Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony for almost four centuries until it was ceded to the United States following the Spanish - American War. Today, it remains geographically and culturally part of Latin America despite its close ties to the United States. Almost all residents speak Spanish as their primary language. Puerto Rico is Spanish for “rich port”. The name was first applied to its capital, San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, in the 16th century. Gradually the capital city came to be called San Juan, and the island Puerto Rico.
Since the arrival of European settlers in the 15th century, foreign powers have played an important role on the island. Spanish colonial administrators ruled with little input from residents. When Puerto Rico became a territorial possession of the United States in 1898, the U.S. appointed almost all the governing officials on the island. Although the United States extended citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1917, it remained a territorial possession. During the first half of the 20th century many Puerto Ricans were dissatisfied with U. S. rule. A growing movement for independence or at least for self-government in local matters began. In November 1948, popular party candidate Luis Munoz Marin became the first elected governor of Puerto Rico. He would win repeated elections until he left power in 1964. Munoz Martin oversaw the Operation Bootstrap, which was designed to industrialize and urbanize the island by utilizing low wages and tax concessions to promote investment. During the 1950s and 60s the economy boomed. Operation Bootstrap also promoted migration to the mainland to provide labor for U.S. industry. After 1945, over a million Puerto Ricans immigrated to the U.S. The island undertook a program to develop light manufacturing and improve service industries such as banking. Tourism also became a major industry, annually attracting millions of visitors. Nevertheless, the economy remained heavily dependent on outside markets, sharp fluctuations in demand and prices, tourists and various subsidies from the United States. During the recession in 1980s, the result for Puerto Rico was high unemployment, which caused another large wave of migration to the main land. Operation Bootstrap was a success. Puerto Rico’s economy experienced a downturn in the mid-1970s. A severe recession in the U.S. economy resulted in fewer U.S. purchases and investments and a decline in tourism on the island. American minimum wage laws and the island’s increased prosperity had resulted in a higher-wage level, which made the island less able to compete with other developing areas for labor-intensive, low-capital industries. The island’s economy recovered by the mid-1980s when the United States increased its investment to the region the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a program providing tax-free access to U.S. markets for certain products from the Caribbean region. Congress eliminated this program in 1996. Today the Puerto Rican economy has become increasingly integrated into the U.S. economy. In 1998 about 90 percent of the island’s export went to the mainland and 60 percent of imports came from there. Other significant markets are the Dominican Republic, Japan, Germany, and Venezuela.
Under the provisions of its 1952 constitution, Puerto Rico is commonwealth freely associated with the United States. The Puerto Rican government maintains control over local issues, but the island is required to comply with most federal legislation. Puerto Ricans are citizens of U.S. , they serve in the armed forces and are subject to nearly all federal laws. Citizens of Puerto Rico are exempt from federal taxes, however they pay commonwealth taxes. The United States is responsible for the island’s defense, foreign affairs and trade.
On July 4th 1985 thousands of Puerto Ricans rallied in San Juan, calling for complete independence. Protesters described Puerto Rico’s “colonial” status, which made the island more dependent on the United States than any other region of Latin America. Unemployment was over 30 percent, and more than half of the population received welfare benefits. In 1988 Rafael Hernandez Colon was reelected governor. He promised a referendum on the island’s status. In December 1991 a referendum on the status question produced no clear majority in favor of closer integration with the U.S. A month later R. H. Colon resigned. In the new referendum on November 14th 1993, voters rejected statehood: 48.4 percent favored current commonwealth status, 46.2 percent supported statehood, and 4.4 percent voted for independence. In March 1998 the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would provide a referendum to determine Puerto Rico’s permanent political status with regard to statehood. In December of the same year the Puerto Ricans electorate voted against statehood by a margin of 50.2 percent to 46.5 percent. In April 1999 two military aircraft accidentally bombed a lookout post in Puerto Rico during exercises over the island of Vieques, killing one person and injuring four others. Residents of Vieques had been campaigning for years against the use of the island for bombing practice. News that the bombing might be resumed brought an estimated 85,000 people out into the streets in February 2000 to demonstrate their disapproval and also to occupation of the island by campers. In May 2000 the yearlong protest was ended though forcible removal of the civilians from Vieques. In June 2001 the U.S. announced it would cease using Vieques for target practice by May 2003; bombing resumed in April 2002.
Official name: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico; Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Political status: self-governing commonwealth in association with the U.S.
Chief of State: President of the United States – G. W. Bush
Head of government: Governor Sila Maria Calderon
Official language: Spanish, English
GNP: $7010 per capita
Imports: $27.308.700.000 (1997-98)
Exports: $33.416.400.000 (1997-98)
· The Encyclopedia of World History, 6th edition; Houghton Mifflin Company
· A History of the Modern World, 9th edition; Palmer, Colton Kramer]
· The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States, Jorge Duany