PUERTO RICO, officially Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Span. Estado
Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico), freely associated commonwealth of
the U.S. Composed of one large island and several small islands, Puerto
Rico is bordered on the N by the Atlantic Ocean, on the E by the
Virgin Passage (which separates it from the Virgin Islands), on the S
by the Caribbean Sea, and on the W by the Mona Passage (which
separates it from the Dominican Republic).
Puerto Rico flag
Puerto Rico became a U.S. commonwealth on July 25, 1952. It was
claimed by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and was subsequently a Spanish possession before the
U.S. gained control in 1898. Its name, Spanish for “rich port,” was first applied to its capital,
known as San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico in the 16th century. Gradually, the city came to be
called San Juan and the island Puerto Rico. The name formerly was spelled Porto Rico. Puerto
Rico is sometimes called the Island of Enchantment.
PUERTO RICO FACTS
BECAME A COMMONWEALTH: July 25, 1952
CAPITAL: San Juan
MOTTO: Joannes est nomen ejus (John is thy name)
ANTHEM: “La Borinqueña” (music by Felix Astol y ArtÉs)
POPULATION (2000): 3,808,610
9104 sq km (3515 sq mi), includes 145 sq km (56 sq mi) of
COASTLINE: 501 km (311 mi)
HIGHEST POINT: Cerro de Punta, 1338 m (4389 ft)
LOWEST POINT: Sea level
COMMONWEALTH 27 members of the senate; 53 members of the house of
GOVERNOR: Sila María Calderón (PD) Took office January 2001
LAND AND RESOURCES
Puerto Rico is a mountainous, tropical island directly in the path of the trade winds. These
conditions account for its tropical rain forest and tropical wet and dry climates. Except at
night, in the highest areas, the air is always warm. There is little difference from season to
season in the energy received from the sun, and the length of the day remains fairly constant
throughout the year.. The average annual temperature at San Juan, in the N, is about 26° C
(about 79° F), and the city receives some 1500 mm (some 59 in) of precipitation each year.
Puerto Rico is sometimes struck by hurricanes traveling from the E, especially from August to
Plants and Animals.
Several thousand varieties of tropical plants grow in Puerto Rico. A tropical rain forest in the
NE section of the island has tree ferns, orchids, and mahogany trees; part of this tropical area
is included in the Caribbean National Forest. In the dry SW corner of Puerto Rico are cactus
and bunch grass.
Puerto Rico has no large wild mammals. The mongoose was brought in to control rats on
sugarcane plantations. Iguanas and many small lizards abound, and bats are present. The island
has one animal found almost nowhere else in the world—the coquí, a small tree frog that
produces a loud, clear “song” from the branches of trees at night. Barracuda, kingfish, mullet,
Spanish mackerel, tuna, lobster, and oysters are among the marine life inhabiting coastal
According to the 2000 census, Puerto Rico had 3,808,610 inhabitants, an increase of about 8.1%
over 1990. The great majority of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants are of Hispanic or Latino background;
Spanish and English are the joint official languages of the commonwealth. The people are
primarily Roman Catholic. The largest communities in Puerto Rico included San Juan, the capital;
Bayamón; Carolina; Ponce; Caguas; and Guaynabo.
EDUCATION AND CULTURAL ACTIVITY
In the 20th century Puerto Rico greatly improved its educational institutions, and by the early
1980s nearly 90% of the adult population was literate, compared with some 67% in 1940. The
commonwealth also contains a number of notable cultural institutions and historical sites.
The University of Puerto Rico, founded in 1903, is the oldest institution of higher education in
Puerto Rico. In the late 1980s the commonwealth had a total of 55 institutions of higher
education with a combined enrollment of about 153,000 students.
Puerto Rico’s Spanish heritage is preserved in many sites in San Juan, especially in the insular
part of the city known as Old San Juan. Among these sites are El Morro and San Cristóbal
fortresses, both part of San Juan National Historic Site; La Fortaleza, once a fortress and now
the governor’s palace, its oldest section completed in 1540; Old Santo Domingo Convent, built
between 1523 and 1528; and Fort San Geronimo (completed late 18th cent.).
Sports and Recreation.
Puerto Rico’s mild climate and sandy beaches make it a popular recreation area, especially for
swimming, fishing, boating, tennis, and golf. Both horse racing and cockfighting attract many
spectators. Baseball, basketball, and boxing also are popular sports in Puerto Rico.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is governed under a constitution of 1952, as amended. An
amendment to the constitution may be proposed by the commonwealth’s legislature or by a
constitutional convention. To become effective an amendment must be approved by a majority
of persons voting on an issue in an election. Puerto Ricans share most rights and obligations of
other U.S. citizens; residents of the commonwealth may not vote in U.S. presidential elections,
however, and, except for federal employees and members of the U.S. armed forces, are not
required to pay federal income taxes.
The chief executive of Puerto Rico is a governor, who is popularly elected to a 4-year term and
who may be reelected any number of times. The secretary of state succeeds the governor
should the latter resign, die, or be removed from office. The governor, with the consent of the
legislature, appoints the heads of the commonwealth’s executive departments.
The bicameral Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly is made up of a senate and a house of
representatives. In the early 1990s the senate had 27 members, and the house had 53
members. Legislators are popularly elected to 4-year terms.
Puerto Rico is represented by a nonvoting resident delegate in the U.S. Congress. The delegate
is elected by Puerto Ricans to a 4-year term.
Economic development in Puerto Rico has historically lagged well behind that of most mainland
states of the U.S. Significant improvements have been made in economic conditions since the
late 1940s, however, after the development program known as Operation Bootstrap was begun
by the government. Operation Bootstrap was an attempt to improve the Puerto Rican economy…
It encouraged United States businesses’ to build factories in Puerto Rico. These businesses
would not have to pay taxes to the Puerto Rican government for 15-17 years. They did not have
to pay United States taxes either. Growth has occurred largely through stimulation of the
manufacturing sector. Much development has been concentrated in the San Juan metropolitan
area. In the early 1990s manufacturing was the leading economic activity, and government,
commerce, and tourism also were important sources of income.
PRINCIPAL PRODUCTS OF PUERTO RICO (early 1990s)
MANUFACTURING $2.2 billion
Chemicals and allied products (pharmaceuticals) $555 million
Food and kindred products $287 million
Electronic equipment $285 million
Apparel and textile mill products $273 million
Instruments and related products $142 million
The warm year-round climate in Puerto Rico and its abundant sunshine and coastal beaches
attract about 3.5 million tourists each year; spending by visitors exceeds $1.4 billion annually.
Their primary destination is the San Juan area, where numerous luxury hotels are located.
Christopher Columbus reached the island and claimed it for Spain on Nov. 19, 1493. He named it
San Juan Bautista. It became known as Puerto Rico after 1521, when the city of San Juan had
been founded and given the island’s original name.
Spanish Conquest and Settlement.
Puerto Rico was conquered for Spain in 1509 by Juan Ponce de León, who became the first
governor. The island was originally peopled by the Borinqueno Indians, an agricultural people who
were enslaved and largely exterminated as the result of harsh treatment. As the Indians were
decimated, they were replaced by black African slaves who worked the plantations and sugar
Privateers and pirates harassed the island’s residents during the early colonial years. The
Spanish constructed strong fortifications and in 1595 defeated the English navigators Sir
Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins when they attempted to capture Puerto Rico; Hawkins was
mortally wounded. Raids, however, continued for a long time. San Juan was burned during a
Dutch attack in 1625, and the English sacked Arecibo in 1702.
Spanish-American War and U.S. Control.
As a result of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. by the Treaty of
Paris, Dec. 10, 1898. In 1900 the U.S. Congress established a civil government on the island. U.S.
citizenship was granted to Puerto Ricans in 1917, and the U.S. instituted measures designed to
solve various economic and social problems of the overpopulated island.. Irrigation projects
were also initiated. During World War II the island became a key U.S. military base. Naval
bases were constructed in San Juan harbor and on Culebra. In 1948 Luis Munoz Marin became
the first elected governor of the island.
On June 4, 1951, Puerto Rican voters approved in a referendum a U.S. law that granted them
the right to draft their own constitution. The constituent assembly began its deliberations in
the following September. In March 1952 the electorate approved the new constitution, and on
July 25 Gov. Muñoz proclaimed the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The Statehood Question.
In 1952, after Puerto Rico was granted commonwealth status, dissatisfaction with the island's
political status continued. A commission appointed by the U.S. Congress concluded that three
options—commonwealth, statehood, or independence—should be considered in a plebiscite (a
vote by which the people of an entire country or district express an opinion for or against a
proposal especially on a choice of government or ruler), which was held in July 1967. The people
of Puerto Rico rejected the statehood proposal three times in the next three decades.
Washington policymakers, in turn, have highlighted the Puerto Ricans' inability to reach a
consensus on political status. Several members of Congress have expressed doubts about the
ability of the United States to absorb a Spanish-speaking state, while others have voiced
concern that statehood would sharply increase the already large amount of federal funds
flowing to the island.
Few Puerto Ricans consider political status to be one of the key problems facing the
commonwealth, but the island's leaders continue to push for a resolution. The vast majority of
the people clearly value some form of permanent association with the United States, although
Puerto Ricans fiercely embrace their language and Hispanic-American culture; some have even
pointed out that, under statehood, Puerto Rico could no longer field its own teams for the
Olympic Games. As the debate continues during the 21st century, striking parallels may be
drawn to the period of Spanish colonial rule, when the choices of full assimilation (statehood),
autonomy (commonwealth), or independence for the island were also deliberated but never fully
Tropical Rain Forest
El Yunque is the local name for The Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico.
A tropical rain forest is found in warm climates in the tropics close to the equator. There are
many tropical rain forests around the world. El Yunque is the only Tropical Rain Forest in the
United State's National Forest System.
A rain forest is a quiet place but at El Yunque you can hear the ocassional coquí or two chirping
in the middle of the day. The ground is wet and muddy and is shaded by tall trees. The trees
have huge trunks with small plants growing on them. There are vines hanging from their
branches. There are small insects flying amidst the rain, fog, or mist. On the trees you might
see colorful birds, and butterflies. Many other animals hide in the branches and even under
leaves on the ground. The abundant rainfall is shed through rocky rivers creating many cascades
of waterfalls and pools. Everywhere you look, is green. Orchids (some only the size of a
fingernail) and bromeliads perch in the trees.
"Yuke" means white lands and refers to the mountain tops usually covered by clouds. The Taíno
Indians of Puerto Rico considered their mountain range sacred. Taíno petroglyphs are sprinkled
throughout the sacred Luquillo mountain range. El Toro, at 3533 Ft is the tallest peak.
Up to 240 inches of rain per year have been recorded on the higher peaks. More than 100 billion
gallons of rainwater fall on the Forest per year. Here it rains about 4 times a day. The result of
such heavy rainfall and the warm tropical climate is a dense evergreen forest containing 240
native tree species (26 found only at El Yunque), and masses of vines, 50 native orchids,
epiphytes, giant ferns, and mosses. Air plants such as orchids, grow on the trunks and branches
of the trees. Woody air plant vines called, lianas, hang from and often wrap around tree trunks
The roots of rain forest trees do not go down very deep, so they can take up only water and
food found near the top of the soil. The thick parts on the tree trunks are called buttresses
keep the large trees from falling over.
The top layer of a tropical rain forests is called the canopy. The canopy is the tops of the trees
which are the branches and leaves. Many rain forest animals live in the canopy. Below the canopy
is the layer called the understory. This layer is made up mostly of tree trunks, young trees and
air plants. The bottom layer of the forest is called the forest floor. The forest floor has few
plants growing because the soil is very thin. It is made up mostly of dead plant parts, fallen tree
trunks covered in with moss, ferns, and fungi.
The rain forest is home to many species of animals. Frogs and spiders hide under leaves. Ants,
spiders, beetles, and even termites live under tree bark or in the soil. Snakes slither along the
ground or wind around tree branches. Rodents and other small animals abound. Here you can find
snails with shells as big as a child's fist. At night the forest comes alive. Millions of insects fill
the air. Moths suck nectar from flowers, bats fly out of their nesting place to feed. Millions of
coquíes climb tree branches to feed on the insects. The forest is lit by thousands of cucubanos.
Bats and owls fly from their nests. Coquies sing at night.
At El Yunque there 50 species of birds, 11 species of bats, 8 species of lizards, and 13 species
of coquí (a tree frog). Also found here are several species of shrimp and fish. Snakes are rare.
The Puerto Rican Boa, which can reach a length of 90 inches, can be found. El Yunque is a small
rain forest and there are no large primates such as gorillas or monkeys. There are no wild pigs
The Puerto Rican parrot is a small amazon parrot, about 11 inches in length and
weighing about 10 ounces. Its tail is a short and squared-off, as opposed to
the long, pointed tail of a parakeet. The overall color of the Puerto Rican
parrot is green. The wing tips are blue and usually are visible only when the
bird is in flight. It has a white ring around the eyes and a red blaze above its
Tropical rain forests provides us with beautiful woods such as mahogany,
teak, and rosewood. At El Yunque, majestic tabonuco trees drape the lower
forest while giant tree ferns fan in the wind. Rain forests are also
important for the environment by taking large amounts of carbon dioxide
out of the air and giving us fresher cleaner air.
El Yunque Tropical Rain Forest is in danger of being destroyed. Too many
trees have been cut. Civilization is getting too close to the forest. When
the forest disappears the animals that live there will also disappear.