Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico associated territory of the United States

Puerto Rico was ceded to the USA after the Hispanic-American war. The Puerto Ricans were afforded American citizenship in 1917, and governors have been elected by popular mandate since 1948. At each of the plebiscites in 1967, 1993 and 1998, the population elected to remain within the Commonwealth.



Puerto Rico's flag was created in 1895, by the Puerto Rican section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party which pushed for the independence of Puerto Rico and Duba from the Spanish yoke. Its design is the same as that of the Cuban flag, but with the colours reversed. The blue triangle symbolises the republican government, and the white star represents the "Commonwealth of Puerto Rico."

General information

Area: 9 104 km2 (4 main islands: Purto Rico, Vieques, Isla Mona and Culebra)

Location: between 17°53'8" and 18°32'23" latitude north and 67°18' longitude west.

Situated in the Greater Antilles to the East of the Dominican Republic and to the West of the Virgin Islands.

Highest landmark: Cerro de Punta (1 339 m)

Capital: San Juan: 1st ranked port of the Caribbean, 5th ranked in the US, but confronted by saturation of its facilities and competition from neighbouring ports. Major airport hub of the Caribbean..

Population (2010): 3 978 702 000 inhab. (World Bank)

Exodus of 4.6 million people towards American cities.

Official language: spanish and english

Everyday languages: spanish

(used daily and in schools, spoken by 98% of the population)

Currency: US dollar

Independence Day: 4th July


Political regime

Type of State: Associated free state of the USA with the title 'Commonwealth' (with no obligations under the American federal fiscal system)

Head of State: Barak Obama (since 2009)
Head of Government: Luis Fortuño, since January 2009. He is also chairman of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), affiliated to the American Republican Party, and the first Republican Governor of Puerto Rico since 1969.
Institutions: presently, Puerto Rico is officially a "Commonwaealth." This statute allows for the election of a representative to the American Congress (to the House of Representatives), but with no voting rights. Puerto Ricans are American citizens from birth, but the islanders have no voting rights in the election for the President. However, based on the US model, the island has both a local congress and senate.

Politics and independence:

The main political parties are:

- PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresista): New Progressive Party largely dominates the two local chambers since the elections of November 2008, with 37 of the 51 seats in the Chamber of representatives and 22 of the 27 seats in the Senate. The PNP is the mouth piece of a policy of full and comprehensive integration within the United States as the 51st state of the Union.

- PPD (Partido Popular Democratico): Popular Democratic Party, supporter institutionally of the status quo, and affiliated to US Democratic Party..

- PIP (Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño): Puerto Rican Independence Party is not represented in Parliament but supported by numerous international leaders, as well as the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez, having campaigned in its favour.

Referendum anticipated before 2012. The US administration supports the principle of a two-fold consultation with the population on the island's status. A first referendum should be organised to determine whether the population is ready for a change of status. A second referendum would specify the desired outcome of such a change: independence, US state or US associated sovereignty..

International and regional organisations:

Not represented at the United Nations.

Caricom (Caribbean Community and Common market) (observer status)

ECLAC (member)

FAO (member)

ICFTU (member)


IOC (member), island has a national Olympic Committee.

WHO (member)

Brief History

Indian origins, Spanish colonisation, peopling from Africa... Puerto Rico shares a history rich in contact and exchange with its Cuban and Dominican neighbours. Even so, since the end of the 19th century it is with in the shadow of the United States tat today it is now "associated" in developing its particular identity.

Up until the 15th century, the peace-loving Tainos (originating from South America) occupy the whole of the island, living off its agricultural resources.

1493, marks the arrival of Christopher Columbus (19 November).

1508, beginnings of Spanish colonisation.

1898, Spain cedes the island at the Treaty of Paris.

1900, Puerto Rico officially becomes an American territory.

1952, Puerto Rico obtains the status of a free state associated with the Commonwealth.

1993, referendum on the island's future extends the constitutional status quo (even though 42% of the population vote in favour of annexation of the island by the United States).



The coat of arms of Puerto Rico accorded by the Spanish crown (1511) is today the oldest heraldic blazon still in use in the New World. Recast in 1976, the heraldry retained all the symbols that illustrate the influence of catholicism after the arrival of the Spanish colonists as testified by the lions of the Kingdoms of Castille and Leon. The latin motto 'Joannes est nomen ejus,' 'John is his name,' San Juan having been the original name of the island, and today that of its capital.

Demographic data

Life expectancy (2010) : 78.9 years (US Census)

Literacy rate (2009): for adults 90.5%

Density (2010): 416.5 inhab./km2

Level of urbanisation (2007): 90%

Religion: Catholic 85%, Evangelical 15%

Population: White (of Hispanic origin) 76.2%, Black 6.9%, Asian 0.3%, Amerindian 0.2%, Mixed 4.4%, others 12% (2007)

HDI: 0.951 (1998). Last UNDP report mentioning the Puerto Rican score.

Economic data

GDP (2009) : 96.26 billion US$ (World Bank)

GDP per capita (2009) : 24 164 US$ (World Bank)

Rate of growth (2009) : 3.9%

Active population (2009) : agriculture 1.1%, industry 19.2%, services 79.7%.

Unemployment rate (2010) : 16% (US Census)

Rate of inflation (2005-2009) : 5%

Public deficit (2009):rose from 2.7 to 60 billion dollar between 1972 and today.

Some strong points:

Economy owes much to US federal transfers: 20% of GDP. A fabourable fiscal situation and tax exem^pt access to US markets has helped to sustain strong investment on the part of American companies since 1950 . Traditionally, tourism is an important source of income (2.5 million tourists in 2009)

Cultural particularities

One of the cradles of Taino civilisation : numerous vestiges remains (Tibes: center of native ceremonies. DNA tests in 2003: 61% of the island population has indications of Taino blood..

Arecibo radio telescope (1974): largest in the world (300 m parabolic diameter).

Traditional activities: cock-fighting, "quinceanero."

Literature: largely produced by expatriates "Nuyoricains," dwelling around the identity and links between the aca (here) and the alla (over there).

Diaspora: 3.4 million en 2000, of which 900 000 in New York. Characterised by its fluctuating numbers (alternating migration between island and mainland).


Munoz Marin (Luis): 1st elected Puerto Rican Governor (1948), re-elected several times (1949-1965), he contributed to obtaining the status of 'Commonwealth' in 1952. The San Juan airport carries his name.

Ricky Martin: singer of internatinoal renown.

Recent events


14 June 2011: Visit by President Obama. First official visit by a serving US president on Puerto Rican soil.

Author: Maryse Verrecchia
Translation:  : Louis Shurmer-Smith