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Puerto Rico

Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico) is a self-governing unincorporated organized territory of the United States located east of the Dominican Republic in the northeastern Caribbean. Puerto Rico, the smallest of the Greater Antilles, includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands and keys, including Mona, Vieques, and Culebra. Of the latter three, only Culebra and Vieques are inhabited year-round. Mona is uninhabitated through large parts of the year except for employees of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources. People can visit the island for hiking and camping by getting the required permits.

When Europeans first arrived, the island of Puerto Rico was inhabited by a group of Arawak Indians known as Taínos. The Taínos called the island "Borikén". The island was soon colonized and became briefly an important stronghold and port for the Spanish empire in the Caribbean. However, colonial emphasis during the late 17th-18th centuries, focused on the more prosperous mainland territories, leaving the island impoverished of settlers. Concerned about threats from its European enemies, over the centuries various forts and walls were built to protect the port of San Juan. Fortresses such as La Fortaleza, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristóbal were built. The French, Dutch and English made attempts to capture Puerto Rico, but failed to wrest long-term occupancy of the island.

In 1809, while Napoleon occupied the majority of the Spanish peninsula, a populist assembly based in Cadiz recognized Puerto Rico as an overseas province of Spain with the right to send representatives to the Spanish Court. The representative Ramon Power y Giralt died soon after arriving in Spain; and constitutional reforms were reversed when autocratic monarchy was restored. Nineteenth century reforms augmented the population and economy, and expanded the local character of the island. After the rapid gains of independence by the South and Central American states in the first part of the century, Puerto Rico and Cuba became the sole New World remnants of the large Spanish empire.

Toward the end of the 19th century, poverty and political estrangement with Spain led to a small but significant uprising in 1868 known as "El Grito de Lares". The Puerto Rican goal was to achieve personal freedom, the abolition of slavery, and full self-government. The uprising was easily and quickly crushed. Leaders of this independence movement included Ramón Emeterio Betances, considered the "father" of the Puerto Rican nation, and other political figures such as Segundo Ruiz Belvis. Later another political stronghold was the autonomist movement originated by Roman Baldorioty de Castro, and towards the end of the century, by Luis Muñoz Rivera. In 1897, Muñoz Rivera and others persuaded the liberal Spanish government to agree to a Charters of Autonomy for Cuba and Puerto Rico. The following year Puerto Rico's first, but short-lived autonomous government was organized. The charter maintained a governor appointed by Spain, who held the power to anull any legislative decision he disagreed with, and a partially elected parliamentary structure.

On July 25, 1898 at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico, being a colony of Spain was invaded by the United States of America with a landing at Guánica. Spain was forced to cede Puerto Rico to the United States under the Treaty of Paris (1898). The twentieth century began under the military regime of the United States with officials, including the governor, appointed by the President of the United States. In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act approved by the United States Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Change in the nature of governance of the island came about during the latter years of the Roosevelt-Truman administrations, as a form of compromise spearheaded by Luis Muñoz Marín and others, and which culminated with the appointment by President Harry S. Truman in 1946 of the first Puerto Rican-born governor, Jesús T. Piñero. In 1948, the United States granted the right to democratically elect the governor of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico adopted its own constitution in 1952 which adopted a commonwealth relationship with the United States. During the 1950s Puerto Rico experienced a rapid industrialization, with such projects as Operation Bootstrap which aimed to industrialize Puerto Rico's economy from agriculture-based into manufacturing-based.

Present-day Puerto Rico has become a major tourist destination and a leading pharmaceutical and manufacturing center. Still, Puerto Rico continues to struggle to define its political status. A number of plebiscites have been held over the last decades to decide whether Puerto Rico should request independence, enhanced commonwealth status, or statehood. Narrow victories by commonwealth supporters over statehood advocates have not yielded substantial changes in the relationship between the island and United States. However, commonwealth, which once had the support of well over 75% of the population, now has less than 50% support. This decrease has been met with an expanded support for statehood for the island, with both groups holding an equal share of support. The independence ideal is supported by less than 3% of the population.


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