The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

An Overview

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The island of Puerto Rico is located in the Caribbean, about 900 miles southeast of Miami. With a land area of 3,500 square miles, it is about the size of Connecticut. Puerto Rico has a population of 3.7 million, primarily of Spanish descent.

Christopher Columbus landed on Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493, during his second voyages to the New World. He claimed the island for Isabella, Queen of Spain, and named it San Juan Baptista (St. John the Baptist). Puerto Rico's settlement began in earnest in 1508, when the Spanish commander on the nearby island of Hispanola sent Ponce de Leon to begin colonizing the island of San Juan. The Borinquen Indians who met Ponce de Leon were peaceful, freindly, agricultural people, and what began as a mission of conquest became a peaceful occupation.

Welcomed by the Borinquens, Ponce de Leon had little difficulty, except for the terrain, in surveying the island. He established a settlement, called Caparra, near to the present-day capital city of San Juan. In 1511, the settlement of Caparra's name was changed to Ciudad de Puerto Rico (City of Rich Port). Gradually, by general usage, the settlement was called "San Juan" and the island itself "Puerto Rico."

Over the years, the British, French, and Dutch mounted fierce attacks on San Juan, trying to take the important sea port from the Spanish. As a point of defense, the Spanish built La Fortaleza (The Fort), which today serves as the Governor's official residence. This base was later fortified by construction of the massive San Felipe el Morro and San Cristobal forts, which overlook the entrance to San Juan harbor. These forts are preserved as National Historic Sites. Despite these outside attacks, insurrections by African slaves brought to work the land, the indifference of the Spanish motherland, and political insurrections in nearby Cuba and other Spanish colonies against their European masters, Puerto Rico survived and prospered as an agricultural producer.

Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States in 1898. A civilian government was formed in 1900, and by 1917 Puerto Ricans were made citizens of the United States. Luis Munoz Marin became Puerto Rico's first popularly elected Governor in 1948 and served four more consecutive terms, until 1964. Munoz Marin was an advocate of a change in Puerto Rico's political status, and in 1952 found success when the U.S. Congress ratified the island's status as a commonwealth of the United States. Under this status, residents of Puerto Rico were able to devise and adopt their own constitution. Since that time, there have been several plebescites to allow the residents of Puerto Rico to decide whether they wanted their island to remain a commonwealth, become a state of the United States, or become an independent nation. To date, commonwealth status has been the majority choice, although statehood advocates have grown in number.

Puerto Rico has advertised itself as "the other continent" and this description is fitting, because Puerto Rico is extremely diverse, ranging from exotic resort hotels and casinos situated on sandy beaches, to large high-rise office and apartment buildings, to large agricultural tracts with bananas, pineapples, and other crops, to high tech manufacturing plants, to Old World historical treasures, to sleepy mountainside villages situated among tropical rain forests. Although there was widespread emigration of Puerto Ricans to the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, economic growth in both the tourist and indutrial sectors has resulted in a much improved economy.

Photo Album

[All photos by the web master]

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico's northern (Atlantic) coast

Puerto Rico
Fort San Felipe del Morro, San Juan

Puerto Rico
Traditional Spanish guards in Old San Juan

Puerto Rico
One of Puerto Rico's many beautiful beaches

Puerto Rico
El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico's interior

Puerto Rico
A Mercury-Atlas rocket at P.R.'s Science Park

For More Information

The above information is based on:

Walking Tours of San Juan
Caribbean World Communications
Santurce, PR: 1985


Que' Pasa: The Official Guide to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico Tourism Company
San Juan, PR: 1994

For more information on Puerto Rico, check out:

The Puerto Rico Visitors Bureau Web Site

The Welcome to Puerto Rico Web Site

The Escape to Puerto Rico Web Site

The Puerto Rico Magazine Web Site

or contact:

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company
Tel. 800-223-6530 or 787-721-2400

The Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association
Miramar Plaza, Suite 307
954 Ponce de Leon Avenue
Miramar, PR 00907-3636

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Last Updated: January 1, 2003