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Puerto Rico

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Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico  (Spanish)
Flag Coat of arms
  • "Joannes Est Nomen Eius" (Latin)
  • "Juan es su nombre" (Spanish)
  • " John is his name"
Anthem:  La Borinqueña
and largest city
San Juan
18°27′N 66°6′W
Official languages Spanish, English
National language Spanisha
Ethnic groups (2010)
  • 75.8% Whiteb
  • 12.4% Black
  • 3.3% Mixed
  • 0.5% Amerindian
  • 0.2% Asian
  • 7.8% other
Government Commonwealth / Organized Unincorporated Territory
 -  President Barack Obama ( D)
 -  Governor Alejandro García Padilla ( PPD / D)
 -  Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi ( PNP / D)
 -  Federal legislative branch United States Congress
Legislature Legislative Assembly
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house House of Representatives
 United States sovereignty
 -  Cession (from the
Kingdom of Spain)
December 10, 1898 
 -  Autonomyc November 25, 1897 
 -  Total 9,104 km2 ( 169th)
3,515 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.6
 -  2012 estimate 3,667,084 ( 130th (world) / 29th (beside US states))
 -  Density 418/km2 ( 29th (world) / 2nd (beside US states))
1,082/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $ 108.441 billion ( n/a)
 -  Per capita $ 27,384.27 ( n/a)
GDP (nominal) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $98.76  billion ( 58th)
 -  Per capita $26,588 ( 34th)
Gini (2009) 53.2
high · n/a
HDI (2004) 0.867
very high · n/a
Currency United States dollar ( USD)
Time zone AST ( UTC–4)
 -  Summer ( DST) No DST ( UTC–4)
Drives on the right
Calling code +1 787 / 939
ISO 3166 code PR
Internet TLD .pr
a. Spanish is Puerto Rico's national language.
b. Mostly Spanish immigrant.
c. Supreme authority and sovereignty retained by the Kingdom of Spain.

Puerto Rico ( / ˌ p ɔr t ə ˈ r k / or / ˌ p w ɛər t ə ˈ r k /, Spanish pronunciation:  [pʷeɾto ˈriko] officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico), is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rico (Spanish for "rich port") comprises 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 of the Greater Antilles. It ranks third in population among that group of four islands, which include Cuba, Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Jamaica. Due to its location, Puerto Rico enjoys a tropical climate and is subject to the Atlantic hurricane season.

Originally populated for centuries by indigenous aboriginal peoples known as Taínos, the island was claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain during his second voyage to the Americas on November 19, 1493. Under Spanish rule, the island was colonized and the indigenous population was forced into slavery and wiped out due to, among other things, European infectious diseases. Spain possessed Puerto Rico for over 400 years, despite attempts at capture of the island by the French, Dutch, and British. In 1898, Spain ceded the archipelago, as well as the Philippines, to the United States as a result of its defeat in the Spanish-American War under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1898. Since then Puerto Rico has remained under United States rule.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship and since 1948 have elected their own governor. In 1952 the Constitution of Puerto Rico was adopted and ratified by the electorate. A democratically elected bicameral legislature is in place but the United States Congress legislates many fundamental aspects of Puerto Rican life. The islanders may not vote in U.S. presidential elections because the territory is not a state. Official languages of the island are Spanish and English, with Spanish being the primary language.

The island's current political status, including the possibility of statehood or independence, is widely debated in Puerto Rico. In November 2012, a non-binding referendum resulted in fifty-four percent of respondents voting to reject the current status under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution. Among respondents to a second question about alternatives, sixty-one percent voted for statehood as the preferred alternative to the current territorial status. In December 2012, President Barack Obama said that the majority has spoken in favour of statehood and urged Congress to take action.


Puerto Ricans often call the island Borinquen, from Borikén, its indigenous Taíno name, which means "Land of the Valiant Lord". 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 in Spanish as la isla del encanto, meaning "the island of enchantment".

Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honour of Saint John the Baptist. Eventually, traders and other maritime visitors came to refer to the entire island as "Puerto Rico", and "San Juan" became the name of the main trading/shipping port.


Pre-Columbian era

The ancient history of the archipelago known today as Puerto Rico before the arrival of Columbus is not well known. Unlike other larger, more advanced indigenous communities in the New World (Aztec and Inca) whose people left behind abundant archeological and physical evidence of their societies, the indigenous population of Puerto Rico left scant artifacts and evidence. What is known today about them comes from scarce archaeological findings and early Spanish scholarly accounts from the colonial era. The first comprehensive book on the history of Puerto Rico was written by Fray Íñigo Abbad y Lasierra in 1786, almost three centuries after the first Spaniards arrived on the island.

Taíno Village at the Tibes Ceremonial Centre

The first settlers were the Ortoiroid people, an Archaic Period culture of Amerindian hunters and fishermen who migrated from the mainland. A 1990 archaeological dig in the island of Vieques found the remains of what is believed to be an Arcaico (Archaic) man (named "Puerto Ferro Man"); he has been dated to around 2000 BCE. The Igneri, a tribe from the region of the Orinoco river, in northern South America, migrated to the island between 120 and 400 CE. The Arcaico and Igneri co-existed on the island between the 4th and 10th centuries, and perhaps clashed.

Between the 7th and 11th centuries, the Taíno culture developed on the island; by approximately 1000 CE, it had become dominant. At the time of Columbus' arrival, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Taíno Amerindians, led by the cacique (chief) Agüeybaná, inhabited the island. They called it Boriken, meaning "the great land of the valiant and noble Lord". The natives lived in small villages, each led by a cacique. They subsisted by hunting and fishing, done generally by men, as well as by the women's gathering and processing of indigenous cassava root and fruit. This lasted until Columbus arrived in 1493. Puerto Rican culture reflects aspects of Taíno influences within its music and vocabulary, as some words entered the Spanish vocabulary and later English.

Spanish colony

When Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico during his second voyage on November 19, 1493, the island was inhabited by the Taíno. They called it Borikén (Borinquen in Spanish transliteration. Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honour of the Christian saint, John the Baptist. Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, founded the first Spanish settlement, Caparra, on August 8, 1508. He was later appointed as governor of the island. Eventually, traders and other maritime visitors came to refer to the entire island as Puerto Rico, and San Juan became the name of the main trading/shipping port.

Garita at fort San Felipe del Morro

In the beginning of the 16th century, the Spaniards began to colonize the island. They forced the Taino into encomienda system of forced labor and used them for laborers. Together with the harsh working conditions, the Taino suffered epidemics of infectious disease, to which they had no natural immunity. For example, a smallpox outbreak in 1518–1519 killed much of the Island's indigenous population. In 1520, King Charles I of Spain issued a royal decree collectively emancipating the remaining Taíno population. By that time, the Taíno presence had almost vanished. The Spanish began to import slaves from sub-Saharan Africa to have sufficient laborers to develop agriculture and settlements. However, the number of slaves on the island was smaller than on Cuba, Saint-Domingue and Guadeloupe, where Spanish and French developed large sugar plantations based on slave labor.

African slaves were used primarily in the coastal ports and cities where the island's population was concentrated. The interior of the island continued to be essentially unexplored and undeveloped. Puerto Rico soon became an important stronghold and a significant port for the Spanish Main colonial expansion. They built various forts and walls, such as La Fortaleza, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal, to protect the strategic port of San Juan from numerous European raids and invasion attempts. San Juan served as an important port-of-call for ships of all European nations, who needed to take on water, food and other commercial provisions and mercantile exchange as part of the Atlantic trade.

During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Spain concentrated its colonial efforts on the more prosperous mainland North, Central, and South American colonies. The island of Puerto Rico was left virtually unexplored, undeveloped, and (excepting coastal outposts) largely unsettled before the 19th century. As independence movements in the larger Spanish colonies gained success, Spain began to pay attention to Puerto Rico as one of its last remaining maritime colonies.

In 1809, to secure its political bond with the island and in the midst of the European Peninsular War, the Supreme Central Junta based in Cádiz recognized Puerto Rico as an overseas province of Spain. It gave the island residents the right to elect representatives to the recently convened Spanish parliament (Cádiz Cortes), with equal representation to mainland Iberian, Mediterranean (Balearic Islands) and Atlantic maritime Spanish provinces (Canary Islands). Ramon Power y Giralt, the first Spanish parliamentary representative from the island of Puerto Rico, died after serving a three-year term in the Cortes. These parliamentary and constitutional reforms were in force from 1810 to 1814, and again from 1820 to 1823. They were twice reversed during the restoration of the traditional monarchy by Ferdinand VII. Nineteenth century immigration and commercial trade reforms increased the island's ethnic European population and economy, and expanded Spanish cultural and social imprint on the local character of the island.

Royal Decree of Graces, 1815, which allowed foreigners to enter Puerto Rico

Minor slave revolts had occurred in the island throughout the years with the revolt planned and organized by Marcos Xiorro in 1821 being the most important. Even though the conspiracy was unsuccessful, Xiorro achieved legendary status and is part of Puerto Rico's folklore.

In the early 19th century, Puerto Rico had an independence movement which, due to the harsh persecution by the Spanish authorities, met in the island of St. Thomas. The movement was largely inspired by the ideals of Simón Bolívar in establishing a United Provinces of New Granada, which included Puerto Rico and Cuba. Among the influential members of this movement were Brigadier General Antonio Valero de Bernabe and María de las Mercedes Barbudo. The movement was discovered and Governor Miguel de la Torre had its members imprisoned or exiled.

With the increasingly rapid growth of independent former Spanish colonies in the South and Central American states in the first part of the 19th century, the Spanish Crown considered Puerto Rico and Cuba of strategic importance. To increase its hold on its last two New World colonies, the Spanish Crown revived the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815. Printed in three languages: Spanish, English and French, it was intended to attract non-Spanish Europeans, with the hope that the independence movements would lose their popularity if new settlers had stronger ties to the Crown. Hundreds of families, mainly from Corsica, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Scotland, immigrated to the island.

Free land was offered as an incentive to those who wanted to populate the two islands on the condition that they swear their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. It was very successful and European immigration continued even after 1898. Puerto Rico today still receives Spanish and European immigration.

The Original Lares Revolutionary Flag

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.

Flag flown by Fidel Vélez and his men during the "Intentona de Yauco" revolt

Leaders of "El Grito de Lares" went into exile in New York City. Many joined the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee, founded on December 8, 1895, and continued their quest for Puerto Rican independence. In 1897, Antonio Mattei Lluberas and the local leaders of the independence movement in Yauco organized another uprising, which became known as the Intentona de Yauco. They raised what they called the Puerto Rican flag, which was adopted as the national flag. The local conservative political factions opposed independence. Rumors of the planned event spread to the local Spanish authorities who acted swiftly and put an end to what would be the last major uprising in the island to Spanish colonial rule.

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. This bilaterally agreed-upon 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.

United States colony

First Company of native Puerto Ricans enlisted in the American Army, 1899

In 1890, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, a member of the Navy War Board and leading U.S. strategic thinker, wrote a book titled The Influence of Sea Power upon History, in which he argued for the creation of a large and powerful navy modeled after the British Royal Navy. Part of his strategy called for the acquisition of colonies in the Caribbean Sea, which would serve as coaling and naval stations. They would serve as strategic points of defense with the construction of a canal through the Isthmus of Panama, to allow easier passage of ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

William H. Seward, the former Secretary of State under presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, had also stressed the importance of building a canal in Honduras, Nicaragua or Panama. He suggested that the United States annex the Dominican Republic and purchase Puerto Rico and Cuba. The U.S. Senate did not approve his annexation proposal, and Spain rejected the U.S. offer of 160 million dollars for Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Since 1894, the United States Naval War College had been developing contingency plans for a war with Spain. By 1896, the Office of Naval Intelligence had prepared a plan that included military operations in Puerto Rican waters. This prewar planning did not contemplate major territorial acquisitions. Except for one 1895 plan, which recommended annexation of the island then named Isle of Pines (later renamed as Isla de la Juventud), a recommendation dropped in later planning, plans developed for attacks on Spanish territories were intended as support operations against Spain's forces in and around Cuba. Recent research suggests that the U.S. did consider Puerto Rico valuable as a naval station, and recognized that it and Cuba generated lucrative crops of sugar – a valuable commercial commodity which the United States lacked.

On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with the Philippines and Guam, then under Spanish sovereignty, to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris. Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba, but did not cede it to the U.S.

The United States and Puerto Rico began a long-standing metropoli-colony relationship. In the early 20th century, Puerto Rico was ruled by the military, 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 civilian popular government, including a popularly elected House of Representatives. (The upper house and governor were appointed by the United States; at the time, the US did not have popular election of senators. Until passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, most US senators were elected by their respective state legislatures.

Its judicial system was constructed to follow the American legal system; a Puerto Rico Supreme Court and a United State District Court for the territory were established. It was authorized a non-voting member of Congress, by the title of "Resident Commissioner", who was appointed. In addition, this Act extended all U.S. laws "not locally inapplicable" to Puerto Rico, specifying specific exemption from U.S. Internal Revenue laws.

The Act empowered the civil government to legislate on "all matters of legislative character not locally inapplicable", including the power to modify and repeal any laws then in existence in Puerto Rico, though the U.S. Congress retained the power to annul acts of the Puerto Rico legislature. During an address to the Puerto Rican legislature in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt recommended that Puerto Ricans become U.S. citizens.

In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously in favour of independence from the United States.

US citizenship

In 1917, the US Congress passed the Jones-Shafroth Act, popularly called the Jones Act, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Opponents, who included all of the Puerto Rican House of Delegates, which voted unanimously against it, said that the US "imposed" citizenship in order to draft Puerto Rican men into the army as American entry into World War I became likely.

The same Act provided for a popularly elected Senate to complete a bicameral Legislative Assembly, as well as a bill of rights. It authorized the popular election of the Resident Commissioner to a four-year term.

Soldiers of the 65th Infantry training in Salinas, Puerto Rico, August 1941

Natural disasters, including a major earthquake in 1918, a tsunami and several hurricanes, and the Great Depression impoverished the island during the first few decades under U.S. rule. Some political leaders, such as Pedro Albizu Campos, who led the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, demanded change in relations with the United States. He organized a protest at the university in 1935, in which four were killed by police.

In 1936 the US Senator Millard Tydings introduced a bill supporting independence for Puerto Rico, but it was opposed by Luis Munoz Marin of the Liberal Party. (Tydings had co-sponsored the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which provided independence to the Philippines after a 10-year transition under a limited autonomy.) All the Puerto Rican parties supported the bill, but Muñoz Marín opposed it. Tydings did not gain passage of the bill.

In 1937, Albizu Campos' party organized a protest, in which numerous people were killed by police in Ponce. The Insular Police, resembling the National Guard, opened fire upon unarmed and defenseless cadets and bystanders alike. The attack on unarmed protesters was reported by the U.S. Congressman Vito Marcantonio and confirmed by the report of the "Hays Commission," which investigated the events. The commission was led by Arthur Garfield Hays, counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. Nineteen persons were killed and over 200 were badly wounded, many in their backs while running away. The Hays Commission declared it a massacre and police mob action, and it has since been known as the Ponce Massacre. In the aftermath, on April 2, 1943, U.S. Senator Millard Tydings introduced a bill in Congress calling for independence for Puerto Rico. This bill ultimately was defeated.

During the latter years of the RooseveltTruman administrations, the internal governance was changed in a compromise reached with Luis Muñoz Marín and other Puerto Rican leaders. In 1946, President Truman appointed the first Puerto Rican-born governor, Jesús T. Piñero.


In 1947, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to elect democratically their own governor. In 1948, Luis Muñoz Marín became the first popularly elected governor of Puerto Rico.

A bill was introduced before the Puerto Rican Senate which would restrain the rights of the independence and nationalist movements in the island. The Senate at the time was controlled by the PPD, and was presided over by Luis Muñoz Marín. The bill, also known as the Gag Law (Ley de la Mordaza in Spanish) was approved by the legislature on May 21, 1948. It made it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to talk of independence, or to fight for the liberation of the island. The bill, which resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States, was signed and made into law on June 10, 1948, by the U.S. appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero, and became known as "Law 53" (Ley 53 in Spanish). In accordance to the new law, it would be a crime to print, publish, sell, exhibit, organize or help anyone organize any society, group or assembly of people whose intentions are to paralyze or destroy the insular government. Anyone accused and found guilty of disobeying the law could be sentenced to ten years of prison, be fined $10,000 dollars (US), or both. According to Dr. Leopoldo Figueroa, a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, the law was repressive, and was in violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees Freedom of Speech. He pointed out that the law as such was a violation of the civil rights of the people of Puerto Rico. The infamous law was repealed in 1957.

Painting depiction of the U.S. 65th Infantry Regiment's bayonet charge against a Chinese division during the Korean War.

In 1950, the U.S. Congress approved Public Law 600 (P.L. 81-600), which allowed for a democratic referendum in Puerto Rico to determine whether Puerto Ricans desired to draft their own local constitution. This Act was meant to be adopted in the "nature of a compact". It required congressional approval of the Puerto Rico Constitution before it could go into effect, and repealed certain sections of the Organic Act of 1917. The sections of this statute left in force were then entitled the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act. Then U.S. Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman, under whose Department resided responsibility of Puerto Rican affairs, clarified the new commonwealth status in this manner, "The bill (to permit Puerto Rico to write its own constitution) merely authorizes the people of Puerto Rico to adopt their own constitution and to organize a local government...The bill under consideration would not change Puerto Rico's political, social, and economic relationship to the United States."

External video
View newsreel scenes in Spanish of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s

On October 30, 1950, Pedro Albizu Campos and other nationalists led a 3-day revolt against the United States in various cities and towns of Puerto Rico in what is known as the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s. 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.

The Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved by a Constitutional Convention on February 6, 1952, and 82% of the voters in a March referendum. It was modified and 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, on the anniversary of the July 25, 1898, landing of U.S. troops in the Puerto Rican Campaign of the Spanish-American War, until then an annual Puerto Rico holiday. Puerto Rico adopted the name of Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (literally "Associated Free State of Puerto Rico"), 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, the currency, the 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 a 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, as well as a global centre for pharmaceutical manufacturing. 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.

Government and politics

The Capitol of Puerto Rico, home of the Legislative Assembly in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a republican form of government, subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. Its current powers are all delegated by the United States Congress and lack full protection under the United States Constitution. Puerto Rico's head of state is the President of the United States.

The government of Puerto Rico, based on the formal republican system, is composed of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch is headed by the Governor, currently Alejandro García Padilla. The legislative branch consists of a bicameral Legislative Assembly made up of a Senate upper chamber and a House of Representatives lower chamber. The Senate is headed by the President of the Senate, while the House of Representatives is headed by the Speaker of the House.

The judicial branch is headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. The legal system is a mix of the civil law and the common law systems. The governor and legislators are elected by popular vote every four years. Members of the Judicial branch are appointed by the governor with the "advice and consent" of the Senate.

Puerto Rico is represented in the United States Congress by a nonvoting delegate, formally called a Resident Commissioner (currently Pedro Pierluisi). Current congressional rules have removed the Commissioner's power to vote in the Committee of the Whole, but the Commissioner can vote in committee.

Puerto Rican elections are governed by the Federal Election Commission and the State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico. While residing in Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections, but they can vote in primaries. Puerto Ricans who become residents of a U.S. state can vote in presidential elections.

Puerto Rico is not an independent country and, as such, it hosts no embassies. It is host, however, to consulates from 41 countries, mainly from the Americas and Europe. Most consulates are located in San Juan. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico does not have any first-order administrative divisions as defined by the U.S. government, but has 78 municipalities at the second level. Mona Island is not a municipality, but part of the municipality of Mayagüez.

Municipalities are subdivided into wards or barrios, and those into sectors. Each municipality has a mayor and a municipal legislature elected for a four-year term. The municipality of San Juan (previously called "town"), was founded first, in 1521, San Germán in 1570, Coamo in 1579, Arecibo in 1614, Aguada in 1692 and Ponce in 1692. An increase of settlement saw the founding of 30 municipalities in the 18th century and 34 in the 19th. Six were founded in the 20th century; the last was Florida in 1971.

Since 1952, Puerto Rico has had three main political parties: the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), the New Progressive Party (PNP) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). These three parties stood for three distinct future political status scenarios: the PPD seeks to maintain the island's "association" status with the U.S. as a commonwealth, and has won a plurality vote in referendums on the island's status held over the last six decades, the PNP seeks to have Puerto Rico become a U.S. state, and the PIP seeks the establishment of a sovereign and independent republic.

In 2007, a fourth party, the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPR), was registered. The PPR claims that it seeks to address the islands' problems from a status-neutral platform. However, it ceased to remain a registered political party when it failed to obtain the requisite number of votes in the 2008 general election. Other non-registered parties include the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, the Socialist Workers Movement, the Hostosian National Independence Movement.

Political status

The nature of Puerto Rico's political relationship with the U.S. is the subject of ongoing debate in Puerto Rico, the United States Congress, and the United Nations. Specifically, the basic question is whether Puerto Rico should remain a U.S. territory, become a U.S. state, or become an independent country. After several failed tries dating back to 1967, Puerto Ricans voted for the first time to become a state in 2012. The plebiscite was nonbinding.

Estado Libre Asociado

In 1950, the U.S. Congress granted Puerto Ricans the right to organize a constitutional convention via a referendum that gave them the option of voting their preference, "yes" or "no", on a proposed U.S. law that would organize Puerto Rico as a "commonwealth" that would continue United States sovereignty over Puerto Rico and its people. Puerto Rico's electorate expressed its support for this measure in 1951 with a second referendum to ratify the constitution. The Constitution of Puerto Rico was formally adopted on July 3, 1952. The Constitutional Convention specified the name by which the body politic would be known.

On February 4, 1952, the convention approved Resolution 22 which chose in English the word Commonwealth, meaning a "politically organized community" or "state", which is simultaneously connected by a compact or treaty to another political system. Puerto Rico officially designates itself with the term "Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" in its constitution, as a translation into English of the term to "Estado Libre Asociado" (ELA). Literally translated into English the phrase Estado Libre Asociado means "Associated Free State." The preamble of the Commonwealth constitution in part reads: "We, the people of Puerto Rico, in order to organise ourselves politically on a fully democratic basis, ordain and establish this Constitution for the commonwealth which, in the exercise of our natural rights, we now create within our union with the United States of America. In so doing, we declare: ... We consider as determining factors in our life our citizenship of the United States of America and our aspiration continually to enrich our democratic heritage in the individual and collective enjoyment of its rights and privileges; our loyalty to the principles of the Federal Constitution;..."

While the approval of the Commonwealth constitution by the people of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. President, marked a historic change in the civil government of Puerto Rico, neither it nor the public laws approved by Congress in 1950 and 1952 revoked statutory provisions concerning the legal relationship of Puerto Rico to the United States. This relationship is based on the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The statutory provisions that set forth the conditions of the relationship are commonly referred to as the Federal Relations Act (FRA). Inclusive by Resolution number 34, approved by the Constitutional Convention and ratified in the Referendum held on November 4, 1952, the following new sentence was added to section 3 of article VII of the commonwealth constitution: "Any amendment or revision of this constitution shall be consistent with the resolution enacted by the applicable provisions of the Constitution of the United States, with the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act and with Public Law 600, Eighty-first Congress, adopted in the nature of a compact". The provisions of the Federal Relations Act as codified on the U.S. Code Title 48, Chapter 4 shall apply to the island of Puerto Rico and to the adjacent islands belonging to the United States and waters of those islands; and the name Puerto Rico, as used in the chapter, shall be held to include not only the island of that name, but all the adjacent islands as aforesaid. While specified subsections of the FRA were "adopted in the nature of a compact", other provisions, by comparison, are excluded from the compact reference. Matters still subject to congressional authority and established pursuant to legislation include the citizenship status of residents, tax provisions, civil rights, trade and commerce, public finance, the administration of public lands controlled by the federal government, the application of federal law over navigable waters, congressional representation, and the judicial process, among others.

In 1967, Puerto Rico's Legislative Assembly polled the political preferences of the Puerto Rican electorate by passing a plebiscite act that provided for a vote on the status of Puerto Rico. This constituted the first plebiscite by the Legislature for a choice among three status options (commonwealth, statehood, and independence). Claiming "foul play" and dubbing the process as illegitimate and contrary to norms of international law regarding decolonization procedures, the plebiscite was boycotted by the major pro-statehood and pro-independence parties of the time, the Republican Party of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Independence Party, respectively. The Commonwealth option, represented by the PDP, won with a majority of 60.4% of the votes. After the plebiscite, efforts in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to enact legislation to address the status issue died in U.S. Congressional committees. In subsequent plebiscites organized by Puerto Rico held in 1993 and 1998 (without any formal commitment on the part of the U.S. Government to honour the results), the current political status failed to receive majority support. In 1993, Commonwealth status won by only a plurality of votes (48.6% versus 46.3% for statehood), while the "none of the above" option, which was the Popular Democratic Party-sponsored choice, won in 1998 with 50.3% of the votes (versus 46.5% for statehood). Disputes arose as to the definition of each of the ballot alternatives, and Commonwealth advocates, among others, reportedly urged a vote for "none of the above".

Within the United States

Puerto Rico, U.S. quarter, reverse side, 2009

Constitutionally, Puerto Rico is subject to the Congress's plenary powers under the territorial clause of Article IV, sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution. U.S. federal law applies to Puerto Rico, even though Puerto Rico is not a state of the American Union and their residents have no voting representation in the U.S. Congress. Like the States of the American Union, Puerto Rico lacks "the full sovereignty of an independent nation," for example, the power to manage its "external relations with other nations," which is held by the Federal Government. The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that once the Constitution has been extended to an area (by Congress or the Courts), its coverage is irrevocable. To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say "what the law is.".

Puerto Ricans "were collectively made U.S. citizens" in 1917 as a result of the Jones-Shafroth Act. However, U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. president, though both major parties, Republican and Democrat, run primary elections in Puerto Rico to send delegates to vote on a presidential candidate. Since Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory (see above) and not a U.S. state, the United States Constitution does not fully enfranchise US citizens residing in Puerto Rico. (See also: " Voting rights in Puerto Rico"). Despite their American citizenship, however, only the " fundamental rights" under the federal constitution apply to Puerto Ricans. Various other U.S Supreme Court decisions have held which rights apply in Puerto Rico and which ones do not. Puerto Ricans have a long history of service in the U.S. armed forces and, since 1917, they have been included in the U.S. compulsory draft whenever it has been in effect.

Though the Commonwealth government has its own tax laws, Puerto Ricans are also required to pay many kinds of U.S. federal taxes, not including the federal personal income tax, but only under certain circumstances. In 2009, Puerto Rico paid $3.742 billion into the US Treasury. Residents of Puerto Rico pay into Social Security, and are thus eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement. However, they are excluded from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the island actually receives a small fraction of the Medicaid funding it would receive if it were a U.S. state. Also, Medicare providers receive less-than-full state-like reimbursements for services rendered to beneficiaries in Puerto Rico, even though the latter paid fully into the system.

In 1992, President George H. W. Bush issued a memorandum to heads of executive departments and agencies establishing the current administrative relationship between the federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This memorandum directs all federal departments, agencies, and officials to treat Puerto Rico administratively as if it were a state, insofar as doing so would not disrupt federal programs or operations. Many federal executive branch agencies have significant presence in Puerto Rico, just as in any state, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration, Social Security Administration, and others. While Puerto Rico has its own Commonwealth judicial system similar to that of a U.S. state, there is also a U.S federal district court in Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rican judges have served in that Court and in other federal courts on the U.S. mainland regardless of their residency status at the time of their appointment. Puerto Ricans have also been regularly appointed to high-level federal positions, including serving as United States Ambassadors to other nations.

International status

On November 27, 1953, shortly after the establishment of the Commonwealth, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved Resolution 748, removing Puerto Rico's classification as a non-self-governing territory under article 73(e) of the Charter from UN. But the General Assembly did not apply the full list of criteria which was enunciated in 1960 when it took favorable note of the cessation of transmission of information regarding the non-self-governing status of Puerto Rico. According to the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico's Political Status in its December 21, 2007 report, the U.S., in its written submission to the UN in 1953, never represented that Congress could not change its relationship with Puerto Rico without the territory's consent. It stated that the U.S. Justice Department in 1959 reiterated that Congress held power over Puerto Rico pursuant to the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In 1993, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stated that Congress may unilaterally repeal the Puerto Rican Constitution or the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act and replace them with any rules or regulations of its choice. In a 1996 report on a Puerto Rico status political bill, the U.S. House Committee on Resources stated, "Puerto Rico's current status does not meet the criteria for any of the options for full self-government under Resolution 1541" (the three established forms of full self-government being stated in the report as (1) national independence, (2) free association based on separate sovereignty, or (3) full integration with another nation on the basis of equality). The report concluded that Puerto Rico "... remains an unincorporated territory and does not have the status of 'free association' with the United States as that status is defined under United States law or international practice", that the establishment of local self-government with the consent of the people can be unilaterally revoked by the U.S. Congress, and that U.S. Congress can also withdraw the U.S. citizenship of Puerto Rican residents of Puerto Rico at any time, for a legitimate Federal purpose. The application of the U.S. Constitution to Puerto Rico is limited by the Insular Cases.

In 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization passed resolutions calling on the United States to expedite a process "that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence", and to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. prisons, to clean up, decontaminate and return the lands in the islands of Vieques and Culebra to the people of Puerto Rico, to perform a probe into U.S. human rights violations on the island and a probe into the killing by the FBI of pro-independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios.

Recent developments

In 2005 and 2007, two reports were issued by the U.S. President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status. Both reports conclude that Puerto Rico continues to be a territory of U.S. under the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress. Reactions from Puerto Rico's two major political parties were mixed. The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) challenged the task force's report and committed to validating the current status in all international forums, including the United Nations. It also rejected any "colonial or territorial status" as a status option, and vowed to keep working for the enhanced Commonwealth status that was approved by the PPD in 1998, which included sovereignty, an association based on "respect and dignity between both nations", and common citizenship. The New Progressive Party or New Party for Progress (PNP) supported the White House Report's conclusions and supported bills to provide for a democratic referendum process among Puerto Rico voters.

A 2009 CRS report suggested that action might be taken in the 111th Congress. The reports issued in 2007 and 2005 by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status may be the basis for reconsideration of the existing commonwealth status, as legislative developments during the 109th and 110th Congresses suggested. Agreement on the process to be used in considering the status proposals has been as elusive as agreement on the end result. Congress would have a determinative role in any resolution of the issue. The four options that appear to be most frequently discussed include continuation of the commonwealth, modification of the current commonwealth agreement, statehood, or independence. If independence, or separate national sovereignty, were selected, Puerto Rican officials might seek to negotiate a compact of free association with the United States.

Congressman Luis Fortuño meets with mayors from across the island of Puerto Rico in his congressional office (2006)

On June 15, 2009, the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization approved a draft resolution calling on the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

On April 29, 2010, the U.S. House voted 223–169 to approve a measure for a federally sanctioned process for Puerto Rico's self-determination, allowing Puerto Rico to set a new referendum on whether to continue its present form of commonwealth political status or to have a different political status. If Puerto Ricans vote to continue to have their present form of political status, the Government of Puerto Rico is authorized to conduct additional plebiscites at intervals of every eight years from the date on which the results of the prior plebiscite are certified; if Puerto Ricans vote to have a different political status, a second referendum would determine whether Puerto Rico would become a U.S. state, an independent country, or a sovereign nation associated with the U.S. that would not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution. During the House debate, a fourth option, to retain its present form of commonwealth (sometimes referred to as "the status quo") political status, was added as an option in the second plebiscite.

Immediately following U.S. House passage, H.R. 2499 was sent to the U.S. Senate, where it was given two formal readings and referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. On December 22, 2010, the 111th United States Congress adjourned without any Senate vote on H.R.2499, killing the bill.

The latest Task Force report was released on March 11, 2011. The report suggested a two-plebiscite process, including a "first plebiscite that requires the people of Puerto Rico to choose whether they wish to be part of the United States (either via Statehood or Commonwealth) or wish to be independent (via Independence or Free Association). If continuing to be part of the United States were chosen in the first plebiscite, a second vote would be taken between Statehood and Commonwealth." On June 14, 2011, President Barack Obama "promised to support “a clear decision” by the people of Puerto Rico on statehood". That same month, the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization passed a resolution and adopted a consensus text introduced by Cuba's delegate on June 20, 2011, calling on the United States to expedite a process "that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence."

On 6 November 2012, a two question referendum took place, simultaneous with the general elections. The first question asked voters whether they wanted to maintain the current status under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution. The second question posed three alternate status options if the first question was approved: statehood, independence or free association. For the first question, 54 percent voted against the current Commonwealth status, and in the second question, of those who responded, 61.1% favored statehood. On December 11, 2012, Puerto Rico's Legislature passed a concurrent resolution to request to the President and the U.S. Congress action on the November 6, 2012 plebiscite results.


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 and is connected to the main island by bridges.

Map of Puerto Rico

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has an area of 13,790 square kilometers (5,320 sq mi), of which 8,870 km2 (3,420 sq mi) is land and 4,921 km2 (1,900 sq mi) is water. The maximum length of the main island from east to west is 180 km (110 mi), and the maximum width from north to south is 65 km (40 mi). Puerto Rico is the smallest of the Greater Antilles. It is 80% of the size of Jamaica, just over 18% of the size of Hispaniola and 8% of the size of Cuba, the largest of the Greater Antilles.

Puerto Rico is mostly mountainous with large coastal areas in the north and south. The main mountain range is called " La Cordillera Central" (The Central Range). The highest elevation in Puerto Rico, Cerro de Punta 1,339 meters (4,393 ft), 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 1,065 m (3,494 ft).

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.

Coast scene at Patillas, Puerto Rico

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 (Jurassic) 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 115 km (71 mi) north of Puerto Rico at the boundary between the Caribbean and North American plates. It is 280 km (170 mi) long. At its deepest point, named the Milwaukee Deep, it is almost 8,400 m (27,600 ft) deep, or about 5.2 miles.

Located in the tropics, Puerto Rico has an average temperature of 82.4 °F (28 °C) throughout the year, with an average minimum temperature of 66.9 °F (19 °C) and maximum of 85.4 °F (30 °C). 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. The average yearly precipitation is 1,687 mm (66 in).

Species endemic to the archipelago are 239 plants, 16 birds and 39 amphibians/reptiles, recognized as of 1998. Most of these (234, 12 and 33 respectively) 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 (13 of 17) 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 40 km2 (15 sq mi) of dry land at the Guánica Commonwealth Forest Reserve contain over 600 uncommon species of plants and animals, including 48 endangered species and 16 endemic to Puerto Rico.

Administrative divisions

Puerto Rico's municipalities

As an unincorporated territory of 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 at the secondary level which function as counties. Municipalities are further subdivided into barrios, and those into sectors. Each municipality has a mayor and a municipal legislature elected for four-year terms.

The first municipality (previously called "town") of Puerto Rico, San Juan, was founded in 1521. In the 16th century two more municipalities were established, San Germán (1570) and Coamo (1579). Three more municipalities were established in the 17th century. These were Arecibo (1614), Aguada (1692) and Ponce (1692). The 18th and 19th century saw an increase in settlement in Puerto Rico with 30 municipalities being established in the 18th century and 34 more in the 19th century. Only six municipalities were founded in the 20th century with the last, Florida, being founded in 1971.


Milla de Oro is a major financial centre in Puerto Rico.

In the early 20th century the greatest contributor to Puerto Rico's economy was agriculture and its main crop was sugar. In the late 1940s a series of projects codenamed Operation Bootstrap encouraged a significant shift to manufacture via tax exemptions. Manufacturing quickly replaced agriculture as the main industry of the island. Puerto Rico is classified as a "high income country" by the World Bank.

Economic conditions have improved dramatically since the Great Depression because of external investment in capital-intensive industries such as petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and technology. Once the beneficiary of special tax treatment from the U.S. government, today local industries must compete with those in more economically depressed parts of the world where wages are not subject to U.S. minimum wage legislation. In recent years, some U.S. and foreign owned factories have moved to lower wage countries in Latin America and Asia. Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. trade laws and restrictions.

Also, starting around 1950, there was heavy migration from Puerto Rico to the Continental United States, particularly New York City, in search of better economic conditions. Puerto Rican migration to New York displayed an average yearly migration of 1,800 for the years 1930–1940, 31,000 for 1946–1950, 45,000 for 1951–1960, and a peak of 75,000 in 1953. As of 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more people of Puerto Rican birth or ancestry live in the U.S. than in Puerto Rico.

On May 1, 2006, the Puerto Rican government faced significant shortages in cash flows, which forced the closure of the local Department of Education and 42 other government agencies. All 1,536 public schools closed, and 95,762 people were furloughed in the first-ever partial shutdown of the government in the island's history. On May 10, 2006, the budget crisis was resolved with a new tax reform agreement so that all government employees could return to work. On November 15, 2006, a 5.5% sales tax was implemented. Municipalities are required by law to apply a municipal sales tax of 1.5% bringing the total sales tax to 7%.

View of the La Concha, one of the newly refurbished hotels, from the beach in Condado

Tourism is an important component of Puerto Rican economy supplying an approximate $1.8 billion. In 1999, an estimated 5 million tourists visited the island, most from the U.S. Nearly a third of these are cruise ship passengers. A steady increase in hotel registrations since 1998 and the construction of new hotels and new tourism projects, such as the Puerto Rico Convention Centre, indicate the current strength of the tourism industry. In 2009, tourism accounted for nearly 7% of the islands' gross national product.

Puerto Ricans had median household income of $18,314 for 2009, which makes Puerto Rico's economy comparable to the independent nations of Latvia or Poland. By comparison, the poorest state of the Union, Mississippi, had median household income of $36,646 in 2009. Nevertheless, Puerto Rico's GDP per capita compares favorably to other independent Caribbean nations, and is one of the highest in North America. See List of North American countries by GDP per capita.

The public debt of Puerto Rico has grown at a faster pace than the growth of its economy, reaching $46.7 billion in 2008. In January 2009, Luis Fortuño enacted several measures aimed at eliminating the government's $3.3 billion deficit, including laying off 12,505 government employees. Puerto Rico's unemployment rate was 15.9 percent in January 2010. Some analysts said they expect the government's layoffs to propel that rate to 17 percent.

In November 2010, Gov. Fortuño proposed a tax reform plan that would be implemented in a six-year period, retroactive to January 1, 2010. The first phase, applicable to year 2010, reduces taxes to all individual taxpayers by 7–15%. By year 2016, average relief for individual taxpayers will represent a 50% tax cut and a 30% cut for corporate taxpayers, whose tax rate will be lowered from 41 to 30%.

At the same time, the latest report by the President Task Force on Puerto Rico Status recognizes that the status question and the economy are intimately linked. Many participants in the forums conducted by the Task Force argued that uncertainty about status is holding Puerto Rico back in economic areas. And although there are a number of economic actions that should be taken immediately or in the short term, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the status question, identifying the most effective means of assisting the Puerto Rican economy depends on resolving the ultimate question of status. In short, the long-term economic well-being of Puerto Rico would be dramatically improved by an early decision on the status question.


Racial and Ethnic Composition in Puerto Rico (2010 Census)
Black or African American
Two or more races
American Indian
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
Other races
Note: Hispanic or Latino (of any race) makes up 99.0 percent of the population.

The population of Puerto Rico has been shaped by Amerindian settlement, European colonization, slavery, economic migration, and Puerto Rico's status as unincorporated territory of the United States.

Population and racial makeup

The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Puerto Rico was 3,667,084 on July 1, 2012, a -1.6% decrease since the 2010 United States Census. From 2000 to 2010, the population decreased, the first such decrease in census history for Puerto Rico. It went from the 3,808,610 residents registered in the 2000 Census to 3,725,789 in the 2010 Census. A declining and aging population presents additional problems for the society. The Census Bureau has noted that "76,218 people residing in the U.S. last year lived in Puerto Rico one year earlier."

Continuous European immigration during the 19th century helped the population grow from 155,000 in 1800 to almost a million at the close of the century. A census conducted by royal decree on September 30, 1858 gives the following totals of the Puerto Rican population at this time: 341,015 as Free colored; 300,430 identified as Whites; and 41,736 were slaves.

During the 19th century hundreds of Corsican, French, Lebanese, Chinese, and Portuguese families arrived in Puerto Rico, along with large numbers of immigrants from Spain (mainly from Catalonia, Asturias, Galicia, the Balearic Islands, Andalusia, and the Canary Islands) and numerous Spanish loyalists from Spain's former colonies in South America. Other settlers included Irish, Scots, Germans, Italians and thousands others who were granted land by Spain during the Real Cedula de Gracias de 1815 (" Royal Decree of Graces of 1815"), which allowed European Catholics to settle in the island with land allotments in the interior of the island, provided they agreed to pay taxes and continue to support the Catholic Church.

Between 1960 and 1990, the census questionnaire in Puerto Rico did not ask about race or ethnicity. However, the 2000 United States Census included a racial self-identification question in Puerto Rico. According to the census, most Puerto Ricans self-identified as White and few declared themselves to be Black or some other race.

A recent study conducted in Puerto Rico suggests that around 52.6%-84% of the population possess Amerindian mtDNA, along with other ancestry.

Immigration and emigration

Population density, Census 2000

Puerto Rico has recently become the permanent home of over 100,000 legal residents who immigrated from not only the Dominican Republic, but from other Latin American countries. These include Cuba, Colombia, and Venezuela, as well as surrounding Caribbean islands, Haiti, Barbados, and the U.S. Virgin Islands among them.

Emigration is a major part of contemporary Puerto Rican history. Starting soon after World War II, poverty, cheap airfare, and promotion by the island government caused waves of Puerto Ricans to move to the United States, particularly to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Florida. This trend continued even as Puerto Rico's economy improved and its birth rate declined, and Puerto Ricans continue to follow a pattern of "circular migration".


The most populous city is the capital, San Juan, with approximately 395,326 people. Other major cities include Bayamón, Carolina, Ponce, and Caguas. Of the ten most populous cities on the island, eight are located within what is considered San Juan's metropolitan area, while the other two are located in the south ( Ponce) and west ( Mayagüez) of the island.

Largest cities or towns of Puerto Rico
2010 Census
Rank City name Metropolitan Statistical Area Pop.
San Juan
San Juan


1 San Juan San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 395,326 Carolina


2 Bayamón San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 208,116
3 Carolina San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 176,762
4 Ponce Ponce 166,327
5 Caguas San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 142,893
6 Guaynabo San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 97,924
7 Arecibo San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 96,440
8 Toa Baja San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 89,609
9 Mayagüez Mayagüez 89,080
10 Trujillo Alto San Juan-Caguas-Guaynabo 74,842


The official languages of the executive branch of government of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English, with Spanish being the primary language. Spanish is, and has been, the only official language of the entire Commonwealth judiciary system, even despite a 1902 English-only language law. All official business of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico is conducted in English. Although English is one of the two official languages in Puerto Rico, it is spoken by a small minority—less than 10%-- of the population. Spanish is the dominant language of business, education and daily life on the island, spoken by over 95% of the population. Public school instruction in Puerto Rico is conducted entirely in Spanish. There are, however, pilot programs in about a dozen of the over 1,400 public schools aimed at conducting instruction in English only. English is taught as a second language and is a compulsory subject from elementary levels to high school.


The Spanish of Puerto Rico has evolved into having many idiosyncrasies in vocabulary and syntax that differentiate it from the Spanish spoken elsewhere. While the Spanish spoken in all Iberian, Mediterranean and Atlantic Spanish Maritime Provinces was brought to the island over the centuries, the most profound regional impact on the Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico has been from that spoken in present-day Canary Islands.

As a result of the natural inclusion of indigenous vocabulary in all New World former European colonies (Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Dutch, etc.), the Spanish of Puerto Rico also includes occasional Taíno words, typically in the context of vegetation, natural phenomena or primitive musical instruments. Similarly, African-attributed words exist in the contexts of foods, music or dances, developed in coastal towns with concentrations of descendants of former Sub-Saharan slaves.


According to a study by the University of Puerto Rico, nine of every ten Puerto Ricans residing in Puerto Rico do not speak English at an advanced level. More recently, according to the 2005–2009 Population and Housing Narrative Profile for Puerto Rico, among people at least five years old living in Puerto Rico in 2005–2009, 95 percent spoke a language other than English at home. Of those speaking a language other than English at home, 100 percent spoke Spanish and less than 0.5 percent spoke some other language; 85 percent reported that they did not speak English "very well."


Front entrance of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of San Juan Bautista: Many religious beliefs now are represented in the island

The Roman Catholic Church has historically been the dominant religion in Puerto Rico since the Spanish colonial era. The first dioceses in the Americas, including the first diocese of Puerto Rico, were authorized by Pope Julius II in 1511. One Pope, John Paul II, visited Puerto Rico in October 1984. All municipalities in Puerto Rico have at least one Catholic church, most of which are located at the town centre or "plaza".

Protestantism, which was suppressed under the Spanish regime, has spread under United States rule, making modern Puerto Rico interconfessional. The first Protestant church, Holy Trinity Church in Ponce, was established by the Anglican diocese of Antigua in 1872. In 1872, German settlers in Ponce founded the Iglesia Santísima Trinidad, an Anglican Church, the first non-Roman Catholic Church in the entire Spanish Empire in the Americas.

An Eastern Orthodox community, the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos/ St. Spyridon's Church is located in Trujillo Alto, and serves the small Orthodox community. The congregation represents Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Bulgarians, Americans, Moldavians, and Puerto Ricans.

In 1940, Juanita Garcia Peraza founded the Mita Congregation, the first religion of Puerto Rican origin. Taíno religious practices have been rediscovered/reinvented to a degree by a handful of advocates. African slaves brought and maintained various ethnic African religious practices associated with different peoples; in particular, the Yoruba beliefs of Santería and/or Ifá, and the Kongo-derived Palo Mayombe have adherence among a few individuals who practice some form of African traditional religion.

In 1952, a handful of American Jews established the island's first synagogue in the former residence of William Korber, a wealthy Puerto Rican of Jewish German descent, which was designed and built by the Czech architect Antonin Nechodoma. The synagogue, called Sha'are Zedeck, hired its first rabbi in 1954. Puerto Rico has the largest Jewish community in the Caribbean, numbering 3,000, and is the only Caribbean island in which the Conservative, Reform and Orthodox Jewish movements all are represented.

In 2007, there were about 5,000 Muslims in Puerto Rico, representing about 0.13% of the population Eight mosques are located throughout the island, with most Muslims living in Rio Piedras.

In 2011, the 26,546 Jehovah's Witnesses represented about 0.72% of the population, with 329 congregations.

The Padmasambhava Buddhist Centre, whose followers practice Tibetan Buddhism, has a branch in Puerto Rico.


Ricky Martin, singer

Modern Puerto Rican culture is a unique mix of cultural antecedents, including Taíno (Amerindians), Spanish, African, European and more recently, North American.

From the Spanish, Puerto Rico received the Spanish language, the Catholic religion and the vast majority of their cultural and moral values and traditions. The United States added English language influence, the university system and the adoption of some holidays and practices. On March 12 1903, the University of Puerto Rico was officially founded, branching out from the "Escuela Normal Industrial", a smaller organism that was founded in Fajardo three years before.

Kapok tree ( Ceiba), the national tree of Puerto Rico

Much of Puerto Rican culture centers on the influence of music. Like the country as a whole, Puerto Rican music has been developed by other cultures combining with local and traditional rhythms. Early in the history of Puerto Rican music, the influences of Spanish and African traditions were most noticeable. The cultural movements across the Caribbean and North America have played a vital role in the more recent musical influences that have reached Puerto Rico.

The official symbols of Puerto Rico are the Reinita mora or Puerto Rican Spindalis (a type of bird), the Flor de Maga (a type of flower), and the Ceiba or Kapok (a type of tree). The unofficial animal and a symbol of Puerto Rican pride is the Coquí, a small frog. Other popular symbols of Puerto Rico are the jíbaro (the "countryman"), and the carite.

Black Puerto Ricans

In Puerto Rico, Black Puerto Ricans or "Afroborincanos" represent up to 46% of the population. Black Puerto Ricans are able to trace their ancestry to African slaves until the practice was outlawed in 1873.


Baseball was one of the first sports to gain widespread popularity in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Baseball League serves as the only active professional league, operating as a winter league. No Major League Baseball franchise or affiliate plays in Puerto Rico, however, San Juan hosted the Montreal Expos for several series in 2003 and 2004 before they moved to Washington, D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. The Puerto Rico national baseball team has participated in the World Cup of Baseball winning one gold (1951), four silver and four bronze medals, the Caribbean Series (winning fourteen times) and the World Baseball Classic. On March 2006, San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium hosted the opening round as well as the second round of the newly formed World Baseball Classic. Famous Puerto Rican baseball players include Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Alomar, enshrined in 1973, 1999, and 2011 respectively.

Boxing, basketball, and volleyball are considered popular sports as well. Wilfredo Gómez and McWilliams Arroyo have won their respective divisions at the World Amateur Boxing Championships. Other medalists include José Pedraza, who holds a silver medal, as well as three boxers that finished in third place, José Luis Vellón, Nelson Dieppa and McJoe Arroyo. In the professional circuit, Puerto Rico has the third-most boxing world champions and its the global leader in champions per capita. These include Miguel Cotto, Félix Trinidad, Wilfred Benítez and Gómez among others. The Puerto Rico national basketball team joined the International Basketball Federation in 1957. Since then, it has won more than 30 medals in international competitions, including gold in three FIBA Americas Championships and the 1994 Goodwill Games. August 8, 2004, became a landmark date for the team when it became the first team to defeat the United States in an Olympic tournament since the integration of National Basketball Association players. Winning the inaugural game with scores of 92–73 as part of the 2004 Summer Olympics organized in Athens, Greece. Baloncesto Superior Nacional acts as the top-level professional basketball league in Puerto Rico, and has experienced success since its beginning in 1930.

Puerto Rico Islanders fans at game

The Puerto Rico Islanders Football Club, founded in 2003, plays in the United Soccer Leagues First Division, which constitutes the second tier of football in North America. Puerto Rico is also a member of FIFA and CONCACAF. In 2008, the archipelago's first unified league, the Puerto Rico Soccer League, was established.

Other sports include professional wrestling and road running and miscellaneous basketball. The World Wrestling Council and International Wrestling Association are the largest wrestling promotions in the main island. The World's Best 10K, held annually in San Juan, has been ranked among the 20 most competitive races globally. The "Puerto Rico All Stars" team, which has won twelve world championships in unicycle basketball. Organized Streetball has gathered some exposition, with teams like "Puerto Rico Street Ball" competing against established organizations including the Capitanes de Arecibo and AND1's Mixtape Tour Team. Six years after the first visit, AND1 returned as part of their renamed Live Tour, losing to the Puerto Rico Streetballers. Consequently, practitioners of this style have earned participation in international teams, including Orlando "El Gato" Meléndez, who became the first Puerto Rican born athlete to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. Orlando Antigua, whose mother is Puerto Rican, made history in 1995, when he became the first Hispanic and the first non-black in 52 years to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Puerto Rico has representation in all international competitions including the Summer and Winter Olympics, the Pan American Games, the Caribbean World Series, and the Central American and Caribbean Games. Puerto Rican athletes have won seven medals (two silver, five bronze) in Olympic competition, the first one in 1948 by boxer Juan Evangelista Venegas. The Central American and Caribbean Games were held in 1993 in Ponce and in 2010 in Mayagüez.


The first school in Puerto Rico was the Escuela de Gramatica (Grammar School). It was established by Bishop Alonso Manso in 1513, in the area where the Cathedral of San Juan was to be constructed. The school was free of charge and the courses taught were Latin language, literature, history, science, art, philosophy and theology.

Education in Puerto Rico is divided in three levels—Primary (elementary school grades 1–6), Secondary (intermediate and high school grades 7–12), and Higher Level (undergraduate and graduate studies). As of 2002, the literacy rate of the Puerto Rican population was 94.1%; by gender, it was 93.9% for males and 94.4% for females. According to the 2000 Census, 60.0% of the population attained a high school degree or higher level of education, and 18.3% has a bachelor's degree or higher.

Instruction at the primary school level is compulsory and enforced by the state between the ages of 5 and 18. The Constitution of Puerto Rico grants the right to an education to every citizen on the island. To this end, public schools in Puerto Rico provide free and non-sectarian education at the elementary and secondary levels. At any of the three levels, students may attend either public or private schools. As of 1999, there were 1532 public schools and 569 private schools in the island.

The largest and oldest university system is the public University of Puerto Rico (UPR) with 11 campuses. The largest private university systems on the island are the Sistema Universitario Ana G. Mendez which operates the Universidad del Turabo, Metropolitan University and Universidad del Este, the multi-campus Inter American University, the Pontifical Catholic University, and the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón. Puerto Rico has four schools of Medicine and four Law Schools.


Tren Urbano at Bayamón Station

Cities and towns in Puerto Rico are interconnected by a system of roads, freeways, expressways, and highways maintained by the Highways and Transportation Authority under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and patrolled by the Puerto Rico Police Department. The island's metropolitan area is served by a public bus transit system and a metro system called Tren Urbano (in English: Urban Train). Other forms of public transportation include seaborne ferries (that serve Puerto Rico's archipelago) as well as Carros Públicos ( private mini buses).

The island has three international airports, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina, Mercedita Airport in Ponce, and the Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla, and 27 local airports. The Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is the largest aerial transportation hub in the Caribbean, and one of the largest in the world in terms of passenger and cargo movement.

Puerto Rico has nine ports in different cities across the main island. The San Juan Port is the largest in Puerto Rico, and the busiest port in the Caribbean and the 10th busiest in the United States in terms of commercial activity and cargo movement, respectively. The second largest port is the Port of the Americas in Ponce, currently under expansion to increase cargo capacity to 1.5 million twenty-foot containers ( TEUs) per year.

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