History of Puerto Rico
Not much is known about life on the Puerto Rico island before the coming of the European colonists. The culture that inhabited the island didn’t leave much archeological evidence of their customs and civilization in general. The little that we do know mostly comes for the early records of the Spanish scholars that had a chance to explore the area. Historians only have some recreational activities sites, rock carvings and cave drawings to go on when trying to solve the puzzle of the original inhabitants of the island.
Ortoiroid people are believed to be the first inhabitants of the island. After them, a tribe from the Orinoco River region, Igneri came to the region somewhere around 200 AD. However, somewhere between 600 AD and 1000 AD the Taino people became the dominant culture in the region, and it was them whom Columbus had met when he came to the island in 1493. At the time, there where anywhere between 30,000 and 60,000 of them inhabiting the island. They lived in smaller communities led by chieftains called cacique. They primarily dealt with gathering fruit, fishing and hunting. The influence of these indigenous people is still felt in the culture of the present day Puerto Rico.
When Columbus came to the island, he decided to name it San Juan Bautista, with the intention of honoring Saint John the Baptist. In 1508, one of Columbus’ commanders, Juan Ponce de Leon founded Caparra, the first Spanish settlement on the island. However, the sailors and merchants that were constantly getting more numerous in the region started referring to it as Puerto Rico, and using its old name, San Juan to refer to the island’s main port.
Not long after the Columbus’ arrival, the Spanish started coming in larger numbers and colonizing the island. This proved to be devastating for the indigenous people, who either died from the diseases that they encountered for the first time with the coming of the Europeans, or ended up as slaves to the colonists. Their oppression lasted until 1520 and the emancipation that they were granted by King Charles I of Spain, but by that time, they were almost obliterated as a people.
After the emancipation, colonists, who were now used to having slaves, started bringing in African slaves in large numbers, still, Puerto Rico still didn’t have nearly as many slaves as some of the other islands in its vicinity. The slaves that were brought were needed the most in coastal cities and in ports, which is where the vast majority of the colonists lived. It wasn’t too long before the island became a base for the further Spanish exploration and colonization. As the island aroused the interest of other European colonists, primarily the French and the British, forts such as El Castillo de San Cristóbal, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and La Fortaleza were erected in the case of an all-out assault.
The interior of the island was still pretty much unexplored by the Spaniards well up into the 18th century. They were focusing on other nearby regions and have completely neglected the inner parts of Puerto Rico. However, after losing control over some of their larger colonies, their attention was once again diverted to the island. The beginning of the 19th century has seen the uprising of several independence movements on the island, however they were unsuccessful. One way of fighting against the independence movements was the 1815 Royal Decree of Graces that was revived by the Spanish Crown. It was published in three languages, French, English and Spanish, and its goal was to attract as many European settlers to the island as was possible. The Spanish Crown hoped that if the European population grew and eventually outweighed the numbers of the indigenous people that the impact of independence movements will lessen, until they are completely quenched. The decree performed rather well, attracting wave after wave of settlers from Scotland, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France and Corsica. Free land was also offered to the new settlers, with the same goal, provided that they were willing to convert to the Roman Catholic Church and swear fealty to the Spanish Crown.
This, however, did nothing to dissuade the revolutionary movements, which persisted until finally, in 1897, the Spanish government was persuaded to grant the island at least some sort of autonomy. For a brief period, the country was considered an overseas province of Spain. The Governor of the province was appointed by the Spanish government and had the authority to veto any legislative decision that the local government made.
By this point, the United States have long been contemplating the importance of a naval base in the Caribbean that could be used for resupplying and repairs of the US ships. The US have even made offers to the Spanish government regarding the purchase of Cuba and Puerto Rico. However, Spain didn’t find their offer of $160 million for both islands enticing enough, and they declined.
It is speculated that, apart from its strategic value, Puerto Rico was also interesting to the US because it was quite rich in sugar. Regardless of the exact reasons, during the Spanish-American War, in 1898 US invaded Puerto Rico. Once the war was over, Guam, Philippines and Puerto Rico were ceded to the United States by a provision of the Treaty of Paris.
The island was governed by the US officials and military throughout at the very beginning of the 20th century. However, in 1900, the country was given the right to elect some of its own officials, and the development of its judicial branch was underway. US still had great influence on the legislature in the country and the governance in general, but people of Puerto Rico were given at least some influence over their fate. The inhabitants of the island started being considered US citizens in 1917. This was not exactly too good of a deal for them, as it didn’t give them a right to vote in presidential elections, but it did give the US military the authority to draft them for the World War I (and all the conflicts that followed).A surge of misfortunes in the country, including the effects of the Great Depression and a number of natural disasters have riled up the passions of the people, and have ultimately led to what is now known as the Ponce Massacre. This terrible event happened in the city of Ponce in 1937, when a number of people gathered for a march that was meant to voice their displeasure with the current situation in their country. March was interrupted by the Insular Police (which was at the time under the authority of the governor appointed by the United States) which opened fire on the protesters, killing 19 people and badly wounding more than 200 of them.
It wasn’t until 1943 that the first bill for the independence of the island was proposed by a US senator, but the bill was rejected. However, three years later in 1946, Puerto Rico did move one step closer to independence with the appointment of the first local born Governor. In the very next year, the country was granted the right to hold its own democratic Governor elections. However, this didn’t mean that the people of the island were completely free. In 1948, a bill that was to become known as the Law 53, was accepted. This law was meant to discourage groups of dissenters and independence advocates that were still quite numerous on the island. Basically it prohibited fighting for the island, talking about the independence of Puerto Rico, singing patriotic songs and even flying the flag of Puerto Rico. The penalty for disobeying the law was a $10,000 fine, ten years in prison, or both. The law was found unconstitutional in 1957.
It was in 1952 that the Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved by the US President Truman, and ratified by the US Congress. It is also in the 50s that the state shifted its industrial focus from agriculture to manufacturing. The island has since been developing its pharmaceutical manufacturing sector as well as their tourism potentials.
Economy of Puerto Rico
In the beginning of the 20th century the economy of the island mostly relied on agriculture, but the middle part of the century has witnessed a shift to manufacturing. This was mainly caused by the tax exemptions that were a part of the Operation Bootstrap. External investments have helped the country recover from the effects of the Great Depression, and develop technological, pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries. While the country used to receive certain tax benefits, it is now an equal competitor in the market saturated with companies relying on cheap labor, which has, naturally, had adverse effects on the island’s economy.
These economic hardships, coupled with other factors contributed to the serious cash flow difficulties that the country experienced in 2006. The situation was so bad that 43 government agencies, including the Department of Education had had to be closed. Luckily, the crisis was resolved to some extent in several days. In the same year, the sales tax in the state was set at 5.5%, with the addition of 1.5% municipal tax.
One of the currently most important industries of the island is tourism, with the estimated gains of $1.8 billion. It accounted for 7% of the country’s GNP in the year 2009.
Median household income of the country’s inhabitants in 2009 was estimated at $18,314, which is just a half of the median income in the lowest earning US state, Mississippi, but still significantly higher than that of some of the neighboring Caribbean nations. In 2008, country’s public debt has reached the amount of $46.7 billion.
Puerto Rico Geography and Climate
The Commonwealth is composed out of the main Puerto Rico Island, and a number of other, smaller islands, including the Puerta de Tierra and Old San Juan which are a part of the La Isleta de San Juan, Monito Island, and somewhat larger Caja de Muertos, Desecheo, Mona, Culebra and Vieques. Not all of the islands are inhabited.
The country covers the area of 5,320 square miles, out of which 1,900 square miles is water and3,420 land. The main island is mostly covered in mountains, with large coastal regions in its southern and northern parts. The point with the highest altitude (4,393 feet) is known as Cerro de Punta, and is located in the La Cordillera Central mountain range.
Seeing that the Commonwealth is located in the tropical region, it is not surprising that its average yearly temperature is in the area of 82.4 °F, with the average maximum temperatures of 85.4 °F and minimum of 66.9 °F. Seasons bring little to no change when it comes to the temperature on the island. As a rule, the central part of the island is always somewhat colder than the rest of the country, and the northern parts are colder than the southern to some extent. The period between June and November often brings the increased frequency of hurricanes, but they are not exactly unheard of in the other parts of the year. The lowest temperature in the country of 39 °F was recorded in Aibonito.
Population of Puerto Rico
In 2011, the population of the country was estimated at 3,706,690 inhabitants, which was a decrease of 0.51% when compared to the previous year. Since the beginning to the end of the 19th century, the population of the island has increased almost ten-fold, due to the rapid European immigration. A lot of these immigrants came from Spain, but there was also a significant influx of people from Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and China.
When it comes to the ethnicity of the country’s residents in 2010 it was estimated that there were 75.8% of white inhabitants, 12.4% of black, 0.2% of Asian, 3.35 of multiethnic people, 0.5% of American Indians, 0.1% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders and 7.8% of the country’s population was made up of people of some other races.
Puerto Rico is a vibrant place, with large numbers of people both leaving it, and coming into it. The islands have become a safe haven for a large number of people from Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba and Dominican Republic. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people from such countries have made Puerto Rico their home in the recent years. However, emigration from the island is just as common. Harsh living conditions on the island have driven many people from the Commonwealth to move to one of the US states, mostly Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
English and Spanish are the official languages on the island with the latter being the primary. Naturally, the people of Puerto Rico are speaking their own, slightly modified dialect of Spanish, with the main distinction being found in the introduction of some Taino words, mostly ones denominating old musical instruments, natural phenomena or indigenous plants and animals. English, even though it is an official language is only spoken in 5% of the homes in Puerto Rico.
The most dominant religion in the Commonwealth is the Roman Catholic Church. This is, naturally, a remnant of the days of Spanish colonization, and their efforts to convert as many of the native people as well as newcomers into their church. Every municipality of the Commonwealth has at least one church. The Spaniards did their best to stifle Protestantism during the period in which they held control over the island, but after that period has ended, the religion grew stronger. In 1872, Holy Trinity Church, the first Protestant church in the country, was established in Ponce. Eastern Orthodox Church is also present in the Commonwealth, with most of the believers being of Puerto Rican, Moldavian, American, Bulgarian, Serbian, Russian or Greek origin. Mita Congregation was founded in 1940. It is the first modern religion that originated on the island. It drew heavily on the rituals of the Taino people who originally inhabited the island. As far as other religions are concerned, in 2007, 0.13% of the country’s population was made up by Muslim people, and 0.72% by Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is also a branch of the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center on the island.
Puerto Rico Government
Puerto Rico’s government is subject to United States’ jurisdiction and sovereignty, and is based on the republican structure of the US government. US President is considered the country’s head of state. Commonwealth’s government, just like the federal government of the US, consists of three branches, executive, legislative and judicial.
The executive branch is in charge of providing public services to the country’s inhabitants and administering public resources. It operates through a number of different departments, and is led by the Governor. The Governor serves four year terms and has the authority to appellate and trial directors of public corporations, justices of the Supreme Court and judges.
Commonwealth’s legislative branch consists of two houses, the lower house, House of Representatives that counts 51 members and is presided over by the Speaker of the House, and the upper house, Senate which has 27 members and is presided over by the Senate President. In 2005, the country’s residents voted for a unicameral legislature, but even though the motion gained enough votes, it was not carried out.
Lastly, the country’s judicial branch is composed of a number of different courts with specific jurisdictions and authority. The highest court in the Commonwealth is the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, which is also the highest appellate court in the country.