General background: Populated for centuries by aboriginal
peoples, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown
in 1493 following Columbus' 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
and 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 to retain commonwealth
Area comparative: Slightly less than three
times the size of Rhode Island.
Climate: Tropical marine, mild; little seasonal
Terrain: Mostly mountains, with coastal plain
belt in north; mountains precipitous to sea on west
coast; sandy beaches along most coastal areas.
Population: 3,957,988 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: White (mostly Spanish origin)
80.5%, Black 8%, Amerindian 0.4%, Asian 0.2%, mixed
and other 10.9%
Religions: Roman Catholic 85%, Protestant
and other 15%
Language: Spanish, English
Government type: Commonwealth
Capital: San Juan
Legal system: Based on Spanish civil code
and adapted US state laws.
Economic overview: Puerto Rico has one of
the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region.
A diverse industrial sector has surpassed agriculture
as the primary locus of economic activity and income.
Encouraged by duty-free access to the US and by tax
incentives, US firms have invested heavily in Puerto
Rico since the 1950s. US minimum wage laws apply.
Sugar production has lost out to dairy production
and other livestock products as the main source of
income in the agricultural sector. Tourism has traditionally
been an important source of income, with estimated
arrivals of nearly 5 million tourists in 1999. Growth
fell off in 2001, largely due to the slowdown in the
Communication/Telephone system: Modern system,
integrated with that of the US by high-capacity submarine
cable and Intelsat with high-speed data capability.
Places of interest: