Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado
de Puerto Rico) is a self-governing polity in association
with 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.
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The nature of Puerto Rico's political relationship with the
United States is the subject of ongoing debate in the island.
Supporters of maintaining the status quo (i.e., Commonwealth
status) insist that upon attaining this status, Puerto Rico
entered into a voluntary association with the U.S. "in
the nature of a compact", but opponents of Commonwealth
disagree: according to them, Puerto Rico is no more than an
unincorporated organized territory of the U.S., subject to
the plenary powers of the United States Congress. According
to several status polls, nearly half the population believes
that Puerto Rico should join the United States as a state.
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 first European contact was made by Christopher
Columbus during his second voyage to the Antilles, on November 19, 1493. Some
say that Puerto Rico was not discovered by Columbus but by Martín Alonso
Pinzón in 1492 when he separated from Columbus and went exploring on his
own. The Pinzón family was given one year by the Spanish court to start
a settlement in Puerto Rico which would give them a claim to the island. However,
they did not succeed. Originally named San Juan Bautista, in honor of Saint John
the Baptist, the island ultimately took the name of Puerto Rico (Rich Port), while
the name San Juan is now delegated to its capital and largest city. Spanish conquistador
Juan Ponce de León became the island's first governor to take office, while
Vicente Yáñez Pinzón was the first appointed governor, although
he never arrived on the island.
The island was soon colonized and briefly became an important
stronghold and port for the Spanish empire in the Caribbean.
However, colonial emphasis during the late 17th18th
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 El Castillo de 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 Iberian
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 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, toward the end of the century, by Luis Múñoz
Rivera. In 1897, Múñoz 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 annul any legislative decision he disagreed
with, and a partially elected parliamentary structure.
On July 25, 1898 at the outbreak of the SpanishAmerican
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, along with Cuba and
the Phillippines, 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. Natural disasters
and the Great Depression impoverished the island. Some political
leaders demanded change; some, like Pedro Albizu Campos, would
lead a nationalist (The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party) movement
in favor of independence. He would eventually die by what
he claimed was a conspiracy set in place by the U.S. Federal
Government. Múñoz Rivera initially favored independence,
but saw a severe decline of the Puerto Rican economy, as well
as growing violence and uprisings, at the hands of the U.S.
government and opted to create the "commonwealth"
option as an eventual stepping stone to full independence.
Luis Múñoz Marín, first democratically
elected governor of Puerto RicoChange in the nature of governance
of the island came about during the latter years of the RooseveltTruman
administrations, as a form of compromise spearheaded by Luis
Múñoz 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. Luis Múñoz
Marín would become the first elected governor of Puerto
On November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists Griselio Torresola
and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate President Harry
S. Truman. In response, Truman allowed for a genuinely democratic
referendum in Puerto Rico to determine the status of its relationship
to the United States .
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 in recent 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 the United States. However, commonwealth--which
once had the support of well over 75% of the voting 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, once the second leading ideology on the island in the
general elections, is now supported by 36% of the voting