What Is Puerto Rico? Is Puerto Rico a Country?

(Last Updated On: April 30, 2019)
What Is Puerto Rico? Is Puerto Rico a Country?

In this post, we’re setting our sights towards Puerto Rico as we attempt to answer the following questions: What is Puerto Rico in the first place? Is Puerto Rico a country? What is the history of Puerto Rico? And just where is Puerto Rico located on a map?

What Is Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island boasting a population of about 3.3 million people. With a total area of 3,515 square miles, Puerto Rico is the third largest island in the entire Carribean; just behind Cuba and Hispaniola. The capital city of Puerto Rico is San Juan.

So is Puerto Rico a country? No!

Puerto Rico is classified as an unincorporated territory of the United States. As such, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the US, subject to federal laws. They do not, however, have voting representation in the US Congress, and cannot vote in Presidential elections. They use the USD as their source of currency, and the two official languages of the territory are Spanish and English.

Further reading: Will Puerto Rico Ever Become a State?

Where Is Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. It is east of the Dominican Republic and slightly west of the Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico’s Caribbean location provides the island with a warm temperature all year round. Their climate is classified as tropical marine and maintains year-round temperatures of 70-80 °F.

The landscape is mostly made up of rainforests, with the main mountain range of Cordillera Central going right through the middle of the island, splitting up the Northern and Southern parts of the territory. Although they do experience a rainy season from April to November, the amount of rainfall that occurs throughout the island varies greatly.

Puerto Rico on a Map
Puerto Rico on a map

The History of Puerto Rico

Some of the earliest inhabitants of Puerto Rico were the Taíno peoples, who settled the land over a thousand years before Spanish colonists arrived. In 1493, Christopher Colombus claimed the island in the name of Spain and renamed it from Borinquén (which is what the Taíno called it) to San Juan Bautista. By 1521, the Spanish colonists began to call their settlement Puerto Rico. Over time, this name was applied to the entire island.

European arrival in the Carribean would devastate the thriving Taíno peoples. In less than 100 years, smallpox had killed off the vast majority of the indigenous population. Those who survived were ultimately enslaved by Spanish immigrants.

The next two centuries saw the island ruled over by colonial Spanish powers. However, that all changed during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The war lasted less than a year, and ended with the Treaty of Paris. Per the terms of the treaty, Spain had to officially surrender its claim over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. The Spanish got just $20 million in return.

For the next two years, a US military government ruled over Puerto Rico. However, in 1900, the US passed the Foraker Act. This allowed for the development of a civil government in Puerto Rico. In 1917, every Puerto Rican citizen gained American citizenship through the newly passed Jones-Shafroth Act. This was largely a move to make the males of Puerto Rico eligible to serve in World War I.

It wasn’t until the end of World War II that the US Congress finally allowed Puerto Rico to elect its own governor. Then in 1952, Puerto Rico officially became a US commonwealth and was granted a larger degree of autonomy.

Puerto Rico Today

Today, Puerto Rico remains a popular tourist destination, noted for its warm climate, vibrant culture, and delicious food.

However, in the last couple of decades, Puerto Rico has also had to deal with an ongoing economic crisis. It has gotten so bad that in 2017, the island had to declare bankruptcy in order to deal with their $70 billion in debt. This financial situation is one of the leading reasons why such a large percentage of Puerto Ricans live under the poverty line.

In order to deal with the rising prevalence of environmentalism and their poor financial situation, Puerto Rico has recently been making big changes throughout the island to switch to clean energy sources. They hope to have their entire reliance on coal eliminated as of next year.               

Did you like this post? Learn more about the islands of the Caribbean on the Sporcle Blog.

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