structure. In February, Governor-General Manuel Macías inaugurated the new government under the Autonomous Charter. General elections were held in March and the autonomous government began to function on July 17, 1898.
On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris.
The United States and Puerto Rico thus began a long-standing relationship. Puerto Rico began the 20th century under the military rule of the U.S. with officials, including the governor, appointed by the President of the United States. The Foraker Act of 1900 gave Puerto Rico a certain amount of popular government, including a popularly-elected House of Representatives. In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and provided for a popularly-elected Senate to complete a bicameral Legislative Assembly. As a result of their new U.S. citizenship, many Puerto Ricans were drafted into World War I and all subsequent wars with U.S. participation.
Natural disasters, including a major earthquake, a tsunami and several hurricanes, and the Great Depression impoverished the island during the first few decades under U.S. rule. Some political leaders, like Pedro Albizu Campos who led the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, demanded change. On March 21, 1937, a march was organized in the southern city of Ponce by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party which turned into a bloody event when the local police opened fire upon the cadets and bystanders. It has since then become known as the Ponce massacre.
The internal governance changed during the latter years of the Roosevelt–Truman administrations, as a form of compromise led by Muñoz Marín and others. It culminated with the appointment by President Truman in 1946 of the first Puerto Rican-born governor, Jesús T. Piñero. On June 11, 1948, Piñero, signed the "Ley de la Mordaza" or Law 53 as it was officially known, passed by the Puerto Rican legislature which made it illegal to display the Puerto Rican Flag, sing patriotic songs, talk of independence and to fight for the liberation of the island. It resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States.
Civilian government under U.S rule started with Congressional approval of the Foraker Act in 1900, which stated the basic form of the government of Puerto Rico until the Jones Act was approved. The Jones Act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on March 2, 1917. The law made Puerto Rico a United States territory which is "organized but unincorporated."An unincorporated territory is an area under U.S. jurisdiction, to which Congress has determined that only select parts of the U.S. Constitution apply. Unincorporated territories are essentially possessions, and this meant Puerto Rico was subject to U.S. laws, but was not considered part of the United States. In contrast, territories that were considered "incorporated" when the Jones Act was signed included Alaska and Hawaii, which later became states of the Union. Incidentally, the Philippines were also considered a U.S. non-incorporated territory at the start of U.S. rule there.
The practical implementation of the non-incorporated territory doctrine meant that the reach of U.S. laws to Puerto Rico had to be stated explicitly, which was different to their presumed automatic applicability to the 50 states and to other incorporated territories under U.S. jurisdiction. For that reason, U.S. citizenship was conferred explicitly starting only in 1917 with the Jones Act, and access to the Social Security system only started in 1952.
While the Island became a Commonwealth in 1952, the doctrine continues to govern the relationship of the island with the U.S. For example, U.S. citizens that are residents of Puerto Rico have never been allowed to vote for the U.S. President. In addition, this also means that Puerto Rico has no senators in the United States Congress and has only one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, who cannot vote on the general floor, only in Committees. If it were a U.S. state, Puerto Rico by population would have seven or eight seats in the House.
In 1947, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to democratically elect their own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín was elected during the 1948 general elections, becoming the first popularly-elected governor of Puerto Rico. In 1950, the Truman Administration allowed for a democratic referendum in Puerto Rico to determine whether Puerto Ricans desired to draft their own local constitution.
On October 30, 1950, Albizu-Campos and other nationalists led a 3-day revolt against the United States in various cities and towns of Puerto Rico. The most notable occurred in Jayuya and Utuado. In the Jayuya revolt, known as the Jayuya Uprising, the United States declared martial law and attacked Jayuya with infantry, artillery and bombers. The Utuado Uprising culminated in what is known as the Utuado massacre. On November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman. Torresola was killed during the attack, but Collazo was captured. Collazo served 29 years in a federal prison, being released in 1979. Don Pedro Albizu Campos also served many years in a federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia, for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government in Puerto Rico.
A local constitution was approved by a Constitutional Convention on February 6, 1952, ratified by the U.S. Congress, approved by President Truman on July 3 of that year, and proclaimed by Gov. Muñoz Marín on July 25, 1952. Puerto Rico adopted the name of Estado Libre Asociado, officially translated into English as Commonwealth, for its body politic. The United States Congress legislates over many fundamental aspects of Puerto Rican life, including citizenship, currency, postal service, foreign affairs, military defense, communications, labor relations, the environment, commerce, finance, health and welfare, and many others.
During the 1950s Puerto Rico experienced rapid industrialization, due in large part to Operación Manos à la Obra ("Operation Bootstrap"), an offshoot of FDR's New Deal, which aimed to transform Puerto Rico's economy from agriculture-based to manufacturing-based. Presently, Puerto Rico has become a major tourist destination and a leading pharmaceutical and manufacturing center. Yet it still struggles to define its political status. Three plebiscites have been held in recent decades to resolve the political status but no changes have been attained. Support for the pro-statehood party, Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) and the pro-commonwealth party, Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) remains about equal. The only registered pro-independence party, the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP), usually receives 3–5% of the electoral votes.
On October 25, 2006, the State Department of Puerto Rico conferred Puerto Rican citizenship to Juan Mari Brás. Since the summer of 2007, the Puerto Rico Department of State began to give out Puerto Rican citizenship certifications to Puerto Ricans, as is already done by other US states. However, in matters of international law, a citizen of Puerto Rico is considered a United States citizen.