Info & Resources

Puerto Rico

Written by Staff Writer

Country Overview:
Populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 when COLUMBUS visited the island during his second voyage to the Americas. In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. Popularly-elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing for internal self government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose not to alter the existing political status.

Caribbean, island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic

Geographic coordinates:
18 15 N, 66 30 W

Area – Comparative:
Total: 13,790 sq km, land: 8,870 sq km, water: 4,921 sq km

Land boundaries:
0 km

501 km

Tropical marine, mild; little seasonal temperature variation

Mostly mountains with coastal plain belt in north; mountains precipitous to sea on west coast; sandy beaches along most coastal areas

Elevation extremes:
Caribbean Sea 0 m

Highest Point:
Cerro de Punta 1,339 m

Natural Resources:
Some copper and nickel; potential for onshore and offshore oil

3,958,128 (July 2008 est.)

Puerto Rican(s) (US citizens)

Puerto Rican

Ethnic groups:
white (mostly Spanish origin) 80.5%, black 8%, Amerindian 0.4%, Asian 0.2%, mixed 4.2%, other 6.7% (2000 census)

Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant and other 15%

Spanish, English

Country Name:
Puerto Rico

Government Type:

Capital Name:
San Juan

None (territory of the US with commonwealth status

National Holiday:
US Independence Day, 4 July (1776); Puerto Rico Constitution Day, 25 July (1952)

Ratified 3 March 1952; approved by US Congress 3 July 1952; effective 25 July 1952

Legal System:
Based on Spanish civil code and within the US Federal system of justice

Executive Branch:
Chief of state: President George W. BUSH of the US (since 20 January 2001); Vice President Richard B. CHENEY (since 20 January 2001)

Head of Government:
Governor Anibal ACEVEDO-VILA (since 2 January 2005)

Cabinet appointed by the governor with the consent of the legislature

under the US Constitution, residents of unincorporated territories, such as Puerto Rico, do not vote in elections for US president and vice president; however, they may vote in Democratic and Republican presidential primary elections; governor elected by popular vote for a four-year term (no term limits); election last held 2 November 2004 (next to be held in November 2008)

About the author

Staff Writer