Puerto Rico

views updated May 29 2018

Puerto Rico

Basic Data
Official Country Name:Puerto Rico
Region:Puerto Rico & Lesser Antilles
Language(s):Spanish, English
Literacy Rate:89%
Compulsory Schooling:10 years
Educational Enrollment:Primary: 385,903
Educational Enrollment Rate:Higher: 42%
Teachers:Primary: 17,270
Student-Teacher Ratio:Primary: 22:1

History & Background

Puerto Rico is the smallest of the three islands, including also Santo Domingo and Cuba, that make up the Caribbean chain known as the Greater Antilles. The first governor, Ponce de León, set a pattern of common interests for Spain and Puerto Rico, but later this commonality of interests ceased to be, and the Spanish captains-general who held all authority on the island came to represent a Spain that became increasingly foreign to the inhabitants of Puerto Rico. The island consequently was transformed into a colony much as the American colonies would have been had there not been an American Revolution. After the euphoria felt by Puerto Ricans at their "liberation" by the United States in 1898 and with appointment of an American civil governor at the end of the military régime, it became clear that Puerto Rico, a Spanish-speaking tropical island possessed of four centuries of recorded history, and in virtually all respects culturally different from its new masters, was being ruled by Washington in a manner not so very different from that practiced by the former Spanish authority. If anything, the change in régime reinforced Puerto Rico's colonial status. The American governors were instructed to charge Puerto Ricans with the task of convincing Congress that they deserved to run their own affairs. They succeeded at this, at least for a while, and it was the main source of their very concentrated power. Meanwhile, Puerto Rican politicians and statesmen not only had to satisfy their constituents at homeor at least keep them tranquilthey also had to gain the approval of their American governors. With the advent of the Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado ) in 1952, it was no longer a matter of "political maturity," but also one of money. Puerto Rico was too poor to survive as a "real" country; it needed American help, and so, while the Commonwealth galvanized all its energies into industrialization schemes, banking, and more recently in high tech projects to prove the country's moneymaking capacities, the colony went on, and the extremely powerful governor was its most effective agent.

It has been said that when the colonial metropolis sneezes the colony catches pneumonia. Such was certainly the case with both Cuba and Puerto Rico. For these two islands, the illnesses visited upon them by the turmoil in nineteenth century Spain resulted in general paralysis. Nowhere was this paralysis more endemic than in the area of education. Plans for much-needed educational reform agreed to by a few liberal Spanish governors were regularly undone by their traditionalist or reactionary successors. The captains-general governors throughout the century retained all real power. What was required of the island population and its élite was collaboration. While some Puerto Ricans took another course of action, such as living in exile, the island leaders, like Muñoz Rivera and other autonomistas, who remained felt constrained to negotiate within the colonial parameters set by Spain. Formed in the Spanish mold, these same men negotiated in a similar way with the American conquerorfirst with the American military commander and then with his civilian successor, the governor dispatched from Washington. The basic and essential colonial structure was maintained and solidified with the help of the President, the Congress, and the U.S.

To attempt briefly to analyze Spanish educational policy in Puerto Rico during the nineteenth century would be an exercise in futility. Let us refer to the Report written by the Secretary of the Insular Board of Education, Enrique C. Hernández in 1899 and presented on 2 January 1900 to his superior, the American President of the Insular Board of Education, Dr. Victor S. Clark. Until 1850, Hernández states:

Public education was practically left to private initiative. . .[and] primary education was confided to those whose education and training left much to desire, and. . .this was supplemented only by an exceedingly scanty secondary instruction given by the teachers employed by the Economic Society and the few private schools and academies that then existed.

The Jesuits came and went; more or less durable, private, essentially Puerto Rican initiatives were taken and lasted for (usually) rather short periods of time. Perhaps the most significant of these was the Civil Institute of Higher Studies, founded in 1882 and opened in 1883. In 1883-84 a total of 172 resident pupils were enrolled in the Institute, 170 matriculated at private schools affiliated with the Institute, and 77 home tutored students were not resident at any school, for a total of 419. The official plan of study included Spanish, Latin, the geography of Spain, universal history, and elements of physiology and hygiene, as well as elements of agriculture, French or English, and religion and moral instruction. A parallel, but quite short-lived, professional school for the preparation of surveyors, builders, commercial and industrial agents, and engineers was also established with very strict standards of admission, which probably contributed to its rapid demise. Similar difficulties also attended the opening of a trade school in 1886 that was designed to furnish an opportunity to workmen and others to acquire a broader knowledge of their particular arts and trades. Diverse religious institutions were allied in one way or another with the Secondary Institute (e.g., the Mothers of the Sacred Heart, for girlsnow the coeducational Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, in Santurce; the Central Academy, El Estudio and the College of the Paulist Fathers, in Ponce; the Lyceum, in Mayagüez, as well as the Lyceum in Guayama). All of these institutions received some taxbased financial support. After renewed petitions to found a university in Puerto Rico were turned down by the Spanish government, the Society for the Protection of Intelligence was founded by Laurano Vargas. It still existed in 1900, and its object was to provide funds for study abroad to talented, but needy youths. At the initiative of the Ateneo de Puerto Rico, the colonial régime authorized the founding of an Institute of Higher Studies linked to the University of Havana in 1888 that lasted only a few years. Its most notable achievement was the establishment of a scientifically-based course for midwives. Finally, a school of Enseñanza Popular (People' Teaching) was established in 1896 for the education of workmen; subjects taught included reading and writing, the history of Spain, political economy, the geography of Puerto Rico, popular law, and ethics. About 100 workmen attended the lectures and workshops of this school; it disappeared after the United States conquest and occupation. Hernández made the following comments:

So it resulted that in the principal towns (by the time the régime changed) the culture of the Porto [sic] Rican students was much superior to that of the Spaniards, as is evidenced upon mere cursory examination of the periodicals and publications of the time. This naturally was not the case in the smaller towns, especially in the country, where the inhabitants were under the complete domination of their masters, without other means of defense than their innate intelligence and wit, sharpened in the struggle to evade laws they believed oppressive and to escape obligations that they believed unjust, and when their natural acuteness was not sufficient to effect this they took refuge in a passive resistance against which all the efforts of the Government were fruitless.

Thus, at the time of the American takeover, the bankruptcy of the Spanish ancien régime in matters of education was complete, and the initiative had passed into the hands of a rather disparate Puerto Rican leadership. Secondly, faute de mieux, stress was placed less on elementary or primary education than on the more advanced levels (although the 1880-98 period saw the establishment of two Normal Schools designed to train elementary teachers). Finally, a rather traditional, humanistically oriented program of study remained at the core of secondary study, complemented by a set of complementary practical courses, such as ship navigation, agronomy, pharmacy, and midwifery.

At the close of the school year 1898-99, less than a year after the American arrival, the wretched conditions of public education in terms of the children served are evident in the following numbers given in Dr. Clark's above-cited Report. Out of a total island population of 857,660, some 203,373 boys and girls constituted the school age cohort. Of these students, 14,720 boys and 7,153 girls were actually in attendance at the schools that existed at the timea bit over 10 percent.

It is erroneous to believe, however, that a pupil enrolled in September stayed in the course throughout the school year. Some dropped out; others came in late to take their place. As best as could be determined for the island's schools in 1907 some 65,436 pupils were enrolled. However, of these only about 35,000 received a full year's instruction. Thus, despite much school reform and rhetoric, great expenditures of money, and an extraordinary amount of planning (including passing laws that declared school attendance obligatory), in the decade following 1886, school attendance increased a little over 50 percent. One is led to speculate that mass schooling had not yet entirely entered into the Puerto Rican cultural mentality or perhaps that the population, recalcitrant to government-inspired initiatives, failed to see the advantages in having their children taught in the schools.

The decades following the Congressional passage of the Jones Act in 1917the Act that replaced the first Organic Act of Puerto Rico, known as the Foraker Act (1900), that accorded United States citizenship to the residents of Puerto Ricowitnessed the further attempted implementation of what has been called the three educational objectives common to the entire sequence of powerful American Commissioners of Education on the island: "Americanization or de-Puertoricanization, physical extension of the school system, and the teaching of English" (Osuna). However, these goals were never attained. Many schools were built; however, the early experiment of bringing in American teachers to teach in them was a failure. It became necessary to train native Puerto Rican teachers and then to police their command of English through annual testing. The training was attempted through the creation of Normal Schools. One of these, first located in Fajardo and then in Río Piedras with a faculty imported from the United States, was joined to various other institutions and declared a university by law in 1903. However, it constituted little more than the nucleus for a new humanities and sciences-based University of Puerto Rico created over an initial period of five years (starting in 1924) by its American Chancellor, Thomas E. Benner. A tripartite primary-middle-high school model was transferred more or less as is to Puerto Rico and was expected to function as it did in much of the United States at the time, with pupils advancing year by year in the grades. It succeeded only partially.

Thus, despite the genuine enthusiasm felt by many Puerto Rican thinkers, economic and political leaders, and patriots for educational reform and progress, American efforts in these directions (or viewed as such by Americans) met with mixed success. Henry K. Carroll's assertion that the people of Puerto Rico "will learn the art of governing in the only possible wayby having their responsibilities [e.g., education] laid upon them" was systematically ignored. Indeed, the Foraker Act invested the entire responsibility for education on the United States-appointed Commissioner of Education whose "reports. . .[were] annually [to be] transmitted to Congress" (Section 18). Yet, already in 1899 General Miles had warned: "A careful and painstaking study of local conditions and laws, occupying many months at least, should. . .[precede] any attempt at legislation on a subject as important and difficult as that of public instruction of a million people of Spanish origin" (Negrón de Montilla).

Besides the traditional inertia of the upper socioeconomic classes with regard to the education of their laboring compatriots-Blacks, jíbaros, and factory workers (often women in the sewing industry), resistance to the United States's English-language policy in the schools (implemented at least temporarily in 1907) was rampant both among the teaching staffs and their pupils and would continue until well into the fourth and fifth decades of the century. By this time textbooks were almost all in English and even Spanish translations were culturally exotic to Puerto Rican children, e.g., white Christmases; light brown-haired Bill, blond Mary and their dog, Spot; the small-town American suburban house with its white picket fence; and the total absence of Blacks and dark-skinned people. Meanwhile directives from the Commissioner of Education continued to require school attendance on Epiphany, the Day of the Three Kings when Puerto Rican children traditionally received what is called in the United States their "Christmas presents." Also, the foisting on the school system by the last United States Commissioner of Education, Puerto Rican-born J.B. Huyke, of textbooks written by himself was seen as a public scandal, as was his consistent affirmation of the power invested in him by his office to choose whatever textbooks he wanted.

The end of the 1920s and start of the 1930s saw new perceptions and opinions voiced by a generation in the process of succeeding its fathers. The son of Muñoz Rivera, Luis Muñoz Marín was the most charismatic of these new voices. In March 1928 he wrote in The Literary Digest, "We demand a form of government that shall give us ample power to deal with our internal affairs, unhampered by documents and policies not made for Puerto Rico and not decently applicable to Puerto Rico" (Negrón de Montilla 1971). And, in The American Mercury (February 1929): "Two major problems perplex the old Spanish province of Porto Rico arising out of its enforced relationship to the United States. One deals with consequences of American economic development, the other with the cultural Americanization." In this same article Muñoz focuses on the students of the University of Puerto Rico, finding in them the effective means to face "the two instruments of Americanization, the bayonets of education and the contagion imminent in close commercial relationships, because they want Porto Rico to be Porto Rico and not a replica of Ohio [or] of Arizona." It should be noted that the University administration passed in 1926 from the control of the Puerto Rican legislature and the United States Commissioner of Education in Puerto Rico to a separate status entirely.

By the start of the 1930s, the three elements that would constitute the basis of Muñoz Marín's gradual assumption of power in Puerto Rico and that would be the raison d'être of his Partido Popular Democrático (founded in 1937) were already in place. These were (1) the affirmation of Puerto Rican identity and reaffirmation of its "true" culture, to be accomplished particularly by strengthening the position of Spanish; (2) the everincreasing participation of Puerto Ricans themselves in the economic life of the island, leading eventually to the creation of Operation Bootstrap and governmental planning agencies like Fomento; and (3) the integration of the dispossessed poor into full participation in the political, economic, and social life of the island.

These goals, it was felt, could be achieved only by education, led by higher education. The schools were the key; they would provide a necessary patriotic and hardworking technocracy armed with university and graduate degrees who would be beholden to Muñoz's party for their careers and the chance it gave them to know an upward social mobility unheard of before in Puerto Rico.

On 25 July 1952 the bill approving the new Puerto Rican Constitution was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. Henceforth the governor and legislature of Puerto Rico would be elected by the people resident on the island, and domestic affairs would largely pass into their control. However, Congress had retained the last word.

From 1940 to 1968, the reigning political party was the P.P.D. (the Populares ); it was during this 28 year period that Muñoz put into practice the ideas and principles summarized above. The modern Puerto Rican educational system can be understood only in terms of the Commonwealth objectives as these constitute a response to the complex set of events and factors in the historical background of Puerto Rico.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The United States Congress retains ultimate de jure responsibility and power to govern the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. By and large the rights of Congress in this regard have been regularly strengthened over the century by a series of judicial decisions and rulings. The Foraker (1900) and Jones (1917) Acts that constituted the organic Acts through which Congress decided to exercise this responsibility were radically superseded by the passage in 1952 of legislation that set up the present-day Commonwealth structure. Nevertheless, to give a specific example of Congressional power, although the proposed Puerto Rican Constitution contained an amendment requiring that students matriculate exclusively in the public schools (except when these were unavailable), Congress deleted this amendment thereby reaffirming the rights of private, even confessional-related, education on the island.

Specific and de facto control of education is now vested in the Commonwealth's governmental institutions. The Department of Education is a department of state; its head and the second-in-command are known as the secretary and undersecretary of education. They are political appointees named by the island's popularly elected governor and confirmed by the island senate. The Department's executive staff is assisted by such statutorily created councils as The Council of Higher Education and The General Council of Education. Their powers of oversight extend to the private sector as well as to the public one. Thus, the Council of Higher Education, originally founded in 1966 in order to govern the University of Puerto Rico received in 1976 the mandate to regulate (i.e., accredit and license) the growing number of private postsecondary institutions of learning. These two functionsthe governance of the University of Puerto Rico and the oversight of private colleges and universitieswere separated from one another by Law 17 (1993). The purposes this law laid out were, among others, the licensing and accrediting of private university institutions, as well as the protecting of private institutions from official interference threatening their academic freedom through the agency of a new Council of Higher Education. (Law 17 has no application to such institutions as award religious titles, i.e., seminaries and the like.) In connection with its mission, the Council, whose members are also political appointees, publishes a wide variety of statistics and other kinds of documentation. The Secretary of Education is an ex officio member of the Council. Among the Council's powers are included that of imposing fines, issuing cease and desist orders, appointing committees of experts, and supervising the awarding of student scholarships both Federal and local to name a few. Meanwhile the General Council of Education exercises supervision of public primary, middle, and higher secondary schools, as well as, to a degree, private schools (licensing and curriculum). Thus, its functions correspond to those described in the Organic Law (Law 68) of 1990.

Law 149 was passed in 1999 and is also known as the Organic Law of the Department of Public Education of Puerto Rico; it created the possibility of developing Las Escuelas de la Comunidad (Community or Charter schools). Law 158, known as the Ley de la Carrera Magisterial (The Teaching Profession), also came into being in 1999.

Federal, i.e., that of the United States, implication in the island educational system closely resembles that existing between the Federal Government and the states. To give two examples of this, support of veterans' postwar training/education (the GI Bill of Rights) applies fully in Puerto Rico and has done so since its passage after the Second World War, with very important repercussions in the "undereducated" island. Also, Pell Tuition Grants for college and university students whose families' income is low are available and much taken advantage of. Some 90 percent of the 8,000 students registered at the Universidad del Turabo receive Pell Grants. Puerto Rican scholars and research scientists are eligible to apply to various Federal agencies for research support; aid of this sort has been and continues to be essential. The same or even higher percentages apply throughout the system.

For children of elementary, middle, and high school age, Federal programs (e.g., Head Start) have been regularly made available to Puerto Rico. Federal Affirmative Action programs have also resulted in a significant increase in the attendance by Puerto Rican college students at institutions based in the United States, often with considerable financial help. Sons and daughters of the Puerto Rican socio-economic élite, trained in the exclusive private secondary schools of the island, have been especially quick to take advantage of these opportunities.

It must be emphasized, however, that unlike the situation prevailing in pre-1930 Puerto Rico, the United States government plays no ostensible role in determining Puerto Rican educational policy. However, among the numerous laws approved in Puerto Rico over the years in order to meet the challenges of changing conditions are to be found some that respond to Federal laws and educational regulations. Thus, the 1998 Federal Higher Education Act, seeking to better the quality of teaching in the United States, required (in Section 207) the states (and Puerto Rico) to submit a number of reports to the Department of Education, including a regular up to date annual report concerning mainly teacher training. The Puerto Rican Consejo de Educación Superior was charged with implementing these requirements imposed by the Higher Education Act. Similarly, Puerto Rican Law 138 (the Educational Opportunities Act), passed in 1999, created two new programs, Supplementary Educational Aid and Scholarship Aid, which replaced the former Educational Fund and the Legislative Scholarship Program. Henceforth scholarships would be made available solely to entering students who had just earned their high school diploma with at least a GPA of 3.0. The eligibility of students for both aid programs was to be determined according to the requirements established in the above-mentioned Higher Education Act. The money would henceforth be awarded to the institution attended by the grantee and be made available to the students by that institution. Some 165,000 checks were disbursed in this way during fiscal 1999-2000. Thirty-eight million dollars thus passed through 31 college/university-type institutions and 62 other postsecondary establishments. In 2000-01 some 95,000 students are expected to benefit from aid awards totaling $41,000,000.

Educational SystemOverview

The public pre-higher education system remains closely modeled on the American preprimary (when applicable), primary, middle, and higher secondary sequence. Higher education also follows the American model with undergraduate associate (two years of study) and bachelor's degrees of various sorts (awarded usually upon the student's successful completion of four years of prescribed study). Graduate research degrees include the M.A. and (more rarely) the Ph.D. The doctorate in Education (D.Ed.) is also awarded by the appropriate university School of Education. The professional post-graduate schools (law, medicine, etc.) have their own degrees comparable to the American J.D., M.D., and M.B.A.. Schooling is legally compulsory for children throughout the island for least for ages 5 through 16, although enforcement is spotty.

In addition, a substantial number of public and private educational/technical programs are aimed at adult audiences. These programs range from basic classes in reading, writing, and the English language to undergraduate and post-graduate university programs. More specialized private postsecondary schools in a wide diversity of fieldssecretarial schools, computer use, tourism, TV repair, and business (to name but a few)have proliferated throughout the island. These institutions vary immensely in quality.

Except for classes in English language, the language of instruction in all primary through secondary schools is Spanish; at the university level, both English and Spanish are used (depending on the subject matter and instructor). Public pre-university textbooks are in Spanish (except for English classes); at the university, they may be in either Spanish or English.

Access to information technology (IT) and other resources is fairly limited in most primary and secondary schools and districts. The availability of computer clusters, work stations, and web-access for students of the humanities even at the University of Puerto Rico is exiguous. Students of science, business, or engineering are much better off. For example, the School of Science at the private Universidad del Turabo requires of its general science majors a course labeled "Scientific Computer Programming" (devoted largely to BASIC), as it also does of its applied mathematics, biology, and chemistry majors. Turabo, however, has no major in computer science. A substantial number of non-public educational facilities at the secondary and college-age level that specialize in practical IT training are located in the larger towns and cities; these are well-subscribed because they lead to positions in enterprises and the government that depend on computer literacy.

Given the highly centralized nature of public education at the pre-university level in Puerto Rico, curriculum development has traditionally taken place under the close supervision of the Commonwealth Department of Education. The University of Puerto Rico's College of Education has exercised much influence in this area. Over the years centralized curricular planning has tended to apply to Puerto Rico various trends in vogue in the United States. The long-standing Commonwealth political emphasis on economic planning has also played an important role in determining what subjects deserve increased funding, with technology and now globalization viewed as the key to progress. Indeed, at present, the Department of Education is in the process of setting up administrative means for the incorporation of private business and banking's informed input in regard to the most promising present and future areas of employment.

Since past economic planning has not invariably produced the desired results, skepticism with regard to so exclusive a reliance on educational centralization made significant inroads during the 1990s and more recently. New initiatives have surfaced. The Universidad del Turabo has made a policy decision to open up areas of close collaboration with the municipalities close to it, mainly the towns of Cages and Kurabo. Recently an imposing sports complex, including a modern stadium, has been built on its campus with funding of its own, contributions from the surrounding municipalities, and from the Commonwealth. This complex is shared by the university and nearby towns. On a different note, the predominantly Catholic Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (in Santurce) with funding and other support from the Ford Foundation, ASPIRA of Puerto Rico, the College Board of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Community Foundation, and the Department of Education created the San Juan Metropolitan Alliance for Education. It works with the municipality of Cattalo, an impoverished town across the bay from San Juan, to effectively improve the primary, middle, and secondary schools of that town.

Finally, public education has been undergoing a series of grave crises. From 1940 until 1968 Puerto Rico was a one party state led by a single all powerful leader. Such a political structure tends to render genuine debate quite difficult. Consequently, in the absence of effective open discussion on the goals of public education, the early Commonwealth failed to develop in the nation an underlying consensus concerning the purposes of mass public education. Consequently, when governing power changed hands from the P.P.D. to the New Progressive Party in 1968, the sort of long range planning possible within the one party political context no longer was possible. The new party in power did what it could to undo what its defeated rivals had put in place.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Apart from kindergarten with which children age five normally begin their primary education, the public school system does not as of yet universally provide preschools or nursery schools. Parents desiring to place their three and four year olds in such classes must have recourse to private facilities. The K-12 system characteristic of the United States is used for Puerto Rican preprimary, primary, and secondary education; it corresponds (ideally) to the age cohort of the pupil. No private nursery or preschooling enrollment figures have been found. Schools are coeducational, and, as said earlier, attendance is in theory compulsory by law. A single curriculum has been designed to be universally applied throughout the ten regional areas of Puerto Rico. Facilities for special education have been made available throughout the island's schools. Great efforts have also been made to provide cost free textbooks and other learning materials.

Public Primary Education: Virtually all public school facilities throughout the island identify primary education with the seven year K-6 grade sequence. First grade constitutes the initial year of proper schooling. Grades one through three constitute the first primary level, and grades four through six make up the second level.

All instruction is in Spanish with English introduced (usually in the second year) as a required foreign language. The subjects emphasized on Level I are basic reading, writing, and arithmetic with some exploration of English; drawing and a very elementary introduction to computing are also required. The visual arts and dance are introduced, along with basic hygiene, physical education, and music. Level II builds on the knowledge acquired; for example, there are more advanced mathematics that include elements of geometry within the context of measurements, the metric system, calculation, etc. The social sciences (history and civics) are introduced, as well as beginnings in science and technology (food chains, the physical properties of objects, health, plant structures, weather and climate, the atmosphere, etc.). The history of Puerto Rico is emphasized. Spanish grammar is taught "functionally," i.e., not in isolation but in connection with texts and writing. The Fine Arts, such as the visual arts, dance, theater, and music, are continued.

In 1993 Charter Schools (Escuelas de la Comunidad ) were initiated. In principle the entire school system will eventually be converted to a variant of this system.

Public primary schools generally occupy buildings of their own, but this is not always the case in poorer, remote districts. Thus, the small community of Culebra, for example, crowds primary, middle, and upper secondary schooling into a single dilapidated building where the youngest children find themselves ignored by the older ones (El Nuevo Día, 12 February 2001). According to an English teacher there, whose real specialty is accounting and computer technology, material resources are very scarce and/or difficult to come by. The sole special education teacher takes care of 28 pupils at all age levels. The hygiene and health teacher has no classroom, yet she is required by law to teach kindergarten, third, eighth, ninth and tenth grade pupils; she does so beneath a staircase and wherever she can improvise a space. There are no laboratory facilities for science classes (middle and high school levels). The school has received no computers whatsoever from the Department of Education; 15 older models were made available by a private business for graduating seniors so that they might have at least some exposure to computing. Alienated, unhappy, and bored, Culebra's school population has a significant dropout rate, and, in part because all pupils are thrown together, the understandable cynicism of the older pupils exerts a powerful influence on the younger, primary level group.

About 86 percent of Puerto Rican public school pupils are from families whose incomes fall beneath the poverty level. Some 75 percent of the inhabitants of Adjuntas, Jayuya, and Utuado (small towns in the island's mountainous interior) live beneath the poverty level. It is in such towns that the illiteracy rate is highest. Thus, the child begins his or her schooling under unfavorable conditions.

Very shortly after the story of Culebra's single school broke in El Nuevo Día, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Sila M. Calderón, announced an emergency plan to immediately begin the much needed repair and remodeling of some 1,000 school buildings in the island (there are a total of 1,600 such buildings in Puerto Rico). It is hoped that this work, costing about $82 million, will be concluded by August 2001, in time for school reopenings. Finally, the sum of $105 million has been set aside for the acquisition of computers to be placed in the schools.

The Department of Education is also preparing to undertake a thorough study in order to determine what the island's illiteracy rate truly is and the socio-geographic features that characterize the places where this rate is particularly high. According to the 1990 census figures, out of a total population 10 or more years old of 2,904,455 residents, 307,915 did not know how to read or write.

Enrollment figures officially given by the Department of Education for the public primary schools of Puerto Rico during the academic year 1997-98, which are the latest available, were 360,700 (188,794 males and 171,906 females).

The middle or intermediate school corresponds to the seventh, eighth and ninth grades and, ideally, to pupils aged 12 through 14 or 15. Intermediate school enrollments during 1997-98 school year were 149,863 (77,506 males and 72,357 females). Given its adolescent clientele, the middle school is properly considered as forming part of the secondary education sector. No sharp curricular break occurs between the primary and the middle school, nor does one prevail between the middle and the senior high school, but the pupil's needs and interests reflect his and her growing maturation to adulthood. The task of the school is to respond adequately to these important mental, physical, social, and emotional changes. Thus, in both Spanish and English, the pupil is taught actively to write, think, do an initial draft, revise, correct, and "publish" his or her work. Reading requires analysis and evaluation. Mathematics became more content-oriented, involving (with geometry and algebra) matters of relation or pre-algebra. Elementary algebra, advanced geometry, and intermediate algebra constitute the sequence followed. Science introduces the pupil to the basic principles of biology, physics, chemistry, and the earth sciences. In the social sciences, emphasis is placed on the human being and his historical effort. The subjects taught are the history of Puerto Rico, Latin America, and the world. The fine arts, health, and physical education complete the intermediate cycle.

Efforts are made to provide adequate individual and group counseling, especially to forestall the dropouts that tend to begin at the middle school age. Problems of motivation are severe. Also, it must be said that social issuesdelinquency and narcoticsincrease in severity at the middle school level and ought to be better dealt with.

Secondary Education

Senior high school enrollments in the 1997-98 year totaled 119,428 (57,141 males and 62,287 females). This enrollment number shows a substantial dwindling from a primary school high to a high school low. Also, whereas boys outnumber girls in the primary and middle schools, the reverse is true in the senior high schools. It is at this level that dropout rates increase radically. Whereas, according to statistics released by the Department of Education, in 1997-98 there were some 52,606 pupils enrolled in first grade, only 33,099 were counted in twelth grade that year, a drop of about two-fifths. Causes identified for this high dropout rate range from pregnancy and marriage to getting a job, from academic failure to disciplinary problems. The statistics don't mention cultural and/or family reasons or boredom and peer pressure.

The goals of the tenth to twelfth grade curriculum have been summarized as follows by the Department of Education guidelines: to promote the transition from concrete to abstract thought; to encourage the transformation from individualism and competitiveness to social cooperation; to facilitate the transition of study competence to work competence; to help the pupil go from reliance on memorization to applying what he or she knows in the real world; and to teach the art of "self-apprenticeship." Thus the young man or woman will think critically, be able to make proper decisions, use technology, evaluate and judge, be responsible, and possess a worthy scale of personal and social values. At the same time, the high school diploma means adequate communicative skills; a high level of expression in both Spanish and English; a capacity for creative work; a conceptual mastery of diverse areas of knowledge; and a sense of self-esteem.

The program requires three credit years of Spanish, English, mathematics (including computer science), social studies, and science; 1 credit year of visual arts, dance, music and theater each; one semester (one-half credit) of health (including sexual education); and three years of physical education with the possibility of participating in intramural and extramural sports.

Finally, Puerto Rico maintains 24 selective specialized high schools: 2 in science and mathematics; 11 in fine arts; 1 in sports; 1 in radio and TV; 6 bilingual; 1 pretechnical; and 2 in talent development.

Private Primary & Secondary Education: The history of bitterness and systemic political antagonism between the private (largely Roman Catholic) and public sectors in education has had a choking effect on primary schooling in Puerto Rico. These antagonisms have not yet been laid entirely to rest, although there are welcome signs that they need not be prolonged over yet another century. Much of the prestige attached to private schools in Puerto Rico derives from the unevenness of the public sector. During the first half of the twentieth century, an average of about 4 percent of school children were enrolled in private schools (10 percent in 1960). Growth in this sector has been vertiginous, with, in 1988, some 128,554 children so enrolled. Parents, themselves the product of the public schools, have often reluctantly chosen to place their children in private schools when they can afford it so as not to expose them to the dangers and the inadequacies they perceive their children would face were they to attend local public schools. For other parents of the élite socio-economic class, private education is a social and class tradition. Still others, who have succeeded economically, will place their children in upper-class private schools in the hopes that they will be helped thereby in moving up the social ladder. Critics of the private schools charge, not without reason, that such schools constitute an important means of perpetuating across generations the existence of an impermeable governing and economically powerful élite. Many such critics also say that this class has become increasingly out of touch with the realities of the country; it is absorbed in globalization and safeguarding its own perquisites.

According to the Organic Law of 1990, private schools beneath college and university level must be licensed by the Oficina de Licencias (License Office) of the Consejo de la Educación (Council of Education). The existence of a physical plant, presence of labs and library, sanitary conditions, as well as a satisfactory curriculum and properly trained teachers, are all factors considered in the process. By 1995 about 550 schools obtained licenses; in addition there exist some 290 vocational and technical schools that must also obtain licenses (López Yustos).

As might be expected, the curriculum of most private schools rarely departs from that set for public primary schools, except for the more or less strong emphasis placed in many of the former on religious instruction and traditional moral teaching. Resources in the élite schools (buildings, library collections, more individual attention, computers, variety of opportunities of different sorts, and "proper" peers) are generally superior to those of the vast majority of public schools. The classroom atmosphere is usually more tranquil and classes are smaller than in the public sector. Although the erstwhile numerous order-related teaching staff has often given way to lay teachers, teacher morale is generally high. In most instances each private school offers a K (or Pre-K) through 12 track.

In all private schools, as well as in many public schools, rather strict dress codes are imposed and observed. These involve blouse and jumpers for girls and trousers and shirts for boys, often with colors specified.

College/university preparation is generally perceived as the various institutions' common major goal and chief educational raison d'être. Since as far back as 1940, graduates of the better private schools have rather consistently outperformed their public coevals at the University of Puerto Rico, and a significant proportion of them go on to study at prestigious colleges and universities in the United States (Nieves Falcón).

Mention should also be made of the still-increasing importance of Protestant schools, which range from the fundamentalist to such mainstream Anglo-Saxon institutions as the Episcopalian school in Santurce. Although the different denominations often correspond to socioeconomic classes, there remains nevertheless much social mobility between them. In part the flourishing of these schools is due to the perceived social dangers associated with the public schools, as well as to the upper crust character often attributed to the well-known Roman Catholic institutions.

Higher Education

The Public Sector: According to data published by the Consejo de Educación Superior, during the 1999-2000 school year, some 79 public and private college and university level institutions of higher learning existed alongside what are called postsecondary educational institutions. (The figures count each recinto or campus branch as one institution, and they comprise two year colleges, four year colleges, and institutions with graduate programs; some emphasize the liberal arts, and others are specialized.) Of these 22 are public and 57 are private; total full and part time enrollment comes to 174,550 students, of which 73,846 are in the public sector (61.7 percent of which are women, and 38 percent are men). In the 57 private campuses, enrollments come to a total of 100,704 (59 percent are women, and 40.2 percent are men). In addition to the institutions just mentioned, Puerto Ricans also dispose of numerous private or proprietary postsecondary schools that do not quite fit the portrait ascribed to a college and university. Seventy-nine institutions of higher education of varying quality, completeness, and mission constitute a large number for a population of approximately 3,000,000.

The curricular matrix of the public University of Puerto Rico (headquartered in Río Piedras) forms the basis of undergraduate study in virtually all the public and private colleges and universities on the island.

Admission standards at the U.P.R. (Río Piedras and Mayagüez), especially in the postgraduate professional schools (e.g., Law and Medicine), are generally higher than those prevailing in other Puerto Rican institutions. Because of limited enrollments, an entering undergraduate must offer a proper college preparatory high school diploma and a competitive GPA (usually a solid B average); he or she must also take an entrance examination.

The typical Arts and Sciences B.A. candidate spends the first two years in the School of General Studies satisfying distribution requirements of various sorts before concentrating in one of many majors available during the junior and senior years. During the freshman and sophomore years, the student also takes the prerequisites necessary to the anticipated major. Perhaps in imitation of the University of Chicago's graduate "Divisions," the university is divided into "faculties," i.e., Humanities (Humanidades ): social sciences (Ciencias sociales ), natural sciences (Ciencias naturales ). It is also divided into "Schools" (or "Colleges") like Education (Educación, or Pedagogía) and "Programs" (Business, Architecture, Planning [Planificación ], Communications, etc.). Postgraduate programs in Law and Medicine (with special distinction in the field of tropical medicine) have been expanded extensively since the university's inception in the 1920s.

The similarly distinguished institution founded at an early date in the West Coast city of Mayagüez for Engineering and Agricultural Sciences resembles the state "A and M" universities developed in nineteenth and twentieth century North America. This Mayagüez campus, still subject to governance by the central U.P.R. governing board (Río Piedras), has now begun to agitate for its separation from the flagship campus.

Hopes for the island's further economic expansion into fields like petrochemicals and high-technological electronics have led to emphasis on technological and business matters, as well as in the several four and two year universities and regional colleges (colegios universitarios and regionales ) created during the period starting in the early 1960s in such smaller cities and towns as Humacao and Cayey, Carolina, Bayamón, Arecibo, Aguadilla, Utuado, and Ponce. However, these latter institutions also maintained the more traditional curriculum in the humanities and the sciences. By the mid-1990s, the University of Puerto Rico had become a university system (upgraded by some 11 new units since 1962) recognized as such by the University Law of 1966, with an overall budget of about two-thirds of a billion dollars (set by the same Law at 9 percent of the total government revenues), and in the 1999-2000 school year, serving almost 70,000 students on both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels of a total public university student population of 73,846.

It is argued that the expansion of the University of Puerto Rico system has been achieved at the expense of the Río Piedras campus' upkeep, resources, and the salaries it pays its faculty. It has become increasingly difficult to attract and retain top faculty talent, especially in the highly competitive business and technical fields. Requests for increased funding (set in 1996 at 9.65 percent of total government revenues) have usually been made in connection with the university's relation to the research and development needs of business and the job market in the high tech sector of the island economy. The technical and research infrastructure has absorbed more and more of the money available. The university also publicizes its traditional rôle as an indispensable problem solver with respect to various social issues.

In exchange for virtual monopoly control over the island's public higher education resources, under Chancellor Jaime Benítez, the U.P.R (University of Puerto Rico system) embraced the policies favored by the Commonwealth party of Luis Muñoz Marín. It became the ré gime's partner in the P.P.D.'s many projects of social engineering; politically the U.P.R. did its best to marginalize alternatives to the Estado Libre Asociado concept. Educationally the U.P.R. opened the door to the sort of mass higher education through which the P.P.D. hoped to reduce the power of the former élite governing classes. The U.P.R. constituted the single most important factor in the régime's policy (1) of industrialization and (2) of technological research and development. Finally, the U.P.R. became the means through which the P.P.D. created what it most desired: a native middle class largely devoted to its cause. The U.P.R. stood for, and did much to define, what Muñoz loved to call el Progreso. Though itself a hotbed of independentista thinking and feeling, its Department of Hispanic Studies and various pockets within General Studies, the Social Sciences, and elsewhere in the Humanities, the institution as such helped weaken the cause of Puerto Rican independence, at least temporarily. Perhaps ironically, not a few of its graduates came to identify themselves with the cause of statehood for Puerto Rico.

In the Humanities at least (with the possible exception of Hispanic studies), the University Library, while generally adequate, cannot truly be labeled a research library. There are too many gaps. These occur in, for example, Classics, Modern Languages and Literatures, Oriental Studies, and the like. Thus, advanced scholarly Humanistic research requires study abroad.

However, one of the U.P.R.'s truly enduring accomplishments should be remembered at this juncture. During the 1950s and 1960s, it identified individuals of talent, often from relatively disadvantaged social classes, educated them, and then provided the means to send them abroad to mainly to the United States and to Western Europe for further advanced study. While abroad, these young men and women came into contact with first-rate research facilities (laboratories, libraries, and teachers), as well as with foreign contemporaries of talent. They returned to teaching jobs in Puerto Rico, bringing to their work on the island not merely what they had learned abroad but also their experience of integration into contexts relevant to, yet wider than, the Puerto Rican reality to which they had been born and in which they lived.

The Private Sector: Enrollments in the historically confessional (Protestant, in the case of the eleven campuses of the Universidad Interamericana, and Roman Catholic, as in the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and the four campuses of the Pontificia Universidad de Puerto Rico), as well as in the secular, establishments of higher education have for some time exceeded those of the public ones. Unlike the principal campuses of the U.P.R., these institutions are almost exclusively dedicated to teaching. The total of their undergraduate enrollments is 90,677 (graduates in Education: 10,027) for a grand total of 100,704 (as opposed to a public grand total of 73,846). Also, more often than not, the private university student tends to come from families whose income is lower than that of public university students' families. In the mid-1990s the average private institution family income was $11,728 while that of the public university was $15,221. Little or no direct institutional financing is provided for private institutions from state funds (except for specially earmarked research projects of interest to the state). Virtually all funding derives from tuition payments, which are considerably higher than those of the public-sponsored colleges and universities.

The low income levels of private school students is a result of the availability of Federal funds for which these students are eligible, especially the Pell Tuition Grants program, a program to help students from low income families finance their college education. As noted above, about 90 percent of the 8,000 students matriculated at the Universidad del Turabo receive Pell grants. The 1996-99 catalogue of Turabo announces average annual tuition and fees set at $2,784; the maximum Pell grant award in 1997 was set at $2,470. In addition, there were available Federal and State funds to students with great financial need, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Grant; a Puerto Rican scholarship fund for qualifying students; a Puerto Rican Educational Fund for students whose family income is $3,500 per capita or less; a Puerto Rican State Student Incentive Grant, administered by the Consejo de Educación Superior, to which a given cooperating institution may make application on behalf of specific candidates; subsidized Federal and Ford loans to students; Federal Parent Loans (PLUS); and Federal Work-Study Programs. All these sources of funding are also available for students at public institutions. Various Athletic Scholarships are also provided for outstanding student athletes.

The situation at the Universidad del Turabo is to all intents and purposes mirrored at the other private institutions recognized and accredited by the Consejo de Educación Superior. The private institutions of greatest interest are those, like the Universidad del Turabo, which have forged a genuine sense of mission for themselves since their founding, as well as those, like the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, which have undergone a process of constant renewal over the years. Far less burdened with the kind of bureaucracy characteristic of the public U.P.R., these private schools have been able to exert an influence on island educational policy far greater than their somewhat marginal status would appear to authorize.

The Universidad del Turabo belongs to a network of institutions known as the Ana G. Méndez University System. As a member of the Ana G. Méndez University System, which operates under the auspices of the Ana G. Méndez Educational Foundation, Turabo is governed by the System's Board of Trusteesthe body to whom the chancellor and his office are responsible. The Board approves the mission of the Foundation and its several institutions, its budgets, administers its business, confirms appointments, establishes salaries, approves academic programs and long-range planning, and supervises the distribution of funds.

Admission requirements at the Universidad del Turabo include a valid high school diploma (or a high school certificate); if 25 or under, the College Entrance Examination and the Diagnostic and Placement Center test offered by Turabo (students older than 25 must take only the Diagnostic and Placement test); possession of at least the minimum "admission index;" and if the candidate does not reach the level required, a personal interview. Less stringent than the requirements at the U.P.R., these requirements also permit a degree of individual flexibility.

The University is divided into various "Schools" (i.e., Education, Business Administration, Sciences and Technology, Engineering, and Liberal Artsthe latter being further divided into Departments of Humanities and Social Sciences). Each of these has its own requirements and programs of study. A GPA of 2.0 is required for the B.A., associate degrees may also be earned, and certain limited graduate programs are available (e.g., Education). In addition, the University offers programs of Extension and Continuing Education, as well as maintaining Off-Campus centers in Yabucoa, Naguabo, and Cayey whose programs lead to bachelor's degrees in Social Sciences, Education, and Business Administration.

Computing resources are distributed in clusters and work-stations within the various schools. This could be, for example, a SUN SPARCstation network, with 25 SUN workstations, numerous Macintosh Quadras, and Windows-type PCs in Engineering; a computing lab in the School of Business; a 25 unit Apple Share network in the School of Science; and older Macs (largely for word-processing) for Humanities.

Two closely interconnected elements appear to have shaped the mission the Universidad del Turabo has designed for itself. The first of these is the obviously practical nature of the curriculum, with its emphasis on imparting skills to students wishing to move up in the worldto become teachers or to work in business or construction, etc. The second element has to do with the uni versity's sense of its place, which is in the foothills of an impoverished mountain region almost systematically stripped of whatever economic wealth it might have had in times past, specifically in cane, tobacco, and coffee. These resources were taken away, and nothing was successfully put in their place. Much of the population has emigrated to the United States; many of those remaining are dependent upon food stamps and other forms of handouts. This is the region the university identifies itself with and functions in.

However, it has neither the resources nor the inclination to impose upon its region and student body its own predetermined agenda of social improvement. In a profound sense it collaborates with its region. It provides what many of its young people want and are quite willing to work for. The campus consequently insists on providing its student clientèle with a clean, honest, and disciplined place; it is spotless (no trash strewn about; clean, neat, and well kept up buildings), and this is due as much to the students' care as it is to ground crew cleanup squads. (The contrast with the clearly neglected Río Piedras campus of the U.P.R. is striking.) The Turabo campus is identified with the kind of life to which numerous students there aspire; in that way it differs from the all too often overcrowded and perhaps messy quarters in which many students live in at home. In addition, the friendly civility of the Turabo staff reflects little of the bureaucratic hauteur to be found in the larger, more impersonal public institutions.

Much is being hoped of ongoing university initiatives that are both in keeping with its academic nature and innovative with regard to its contemporary and past academic emphases. One of these initiatives is that of the Center for Humanistic Studies, founded in 1981, which, along with the desire to strengthen university library resourcesat present quite poorin the Humanities, recognizes the intellectual and spiritual centrality of the Humanities and Fine Arts to a life well lived.

Another university, the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart University), located in Santurce (part of the San Juan Metropolitan Area), came into being (1935) as the outgrowth of a girls' school founded in 1880 by the Mothers of the Sacred Heart. This teaching order was, itself, the creation of Mother Madeleine-Sophie Barat, now canonized as a saint of the Church in the France of 1800, in order to prepare girls for life in the new, "modern" world order consequent to the upheavals of the French Revolution. Thus, its raison d'être is closely related to the issues of change brought about by the emergence of Post-Enlightenment modernity, a matter hardly irrelevant to conditions in late nineteenth century and twentieth century Puerto Rico where, incidentally, women have come to play a central rôle both in education and politics. The University decided to become coeducational in 1973; although still strongly affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, it has become increasingly secularized in administrative and teaching personnel.

In 1999-2000 the student body numbered 5,184 (3,355 women and 1,829 men). Bachelor's degrees may be earned in Liberal Arts (art, education, languages and literatures, history, international relations, economics, commercial studies, mathematics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology), as well as in secretarial and library sciences, business administration, information technology, nursing, and communications; there exist a number of special programs, including educational technology, tourism, public relations, as well) Finally, the U.S.C. maintains an extensive Program in Continuing Education.

The Library has made great strides in recent decades, but it remains inadequate, containing a third of the volumes to be found in a good United States liberal arts college with one-quarter the enrollment of U.S.C. Computing facilities need expansion and upgrading too. Financing is the problem. Like Turabo, U.S.C. depends heavily on tuition, which, of course, translates into Pell Tuition Grants, and on Federal fundingloans and outright grantsfor infrastructures (e.g., a Women's Residence Hall and the Library building). Private foundational assistance has been solicited and granted for faculty salaries.

An interesting sponsoring program on behalf of very low income students has met with success at the U.S.C. An adult or a couple may "adopt" a student by contributing $2,500 to his or her educational expenses. The scheme has the virtue of breaking down certain social barriers. A shared interest in the U.S.C. brings together the "godparent" and the young student who then often become personal friends, with the student frequently being invited to his or her godparent's home on social occasions and the latter also serving at times as a kind of extra-curricular mentor.

However, by far the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching initiative taken by the U.S.C. in recent times has been that, initiated in the early 1990s (and referred to above), led by Dr. José Jaime Rivera, its President, with respect to the crucial issue of public educational reform in Puerto Rico, i.e., The San Juan Metropolitan Alliance for Education (see the SJMAE Progress Report 1999).

This initiative owes much to previous thought and writing on education in Puerto Rico including the seminal work of the late Angel G. Quintero, Educación y cambio social en Puerto Rico: Una época crítica (2nd ed. 1974), Undersecretary and Secretary of the Department of Education from 1960 to 1968, and the hands-on experience of the present Secretary of Education, César Rey, formerly Dean at U.S.C.

Structured as a cooperative venture including, in addition to the U.S.C, The Ford Foundation, ASPIRA of Puerto Rico, Inc., The College Board of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Community Foundation, and the Department of Education (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico), the SJMAE established goals and selected initially for their achievement over a five year period three "allied" schools in the Cataño School District. More schools, including senior high schools, have been added subsequently. Eventually, the eight remaining schools of the Cataño District were also incorporated. The total includes public primary, middle, and high schools.

Meanwhile, Public Laws 149 and 158 (1999) passed by the Puerto Rican legislature, establishing the new schoolcommunity/charter schools and calling for the creation of a redefined "Teaching Profession" (Carrera Magisteria ), offered an alternative to the previous highly centralized public school system by emphasizing on the most basic level a genuine collaboration of administrators, teachers, parents, and pupils viewed as equal partners in the educational process. The school must no longer act as the vehicle for the imposition by a central authority of values upon the communities served by it; rather, a credible dialogue between the above-named constituents should constitute the bedrock on which the trust and commitment to the ideal of the schoolof schooling itselfshould rest.

That, precisely, is the doctrine held by the SJMAE. No other approach stands a chance of commanding the indispensable support of the school's clientèle, it contends. Its philosophy thus resembles in interesting ways the "regionalism" being developed by the Universidad del Turabo.

The greater part of the Progress Report 1999 details what the SJMAE has done up to that date, with whom, and how it has proceeded. It has been a member of the Urban Partnership Program since its inception in 1994, and in this connection has defined the following specific objectives: "(1) promote model programs geared to help under-served students develop their talents and skills, and thus [eventually] attain a university degree; (2) promote collaboration and coordination among programs; (3) Identify and disseminate information, including research; and (4) identify and support successful initiatives" (Progress Report 1999. With respect to its having received an award for its work (1998), the SJMAE defined several new objectives "aimed toward the promotion of systemic change": to encourage changes in the school culture; to increase innovative teaching/learning practices and provide continuous professional development; to promote curricular articulation among educational levels; to promote students' development in the personal, academic, social, and occupational aspects by integrating counseling and curricular activities across all educational levels; and to strengthen collaboration between parents, the schools, the district, and the region. (The region constitutes the curriculum level in the hierarchical structure between the school district and the center office of the Puerto Rico Department of Education. There are ten regions.)

The choice of the Cataño District came about because of its location within the general Metropolitan Area, its many problems and poverty, and because students of Education at the U.S.C. had been using some of its schools for its practice teaching programs. The first two schools chosen were Isaac del Rosario and, a bit later, A.S. Pedreira; middle schools Mercedes García de Colorado and Las Américas were selected, and so forth. The teachers were elected to be the first focus of the program's action; also, the special responsibilities of each of the components of the SJMAE were defined.

Not everything went smoothly, however. The fact that a good number of the schools had no principala problem endemic in the Puerto Rican school system, especially in its senior high schoolsconstituted a serious impediment. The effects of Hurricane Georges (1998) were brutally destructive and still have not been entirely remedied. Yet the Project's results have been very encouraging: in 1998 the Isaac del Rosario Elementary School was selected by the Federally sponsored Regional Conference on Improving America's Schools as one of eight schools whose records of improvement were outstanding; it also won the Puerto Rican Dr. Ángel Quintero Alfaro Award for outstanding educational innovation. Generally speaking, school dropout rates in Cataño have decreased significantly; the number of college-bound high school seniors has increased substantially; GPAs and test scores have improved also (although they still remain low and require improvement especially in mathematics and foreign languages); and, perhaps most important of all, students report a much greater sense of their own self-confidence as students and a more determined desire to succeed academically. The Progress Report 1999 states: "From mistrust, doubt, and skepticism there has been a movement to a growing faith that change is possible. This transformation brings with it the conviction that common goals are attainable through unity and the actual testing of programmatic alternatives. [There is a] palpable movement towards a growing receptivity to change [which will provide] the groundwork for the next stage of the Alliance work."

A team of five professors of mathematics at the University of Puerto Rico has accepted a task to work at developing a new math curriculum that will be used (and tested) by the Alliance. This effort may help bring about an improvement in the disappointing scores just mentioned.

Thus, each of the two private universities has committed to play a significant rôle in what surely looks like a reincorporation of democratic and people-oriented values into the educational system of Puerto Rico. Provided that the island's political authorities support their efforts and similar efforts by what appears to be a revitalized and open Department of Education, there are reasons to believe in the future of Puerto Rican mass education.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Administration: The Puerto Rican Department of Education (Departamento de Educación, formerly the Departamento de Instrucción ) is by the Organic Law of 1990 (Law 68) charged with the responsibility for all schooling on the island, from preschool to university; it is headed by a cabinet-level secretary and an undersecretaryboth political appointments made by the island governor and subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. The secretary reports to the governor and, on occasion, to relevant committees of the Puerto Rican legislature. The Departmental Secretary is assisted by the two aforementioned Councils (on Higher Education and on General Education), as well as by various offices in charge of vocational and technical training, relations with the community, finance, extension/long distance learning, and the like.

Puerto Rico is divided into various school regions (whose number varies from time to time according to movements of population); each region is assigned personnel charged with revising and/or designing curricula (in conjunction with teachers). Meanwhile the administration of schools falls under the purview of the district. Each district is directed by a superintendent (aided by an assistant superintendent) and other officials. The principal of each school within a given district must report to the superintendent's office. The individual school is headed by a director and a sub-director, or principal and assistant principal; he or she is aided by the teachers, a social worker, a person responsible for orientation (orientadora ), and food service and custodial personnel. The shortage of candidates willing to take on the responsibilities of the school principal has reached critical proportion in recent years.

Finance: The public educational system is virtually entirely financed by the island government; its funding is dependent on yearly budgets voted by the legislature. As noted above, the amount set aside by law for the University of Puerto Rico system equals 9.65 percent of the total revenues accruing to the State; meanwhile López Yustos [1999] estimates that the cost per pupil in the public schools was about $2,000 in 1990 (i.e., if this is so, and basing the calculation on official enrollment figures, the total amounts to about one and a quarter billion dollars for the primary, intermediate, and senior high schools alone). This figure does not count students in institutions of higher learning or in such special programs as long distance learning. Puerto Rico allocates about 30 percent of its total annual revenues to the Department of Education, the most expensive of all government agencies and the country's largest employer.

However, the figures just given are very approximate; what they mean is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine with real precision. For some analysts they bespeak the people's faith in education, while at the same time that they are often cited by critics of the system who point out the mixed results achieved by these expenditures. It seems certain, however, that education is closely identified with the material progress achieved over the past half-century by the Estado Libre Asociado.

The University of Puerto Rico system (with a 1994 total budget of $622,300,000) received 68 percent of that figure from state funding, 17.5 percent from federal contracts and institutional grants, and 8 percent from student and tuition fees.

Perhaps due to the Commonwealth's mistrust of the private sector, contributions to private schools and institutions of higher learning are not tax deductible. This has surely done much to limit fund-raising on the part of these entities in Puerto Rico and to the establishment of significant endowments. The major exception to this rule has been the Universidad Católica (Ponce), which has benefited handsomely from private donations.

Federal funding also enters into the picture. The above-mentioned Pell Tuition Grant program is indispensable to the survival of private-sector institutions of higher learning. To take an example, the eligibility of 90 percent of the 8,000 students at the Universidad del Turabo brings into the university's annual operating budget a sum located between 17 and 18 million dollars. Few students could afford to study without this aid, and without such students and the university would close its doors. Certain capital expenses are also met with the help of Federal funding, especially such expenses as result from Federally-mandated requirements. Finally, Federal funding, e.g., the N.S.F., N.E.A., N.I.H., and N.E.H., is of great importance for scientific, social scientific, and humanities researchespecially the first of these three. It has proved impossible to put a dollar figure on totals regarding Federal educational support, but the sums involved are surely impressive.

Educational Research: Research dealing with education is an important industry in Puerto Rico. Most of it is social scientific, statistics-based in nature and has to do with remedying perceived deficiencies of various kinds and/or planning. Considerable attention is paid to historical matters, some to historico-political aspects (e.g., Negrón de Montilla 1971), but much more has to do with reform and what ought to be done.

The Department of Education sponsors studies of many kinds and publishes statistics. This research is accomplished mainly on behalf of its own planning programs and also for various governmental purposes (e.g., budget). A departmental divisionthat of planning and educational developmentis more or less in charge of these kinds of research. The Department also maintains an important documentary library for research and consulting purposes.

The island's various Schools of Education also constitute a source of research on educational matters, as does the work accomplished by Puerto Rican candidates for advanced degrees in education in many United States graduate schools.

Nonformal Education

Programs of adult education began in earnest with the 1940s initiative of Fred Wale and others to provide practical aid to the new communities formed by the breaking up of old latifundios into small farms (parcelas ) that were awarded to disadvantaged rural citizens. Engineers volunteered their time to help these communities build a needed bridge; architects and builders helped with construction. Others developed programs of adult eduction (reading and writing, arithmetic, etc.). Artists, writers, and theater people also intervened.

These efforts led to the creation, in 1949, of the División de la Comunidad (Community Education Division) under the auspices of the Departamento de Instrucción Pública as the Department of Education was then known (Wale). This was the starting point of the diverse set of offerings and programs over which the Community Education Division and its various offices has jurisdiction. By means, first, of itinerant teachers and of correspondence courses, and then through radio and public TV broadcasts, it became possible to complete a high school diploma and take college-level courses or classes in various technologies. In 1958 (and reformed in 1985), the Community Education Division was renamed the Area de Extensión educativa (Area of Educational Extension).

In 1997 the Administración de servicios de educación de adultos (Administration of Adult Education Services) replaced the Area of Educational Extension. This was done pursuant to the passage of the Federal Public Law 105-220 or the Workforce Investment Act. Federal funding has been made available to "raise the level of school of youth and adults" and "to reduce illiteracy" (Fajardo) in response to project proposals made by the various school districts, community (i.e., charter) schools, and by specific public and private not for profit institutions. Evening, night, and weekend schools are supported as are approved applications by individuals.

Thus, as time has passed, the community-focused nature of these special programs has tended to give way to more classic, adult education-type offerings with an increased emphasis on basic skills and technology. Therefore, by the mid-1960s, the Program of Adult Education and Cultural Extension had come into existence, under the leadership of an Assistant Secretary of Public Instruction: adult education was henceforth integrated into Public Instruction more and more as a remedial, or "catch up," addendum to the general educational purposes of Public Instruction with a decided emphasis on vocational preparation, individual "recycling," and technology. The communitarian vision that had inspired Wale and Isales was downplayed, which they deplored:

There are those who assume. . .that the physical solution of a problem is a part of growth, but it is so only when it emerges as the result of the entire involvement of a community in the process of solution. . . [If this involvement does not occur,] the methods employed by the leaders can perpetuate dependence instead of aiding true development (Wale).

Like the 1990s theorists of community schools, Wale and Isales appear to be suggesting that the progress of the individual is contingent upon a wider community-oriented commitment, and that it is the job of the government to encourage such a commitment.

Teaching Profession

For most of the first half of the past century, public primary school teachers were trained at Normal Schools and/or in university-affiliated Schools of Education. The course lasted two years for students presenting a valid high school diploma, not counting such time as was required, particularly in the early days, for necessary remedial preparation. With the passage of time, teacher preparation came to stress pedagogical methodologies and supervised practice teaching; the two-year Normal School course was replaced by four year programs largely given over to education (pedagogy).

The public secondary-level teacher was required to offer a bachelor's degree (with a major and minor field of specialization, e.g., mathematics, science, Spanish, etc., in addition to a required number of education courses, plus experience in practice teaching). However, pedagogical matters were given ever increasing priority in teacher training, even on this more advanced level, to the detriment, say critics, of sufficient intellectual content. Defenders of this trend claimed that even in high school the teacher's main job was not to transfer knowledge to his or her pupils, but rather to supervise the pupils' independent ability to effectively seek out such knowledge when needed. The teacher's true specialty lay in teaching itself.

Graduate study in pedagogy eventually succeeded in shunting aside such study in the disciplineshistory, languages, and the sciencesas were taught: an M.A. in Education earned its holder the same raise in salary and promotion as an M.A. in mathematics and was easier to obtain. According to statistics provided in López Yustos 1997, in 1987 a total of 2,364 accredited teachers possessed a two-year Normal School training, 29,724 held the B.A. or the B.A. with some post-graduate work, and 2,615 held the M.A.Ed. (no other M.A. category is provided, although 22 individuals in the system had earned a doctorate with the field unspecified).

The trends just described went hand in hand with the "professionalization" of teachers. A civics teacher became less and less a political scientist who taught; he or she was a teacher who happened to teach civicslike a lawyer who does tax law or a doctor who practices cardiology.

The 1999 law entitled La Carrera Magisterial (The Teaching Profession) appears to give legal status to these practices. Teachers are declared members of the carrera or profession when they obtain a "regular certificate in the category in which they exercise his/her profession" (Fajardo). There exist four ranks of teacher (seemingly modeled on the university instructor-assistant professor-associate professor-professor track). Rules for certification are not spelled out in this law, but previous laws, presumably still in effect in 1999, required for elementary school teaching a Normal School or two year university Associate of Arts diploma in Education and a four year B.A. for secondary school teachers, with a major in the area to be taught plus a set of required courses in pedagogy. In addition to these requirements, the Organic Law of 1990 formalized a new requirement that each teacher candidate take a Certification Examination that included: (1) a test of "Fundamental Knowledge and Communication Skills" and (2) a Test of Professional Competency. However, those desiring to teach Spanish, English, or Mathematics are required also to take a test in their respective [academic] specialties (López Yustos). The Carrera Magisterial law awards life-long tenure to teachers; it also sets up a clear, though somewhat complex formula for the virtually automatic determination of teacher's salaries.

Many teachers belong to one or the other of two organizations, the older Asociciación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (founded in 1911, affiliated with the National Education Association of the United States) and or the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (established as an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers AFL/CIO during the 1960s). The orientation of the first of these organizations is "professional;" that of the second lies mainly with matters of salaries and work conditions.

On the public university level, matters are simpler. As a rule, graduate degrees are a requisite to appointment, and the percentage of faculty holding the doctoratePd.D. or foreign equivalentcontinues to rise. This is especially true of the University of Puerto Rico and substantially less so of the private universities (where salary levels are considerably lower). Faculty recruitment has encountered new difficulties, particularly in areas (e.g., engineering fields, computer technology) with a strong demand in private industry. Although on the whole Puerto Ricans prefer living at home in their own land, there does exist a notable "brain drain," especially to the United States.


Familiarity with the story of the Puerto Rican educational system commands respect for the high level of its protagonists' commitment to the values of learning as these apply above all to the creation of social, economic, and political citizenship of a democratic sort. The fact that the leadership class in government has accepted to devote so high a proportion of the island's resources to education tangibly confirms this commitment.

While the accomplishments of the past century, especially of its second half, can be judged a success, there are several shortcomings. These have to do with the tendency within the Estado Libre Asociado to undertake projects of social engineering. Although recognition of the distinctiveness of the Puerto Rican experience as a colony is a recognized fact, this fact has seldom received the practical importance it merits in plans drawn up for the island's present and future. Thus, what ought to be done tends to replace what can be done, and what the people want to be done. Also the Commonwealth has relied on the social sciences to furnish studies that justify what its leadership wishes to do, often despite values deeply ingrained in the culture of the people. However well-meaning, passing a law that declares schooling obligatory and attendance at school compulsory does not mean it will work. If anything, the State's acting this way is less effective than the early practice of cédulas reales (royal decrees) issued from the Spanish monarchs; and it is as ineffective as the American attempt to make "good Americans" out of Puerto Ricans by foisting English language teaching on their children.

Developments like the Turabo "regionalism" and the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón Cataño initiative seem quite promising. The Cataño initiative has replaced the centralized vertical (from top to bottom, i.e., from government and specialist to people) model by a horizontal, communitarian view. In a school there are teachers, pupils, and administrators; there are families and parents; and there are social and economic characteristics. All of these components have an equal stake in a school; they should be brought together and made to heed one another.


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Karl D. Uitti

Puerto Rico

views updated May 09 2018

Puerto Rico

Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

ORIGIN OF STATE NAME: Spanish for "rich port."

NICKNAME: Island of Enchantment.

CAPITAL: San Juan.


SONG: "La Borinquena."

MOTTO: Joannes est nomen ejus. (John is his name.)

FLAG: From the hoist extends a blue triangle, with one white star; five horizontal stripesthree red, two whitemake up the balance.

OFFICIAL SEAL: In the center of a green circular shield, a lamb holding a white banner reclines on the book of the Apocalypse. Above are a yoke, a cluster of arrows, and the letters "F" and "I," signifying King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, rulers of Spain at the time of discovery; below is the commonwealth motto. Surrounding the shield, on a white border, are the towers of Castile and lions symbolizing Spain, crosses representing the conquest of Jerusalem, and Spanish banners.

BIRD: Reinita.


TREE: Ceiba.

LEGAL HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Three Kings Day (Epiphany), 6 January; Birthday of Eugenio Maria de Hostos, 2nd Monday in January; Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., 3rd Monday in January; Presidents' Day, 3rd Monday in February; Abolition Day, 22 March; Good Friday, Friday before Easter, March or April; Birthday of José de Diego, 3rd Monday in April; Memorial Day, last Monday in May; Independence Day, 4 July; Birthday of Luis Muñoz Rivera, 3rd Monday in July; Constitution Day, 25 July; Birthday of José Celso Barbosa, 25 July; Labor Day, 1st Monday in September; Discovery of America (Columbus Day), 12 October; Veterans' Day, 11 November; Discovery of Puerto Rico Day, 19 November; Thanksgiving Day, 4th Thursday in November, Christmas Day, 25 December.

TIME: 8 AM Atlantic Standard Time = noon GMT.


Situated on the ne periphery of the Caribbean Sea, about 1,000 mi (1,600 km) se of Miami, Puerto Rico is the easternmost and smallest island of the Greater Antilles group. Its total area is 3,515 sq mi (9,104 sq km), including 3,459 sq mi (8,959 sq km) of land and 56 sq mi (145 sq km) of inland water.

Shaped roughly like a rectangle, the main island measures 111 mi (179 km) e-w and 36 (58 km) n-s. Offshore and to the e are two major islands, Vieques and Culebra.

Puerto Rico is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the n, the Virgin Passage and Vieques Sound to the e, the Caribbean Sea to the s, and the Mona Passage to the w. Puerto Rico's total boundary length is 378 mi (608 km).


About 75% of Puerto Rico's land area consists of hills or mountains too steep for intensive commercial cultivation. The Cordillera Central range, separating the northern coast from the semiarid south, has the island's highest peak, Cerro de Punta (4,389 ft-1,338 m). Puerto Rico's best-known peak, El Yunque (3,496 ft-1,066 m), stands to the east, in the Luquillo Mountains (Sierra de Luquillo). The north coast consists of a level strip about 100 mi (160 km) long and 5 mi (8 km) wide. Principal valleys are located along the east coast, from Fajardo to Cape Mala Pascua, and around Caguas, in the east-central region. Offthe eastern shore are two small islands: Vieques, with an area of 51 sq mi (132 sq km), and Culebra, covering 24 sq mi (62 sq km). Uninhabited Mona Island (19 sq mi-49 sq km), off the southwest coast, is a breeding ground for wildlife.

Puerto Rico has 50 waterways large enough to be classified as rivers, but none is navigable by large vessels. The longest river is the Rio de la Plata, extending 46 mi (74 km) from Cayey to Dorado, where it empties into the Atlantic. There are few natural lakes but numerous artificial ones, of which Dos Bocas, south of Arecibo, is one of the most beautiful. Phosphorescent Bay, whose luminescent organisms glow in the night, is a tourist attraction on the south coast.

Like many other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is the crest of an extinct submarine volcano. About 45 mi (72 km) north of the island lies the Puerto Rico Trench, at over 28,000 feet (8,500 meters) one of the world's deepest chasms.


Tradewinds from the northeast keep Puerto Rico's climate equable, although tropical. San Juan has a normal daily mean temperature of 80°f (27°c), ranging from 77°f (25°c) in January to 82°f (28°c) in July; the normal daily minimum is 73°f (23°c), the maximum 86°f (30°c). The lowest temperature ever recorded on the island is 39°f (4°c), at Aibonito, the highest 103°f (39°c), at San Lorenzo. The recorded temperature in San Juan has never been lower than 60°f (16°c) or higher than 97°f (37°c).

Rainfall varies by region. Ponce, on the south coast, averages only 32 in (81 cm) a year, while the highlands average 108 in (274 cm); the rain forest on El Yunque receives an annual average of 183 in (465 cm). San Juan's average annual rainfall is 54 in (137 cm), the rainiest months being May through November.

The word "hurricane" derives from hurakán, a term the Spanish learned from Puerto Rico's Taino Indians. Nine hurricanes have struck Puerto Rico in this century, the most recent being the devastating Hurricane Georges in 1998. On 7 October 1985, torrential rains created a mud slide that devastated the hillside barrio of Mameyes, killing hundreds of people; not only was this Puerto Rico's worst disaster of the century, but it was the single most destructive landslide in US history. On 15-16 September 2004, Hurricane Jeanne, the tenth named storm and the seventh hurricane of the 2004 hurricane season, entered southeast Puerto Rico near Maunabo and traveled west then north across Puerto Rico and exited over the northwest tip of the island near Aguadilla. Following the storm, Puerto Rico was declared a federal disaster area. As the storm approached, the entire power grid of Puerto Rico was shut down by the government, indirectly causing over $100 million in damage and resulting in 600,000 people left without running water. Seven deaths were attributed to Jeanne and there was also landslide damage.


During the 19th century, forests covered about three-fourths of Puerto Rico. As of the 21st century however, only one-fourth of the island is forested. Flowering trees still abound, and the butterfly tree, African tulip, and flamboyán (royal poinciana) add bright reds and pinks to Puerto Rico's lush green landscape. Among hardwoods (now rare) are nutmeg, satinwood, Spanish elm, and Spanish cedar. Pre-Columbian peoples cultivated yucca, yams, peanuts, hot peppers, tobacco, and cotton. Pineapple, guava, tamarind, and cashews are indigenous, and such fruits as mamey, jobo guanábana, and quenepa are new to most visitors. Coconuts, coffee, sugarcane, plantains, mangoes, and most citrus fruits were introduced by the Spanish.

The only mammal found on the island by the conquistadores was a kind of barkless dog, now extinct. Virtually all present-day mammals have been introduced, including horses, cattle, cats, and dogs. The only troublesome mammal is the mongoose, brought in from India to control reptiles in the cane fields and now wild in remote rural areas. Mosquitoes and sand flies are common pests, but the only dangerous insect is the giant centipede, whose sting is painful but rarely fatal. Perhaps the island's best-known inhabitant is the golden coqui, a tiny tree frog whose call of "ko-kee, ko-kee" is heard all through the night; it is a threatened species. Marine life is extraordinarily abundant, including many tropical fish, crabs, and corals. Puerto Rico has some 200 bird species, many of which live in the rain forest. Thrushes, orioles, grosbeaks, and hummingbirds are common, and the reinita and pitirre are distinctive to the island. Several parrot species are rare, and the Puerto Rican parrot is endangered. Also on the endangered list are the yellow-shouldered blackbird and the Puerto Rican plain pigeon, Puerto Rican whippoorwill, Culebra giant anole, Puerto Rican boa, and Monita gecko. The Mona boa and Mona ground iguana are threatened. Also, on the endangered list is the hawksbill sea turtle, which nests in Puerto Rico. There are three national wildlife refuges, covering a total of 2,425 acres (981 hectares).


US environmental laws and regulations are applicable in Puerto Rico. Land-use planning, overseen by the Puerto Rico Planning Board, is an especially difficult problem, since residential, industrial, and recreational developers are all competing for about 30% of the total land area on an island that is already more densely populated than any US state except New Jersey. Pollution from highland latrines and septic systems and from agricultural and industrial wastes is a potential hazard; the rum industry, for example, has traditionally dumped its wastes into the ocean. Moreover, the US requirement that sewage receive secondary treatment before being discharged into deep seas may be unrealistic in view of the commonwealth government's claim, in the late 1970s, which it could not afford to build secondary sewage treatment facilities when 45% of its population lacks primary sewage treatment systems. As of 2003, sewage discharges into the ocean remained a problem: in August 2000, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewage Authority's Aguadilla treatment plant a 20-year waiver for discharging primary treated sewage into the ocean, threatening coral reefs. In 2003, the EPA database listed 16 hazardous waste sites in Puerto Rico. As of 2006, 10 sites were on the National Priorities List, including the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area and the Upjohn facility; Pesticide Warehouse I in Arecibo was a proposed site.

In 2003, total on-and off-site release of toxic chemicals was 8.8 million pounds. In January 1994, 750,000 gallons of oil were spilled off the coast of Puerto Rico, resulting in a fine of over $75 million levied against the three companies responsible. Wetlands on the island have been devastated by development, but in recent years, efforts have been mounted to save and expand these resources. An example is the restoration of one of the most important waterfowl habitats on the island, the freshwater wetlands of Laguna Cartagena.


Puerto Rico's population was estimated at 3,912,054 in 2005, an increase of about 0.4% from 2004 and up from 3,522,037 in 1990. From 1990 to 2000, the population increased by 8.1%. The population was projected to reach 4.4 million by 2010. The population density in 2004 was about 1,137.4 persons per sq mi (439.2 per sq km).

In 2004, about 26.8% of the population was under 18 years of age and 12.2% were 65 years or over. The median age was 33.8 years. In 2003, there were 93 Puerto Rican males for every 100 females.

The population was estimated to be 75.2% urban and 24.8% rural in 2000. San Juan is Puerto Rico's capital and largest city, with an estimated 2005 population of 428,591, followed by Bayamon, 222,195; Carolina, 187,472; Ponce, 182,387; and Caguas, 142,378. Approximately one-third of all residents live in the San Juan-Carolina-Bayamon metropolitan area.


Three main ethnic strands reflect the heritage of Puerto Rico: the Taino Indians, most of whom fled or perished after the Spanish conquest; black Africans, imported as slaves under Spanish rule; and the Spanish themselves. With an admixture of Dutch, English, Corsicans, and other Europeans, Puerto Ricans today enjoy a distinct Hispanic-Afro-Antillean heritage. In 2006, about 80.5% of the population was white (primarily of Spanish origin), 8% were black, 0.4% was Amerindians, and 10.9% were of other or mixed race.

Residents of Puerto Rico have been considered as US citizens since 1917, when the island was ceded to the United States at the end of the Spanish-American War. However, Puerto Ricans do not pay federal income tax to the Untied States and they do not vote in US presidential elections. Despite this link to the United States, most Puerto Ricans describe themselves as "Puertorriqueños" rather than Americans.

Less than two-thirds of all ethnic Puerto Ricans live on the island. Virtually all the remainder resides on the US mainland; in 2000 there were 3,407,000 people who identified themselves as Puerto Rican in the 50 states. The state of New York had the largest US ethnic Puerto Rican population (some 1.1 million) and ethnic Puerto Ricans made up 5.5% of that state's total population. New Yorkers who were born in Puerto Rico or who are of Puerto Rican descent sometimes refer to themselves as "Nuyorican." Florida's total ethnic population in 2000 stood second to New York's, at approximately one-half million.


Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but Spanish remains dominant among the residents. The issue of language has been an ongoing concern between residents and US authorities. A 1902 law established both languages for official use, but US officials pushed for many years to make English the dominant language in school and government use. In 1991, the Puerto Rican legislature issued a bill making Spanish the official language, but this decision was reversed in 1993, restoring both languages to official status.

Puerto Rican Spanish contains many Taino influences, which can be found in such place-names as Arecibo, Guayama, and Mayagüez, as well as hamaca (hammock) and canoa (canoe). Among many African borrowings are food terms like quimbombó (okra), guince (banana), and mondongo (a spicy stew). Some English words are incorporated into Spanish in what is commonly referred to as "Spanglish."


Until 1850, Roman Catholicism was the only religion permitted in Puerto Rico. Most of the population is Christian, with Roman Catholics accounting for about 85% of the population in 2006. The Catholic Church maintains numerous hospitals and schools on the island. Most of the remaining Puerto Ricans belong to other Christian denominations, which have been allowed on the island since the 1850s. Pentecostal churches have attracted a significant following, particularly among the urban poor of the barrios.

A small number of residents (an estimated 0.71% or 27,799 adherents in 2001) are Spiritists, incorporating native and African beliefs into their faith practices. Santeria, a syncretic religion originating in Cuba and Brazil that incorporates African and native Caribbean beliefs (including voodoo) with Catholicism, is practiced by some residents. As of 2001, Puerto Rico had 3,446 Hindus, 2,818 Baha'is, 2,715 Jews, 1,135 Muslims, and 509 Buddhists.

In 2006, the United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico (Iglesia Evangelical Unida de Puerto RicoIEUPR) voted to end a 40-year partnership with the United Church of Christ (UCC) due to the denomination's liberal polices on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. The IEUPR, which was established in 1931 and became a conference of the UCC in 1961, planned to con-tinue to operate as an independent denomination, much as it had before affiliation with the UCC.


Puerto Rico's inland transportation network consists primarily of roads and motor vehicles. A system of public buses operated by the Metropolitan Bus Authority (MBA) provides intercity passenger transport in the capital of San Juan and nearby cities. As of 2000, the bus service carried 135,000 daily passengers, up from 60,000 daily passengers in 1995, a 125% increase. The públicos, a privately owned jitney service of small buses and cars, offers transportation between fixed destinations in cities and towns.

As of 2004, Puerto Rico had 264 mi (424 km) of interstate highways and 15,673 mi (25,217 km) of local roads. In 2000, the territory had approximately two million registered automobiles.

The Tren Urbano (Urban Train), a heavy rail transit train, began operations in December 2004. Tren Urbano connects San Juan to the surrounding urban areas with 16 stations along a 10.7-mi (17-km), 30-minute route. The cost of the Tren Urbano project was $2.25 billion.

In 1996/97, the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association invested nearly $750 million to complete the strategic highway network system around the island, as well as other roads that connect small towns with the nearby cities. By 2000, the majority of the projects to improve the highway system had been completed, including improvements to Highways 2, 3, 22, 26, 30, and 52. The PR-10 Expressway crosses from the north to the central mountainous region. The PR-53 toll road provides a new route for the towns of the northeast. The Baldorioty de Castro Expressway allows rap-id travel between the main airport and the capital. In 2000, a $200 million master plan for a new north-south expressway was being developed, which would involve the Martinez Nadal Expressway (Highway 20), improvements to Highway 1 to Caguas, an intersection in Caparra, and the Kennedy Expressway. The project was to be completed by 2008.

San Juan, the island's principal port and a leading containerized cargo-handling facility, handled 9.6 million tons of cargo in 2001. Ponce and Mayagüez handle considerable tons of cargo as well. Ferries link the main island with the islands of Vieques and Culebra.

As of 2006, the first of four phases was completed in the development of the "Port of the Americas," a world-class transshipment port and adjoining free industrial zone extending from Ponce to Guayanilla. Extensive tracts of land and the natural deep-water bay were an advantageous site for the port. The port was designed to handle all of Puerto Rico's foreign trade, and a good deal of the international container traffic crossing the Caribbean. It was expected that 12,000 jobs would be created with the establishment of the port.

Puerto Rico receives flights from 38 US mainland cities, and from the Virgin Islands, the British West Indies, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Great Britain, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan enplaned 10.4 million passengers in 2002. Puerto Rico shipped 495.8 million tons of air cargo in 2002. San Juan had 1.29 million passenger airline seats in January 2003. Other leading air terminals are located at Ponce, Mayagüez, and Aguadilla. There were 30 airports in Puerto Rico in 2004, 17 of which had paved runways. As of 2003, 52 airlines serviced Puerto Rico.


Archaeological finds indicate that at least three Indian cultures flourished on the island now known as Puerto Rico long before its discovery by Christopher Columbus on 19 November 1493. The first group, belonging to the Archaic Culture, is believed to have come from Florida. Having no knowledge of agriculture or pottery, it relied on the products of the sea; the remains of its members have been found mostly in caves. The second group, the Igneri, came from northern South America. Descended from Arawak stock, the Igneri brought agriculture and pottery to the island; their remains are found mostly in the coastal areas. The third culture, the Taino, also of Arawak origin, combined fishing with agriculture. A peaceful, sedentary tribe, the Taino were adept at stonework and lived in many parts of the island; Taino relics have been discovered not only along the coastal perimeter but also high in the mountains, where the Taino performed ritual games in ball parks that have been restored in recent times. To the Indians, the island was known as Boriqúen.

Columbus, accompanied by a young nobleman named Juan Ponce de León, landed at the western end of the islandwhich he called San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist)and claimed it for Spain. Not until colonization was well under way would the island acquire the name Puerto Rico (literally, "rich port"), with the name San Juan Bautista applied to the capital city. The first settlers arrived on 12 August 1508, under the able leadership of Ponce de León, who sought to transplant and adapt Spanish civilization to Puerto Rico's tropical habitat. The small contingent of Spaniards compelled the Taino, numbering perhaps 30,000, to mine for gold; the rigors of forced labor and the losses from rebellion reduced the Taino population to about 4,000 by 1514, by which time the mines were nearly depleted. With the introduction of slaves from Africa, sugarcane growing became the leading economic activity. Since neither mining nor sugarcane was able to provide sufficient revenue to support the struggling colony, the treasury of New Spain began a subsidy, known as the situado, which until the early 19th century defrayed the cost of the island's government and defense.

From the early 16th century onward, an intense power struggle for control of the Caribbean marked Puerto Rico as a strategic base of the first magnitude. After a French attack in 1528, construction of La Fortaleza (still in use today as the governor's palace) was begun in 1533, and work on El Morro fortress in San Juan commenced six years later. The new fortifications helped repel a British attack led by Sir Francis Drake in 1595; a second force, arriving in 1598 under George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, succeeded in capturing San Juan, but the British were forced to withdraw by tropical heat and disease. In 1625, a Dutch attack under the command of Boudewijn Hendrikszoon was repulsed, although much of San Juan was sacked and burned by the attackers. By the 18th century, Puerto Rico had become a haven for pirates, and smuggling was the major economic activity. A Spanish envoy that came to the island in 1765 was appalled, and his report to the crown inaugurated a period of economic, administrative, and military reform. The creation of a native militia helped Puerto Rico withstand a fierce British assault on San Juan in 1797, by which time the island had more than 100,000 inhabitants.

Long after most of the Spanish colonies in the New World had obtained independence, Puerto Rico and Cuba remained under Spanish tutelage. Despite several insurrection attempts, most of them inspired by the liberator, Simón Bolivar, Spain's military might concentrated on these islands precluded any revolution.

Puerto Rico became a shelter for refugees from Santo Domingo, Haiti, and Venezuela who were faithful to Spain, fearful of disturbances in their own countries, or both. As in Cuba, the sugar industry developed in Puerto Rico during this period under policies that favored foreign settlers. As a result, a new landowner class emergedthe hacendadoswho were instrumental in strengthening the institution of slavery on the island. By 1830, the population was 300,000. Sugar, tobacco, and coffee were the leading export crops, although subsistence farming still covered much of the interior. Sugar found a ready market in the US, and trade steadily developed, particularly with the northeast.

The 19th century also gave birth, however, to a new Puerto Rican civil and political consciousness. Puerto Rican participation in the short-lived constitutional experiments in Spain (181214 and 182023) fostered the rise of a spirit of liberalism, expressed most notably by Ramón Power y Giralt, at one time vice president of the Spanish Cortes (parliament). During these early decades, Spain's hold on the island was never seriously threatened. Although the Spanish constitution of 1812 declared that the people of Puerto Rico were no longer colonial subjects but were full-fledged citizens of Spain, the crown maintained an alert, centralized, absolutist government with all basic powers concentrated in the captain general.

Toward the middle of the 19th century, a criollo generation with strong liberal roots began a new era in Puerto Rican history. This group, which called for the abolition of slavery and the introduction of far-reaching economic and political reforms, at the same time developed and strengthened Puerto Rican literary tradition. The more radical reformers espoused the cause of separation from Spain and joined in a propaganda campaign in New York on behalf of Cuban independence. An aborted revolution, beginning in the town of Lares in September 1868 (and coinciding with an insurrection in Spain that deposed Queen Isabella II), though soon quelled, awakened among Puerto Ricans a dormant sense of national identity. "El Grito de Lares" (the Cry of Lares) helped inspire a strong anti-Spanish separatist current that was unable to challenge Spanish power effectively but produced such influential leaders as Ramón Emeterio Betances and Eugenio Maria de Hostos.

The major reform efforts after 1868 revolved around abolitionism and autonomia, or self-government. Slavery was abolished in 1873 by the First Spanish Republic, which also granted new political rights to the islanders. The restoration of the Spanish monarchy two years later, however, was a check to Puerto Rican aspirations. During the last quarter of the century, leaders such as Luis Muñoz Rivera sought unsuccessfully to secure vast new powers of self-government. By this time, Puerto Rico was an island with a distinct Antillean profile, strong Hispanic roots, and a mixed population that, borrowing from its Indian-Spanish-African background and an influx of Dutch, English, Corsicans, and other Europeans, had developed its own folkways and mores.

The imminence of war with the US over Cuba, coupled with autonomist agitation within Puerto Rico, led Spain in November 1897 to grant to the island a charter with broad powers of self-rule. Led by Luis Muñoz Rivera, Puerto Ricans began to establish new organs of self-government; but no sooner had an elected government begun to function in July 1898 than US forces, overcoming Spanish resistance, took over the island. A cease-fire was proclaimed on 13 August, and sovereignty was formally transferred to the US with the signing in December of the Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War. The US government swept aside the self-governing charter granted by Spain and established military rule from 1898 to 1900. Civilian government was restored in 1900 under a colonial law, the Foraker Act, which gave the federal government full control of the executive and legislative branches, leaving some local representation in the lower chamber, or House of Delegates. Under the Jones Act, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on 2 March 1917, Congress extended US citizenship to the islanders and granted them an elective senate, but still reserved vast powers over Puerto Rico to the federal bureaucracy.

The early period of US rule saw an effort to Americanize all insular institutions, even to the point of superseding the Spanish language as the vernacular. In the meantime, American corporate capital took over the sugar industry, developing a plantation economy so pervasive that, by 1920, 75% of the population relied on the cane crop for its livelihood. Glaring irregularities of wealth resulted, sharpening social and political divisions. This period also saw the development of three main trends in Puerto Rican political thinking. One group favored the incorporation of Puerto Rico into the US as a state; a second group, fearful of cultural assimilation, favored self-government; while a third group spoke for independence.

The Depression hit Puerto Rico especially hard. With a population approaching 2 million by the late 1930s and with few occupational opportunities outside the sugar industry, the island's economy deteriorated, and mass unemployment and near-starvation were the results. Controlling the Puerto Rican legislature from 1932 to 1940 was a coalition of the Socialist Party, led by Santiago Iglesias, a Spanish labor leader who became a protégé of the American Federation of Labor, and the Republican Party, which had traditionally espoused statehood and had been founded in Puerto Rico by José Celso Barbosa, a black physician who had studied in the US. The coalition was unable to produce any significant improvement, although under the New Deal a US government effort was made to supply emergency relief for the "stricken island."

Agitation for full political and economic reform or independence gained ground during this period. A violent challenge to US authority in Puerto Rico was posed by the small Nationalist Party, led by Harvard-educated Pedro Albizu Campos. A broader attack on the island's political and economic ills was led by Luis Muñoz Marin and the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), founded in 1938; within two years, the PDP won control of the senate. Under Muñoz Marin, a new era began in Puerto Rico. Great pressure was put on Washington for a change in the island's political status, while social and economic reform was carried to the fullest extent possible within the limitations of the Jones Act. Intensive efforts were made to centralize economic planning, attract new industries through local tax exemptions (Puerto Rico was already exempt from federal taxation), reduce inequality of income, and improve housing, schools, and health conditions. Meanwhile, a land distribution program helped the destitute peasants who were the backbone of the new party. All these measureswidely publicized as Operation Bootstrapcoupled with the general US economic expansion after World War II, so transformed Puerto Rico's economy that income from manufacturing surpassed that from agriculture by 1955 and was five times as great by 1970. Annual income per capita rose steadily from $296 in 1950 to $1,384 in 1970.

The PDP, the dominant force in Puerto Rican politics from 1940 to 1968, favored a new self-governing relationship with the US, distinct from statehood or independence. The party succeeded not only in bringing about significant social and economic change but also in obtaining from Congress in 1950 a law allowing Puerto Ricans to draft their own constitution with full local self-government. This new constitution, approved in a general referendum on 3 March 1952, led to the establishment on 25 July of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico), which, according to a resolution approved in 1953 by the United Nations Committee on Information from Non-Self-Governing Territories, was constituted as an autonomous political entity in voluntary association with the United States.

An island-wide plebiscite in 1967 showed that 60% of those voting favored continuation and improvement of the commonwealth relationship, 39% preferred statehood, and less than 1% supported independence; the turnout among eligible voters was 65%. The result of the plebiscite, held to support a movement for additional home-rule powers, met with indifference from the US executive branch and outright opposition from the pro-statehood minority in Puerto Rico. Consequently, efforts to obtain passage by Congress of a "Compact of Permanent Union between Puerto Rico and the United States," although approved at the subcommittee level by the House of Representatives, failed to produce any change in the commonwealth arrangement.

The result was renewed agitation for either statehood or independence, with growing internal political polarization. The island's Republican Party rearranged itself after the plebiscite as the New Progressive Party (NPP), and came to power in 1968 as a result of a split in PDP ranks that led to the creation of the splinter People's Party. The two major blocs have been evenly balanced since that time, with the PDP returning to power in 1972 but losing to the NPP in 1976 and again, by a very narrow margin, in 1980, before regaining the governorship in 1984. The independence movement, in turn, divided into two wings: the moderates favored social democracy, while the radicals pursued close ties with the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. Capitalizing on the increased power of Third World countries in the United Nations, and with Soviet support, the radicals challenged US policies and demanded a full transfer of sovereign rights to the people of Puerto Rico. Their position won the support of the UN Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (more generally known as the Committee of 24), which on 15 August 1979 re-affirmed "the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence." The US government replied that the people of Puerto Rico had already exercised their right of self-determination in the 1967 plebiscite, and noted that Congress in 1979 had restated its "commitment to respect and support the right of the people of Puerto Rico to determine their own political future through peaceful, open and democratic processes."

More advanced than most Caribbean countries in education, health, and social development, Puerto Rico suffered from growing political tensions in the early 1980s, with occasional terrorist attacks on US military installations and personnel. These tensions may have been exacerbated by the national recession of 198081, which had a particularly severe impact on Puerto Rico. The commonwealth's gross national product declined by 6% in 1982 and 1983, and federal budget cuts ended a jobs program and reduced access to food stamps. At the same time, the island's economy experienced a structural shift. Whereas 50% of jobs in Puerto Rico had been in agriculture in 1940, by 1989 that figure had dropped to 20%. Manufacturing jobs, in contrast, rose from 5 to 15% of total employment between 1940 and 1989. Although Puerto Rico's economy began to expand in the mid-1980s, growing at an annual rate of 3.6%, the island continued to depend heavily on the federal government, which in 1989 employed 25% of Puerto Rican workers. The economy grew at an estimated rate of 2.2% in 2001. (Due to adverse conditions in the global economy, however, the GDP growth rate stood at 0.5% in 2002).

Puerto Rico's political status remains a source of controversy. Statehood would give Puerto Rico representation in the US Congress and would make the island eligible for billions of dollars more a year in food stamps, medical insurance, and income support payments, which are currently set at levels far below those of states. However, statehood would also incur the loss of tax benefits. Under current federal tax law for the commonwealth, individuals pay no federal income tax. More importantly, corporations pay no federal tax on profits, which has persuaded many companies, particularly manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and electronics, to build plants in Puerto Rico. In 1993 and 1998 plebiscites, a slight majority of Puerto Rican voters chose to maintain the island's status as an American commonwealth rather than opt for statehood or independence.

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo caused 12 deaths and $1 billion in damage in Puerto Rico. In 1994, the island suffered its worst drought in almost 30 years, and narrowly avoided serious damage to its beaches and wildlife when over half a million gallons (2.3 million liters) of heavy oil were spilled by a barge that ran aground on a coral reef. In October 1998, Hurricane Georges ravaged the island, causing damage estimated in the billions of dollars.

Pedro Rosselló was reelected governor in 1994; he announced in 1999 that he would not seek a third term in elections of fall 2000. In the 2000 election, Sila M. Calderón was elected the island's first woman governor.

In 1999 one Puerto Rican civilian had been killed and four others were seriously wounded in an accident during a US military training exercise on the island of Vieques. Widespread protests following the accident led US president Bill Clinton to temporarily suspend military training on the island, pending an investigation, and subsequent exercises used inert weapons only. The residents of Vieques, however, maintained that the military exercises were responsible for health and environmental problems. Governor Calderón, who opposed the US Navy maneuvers, pressured President George W. Bush, Clinton's successor, to halt the activity. On 1 May 2003, the US Navy withdrew from Vieques, and approximately 15,000 acres of land previously used by the military were turned over to the US Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, to be dedicated to a wildlife refuge closed to the public.

That same month (May 2003), Calderón announced she would not run for reelection in 2004. The announcement set off a chain of events that brought the island commonwealth to the brink of financial insolvency in 2006.

During Governor Calderón's administration, Puerto Rico was faced with a growing crime rate, fueled by the drug trade, and a sick economy, made worse by the phasing out of tax breaks that had been given to US companies to set up operations on the island and Washington's general disinterest in the island. In addition, Puerto Rico had been losing population to the US mainland, further demoralizing those who chose to stay on the island. Shortly after Calderón announced her retirement, her predecessor, Pedro Rossello, announced that he would run for the governorship in the 2004 election.

When Rossello left office in 2001, unresolved charges of corruption leveled against him and members of his administration remained. In the 2004 election, Rossello's opponent was Anibal Acevedo Vila, a member of Governor Calderón's pro-commonwealth party and the son of a former governor. During the campaign however, the interest centered upon the political theatrics between Rossello (whose party favored statehood) and Calderón.

The election was bitter and hard fought and the results were very close: Acevedo Vila's margin of victory, only 3,880 votes out of around 2 million paper votes cast, led to a recount and a challenge by Rossello in federal court. In the end, Acevedo Vila was pronounced the victor. However, this left the legislature and the office of the island's second-highest government official (the resident commissioner in Washington, DC, held by Luis Fortuno) under the control of the pro-statehood party. The result was political gridlock, mainly over a failure to agree on the budget.

The lack of a budget since 2004 caused a $740-million budget shortfall, and on 1 May 2006, the government ran out of money. Nearly 100,000 Puerto Rican government employees lost their jobs, some 43 government agencies shut down, and the island's 1,600 public schools were closed. The disruption to the Puerto Rican economy was severe and the island's bonds hovered at near junk status, seriously impacting the ability of the commonwealth to raise money for needed public works and other government needs.

Feeling the pressure, a meeting was arranged between the governor, the speaker of Puerto Rico's House, and the president of its Senate. Also invited to participate was a religious delegation that included the Roman Catholic archbishop of Puerto Rico. On 13 May 2006, a deal was approved that included a $741 million loan from the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico and authorized the creation of an "urgent needs" fund, which would raise money through a new sales tax.

Although Puerto Rico banned capital punishment in 1929, in 2003, two men who were charged with first degree murder and extortion were being considered for execution under the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act, which broadened the range of crimes punishable by death. Many Puerto Ricans claimed the imposition of the death penalty would infringe upon the commonwealth's right to self-government.


Since 1952, Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth of the US, governed under the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act and under a constitution based on the US model. The Puerto Rican constitution specifically prohibits discrimination "on account of race, color, sex, birth, social origin or condition, or political ideas." The constitution has been amended a number of times, and in 2002, plans to hold a constitutional assembly to amend the constitution were proposed, providing for the elimination of the House of Representatives and the senate and the creation of a unicameral legislature. In 2005, the administration of President George W. Bush asked Congress to set a vote for the Puerto Ricans to decide on their status as a free nation.

The commonwealth legislature comprises a Senate (Senado) of 27 or more members, 2 from each of 8 senatorial districts, and 11 elected at large; and a House of Representatives (Cámara de Representantes) of 51 or more members, 1 from each of 40 districts and 11 at large. Each Senate district consists of five House districts. The Law of Minorities holds that if a single party wins two-thirds or more of the seats in either house, but does not win two-thirds of the vote in the gubernatorial election, the opposition parties are eligible for additional seats, in order to give the opposition (collectively) one-third of the seats in either house. The number of seats therefore, can be expanded (up to a limit of 9 in the senate and 17 in the house), if opposition parties receive at least 3% of the gubernatorial vote. In the 2000 election, one seat was added to the Senate according to this law, but no seats were added to the House of Representatives. Senators must be at least 30 years of age, representatives must be 25. Legislators must have been commonwealth residents for two years and district or municipal residents for one year. All legislators serve four-year terms.

The governor, who may serve an unlimited number of four-year terms, is the only elected executive. Candidates for the governorship must be US citizens for at least five years, must be at least 35 years of age, and must have resided in Puerto Rico for at least five years.

A bill becomes law if approved by both houses and either signed by the governor or left unsigned for 10 days while the legislature is in session. A two-thirds vote of the elected members of each house is sufficient to override a gubernatorial veto. The governor can employ the item veto or reduce amounts in appropriations bills. The governor also has the power to declare martial law in cases of rebellion, invasion, or immediate danger of rebellion or invasion. The constitution may be amended by a two-thirds vote of the legislature and ratification by popular majority vote.

Residents of Puerto Rico may not vote in US presidential elections. A Puerto Rican who settles in one of the 50 states automatically becomes eligible to vote for president; conversely, a state resident who migrates to Puerto Rico forfeits such eligibility. Puerto Rico has no vote in the US Senate or House of Representatives, but a nonvoting resident delegate, elected every four years, may speak on the floor of the House, introduce legislation, and vote in House committees.

Qualified voters must be US citizens, be at least 18 years of age, and have registered 50 days before a general election; absentee registration is not allowed.


Taking part in Puerto Rican elections during recent years were two major and three smaller political parties. The Popular Democratic (PPD), founded in 1938, favors the strengthening and development of commonwealth status. The New Progressive Party (PNP), created in 1968 as the successor to the Puerto Rican Republican Party, is pro-statehood. The National Republican Party of Puerto Rico is led by Luis Ferré. Two smaller parties, each favoring independence for the island, were the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), founded in the mid-1940s and committed to democratic socialism, and the more radical Puerto Rican Socialist Party, which had close ties with Cuba until it became defunct. A breakaway group, the Renewal Party, led by the mayor of San Juan, Hernán Padilla, left the PNP and took part in the 1984 elections.

In 1980, Governor Carlos Romero Barceló of the PNP, who had pledged to actively seek Puerto Rico's admission to the Union if elected by a large margin, retained the governorship by a plurality of fewer than 3,500 votes, in the closest election in the island's history, while the PPD won control of the legislature and 52 out of 78 mayoralty contests. Former governor Rafael Hernández Colón defeated Romero Barceló's bid for reelection in 1984 by more than 54,000 votes. Colón was reelected in 1988 and was succeeded in 1992 by Pedro Rosselló, a New Progressive and a supporter of statehood, who was reelected in 1996. In 2000, Sila M. Calderón was elected Puerto Rico's first female governor, with 48.6% of the vote. The 2004 General Elections were the second-closest in Puerto Rican history. A recount confirmed the winner, Anibal Aceve-do-Vila of the PPD; he was the first governor in Puerto Rican history not to have a resident commissioner of his same party, given that Luis Fortuno of the PNP won the post.

Puerto Rico Gubernatorial Vote by Political Parties, 19482004
*Residents of Puerto Rico are barred from voting in US presidential elections.
1948Luis Muñoz Marin (PPD)392,03388,81966,14164,12128,203
1952Luis Muñoz Marin (PPD)429,06485,172125,73421,655
1956Luis Muñoz Marin (PPD)433,010172,83886,386
1960Luis Muñoz Marin (PPD)457,880252,36424,103
1964Roberto Sanchez Vitella (PPD)487,280284,62722,20126,867
1968Luis A Ferré (PNP)367,903390,6234,05724,71387,844
1972Rafael Hernández Colón (PPD)609,670524,03952,0702,9101,608
1976Carlos Romero Barceló (PNP)634,941682,60758,5569,761
1980Carlos Romero Barceló (PNP)756,434759,86887,2755,225
1984Rafael Hernández Colón (PPD)822,040767,71061,10168,536
1988Rafael Hernández Colón (PPD)865,309813,44896,230
1992Pedro Rosselló (PNP)845,372919,02976,357
1996Pedro Rosselló (PNP)1,006,331875,85275,304
2000Sila María Calderón (PPD)978,860919,194104,705
2004Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá (PPD)963,303959,73754,551

The question of Puerto Rico's status remained controversial as of 2006. Governor Rosselló called a plebiscite in November of 1993 to enable voters to choose between independence, commonwealth or statehood. A narrow majority of Puerto Rican voters decided to maintain the island's status as an American commonwealth. However, they conditioned their vote on a demand that the terms of the island's commonwealth status be modified. Such modifications would include eliminating the federal limits on food stamps and expanding Supplemental Security Income to encompass elderly and handicapped Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rican voters also requested that recent changes in Federal Tax Law 936, which had lowered by 60% the exemptions corporations could claim from taxes on profits, be removed and that the law be restored to its original form. Although Puerto Ricans have no vote in US presidential elections, the island does send voting delegates to the national conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties. In 1980, for the first time, those delegates were chosen by presidential preference primary.

Puerto Rico's political parties have generally committed themselves to peaceful change through democratic methods. One exception was the pro-independence Nationalist Party, whose followers were involved in an attempt to assassinate US president Harry S. Truman in 1950 and in an outbreak of shooting in the House of Representatives that wounded five congressman in 1954. A US-based terrorist group, the Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation (FALN), claimed credit during the late 1970s for bombings in New York and other major cities. FALN members briefly took over the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on 25 October 1977. Another group, the Macheteros, apparently based on the island, claimed responsibility for an attack on a US Navy bus in 1980 and for blowing up eight US Air Force planes at a Puerto Rico Air National Guard installation early in 1981.


The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico had 78 municipalities in 2006, each governed by a mayor and municipal assembly elected every four years. In fact, these governments resemble US county governments in that they perform services for both urban and rural areas. Many of the functions normally performed by municipal governments in the USfor instance, fire protection, education, water supply, and law enforcementare performed by the commonwealth government directly.


The executive branch of Puerto Rico's highly centralized government is organized into departments, agencies, and public corporations. The departments are as follows: agriculture, consumer affairs, correction and rehabilitation, economic development and commerce, education, family services, health, housing, justice, labor and human resources, natural resources and the environment, recreation and sports, state, transportation and public works, and treasury. Lodged within the Office of the Governor are the Office of Management and Budget, Planning Board, Commission on Women's Affairs, and Environmental Quality Board, as well as offices of economic opportunity, energy, youth affairs, cultural affairs, labor affairs, child development, and development of the disabled, and commissions for the protection and strengthening of the family and of agricultural planning and action.

Puerto Rico is more heavily socialized than any US state. Almost one-fourth of all those employed work for the commonwealth government, which operates hotels, marine transports, the telephone company, and all sugar mills, among other enterprises.


Puerto Rico's highest court, the Supreme Court, consists of a chief justice and six associate justices, appointed, like all other judges, by the governor with the consent of the senate and serving until compulsory retirement at age 70. The court may sit in separate panels for some purposes, but not in cases dealing with the constitutionality of commonwealth law, for which the entire body convenes. Decisions of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico regarding US constitutional questions may be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

The Circuit Court of Appeals consists of 33 justices named by the governor with the consent of the senate. Decisions of the court may revise those of the trial courts of first instance. The Circuit Court of Appeals was created in 1994 as an intermediary tribunal between the courts of first instance and the Supreme Court. The tribunal sits in San Juan.

The nine superior courts are the main trial courts; superior court judges are appointed to 12-year terms. In 2003, superior courts were divided into 13 districts. These courts have original jurisdiction in civil cases not exceeding $10,000 and in minor criminal cases. District courts also hear preliminary motions in more serious criminal cases. Municipal judges, serving for five years, and justices of the peace, in rural areas, decide cases involving local ordinances.

San Juan is the seat of the US District Court for Puerto Rico, which has the same jurisdiction as federal district courts on the US mainland.

The death penalty is constitutionally forbidden; however, in 2003, the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act was being invoked in a case involving two men accused of murder and extortion. This attempt met with increased activism against the death penalty, and reinforced the belief that the death penalty infringes on Puerto Rico's right to self-government. The last execution in Puerto Rico took place in 1927.


In 2004, there were 611 active-duty military personnel stationed in Puerto Rico. Principal of the US military installations in Puerto Rico are the Naval Security Station at Sabana Seca and the Roosevelt Roads Naval Reservation, near Ceiba (a BRAC closing in 2004). Under BRAC Ft. Buchanan in Guaynabo became an army reserve base in 2005. Use of Vieques for training maneuvers, including shelling and bombing, forced many of that island's residents to move; the US Navy withdrew its forces in May 2003. Aerial and naval target practice on Culebra by the US Navy was halted by protests and legal action. Defense spending decreased dramatically in 2002: US defense agencies spent $133.8 million on procurement contracts greater than $25,000 during the first nine months of 2002.

As of 2004, some 131,448 veterans of US military service were living on the island, including 12,449 World War II veterans, 28,434 from the Korean Conflict, 34,195 Vietnam veterans and 17,345 from the Persian Gulf War. Total VA expenditures were $820,565. Puerto Ricans suffered 731 combat deaths in Korea and 270 in Vietnam.

Reserve and National Guard personnel in Puerto Rico totaled 7,605 in 2004, with the army accounting for the vast majority (6,693).


Although migration from Puerto Rico to the US mainland is not an entirely new phenomenonseveral Puerto Rican merchants were living in New York City as early as 1830there were no more than 70,000 islanders in the US in 1940. Mass migration, spurred by the booming postwar job market in the US, began in 1947. The out-migration was particularly large from 1951 through 1959, when the net outflow of migrants from the island averaged more than 47,000 a year. According to the 2003 American Community Profile an estimated 3,717,941 ethnic Puerto Ricans were living in the 50 states, or about 1.31% if the US population. At least 32 cities had Puerto Rican communities of 5,000 or more. Puerto Ricans are found in significant numbers not only in New York State but also in New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, and Florida. Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Indeed, 58% of ethnic Puerto Ricans living in the 50 states were concentrated in the Northeast in 2002.

During the 1970s, in part because of the economic decline of many US urban centers, the migration trend slowed; official estimates show that the net flow of migrants from the island totaled only 65,900. But with the Puerto Rican economy worsening in the early 1980s, the net migration from early 1980 to mid-1983 was about 90,000. From 1990 to 1992, there was a net loss from migration of about 40,000.

One striking aspect of the US-Puerto Rico migration pattern is its fluidity. As US citizens, Puerto Ricans can move freely between the island and the mainland. Even in 1953, when the heaviest net outflow was recorded74,603fully 230,307 persons emigrated from the US mainland to Puerto Rico, as 304,910 Puerto Ricans were migrating the other way. In 2000, 242,973 people living on the US mainland said that they had lived in Puerto Rico in 1995, while 112,788 people living in the commonwealth in 2000 said that they had lived on the mainland in 1995. This extreme mobility, though sensitive to the job market, would not be possible were it not for the increased income available to Puerto Ricans on both the island and the US mainland, and the fact that Puerto Ricans who come to the continental US generally preserve their ties of family and friendship with those in the commonwealth, thus finding it easy to return, whether for a short stay at Christmastime or for a new job on the island.


A member of the US Council of State Governments, Puerto Rico subscribes to the Compact for Education, the Interstate Compact for the Supervision of Parolees and Probationers, the Southern States Energy Board, and the Southern Growth Policies Compact. In its relations with the US government, the commonwealth is in most respects like a state, except in the key areas of taxation and representation. US laws are in effect, federal agencies regulate aviation and broadcasting, and Puerto Ricans participate in such federally funded programs as Social Security and food stamps. US grants to Puerto Rico totaled almost $5.3 billion in fiscal year 2004.


The island's most important industrial products are pharmaceuticals, electronics, apparel, and food products. The sugar industry has gradually lost ground to dairy production and other livestock products in the agricultural sector. Tourism is the backbone of a large service industry, and the government sector has also grown. Tourist revenues and remittances from workers on the US main-land largely counterbalance Puerto Rico's chronic trade deficit. Federal funds to the government and directly to the people have been important to the Puerto Rican economy.

Puerto Rico's major problem is lack of jobs for an expanding population, a problem exacerbated when rising unemployment in the United States persuades Puerto Ricans to return to the island. From its former dependence on subsistence agriculture, Puerto Rico became a center for low-wage textile manufacturing, then a home for refining cheap crude oil from abroadmainly Venezuela. The sharp rise of overseas oil prices that began in 1973 devastated this economic sector. Since then, high-technology industries, such as pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, have become a major presence on the island.

Section 936 of the US internal revenue code, passed in 1976 and discontinued in 1996, established a substantial tax credit for US corporations doing business in Puerto Rico and possessions of the United States. Some corporations were also allowed to import their products into the United States duty-free. Section 936 was replaced with Section 30A, which allowed companies to claim 60% of wages and capital investment as non-taxable income. Pharmaceutical companies and high-tech industries based in Puerto Rico were to have an advantage over NAFTA member Mexico, whose low wages in low-skill labor-intensive jobs competed with Puerto Rican jobs. Due to the elimination of Section 936, however, many companies in Puerto Rico closed.

The downturn in the US economy that began in 2001 negatively impacted the Puerto Rican economy more severely than the mainland economy. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States also had an adverse effect on the Puerto Rican tourist industry. By 2003, the economy was beginning to show signs of stabilizing: unemployment stood at 11.9% in the first quarter of 2003, down from over 13% in 2002. However, some of the same factors affecting the US economy, such as the ongoing war with Iraq and rising oil prices, continue to impact the Puerto Rican economy as well. In May 2006, the unemployment rate was at 19.5%. Gross national product (GNP) in 2004 was at about $50.3 billion with an annual growth rate of 6.1%. GDP the same year was $78.8 billion with an annual growth rate of 5.4%. In 2004, the overall sales of goods and services totaled about $66.3 billion while the purchase of goods and services totaled $80.2 billion. Government net recurrent revenues were totaled at $11.2 billion.


The minimum wage laws of the Untied States apply to Puerto Rico as well. In 2004, the mean hourly wage was $10.38, lower than the US national mean of $17.80. One of the highest mean hourly wages ($24.45) was paid to those in legal occupations, while those in the food service industry received one of the lowest mean hourly wages ($6.55). Per capita personal income in Puerto Rico was $12,031 in 2004. The average family income was about $37,990 per year. Government jobs accounted for 30% of payroll employment as of 2004. The next largest sector was trade, transportation, warehouse, and utilities, which accounted for 18% of payroll employment.


Puerto Rico's civilian labor force as of May 2006 numbered 1,417,300. The unemployment rate in May 2006 averaged 19.5%.

In 2003, services accounted for 28% of employment; government, 21%; trade, 21%; manufacturing, 11%; construction and mining, 7%; transportation and other public utilities, 5%; finance, insurance, and real estate, 4%; and agriculture, 2%. In 2004, approximately 62,124 people were employed in construction, natural resources, and mining; 118,597, manufacturing; 182,037, trade, transportation, warehouse, and utilities; 22,067, information; 46,402, finance; 102,102, professional and business; 97,951, educational and health; 70,512, leisure and hospitality; 303,137, government; and 20,643, other services.

Less than 10% of the labor force belongs to trade unions. There are four main Puerto Rican unions represented on the island, the largest of which is the General Confederation of Puerto Rican Workers. Wages tend to adhere closely to the US statutory minimum, which applies to Puerto Rico.


In 1940, agriculture employed 43% of the work force; by 2000, about 3% of the Puerto Rican labor force had agricultural jobs. Nowhere is this decline more evident than in the sugar industry. Production peaked at 1,300,000 tons in 1952, when 150,000 cane cutters were employed; by 1978, however, production was 300,000 tons, fewer than 20,000 cutters were in the fields, and the industry was heavily subsidized. By 2000, only 2,500 people were employed in the sugar industry, mostly in the fields, and Puerto Rico was importing most of its sugar from the US mainland and the Dominican Republic. The hilly terrain makes mechanization difficult, and manual cutting contributes to production costs that are much higher than those of Hawaii and Louisiana. In 2002, out of 17,659 farms sugarcane accounted for 21; vegetables and melons, 337; coffee, 7,167; fruits and coconuts, 4,544; and grains, 102. Despite incentives and subsidies, tobacco production has practically ceased, and coffee productionwell adapted to the highlandsfalls far short of domestic consumption, although about 10% of the best quality crops are exported to Asia, Europe, and the United States. Plantains are an important crop as well as ornamental plants. As of 2006, other important agricultural products included sugarcane, coffee, pineapples, and bananas, which are also grown on plots and on former sugarcane fields.


In 2002 there were 281,371 cattle (down from 386,980 in 1998) and 87,490 hogs and pigs (down from 101,619 in 1998) on 4,000 cattle and 1,200 hog and pig farms and ranches. Sales of cattle and calves amounted to $36.5 million in 2002 (down from $53.4 million in 1998); hogs and pigs, $9.7 million (down from $11.4 million in 1998).

Dairy cattle numbered 153,097 in 2002 (down from 163,537 in 1998); poultry for meat numbered 7.7 million (down from 10.9 million in 1998); and chickens for egg production numbered 1.9 million in 2002 (up from 1.6 million in 1998). Puerto Rican dairy farms produced 373.3 million quarts of milk products valued at $194.2 million in 2002; egg production that year reached 17.6 mil-lion dozen. Sales of dairy products and poultry products in 2002 totaled $194.2 million and $78.7 million, respectively.

Meat and dairy production did not meet domestic demand in the early 2000s, so these products were being imported.


Although sport fishing, especially for blue marlin, is an important tourist attraction, the waters surrounding Puerto Rico are too deep to lend themselves to commercial fishing. Tuna brought in from African and South American waters and processed on the western shore provided much of the canned tuna sold in eastern US markets until the late 1990s, when many tuna processing plants were closed in favor of lower-cost production elsewhere in the world. Approximately 4,497,000 lb of fish were produced in 2002, for a total value of $10.3 million.

Fifty aqua cultural farms were operating in 2002, up from 44 in 1998; aquaculture accounted for $2.9 million in sales that year. Products include prawns, saltwater shrimp, red tilapia fish, and ornamental species.


Puerto Rico lost its self-sufficiency in timber production by the mid-19th century, as population expansion, increasing demand for food, and extraction of native and endemic woods for export led to massive deforestation. Puerto Rico must import nearly all of its wood and paper products. The public forest system covers 86,095 acres (34,842 hectares), of which 58,249 acres (23,573 hectares) are part of the Puerto Rico State Forest system and 27,846 acres (11,269 hectares) are part of the Caribbean National Forest.


The estimated value of nonfuel mineral commodities produced in Puerto Rico was $159 million in 2000; Puerto Rico, when compared to the 50 US states, ranked 42nd in nonfuel mineral production. Portland cement was the leading nonfuel mineral commodity. To protect proprietary data, statistics on specific nonfuel mineral products were not reported as of the early 2000s.

A multiyear study of the island's known and undiscovered mineral resources indicated that at least 11 different types of metallic mineral deposits, including copper, iron, gold, manganese, silver, molybdenum, zinc, lead, and other minerals, occur on the island in addition to the industrial minerals (cement, stone, clay, and sand and gravel) currently being produced.

Approximately 1,500 people were employed in mining, which was limited to quarry operations, in 2002.


Puerto Rico is almost totally dependent on imported crude oil for its energy needs, particularly electricity generation. Oil accounted for 93% of total primary energy consumption in 2001. The island has not yet developed any fossil fuel resources of its own, and its one experimental nuclear reactor, built on the south coast at Rincon in 1964, was shut down after a few years. Solar- powered hot-water heaters have been installed in a few private homes and at La Fortaleza. Inefficiency in the public transport system has encouraged commonwealth residents to rely on private vehicles, thereby increasing the demands for imported petroleum. In 2003, Puerto Rico consumed an estimated 218,000 barrels per day of oil; the vast majority of its imports came from American and Caribbean suppliers.

As of January 2004, the commonwealth's refining capacity was 114,400 barrels per day, from two operating refining facilities, the Caribbean Petroleum Refining facility on Bayamon, and the Shell Chemical's facility in Yabucoa. A third refinery at Guayama is used for storage. Puerto Rico also has petroleum storage at its Proterm facility.

Puerto Rico began importing liquefied natural gas in 2000 to feed its 540-MW EcoEléctrica gas-fired plant in Peñuelas. In 2003, an estimated 740 million cu m was consumed.

As of 2002, Puerto Rico consumed 176,370 short tons of coal each year, all of it imported. Since becoming operational in 2002, a new 454-MW coal-fired plant in Guayama increased the use of coal. The plant was recognized as one of the cleanest coal-fired plants in the world.

The commonwealth generated approximately 23.0 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2003, mostly from five oil-fired generators, but a fraction came from small hydroelectric dams. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is Puerto Rico's only distributor of electric power.

The first non-incineration waste-to-energy power plant in the United States was being developed as of 2003 in Caguas. The proposed plant is to use a gasification process that will break down approximately 3,300 tons of waste per day into basic elements and electricity.


Value added by manufacture surpassed $8.6 billion in 1982, more than double the total for 1977. In 1949, about 55,200 Puerto Rican workers were employed in industrial jobs, 26% of them in sugar refining. By 1992, despite the loss of many jobs in the sugar industry, the number was 158,181 with a total payroll of $2.7 billion. The leading employment categories in 1992 were apparel and textiles, 30,700; chemicals and allied products, 25,400; food and kindred products, 21,000; electric and electronic equipment, 18,400; and instruments, 15,900. The growth areas were electric and electronic equipment, up 47% from 1977, and instruments and related products, up 60%.

According to the 1992 Census of Manufactures, the value of shipments amounted to $31 million, of which chemicals and allied products accounted for $13.3 billion; food and kindred products, $5.2 billion; and electronic and electric equipment, $2.8 billion.

There were more than 90 pharmaceutical plants representing 20 of the world's leading drug and health companies. The largest included Johnson & Johnson (Rio Piedras), Abbott Chemicals (Barceloneta), Bristol-Myers Squibb (Humacao), Warner-Lambert (Vega Baja), and Schering-Plough (Manati). In 1991, Baxter International (medical devices) was one of the commonwealth's largest non-locally based manufacturers, with 10 plants; Westinghouse Electric (electric components) had 15; Sara Lee (men's underwear), 6; and Motorola (radio equipment), 4.

In addition to the production of pharmaceuticals, electrical and electronic products, and textiles, other industries include: bottling, chemicals, clay and glass, distilling, leather, metal (including precision instruments), printing, publishing, and software manufacturing.

Industries tend to be labor intensive. The construction industry has been a growth area in recent years; in 1997, construction growth was estimated at around 15%. By 2003, however, the construction sector saw a downward trend. Manufacturing in 2003 accounted for 42.1% of GDP, more than double the percentage share of the US mainland. In 2002, employment in manufacturing declined by 8.5%, compared with a decline of 6.9% on the mainland. And, in 2005, there was an annual decline of 2.3% in manufacturing employment. However, in the face of the phase-out of federal tax incentives for U.S. firms the pharmaceutical industry continued to thrive. In 2005, the pharmaceutical industry employed over 30,000 people, approximately 26% of GDP, compared with less than 2% in the United States.

Puerto Rico has two foreign free-trade zones, in Mayagüez and San Juan. In January 1987, the Puerto Rico Industrial Incentives Act was passed to make more manufacturing and export service industries eligible for tax exemptions.


Wholesale trade in Puerto Rico in 2002 involved about 2,313 establishments and major distributors, with sales of over $16.1 billion. Merchant wholesalers accounted for 94.3% of establishments and 97% of wholesale trade. Durable goods accounted for only 34.2% of sales. E-commerce accounted for about $71 million of the wholesale trade. There were approximately 39,316 employees engaged in wholesale trade in 2002.

Retail trade during 2002 involved 11,465 establishments; total retail trade amounted to over $20.4 billion. There were about 122,435 paid employees involved in retail trade. Motor vehicles and parts dealers accounted for the largest portion of retail trade sales at about $4.6 billion, followed by food and beverage stores at $3.5 billion. E-commerce accounted for about $115.7 million in retail trade sales.

Two large shopping centers, Plaza las Americas and Plaza Carolina, are in the San Juan area. The San Juan area alone had retail sales of nearly $3.3 billion in 1992, or over 28.1% of the total. Radio Shack announced at the end of 2002 that its best selling store in the world was the one at Plaza las Americas, with $6 million in revenue for fiscal year 2002.

Foreign trade is a significant factor in Puerto Rico's economy. Trade between the United States and Puerto Rico is unrestricted. In 2003, the islands' imports totaled about $33.7 billion and exports $55.2 billion. The primary import commodities were chemicals, machinery and equipment, clothing, food, fish, and petroleum products. Major exports included pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, electronics, apparel, canned tuna, rum, and beverage concentrates.

During 2001, the United States received $41.4 billion of Puerto Rico's exports and supplied about $15.6 billion of its imports. In 2003, the primary export partners were the United States (86.4%), the Netherlands (2.1%), and Belgium (2%). The primary import partners were the United States (48.9%), Ireland (20.7%), and Japan (3.9%). More than 100 of the US Fortune 500 multinational companies have industrial plants located in Puerto Rico.


Consumer protection is the responsibility of Puerto Rico's cabinet-level Department of Consumer Affairs.


Puerto Rico's first bank began operations in 1850. As of 2006, there were 19 commercial banks in Puerto Rico (most are local corporations, with the rest being US branches and foreign interests). The government owns and operates two banks, the Government Development Bank (GDBfounded in 1948) and the Economic Development Bank (EDBcreated in 1985). The EDB fosters the development of local businesses engaged in agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, and other services, thus decreasing the need to import goods and services. The Economic Development Bank's loan portfolio was $128.7 million in 2003, and loan disbursements amounted to $82.7 million. The average of loan principal by sector in 2003 was: agriculture, 30%; services, 27%; business, 23%; manufacturing, 14%; and tourism, 6%. The Government Development Bank's liquidity increased 69.4% in fiscal year 2002, with $2.2 billion in reported capital.

Banco Popular de Puerto Rico continues to be the largest domestic bank in Puerto Rico, with more than 100 branches (2006). The second-largest bank, Banco Santander Puerto Rico, and Banco Bilbao-Vizcaya, are foreign banks.

Since 1992, a new type of institution has flourished in Puerto Rico, promoted by the government: the international banking entity. International banking entities are completely tax-exempt but can only receive deposits from non-residents. As the end of 2002, there were 34 international banking entities in Puerto Rico with total combined assets of $50 billion. Citibank controls 40% of these assets.

The credit union industry is also thriving in Puerto Rico. There were 144 credit unions throughout the island in 2002.

US corporations no longer operate tax-free in Puerto Rico. Amendments made to the US Internal Revenue Code tax laws require the payment of federal taxes on a portion of their income.

Banks in Puerto Rico are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Automatic teller machines are located all across the island.


Due to Hurricane Hugo, the insurance industry suffered underwriting losses of $19.5 million in 1989. The largest life insurance company in 1990 was Seguro de Service de Salud de Puerto Rico, Inc., with written premiums exceeding $275 million. More than 200 Puerto Rican insurance companies collected revenues of $82.4 million (life insurance companies, $18.1 million; property and casualty, $64.3 million) in 1990/91, enforcing policies exceeding $1.5 billion. Hurricane Georges in 1998 caused $1 billion in insured property losses in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

In 2003, there were 21 property and casualty and 15 life and health insurance companies domiciled in Puerto Rico. In 2004, approximately 60,995 flood insurance policies were in force with an estimated value of over $4.2 billion.


There are no securities exchanges in Puerto Rico. Bonds issued by the Government Development Bank, exempt from federal income taxes and from the income taxes of all US states and cities, are offered for sale on the world securities market. The Puerto Rico Stock Index (PRSI) is a market-value-weighted index composed of eight businesses with their main headquarters or main places of business in Puerto Rico. The companies included in the index are traded on national stock markets, such as the NYSE and AMEX, and in the over-the-counter market (NASDAQ). There are several hundred broker-dealer firms registered to do business in Puerto Rico. Approximately 100 organizations providing security investment advice are registered in Puerto Rico.


Puerto Rico's annual budget is prepared by the Bureau of Budget and Management and submitted by the governor to the legislature, which has unlimited power to amend it. The fiscal year extends from 1 July to 30 June.

In 1959/60, transfers from the US government amounted to $44 million, or less than 13% of all revenues. By 1972/73, receipts from the US government represented 23% of all revenues; by 1977/78, more than 29%. In 1995/96 intergovernmental transfers from the US government amounted to $2.9 billion, or 30.0% of the commonwealth government's receipts.

Puerto Rico's revenues were $6.7 billion, with expenditures of $9.6 billion during fiscal year 2000, the most recent year for which data was available.

Of expenditures, 3.3% were assigned to economic development and 26.2% to public housing and welfare; education accounted for 25.4% of the central government's expenditures.


The Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act stipulates that the commonwealth is exempt from US internal revenue laws. The US federal income tax is not levied on permanent residents of Puerto Rico, but federal Social Security and unemployment taxes are deducted from payrolls and the commonwealth government collects an income tax. Corporations in Puerto Rico are also taxed.

The commonwealth internal revenue tax system is a self-assessment system modeled on that of the United States. In 2004, the treasury reported total tax revenues of $7.24 billion. About $97.8 million was collected in property taxes. Income tax provided revenues of about $5.3 billion, with $2.7 billion from individual income tax and $1.8 billion from corporations and partnerships.

Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code exempted certain corporations from paying taxes for periods ranging from 10 to 25 years, allowing subsidiaries of US corporations virtual exemption from US corporate income taxes. The exemption was passed in 1976 to encourage economic development on the island. At the time of repatriation of profits to the US stockholder, the Puerto Rican government imposed a "tollgate" of 5-10%. Section 936 was replaced with Section 30A in 1996, which reduced the amount of income companies could claim as non-taxable to 60% of wages and capital investment. In 2004, the tollgate tax revenues totaled about $31.6 million.

The government in 2001 also enacted a series of 27 laws to further economic development and foreign investment, primary among them Laws 145, 169, and 225. These provide incentives or tax credits that could in effect reduce corporate income tax to as low as 2%; a 10% income tax credit for companies that purchase locally produced goods for export, or to be used in local manufacturing for local consumption; and lower tax rates directed to businesses that establish hemispheric, global, or Latin American headquarters in Puerto Rico.

There is no general sales tax, but there is a 5% tax on jewelry. There are also taxes on room charges levied at 11% for hotels with casinos, 9% for those without casinos, and 7% for rooms at small inns. An excise tax applies for all inbound shipments and there are taxes on alcohol and motor vehicles as well. Merchandise arriving from the United States is subject to a tax of about 6.6%. In 2004, excise taxes brought in revenues of about $1.7 billion. US excises on off-shore shipments totaled over $328 million.


Inaugurated during the 1940s, Operation Bootstrap had succeeded by 1982 in attracting investments from more than 500 US corporations. The principal Puerto Rican agencies responsible for this transformation are the Administración de Fomento Económico, known as Fomento (Development), and its subsidiary, the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (PRIDCO), which help select plant sites, build factories, hire and train workers, and arrange financing. Fomento reorganized certain industries, taking a direct role, for example, in promoting export sales of Puerto Rican rum. At first, Fomento brought in apparel and textile manufacturers, who needed relatively unskilled workers. More recently, with the improvement in Puerto Rico's educational system, Fomento has emphasized such technologically advanced industries as pharmaceuticals and electronics. Industrialization has also required heavy investment in roads, power, water facilities, and communications systems.

PRIDCO reported that 253 new businesses were established in 2002 with 11,296 new jobs created with $1.1 billion in investment. Approximately 5,200 jobs were retained with a $170 million investment. In 2002, the government invested $2 billion in public works, with $2 billion budgeted for 2003. In 200103, $4.3 billion was offered for six economic development regions, including the Mayaguez-Ponce Expressway and the Santiago Channel.

The Puerto Rico Manufacturers' Association and the Puerto Rico Technoeconomic Corridor (PRTEC) also work to encourage and sustain industrial activities on the island. PRTEC is a non-profit organization public and private entities working to facilitate economic development. This organization has been instrumental in implementing six major strategies for economic development, including an industrial cluster concept, which promotes networking and competition among similar industries.

The primary incentives to investment in Puerto Rico have been lower wage scales than in the continental US and the exemption of up to 90% of corporate profits from island corporate and property taxes for five years, with a descending rate of exemption that could last as long as 235 years in some regions. The commonwealth government created a 218-acre (88-hectare) free- trade zone in the San Juan area that allows companies to assemble imports duty-free in government-built warehouses for export from the island.

The government's plans for urban center rehabilitation in 2003 included $165.5 million for 80 revitalization projects in 18 municipalities. Economic development was being geared toward five sectors: pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical instruments, communication and information technology, and health services. The government has also launched "Puerto Rico 2025," a long-term economic and social development plan directed to ensuring the commonwealth's competitiveness in the global economy.


Health conditions in Puerto Rico have improved remarkably since 1940, when the average life expectancy was only 46 years. A resident of Puerto Rico born in 2006 is expected to live 78.4 years (74.46 years for males, 82.54 years for females). The infant mortality rate has declined from 113 per l,000 live births in 1940 to 9.38 in 1999 to an estimate of 9.14 in 2006. As of 2003, about 82.4% of all mothers received prenatal care within the first trimester of pregnancy.

In 2002, about 59.5% of the population was considered to be overweight or obese; the US national average was at 56%. As of 2004, about 12.6% of the adult population were smokers. The leading causes of death in 1940 were diseases brought on by malnutrition or infection: diarrhea, enteritis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. In 2002, the most common causes of death, in order of prevalence, were heart disease (154.2 per 100,000 population); cancer (120.9 per 100,000); and diabetes mellitus (63.9 per 100,000). That year, the diabetes death rate was higher than that of any state in the United States. Cardiovascular diseases claimed a death rate of 40.8 per 100,000 and death by homicide was rated at 19 per 100,000 population (higher than any state, but lower than Washington, DC, which had a rate of 40 per 100,000).

At the end of 2004, there were an estimated 10,079 residents with AIDS. The same year, new AIDS cases were reported at an estimated rate of 23.4 per 100,000 population; a total of 2,049 new cases of HIV infection were reported as well. In 2003, the death rate for HIV was estimated at 13.6 per 100,000 population.

In 2002, Puerto Rico had 45 private hospitals and 13 public hospitals. There were 12,178 hospital beds available. In 2004, there were 254 physicians and 1,552 dentists per 100,000 people. In 2004, about 70% of the population had received dental care within the year. In 2005, there were 383 registered nurses per 100,000 population.

Annual national health expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 6.03% in 2002. The budget for health in 1999/00 was $993.3 million; of that amount, $570.3 came from federal contributions. As a result of health reform, the government now finances a medical insurance program contracted to the private sector. As of late 2000, all 78 municipalities had been incorporated into the health insurance plan, with 99% insured and 1.8 million participants in the plan.


Since the mid-1960s, residents of Puerto Rico have been eligible for most of the social welfare programs that apply throughout the 50 states. About one-fourth of the commonwealth's budget is appropriated for public housing and welfare. Federal grants, transfers, and expenditures in Puerto Rico amounted to nearly one-quarter of the GNP in 1990.

In 2004, Nutrition Assistance Grants, a program similar to the US Food Stamp Program, were offered through the US government to provide $1.3 billion in benefits to 1.01 million low-income residents. In FY 2005, there were 369,889 students participating in the national school lunch program.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the system of US federal welfare assistance that officially replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1997, was reauthorized through the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. TANF is funded through federal block grants that are divided among the states based on an equation involving the number of recipients in each state. In 2004, the program in Puerto Rico had 49,000 recipients.

Because unemployment is high and wages are low, Social Security benefits are below the US average. In 2004, 704,880 residents received social security benefits, including 327,620 retired workers, 81,610 widows and widowers, 134,540 disabled workers, 63,480 spouses, and 97,630 children. Retired workers received an average monthly payment of $635; widows and widowers, $555; disabled workers, $767; and spouses, $283. Payments for children of retired workers averaged $287 a month, children of deceased workers received $422 a month, and children of disabled workers received $205 per month. Monthly benefits for December 2004 totaled at about $404 million dollars. Approximately 96,000 workers received unemployment benefits in 2004, with the average weekly benefit at $107.


In 2000, there were a total of about 1,418,476 housing units, up from 1,184,382 units in 1990. About 1,261,325 units were occupied that year; 72.9% of occupied units were owner-occupied. About 68% of all units were single-family detached homes and just over 25% of all units were built between 1970 and 1979. About 58% of all households did not have modern heating systems; 31.1% had electric heating systems. Nearly 24% of all units had no telephone service, 5.2% lacked complete plumbing facilities, and 1.5% lacked complete kitchen facilities. The median home value was $75,100. The median monthly cost for a mortgage was $625 and the median monthly cost for rent was $297. The average household size was 2.98 persons.

In 2001, the Puerto Rico Housing Bank and Finance Agency was reorganized as the Puerto Rico Housing Finance Authority. One of the goals of the new agency was to build and renovate at least 50,000 units for low and moderate income families by 2005. Between 2001 and 2003, about $1.35 million was spent to renovate 139 public housing projects. Investment in elderly housing was $105 million for 994 units in 22 public housing projects. There were 15,985 housing units constructed during this period.

For those who have a gross annual income of up to $45,000 a year, the authority offers home loans of up to $90,000 with a 6.5% annual interest rate.


Puerto Rico has made enormous strides in public education. In 1900, only 14% of the island's school-age children were in school; the proportion had increased to 50% by 1940 and 85% by the late 1970s. The government encouraged school attendance among the poor in the 1940s and 1950s by providing inexpensive shoes, free lunches, school uniforms, and small scholarships. Education is compulsory for children between 6 and 16 years of age, and nearly two out of ten commonwealth budget dollars goes to education. About 94.1% of the population is literate (2002).

In 2004, there were 584,916 students attending public school. Instruction is carried out in Spanish, but English is taught at all levels. In 2004, there were 1,489 public schools and 545 private schools in Puerto Rico.

The main state-supported institution of higher learning is the University of Puerto Rico, with its main campus at Rico Piedras. The system also includes doctorate-level campuses at Mayagüez and San Juan (for medical sciences), and four-year colleges at Aguadilla, Arecibo, Bayamon, Carolina, Cayey, Humacao, Ponce, and Utuado. The 39 private institutions in 2002/03 included Interamerican University, with campuses at Hato Rey, San German, and other locations, and the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, at Ponce. In 2002/03, 191,552 students were enrolled at higher education institutions in Puerto Rico.


The Tapia Theater in Old San Juan is the island's major showcase for local and visiting performers, including the Taller de Histriones group and zarzuela (comic opera) troupes from Spain. Claimed as one of the oldest theaters in the Western Hemisphere, Tapia Theater (Teatro Tapia) was built in 1832. The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture is headed by ASPIRA Association, Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on developing education and leadership in the communities. The Fine Arts Center (Centro de Bellas Artes) is the largest center of its kind in the Caribbean. The Fine Arts Center features entertainment ranging from ballet, opera, and symphonies to drama, jazz, and popular music.

Puerto Rico has its own symphony orchestra and conservatory of music. Both were formerly directed by Pablo Casals, and the annual Music Festival Casals, which he founded, still attracts world-renowned musicians to the island each year. In 2006, the festival celebrated its 50th anniversary with one full month of concerts, including the first performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra in Puerto Rico. The Opera de Camara tours several houses. Puerto Rico supports both a classical ballet company (the Ballets de San Juan) and the Areyto Folkloric Group, which performs traditional folk dances. Salsa, a popular style pioneered by Puerto Rican musicians like Tito Puente, influenced the development of pop music on the US mainland during the 1970s. In 2002, the Puerto Rican government devoted $25 million to a public arts project, developing 97 works of art in 18 municipalities as part of an urban revitalization program. Puerto Rico was awarded seven grants totaling $654,898 in 2005 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). That same year the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) contributed five grants totaling $662,100. The NEA has also contributed to the arts education programs developed by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, and supported the Opera de Camara in Old San Juan, and the Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Community Foundation, Inc., has received funding through the NEA's challenge grant program.


In 199697, Puerto Rico's public libraries contained about 609,391 volumes and had a combined circulation of 479,133. The University of Puerto Rico Library at Rio Piedras held 1,804,010 books in 2003; the library of the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, in San Juan, has a collection of music written by Puerto Rican and Latin American composers. Also in San Juan are La Casa del Libro, a library-museum of typographic and graphic arts, and the Museo del Indio, a museum dedicated to the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. There were some 50 museums in Puerto Rico in 2003, among them the Museo de Arte de Ponce (Luis A. Ferre Foundation), which has paintings, sculptures, and archaeological artifacts, as well as a library. The Marine Station Museum in Mayagüez exhibits Caribbean marine specimens and sponsors research and field trips.


Puerto Rico is one of the most advanced and fastest growing telecommunications markets in the Caribbean region. The Puerto Rico Telephone Co. was founded in 1914 by two German sugar brokers, Sosthenes and Hernand Behn, best known today as the creators of International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT). In 1974, the Puerto Rican government bought the phone company from ITT. In 2004, there were an estimated 1.112 million telephone lines on the island. That same year there were an estimated 2.682 million cellular phone subscribers.

On 12 September 1996, Law 213 (known as Puerto Rico's Telecommunications Act of 1996) was enacted. The act created the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board with jurisdiction over all telecommunications companies providing services on the island. As of 2003, as a result of the 1996 law, 233 telecommunications companies had begun operations on the island. The Puerto Rico Telephone Co. has a 93% market share of the local telecommunications market and Centennial of Puerto Rico holds the remaining 7%. However, the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board, as of 2003, was attempting to promote competition within the telecommunications industry.

WKAQ, the island's first radio station, came on the air in 1923 and the first television station, WKAQ-TV, began broadcasting in 1954. As of 2006, there were 74 AM and 53 FM radio stations. In 2003, there were four commercial television channels/networks with six affiliates, one public broadcast television channel/network, three cable television service companies (with 360,579 subscribers), and four satellite television providers. The total number of television broadcast stations reached 32 in 2006.

There were 132 internet hosts in 2005, servicing approximately 1 million internet users.


Puerto Rico has four major dailies: El Nuevo Dia, El Vocero, Primera Hora, and the San Juan Star. There are 22 weekly newspapers, including El Estrella de Puerto Rico and Caribbean Business, Puerto Rico's leading business publication. There are also eight monthly newspapers. The 2005 circulation for El Nuevo Dia (Puerto Rico's daily with the largest circulation), was 203,153 mornings and 245,500 Sundays. The English-language San Juan Star won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961.


Important organizations on the island include the Puerto Rico Medical Association, Puerto Rico Manufacturers' Association, and Puerto Rico Bar Association. Also maintaining headquarters in Puerto Rico are the Association of Island Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico Rum Producers Association, Caribbean Hotel Association, and Caribbean Studies Association.

Some American professional organizations have chapters in Puerto Rico, including the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Library Association. Fondos Unidos is the local branch of Untied Way of America. Puerto Rico has chapters of Caritas and Amnesty International. There are also chapters of the YWCA/YMCA and the Young Democrats.

US-based agencies such as the National Puerto Rican Forum and the Puerto Rican Community Development Project assist Puerto Ricans living on the mainland. "Hometown clubs" consisting of "absent sons" (hilos ausentes) of various Puerto Rican towns are a typical feature of the barrios in New York and other cities in the continental United States.


Only government and manufacturing exceed tourism in importance to the Puerto Rican economy. The industry has grown rapidly, from 65,000 tourists in 1950 to 1.1 million in 1970 to over 3 million in 2003. Tourism employs approximately 60,000 workers. Many hotels are located in San Juan, though the eastern part of the island also features hotels and resorts. Most tourists come for sunning, swimming, deep-sea fishing, and the fashionable shops, night clubs, and casinos of San Juan's Condado Strip. Attractions of old San Juan include two fortresses, El Morro and San Cristobal, San Jose Church (one of the oldest in the New World), and La Fortaleza, the governor's palace. The government has been encouraging tourists to journey outside of San Juan to such destinations such as the Arecibo Observatory (with its radio telescope used for research astronomy, ionospheric studies, and radar mapping), the rain forest of El Yunque, Phosphorescent Bay, colonial-style San German, and the bird sanctuary and mangrove forest on the shores of Torrecilla Lagoon. The 53-acre (21-hectare) San Juan harbor fortifications are a national historic site.

As of 2003, there were 3,238,300 total arrivals of non-resident tourists, including 2,454,300 from the United States. In that same year, 1,304,610 of the total non-resident tourists arrived at hotels and paradores. The occupancy rate of tourist hotels was 66.7% as of December 2005. During 2000/01, visitors spent $2.7 billion in Puerto Rico, a 14.2% increase over 1999/00. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States had a negative impact on the Puerto Rican tourist industry, as did the 2003 US-led war in Iraq. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that the war in Iraq cost Puerto Rico $262 million in lost tourism revenue and 3,800 jobs. Although industry growth decreased in 200103 in response to the slowdown in the US economy, Puerto Rico's tourism began to recover in 200405. There was an estimated tourist arrival total of almost five million for 2004.


Baseball is very popular in Puerto Rico. There is a six-team professional winter league, in which many ball players from American and National League teams participate. There were 50 games played in the league's six ballparks in 2002. Horse races are held every Sunday at El Nuevo Comandante, along with the annual Clasico del Caribe. Cockfighting, boxing, and basketball are also popular. Puerto Rico, which has its own Olympic Committee, sent a delegation to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow despite the US boycott. Other annual sporting events include the Copa Velasco Regatta, the Maraton de San Blas, the International Cycling Competition in Sabana Grande, the first leg of the Caribbean Ocean Racing Triangle, and the International Billfish Tournament in San Juan.


Elected to represent Puerto Rico before the Spanish Cortes in 1812, Ramón Power y Giralt (17751813), a liberal reformer, was the leading Puerto Rican political figure of the early 19th century. Power, appointed vice president of the Cortes, participated in drafting the new Spanish constitution of 1812. Ramón Emeterio Betances (182798) became well known not only for his efforts to alleviate a cholera epidemic in 1855, but also for his crusade to abolish slavery in Puerto Rico and as a leader of a separatist movement that culminated in 1868 in the "Grito de Lares." Eugenio Maria de Hostos (18391903), a writer, abolitionist, and educator, spent much of his adult life in Latin America, seeking to establish a free federation of the West Indies to replace colonial rule in the Caribbean. Luis Muñoz Rivera (18591916), a liberal journalist, led the movement that obtained the Autonomic Charter of 1897 for Puerto Rico, and he headed the cabinet that took office in 1898. With the island under United States rule, Muñoz Rivera served between 1911 and 1916 as Puerto Rico's resident commissioner to the US Congress. Other important Puerto Rican historical figures include Juan Alejo Arizmendi (1760?1814), the first Puerto Rican-born bishop, appointed to the See of San Juan; José de Diego (18661918), a noted poet and gifted orator who, under the Foraker Act, became the first speaker of the island house of delegates and was a champion of independence for Puerto Rico.

The dominant political figure in 20th-century Puerto Rico was Luis Muñoz Marin (18981980), founder of the Popular Democratic Party in 1938 and president of the Puerto Rico senate from 194048. Muñoz, the first native-born elected governor of the island (194864), devised the commonwealth relationship that has governed the island since 1952. Another prominent 20th-century figure, Antonio R. Barceló (18691939), who led the Unionista Party after Muñoz Rivera's death, was the first president of the senate under the Jones Act, and was later the leader of the Liberal Party. In 1946, Jesùs T. Pinero (18971952) became the first Puerto Rican appointed governor of the island by a US president; he had been elected as resident commissioner of Puerto Rico to the US Congress two years before. Pedro Albizu Campos (18911965), a Harvard Law School graduate, presided over the militant Nationalist Party and was, until his death, the leader of forces that advocated independence for Puerto Rico by revolution. In 1945, Gilberto Concepción de Gracia (190968), also a lawyer, helped found the more moderate Puerto Rican Independence Party. Herman Badillo (b.1929) was the first person of Puerto Rican birth to be a voting member of the US House of Representatives, as congressman from New York, and Maurice Ferré (b.1935), elected mayor of Miami in 1973, was the first native-born Puerto Rican to run a large US mainland city. Hernán Padilla (b.1938), mayor of San Juan, became the first Hispanic American elected to head the US Conference of Mayors (1984).

Women have participated actively in Puerto Rican politics. Ana Roqué de Duprey (18531933) led the Asociación Puertorriquena de Mujeres Sufragistas, organized in late 1926, while Milagros Benet de Mewton (18681945) presided over the Liga Social Sufragista, founded in 1917. Both groups actively lobbied for the extension of the right to vote to Puerto Rican women, not only in Puerto Rico but also in the United States and other countries. Felisa Rincón de Gautier (18971994), mayor of San Juan from 1946 to 1968, was named Woman of the Americas in 1954, the year she presided over the Inter-American Organization for Municipalities. Carmen Delgado Votaw (b.1935) was the first person of Puerto Rican birth to be elected president of the Inter-American Commission of Women, the oldest international organization in the field of women's rights. Sila María Calderón, elected in 2000, became the commonwealth's first female governor.

Manuel A. Alonso (182289) blazed the trail for a distinctly Puerto Rican literature with the 1849 publication of El Gibaro, the first major effort to depict the traditions and mores of the island's rural society. Following him in the development of a rich Puerto Rican literary tradition were, among many others, that most prolific of 19th century Puerto Rican writers, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera (182682), a writer adept in history, drama, poetry, and other forms of literary expression; essayist and critic Manuel Elzaburu (185292); novelist Manuel Zeno Gandia (18551930); and poets Lola Rodriguez de Tió (18431924) and José Gautier Benitez (184880). Tió's patriotic lyrics, popularly acclaimed, were adapted to become Puerto Rico's national anthem. Among 20th century Puerto Rican literary figures are poets Luis Lloréns Torres (18781944), Luis Palés Matos (18981959), and Julia de Burgos (191653); and essayists and critics Antonio S. Pedreira (18981939), Tomás Blanco (190075), José A. Balseiro (190062), Margot Arce de Vázquez (190490), Concha Meléndez (190483), Nilita Vientós Gastón (190889), and Maria T. Babin (191089). In the field of fiction, René Marqués (191979), Abelardo Diaz Alfaro (191999), José Luis González (b.1926), and Pedro Juan Soto (b.1928) are among the best known outside Puerto Rico.

In the world of entertainment, Academy Award winners José Ferrer (191292) and Rita Moreno (b.1931), and two-time Tony winner Chita Rivera (b.1933) are among the most famous. Notable in classical music are cellist-conductor Pablo Casals (b.Spain, 18761973), a longtime resident of Puerto Rico; pianist Jesùs Maria Sanromá (190284); and opera star Justino Diaz (b.1940). Well-known popular musicians include Tito Puente (b.New York, 19232000) and José Feliciano (b.1945).

Roberto Clemente (193472), one of baseball's most admired performers and a member of the Hall of Fame, played on 12 National League All-Star teams and was named Most Valuable Player in 1966.


Colonial Dilemma: Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Puerto Rico. Boston: South End Press, 1993.

Curet, L. Antonio. Caribbean Paleodemography: Population, Culture, History, and Sociopolitical Processes in Ancient Puerto Rico. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005.

Fernandez, Ronald. The Disenchanted Island: Puerto Rico and the United States in the Twentieth Century. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

. Puerto Rico Past and Present: An Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Janer, Zilkia. Puerto Rican Nation-building Literature: Impossible Romance. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Maraniss, David. Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Morales Carrion, Arturo. Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History. New York: Norton, 1984.

Morris, Nancy. Puerto Rico: Culture, Politics, and Identity. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995.

Picó, Fernando. A General History of Puerto Rico: A Panorama of Its People. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2006.

Villaronga, Gabriel. Toward a Discourse of Consent: Mass Mobilization and Colonial Politics in Puerto Rico, 193248. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

Puerto Rican Americans

views updated May 29 2018


by Derek Green


The island of Puerto Rico (formerly Porto Rico) is the most easterly of the Greater Antilles group of the West Indies island chain. Located more than a thousand miles southeast of Miami, Puerto Rico is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by the Virgin Passage (which separates it from the Virgin Islands), on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the Mona Passage (which separates it from the Dominican Republic). Puerto Rico is 35 miles wide (from north to south), 95 miles long (from east to west) and has 311 miles of coastline. Its land mass measures 3,423 square milesabout two-thirds the area of the state of Connecticut. Although it is considered to be part of the Torrid Zone, the climate of Puerto Rico is more temperate than tropical. The average January temperature on the island is 73 degrees, while the average July temperature is 79 degrees. The record high and low temperatures recorded in San Juan, Puerto Rico's northeastern capital city, are 94 degrees and 64 degrees, respectively.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census Bureau report, the island of Puerto Rico has a population of 3,522,037. This represents a three-fold increase since 1899and 810,000 of those new births occurred between the years of 1970 and 1990 alone. Most Puerto Ricans are of Spanish ancestry. Approximately 70 percent of the population is white and about 30 percent is of African or mixed descent. As in many Latin American cultures,Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, but Protestant faiths of various denominations have some Puerto Rican adherents as well.

Puerto Rico is unique in that it is an autonomous Commonwealth of the United States, and its people think of the island as un estado libre asociado, or a "free associate state" of the United Statesa closer relationship than the territorial possessions of Guam and the Virgin Islands have to America. Puerto Ricans have their own constitution and elect their own bicameral legislature and governor but are subject to U.S executive authority. The island is represented in the U.S House of Representatives by a resident commissioner, which for many years was a nonvoting position. After the 1992 U.S. presidential election, however, the Puerto Rican delegate was granted the right to vote on the House floor. Because of the Puerto Rico's commonwealth status, Puerto Ricans are born as natural American citizens. Therefore all Puerto Ricans, whether born on the island or the mainland, are Puerto Rican Americans.

Puerto Rico's status as a semiautonomous Commonwealth of the United States has sparked considerable political debate. Historically, the main conflict has been between the nationalists, who support full Puerto Rican independence, and the statists, who advocate U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico. In November of 1992 an island-wide referendum was held on the issue of statehood versus continued Commonwealth status. In a narrow vote of 48 percent to 46 percent, Puerto Ricans opted to remain a Commonwealth.


Fifteenth-century Italian explorer and navigator Christopher Columbus, known in Spanish as Cristobál Colón, "discovered" Puerto Rico for Spain on November 19, 1493. The island was conquered for Spain in 1509 by Spanish nobleman Juan Ponce de León (1460-1521), who became Puerto Rico's first colonial governor. The name Puerto Rico, meaning "rich port," was given to the island by its Spanish conquistadors (or conquerors); according to tradition, the name comes from Ponce de León himself, who upon first seeing the port of San Juan is said to have exclaimed, "¡Ay que puerto rico!" ("What a rich port!").

Puerto Rico's indigenous name is Borinquen ("bo REEN ken"), a name given by its original inhabitants, members of a native Caribbean and South American people called the Arawaks. A peaceful agricultural people, the Arawaks on the island of Puerto Rico were enslaved and virtually exterminated at the hands of their Spanish colonizers. Although Spanish heritage has been a matter of pride among islander and mainlander Puerto Ricans for hundreds of yearsColumbus Day is a traditional Puerto Rican holidayrecent historical revisions have placed the conquistadors in a darker light. Like many Latin American cultures, Puerto Ricans, especially younger generations living in the mainland United States, have become increasingly interested in their indigenous as well as their European ancestry. In fact, many Puerto Ricans prefer to use the terms Boricua ("bo REE qua") or Borrinqueño ("bo reen KEN yo") when referring to each other.

Because of its location, Puerto Rico was a popular target of pirates and privateers during its early colonial period. For protection, the Spanish constructed forts along the shoreline, one of which, El Morro in Old San Juan, still survives. These fortifications also proved effective in repelling the attacks of other European imperial powers, including a 1595 assault from British general Sir Francis Drake. In the mid-1700s, African slaves were brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish in great numbers. Slaves and native Puerto Ricans mounted rebellions against Spain throughout the early and mid-1800s. The Spanish were successful, however, in resisting these rebellions.

In 1873 Spain abolished slavery on the island of Puerto Rico, freeing black African slaves once and for all. By that time, West African cultural traditions had been deeply intertwined with those of the native Puerto Ricans and the Spanish conquerors. Intermarriage had become a common practice among the three ethnic groups.


As a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898, Puerto Rico was ceded by Spain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris on December 19, 1898. In 1900 the U.S. Congress established a civil government on the island. Seventeen years later, in response to the pressure of Puerto Rican activists, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act, which granted American citizenship to all Puerto Ricans. Following this action, the U.S. government instituted measures to resolve the various economic and social problems of the island, which even then was suffering from overpopulation. Those measures included the introduction of American currency, health programs, hydroelectric power and irrigation programs, and economic policies designed to attract U.S. industry and provide more employment opportunities for native Puerto Ricans.

In the years following World War II, Puerto Rico became a critical strategic location for the U.S. military. Naval bases were built in San Juan Harbor and on the nearby island of Culebra. In 1948 Puerto Ricans elected Luis Muñoz Marín governor of the island, the first native puertorriqueño to hold such a post. Marín favored Commonwealth status for Puerto Rico. The question of whether to continue the Commonwealth relationship with the United States, to push for U.S. statehood, or to rally for total independence has dominated Puerto Rican politics throughout the twentieth century.

Following the 1948 election of Governor Muñoz, there was an uprising of the Nationalist Party, or independetistas, whose official party platform included agitation for independence. On November 1, 1950, as part of the uprising, two Puerto Rican nationalists carried out an armed attack on Blair House, which was being used as a temporary residence by U.S. President Harry Truman. Although the president was unharmed in the melee, one of the assailants and one Secret Service presidential guard were killed by gunfire.

After the 1959 Communist revolution in Cuba, Puerto Rican nationalism lost much of its steam; the main political question facing Puerto Ricans in the mid-1990s was whether to seek full statehood or remain a Commonwealth.


Since Puerto Ricans are American citizens, they are considered U.S. migrants as opposed to foreign immigrants. Early Puerto Rican residents on the mainland included Eugenio María de Hostos (b. 1839), a journalist, philosopher, and freedom fighter who arrived in New York in 1874 after being exiled from Spain (where he had studied law) because of his outspoken views on Puerto Rican independence. Among other pro-Puerto Rican activities, María de Hostos founded the League of Patriots to help set up the Puerto Rican civil government in 1900. He was aided by Julio J. Henna, a Puerto Rican physician and expatriate. Nineteenth-century Puerto Rican statesman Luis Muñoz Riverathe father of Governor Luis Muñoz Marínlived in Washington D.C., and served as Puerto Rico's ambassador to the States.


Although Puerto Ricans began migrating to the United States almost immediately after the island became a U.S. protectorate, the scope of early migration was limited because of the severe poverty of average Puerto Ricans. As conditions on the island improved and the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States grew closer, the number of Puerto Ricans who moved to the U.S. mainland increased. Still, by 1920, less than 5,000 Puerto Ricans were living in New York City. During World War I, as many as 1,000 Puerto Ricansall newly naturalized American citizensserved in the U.S. Army. By World War II that number soared to over 100,000 soldiers. The hundred-fold increase reflected the deepening cooperation between Puerto Rico and the mainland States. World War II set the stage for the first major migration wave of Puerto Ricans to the mainland.

That wave, which spanned the decade between 1947 and 1957, was brought on largely by economic factors: Puerto Rico's population had risen to nearly two million people by mid-century, but the standard of living had not followed suit. Unemployment was high on the island while opportunity was dwindling. On the mainland, however, jobs were widely available. According to Ronald Larsen, author of The Puerto Ricans in America, many of those jobs were in New York City's garment district. Hard-working Puerto Rican women were especially welcomed in the garment district shops. The city also provided the sort of low-skilled service industry jobs that non-English speakers needed to make a living on the mainland.

New York City became a major focal point for Puerto Rican migration. Between 1951 and 1957 the average annual migration from Puerto Rico to New York was over 48,000. Many settled in East Harlem, located in upper Manhattan between 116th and 145th streets, east of Central Park. Because of its high Latino population, the district soon came to be known as Spanish Harlem. Among New York City puertorriqueños, the Latino-populated area was referred to as el barrio, or "the neighborhood." Most first-generation migrants to the area were young men who later sent for their wives and children when finances allowed.

By the early 1960s the Puerto Rican migration rate slowed down, and a "revolving door" migratory patterna back-and-forth flow of people between the island and the mainlanddeveloped. Since then, there have been occasional bursts of increased migration from the island, especially during the recessions of the late 1970s. In the late 1980s Puerto Rico became increasingly plagued by a number of social problems, including rising violent crime (especially drug-associated crime), increased overcrowding, and worsening unemployment. These conditions kept the flow of migration into the United States steady, even among professional classes, and caused many Puerto Ricans to remain on the mainland permanently. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, more than 2.7 million Puerto Ricans were living in the mainland Unites States by 1990, making Puerto Ricans the second-largest Latino group in the nation, behind Mexican Americans, who number nearly 13.5 million.


Most early Puerto Rican migrants settled in New York City and, to a lesser degree, in other urban areas in the northeastern United States. This migration pattern was influenced by the wide availability of industrial and service-industry jobs in the eastern cities. New York remains the chief residence of Puerto Ricans living outside of the island: of the 2.7 million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, over 900,000 reside in New York City, while another 200,000 live elsewhere in the state of New York.

That pattern has been changing since the 1990s, however. A new group of Puerto Ricans most of them younger, wealthier, and more highly educated than the urban settlershave increasingly begun migrating to other states, especially in the South and Midwest. In 1990 the Puerto Rican population of Chicago, for instance, was over 125,000. Cities in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts also have a significant number of Puerto Rican residents.

Acculturation and Assimilation

The history of Puerto Rican American assimilation has been one of great success mixed with serious problems. Many Puerto Rican mainlanders hold high-paying white collar jobs. Outside of New York City, Puerto Ricans often boast higher college graduation rates and higher per capita incomes than their counterparts in other Latino groups, even when those groups represent a much higher proportion of the local population.

However, U.S. Census Bureau reports indicate that for at least 25 percent of all Puerto Ricans living on the mainland (and 55 percent living on the island) poverty is a serious problem. Despite the presumed advantages of American citizenship, Puerto Ricans areoverallthe most economically disadvantaged Latino group in the United States. Puerto Rican communities in urban areas are plagued by problems such as crime, drug-use, poor educational opportunity, unemployment, and the breakdown of the traditionally strong Puerto Rican family structure. Since a great many Puerto Ricans are of mixed Spanish and African descent, they have had to endure the same sort of racial discrimination often experienced by African Americans. And some Puerto Ricans are further handicapped by the Spanish-to-English language barrier in American cities.

Despite these problems, Puerto Ricans, like other Latino groups, are beginning to exert more political power and cultural influence on the mainstream population. This is especially true in cities like New York, where the significant Puerto Rican population can represent a major political force when properly organized. In many recent elections Puerto Ricans have found themselves in the position of holding an all-important "swingvote"often occupying the sociopolitical ground between African Americans and other minorities on the one hand and white Americans on the other. The pan-Latin sounds of Puerto Rican singers Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Marc Anthony, and jazz musicians such as saxophonist David Sanchez, have not only brought a cultural rivival, they have increased interest in Latin music in the late 1990s. Their popularity has also had a legitimizing effect on Nuyorican, a term coined by Miguel Algarin, founder of the Nuyorican Poet's Café in New York, for the unique blend of Spanish and English used among young Puerto Ricans living in New York City.


The traditions and beliefs of Puerto Rican islanders are heavily influenced by Puerto Rico's Afro-Spanish history. Many Puerto Rican customs and superstitions blend the Catholic religious traditions of Spaniards and the pagan religious beliefs of the West African slaves who were brought to the island beginning in the sixteenth century. Though most Puerto Ricans are strict Roman Catholics, local customs have given a Caribbean flavor to some standard Catholic ceremonies. Among these are weddings, baptisms and funerals. And like other Caribbean islanders and Latin Americans, Puerto Ricans traditionally believe in espiritismo, the notion that the world is populated by spirits who can communicate with the living through dreams.

In addition to the holy days observed by the Catholic church, Puerto Ricans celebrate several other days that hold particular significance for them as a people. For instance, El Dia de las Candelarias, or "candlemas," is observed annually on the evening of February 2; people build a massive bonfire around which they drink and dance and chant "¡Viva las candelarias!" or "Long live the flames!" And each December 27 is El Dia de los Innocentes or the "Day of the Children." On that day Puerto Rican men dress as women and women dress as men; the community then celebrates as one large group.

Many Puerto Rican customs revolve around the ritual significance of food and drink. As in other Latino cultures, it is considered an insult to turn down a drink offered by a friend or stranger. It is also customary for Puerto Ricans to offer food to any guest, whether invited or not, who might enter the household: failure to do so is said to bring hunger upon one's own children. Puerto Ricans traditionally warn against eating in the presence of a pregnant woman without offering her food, for fear she might miscarry. Many Puerto Ricans also believe that marrying or starting a journey on a Tuesday is bad luck, and that dreams of water or tears are a sign of impending heartache or tragedy. Common centuries-old folk remedies include the avoidance of acidic food during menstruation and the consumption of asopao ("ah so POW"), or chicken stew, for minor ailments.


Although awareness of Puerto Rican culture has increased within mainstream America, many common misconceptions still exist. For instance, many other Americans fail to realize that Puerto Ricans are natural-born American citizens or wrongly view their native island as a primitive tropical land of grass huts and grass skirts. Puerto Rican culture is often confused with other Latino American cultures, especially that of Mexican Americans. And because Puerto Rico is an island, some mainlanders have trouble distinguishing Pacific islanders of Polynesian descent from the Puerto Rican people, who have Euro-African and Caribbean ancestry.


Puerto Rican cuisine is tasty and nutritious and consists mainly of seafood and tropical island vegetables, fruits, and meats. Although herbs and spices are used in great abundance, Puerto Rican cuisine is not spicy in the sense of peppery Mexican cuisine. Native dishes are often inexpensive, though they require some skill in preparation. Puerto Rican women are traditionally responsible for the cooking and take great pride in their role.

Many Puerto Rican dishes are seasoned with a savory mixture of spices known as sofrito ("so-FREE-toe"). This is made by grinding fresh garlic, seasoned salt, green peppers, and onions in a pilón ("pee-LONE"), a wooden bowl similar to a mortar and pestle, and then sautéing the mixture in hot oil. This serves as the spice base for many soups and dishes. Meat is often marinated in a seasoning mixture known as adobo, which is made from lemon, garlic, pepper, salt, and other spices. Achiote seeds are sautéed as the base for an oily sauce used in many dishes.

Bacalodo ("bah-kah-LAH-doe"), a staple of the Puerto Rican diet, is a flaky, salt-marinated cod fish. It is often eaten boiled with vegetables and rice or on bread with olive oil for breakfast. Arroz con pollo, or rice and chicken, another staple dish, is served with abichuelas guisada ("ah-bee-CHWE-lahs gee-SAH-dah"), marinated beans, or a native Puerto Rican pea known as gandules ("gahn-DOO-lays"). Other popular Puerto Rican foods include asopao ("ah-soe-POW"), a rice and chicken stew; lechón asado ("le-CHONE ah-SAH-doe"), slow-roasted pig; pasteles ("pah-STAY-lehs"), meat and vegetable patties rolled in dough made from crushed plantains (bananas); empanadas dejueyes ("em-pah-NAH-dahs deh WHE-jays"), Puerto Rican crab cakes; rellenos ("reh-JEY-nohs"), meat and potato fritters; griffo ("GREE-foe"), chicken and potato stew; and tostones, battered and deep fried plantains, served with salt and lemon juice. These dishes are often washed down with cerveza rúbia ("ser-VEH-sa ROO-bee-ah"), "blond" or light-colored American lager beer, or ron ("RONE") the world-famous, dark-colored Puerto Rican rum.


Traditional dress in Puerto Rico is similar to other Caribbean islanders. Men wear baggy pantalons (trousers) and a loose cotton shirt known as a guayaberra. For certain celebrations, women wear colorful dresses or trajes that have African influence. Straw hats or Panama hats (sombreros de jipijipa ) are often worn on Sundays or holidays by men. Spanish-influenced garb is worn by musicians and dancers during performancesoften on holidays.

The traditional image of the jíbaro, or peasant, has to some extent remained with Puerto Ricans. Often depicted as a wiry, swarthy man wearing a straw hat and holding a guitar in one hand and a machete (the long-bladed knife used for cutting sugarcane) in the other, the jíbaro to some symbolizes the island's culture and its people. To others, he is an object of derision, akin to the derogatory image of the American hillbilly.


Puerto Rican people are famous for throwing big, elaborate partieswith music and dancingto celebrate special events. Puerto Rican music is polyrhythmic, blending intricate and complex African percussion with melodic Spanish beats. The traditional Puerto Rican group is a trio, made up of a qauttro (an eight-stringed native Puerto Rican instrument similar to a mandolin); a guitarra, or guitar; and a basso, or bass. Larger bands have trumpets and strings as well as extensive percussion sections in which maracas, guiros, and bongos are primary instruments.

Although Puerto Rico has a rich folk music tradition, fast-tempoed salsa music is the most widely known indigenous Puerto Rican music. Also the name given to a two-step dance, salsa has gained popularity among non-Latin audiences. The merengue, another popular native Puerto Rican dance, is a fast step in which the dancers' hips are in close contact. Both salsa and merengue are favorites in American barrios. Bombas are native Puerto Rican songs sung a cappella to African drum rhythms.


Puerto Ricans celebrate most Christian holidays, including La Navidád (Christmas) and Pasquas(Easter), as well as El Año Nuevo (New Year's Day). In addition, Puerto Ricans celebrate El Dia de Los Tres Reyes, or "Three King's Day," each January 6. It is on this day that Puerto Rican children expect gifts, which are said to be delivered by los tres reyes magos ("the three wise men"). On the days leading up to January 6, Puerto Ricans have continuous celebrations. Parrandiendo (stopping by) is a practice similar to American and English caroling, in which neighbors go visiting house to house. Other major celebration days are El Día de Las Raza (The Day of the RaceColumbus Day) and El Fiesta del Apostal Santiago (St. James Day). Every June, Puerto Ricans in New York and other large cities celebrate Puerto Rican Day. The parades held on this day have come to rival St. Patrick's Day parades and celebrations in popularity.


There are no documented health problems or mental health problems specific to Puerto Ricans. However, because of the low economic status of many Puerto Ricans, especially in mainland inner-city settings, the incidence of poverty-related health problems is a very real concern. AIDS, alcohol and drug dependency, and a lack of adequate health care coverage are the biggest health-related concerns facing the Puerto Rican community.


There is no such thing as a Puerto Rican language. Rather, Puerto Ricans speak proper Castillian Spanish, which is derived from ancient Latin. While Spanish uses the same Latin alphabet as English, the letters "k" and "w" occur only in foreign words. However, Spanish has three letters not found in English: "ch" ("chay"), "ll" ("EL-yay"), and "ñ" ("AYN-nyay"). Spanish uses word order, rather than noun and pronoun inflection, to encode meaning. In addition, the Spanish language tends to rely on diacritical markings such as the tilda (~) and the accento (') much more than English.

The main difference between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico (and other Latin American locales) is pronunciation. Differences in pronunciation are similar to the regional variations between American English in the southern United States and New England. Many Puerto Ricans have a unique tendency among Latin Americans to drop the "s" sound in casual conversation. The word ustéd (the proper form of the pronoun "you"), for instance, may be pronounced as "oo TED" rather than "oo STED." Likewise, the participial suffix "-ado " is often changed by Puerto Ricans. The word cemado (meaning "burned") is thus pronounced "ke MOW" rather than "ke MA do."

Although English is taught to most elementary school children in Puerto Rican public schools, Spanish remains the primary language on the island of Puerto Rico. On the mainland, many first-generation Puerto Rican migrants are less than fluent in English. Subsequent generations are often fluently bilingual, speaking English outside of the home and Spanish in the home. Bilingualism is especially common among young, urbanized, professional Puerto Ricans.

Long exposure of Puerto Ricans to American society, culture, and language has also spawned a unique slang that has come to be known among many Puerto Ricans as "Spanglish." It is a dialect that does not yet have formal structrure but its use in popular songs has helped spread terms as they are adopted. In New York itself the unique blend of languages is called Nuyorican. In this form of Spanglish, "New York" becomes Nuevayork, and many Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as Nuevarriqueños. Puerto Rican teenagers are as likely to attend un pahry (a party) as to attend a fiesta; children look forward to a visit from Sahnta Close on Christmas; and workers often have un Beeg Mahk y una Coca-Cola on their lunch breaks.


For the most part, Puerto Rican greetings are standard Spanish greetings: Hola ("OH lah")Hello; ¿Como está? ("como eh-STAH")How are you?; ¿Que tal? ("kay TAHL")What's up; Adiós ("ah DYOSE")Good-bye; Por favór ("pore fah-FORE")Please; Grácias ("GRAH-syahs") Thank you; Buena suerte ("BWE-na SWAYR-tay")Good luck; Feliz Año Nuevo ("feh-LEEZ AHN-yoe NWAY-vo")Happy New Year.

Some expressions, however, appear to be unique to Puerto Ricans. These include: Mas enamorado que el cabro cupido (More in love than a goat shot by Cupid's arrow; or, to be head over heels in love); Sentado an el baúl (Seated in a trunk; or, to be henpecked); and Sacar el ratón (Let the rat out of the bag; or, to get drunk).

Family and Community Dynamics

Puerto Rican family and community dynamics have a strong Spanish influence and still tend to reflect the intensely patriarchal social organization of European Spanish culture. Traditionally, husbands and fathers are heads of households and serve as community leaders. Older male children are expected to be responsible for younger siblings, especially females. Machismo (the Spanish conception of manhood) is traditionally a highly regarded virtue among Puerto Rican men. Women, in turn, are held responsible for the day-to-day running of the household.

Both Puerto Rican men and women care very much for their children and have strong roles in childrearing; children are expected to show respeto (respect) to parents and other elders, including older siblings. Traditionally, girls are raised to be quiet and diffident, and boys are raised to be more aggressive, though all children are expected to defer to elders and strangers. Young men initiate courtship, though dating rituals have for the most part become Americanized on the mainland. Puerto Ricans place a high value on the education of the young; on the island, Americanized public education is compulsory. And like most Latino groups, Puerto Ricans are traditionally opposed to divorce and birth out of wedlock.

Puerto Rican family structure is extensive; it is based on the Spanish system of compadrazco (literally "co-parenting") in which many membersnot just parents and siblingsare considered to be part of the immediate family. Thus los abuelos (grandparents), and los tios y las tias (uncles and aunts) and even los primos y las primas (cousins) are considered extremely close relatives in the Puerto Rican family structure. Likewise, los padrinos (godparents) have a special role in the Puerto Rican conception of the family: godparents are friends of a child's parents and serve as "second parents" to the child. Close friends often refer to each other as compadre y comadre to reinforce the familial bond.

Although the extended family remains standard among many Puerto Rican mainlanders and islanders, the family structure has suffered a serious breakdown in recent decades, especially among urban mainlander Puerto Ricans. This breakdown seems to have been precipitated by economic hardships among Puerto Ricans, as well as by the influence of America's social organization, which deemphasizes the extended family and accords greater autonomy to children and women.

For Puerto Ricans, the home has special significance, serving as the focal point for family life. Puerto Rican homes, even in the mainland United States, thus reflect Puerto Rican cultural heritage to a great extent. They tend to be ornate and colorful, with rugs and gilt-framed paintings that often reflect a religious theme. In addition, rosaries, busts of La Virgin (the Virgin Mary) and other religious icons have a prominent place in the household. For many Puerto Rican mothers and grandmothers, no home is complete without a representation of the suffering of Jesús Christo and the Last Supper. As young people increasingly move into mainstream American culture, these traditions and many others seem to be waning, but only slowly over the last few decades.


Because of the long history of intermarriage among Spanish, Indian, and African ancestry groups, Puerto Ricans are among the most ethnically and racially diverse people in Latin America. As a result, the relations between whites, blacks, and ethnic groups on the islandand to a somewhat lesser extent on the mainlandtend to be cordial.

This is not to say that Puerto Ricans fail to recognize racial variance. On the island of Puerto Rico, skin color ranges from black to fair, and there are many ways of describing a person's color. Light-skinned persons are usually referred to as blanco (white) or rúbio (blond). Those with darker skin who have Native American features are referred to as indio, or "Indian." A person with dark-colored skin, hair, and eyeslike the majority of the islandersare referred to as trigeño (swarthy). Blacks have two designations: African Puerto Ricans are called people de colór or people "of color," while African Americans are referred to as moreno. The word negro, meaning "black," is quite common among Puerto Ricans, and is used today as a term of endearment for persons of any color.


Most Puerto Ricans are Roman Catholics. Catholicism on the island dates back to the earliest presence of the Spanish conquistadors, who brought Catholic missionaries to convert native Arawaks to Christianity and train them in Spanish customs and culture. For over 400 years, Catholicism was the island's dominant religion, with a negligible presence of Protestant Christians. That has changed over the last century. As recently as 1960, over 80 percent of Puerto Ricans identified themselves as Catholics. By the mid-1990s, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, that number had decreased to 70 percent. Nearly 30 percent of Puerto Ricans identify themselves as Protestants of various denominations, including Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Christian Scientist. The Protestant shift is about the same among mainlander Puerto Ricans. Although this trend may be attributable to the overwhelming influence of American culture on the island and among mainland Puerto Ricans, similar changes have been observed throughout the Caribbean and into the rest of Latin America.

Puerto Ricans who practice Catholicism observe traditional church liturgy, rituals, and traditions. These include belief in the Creed of the Apostles and adherence to the doctrine of papal infallibility. Puerto Rican Catholics observe the seven Catholic sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. According to the dispensations of Vatican II, Puerto Ricans celebrate mass in vernacular Spanish as opposed to ancient Latin. Catholic churches in Puerto Rico are ornate, rich with candles, paintings, and graphic imagery: like other Latin Americans, Puerto Ricans seem especially moved by the Passion of Christ and place particular emphasis on representations of the Crucifixion.

Among Puerto Rican Catholics, a small minority actively practice some version of santería ("sahnteh-REE-ah"), an African American pagan religion with roots in the Yoruba religion of western Africa. (A santo is a saint of the Catholic church who also corresponds to a Yoruban deity.) Santería is prominent throughout the Caribbean and in many places in the southern United States and has had a strong influence on Catholic practices on the island.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Early Puerto Rican migrants to the mainland, especially those settling in New York City, found jobs in service and industry sectors. Among women, garment industry work was the leading form of employment. Men in urban areas most often worked in the service industry, often at restaurant jobsbussing tables, bartending, or washing dishes. Men also found work in steel manufacturing, auto assembly, shipping, meat packing, and other related industries. In the early years of mainland migration, a sense of ethnic cohesion, especially in New York City, was created by Puerto Rican men who held jobs of community significance: Puerto Rican barbers, grocers, barmen, and others provided focal points for the Puerto Rican community to gather in the city. Since the 1960s, some Puerto Ricans have been journeying to the mainland as temporary contract laborersworking seasonally to harvest crop vegetables in various states and then returning to Puerto Rico after harvest.

As Puerto Ricans have assimilated into mainstream American culture, many of the younger generations have moved away from New York City and other eastern urban areas, taking high-paying white-collar and professional jobs. Still, less than two percent of Puerto Rican families have a median income above $75,000.

In mainland urban areas, though, unemployment is rising among Puerto Ricans. According to 1990 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 31 percent of all Puerto Rican men and 59 percent of all Puerto Rican women were not considered part of the American labor force. One reason for these alarming statistics may be the changing face of American employment options. The sort of manufacturing sector jobs that were traditionally held by Puerto Ricans, especially in the garment industry, have become increasingly scarce. Institutionalized racism and the rise in single-parent households in urban areas over the last two decades may also be factors in the employment crisis. Urban Puerto Rican unemploymentwhatever its causehas emerged as one of the greatest economic challenges facing Puerto Rican community leaders at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Politics and Government

Throughout the twentieth century, Puerto Rican political activity has followed two distinct paths one focusing on accepting the association with the United States and working within the American political system, the other pushing for full Puerto Rican independence, often through radical means. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, most Puerto Rican leaders living in New York City fought for Caribbean freedom from Spain in general and Puerto Rican freedom in particular. When Spain ceded control of Puerto Rico to the United States following the Spanish-American War, those freedom fighters turned to working for Puerto Rican independence from the States. Eugenio María de Hostos founded the League of Patriots to help smooth the transition from U.S. control to independence. Although full independence was never achieved, groups like the League paved the way for Puerto Rico's special relationship with the United States. Still, Puerto Ricans were for the most part blocked from wide participation in the American political system.

In 1913 New York Puerto Ricans helped establish La Prensa, a Spanish-language daily newspaper, and over the next two decades a number of Puerto Rican and Latino political organizations and groupssome more radical than othersbegan to form. In 1937 Puerto Ricans elected Oscar García Rivera to a New York City Assembly seat, making him New York's first elected official of Puerto Rican decent. There was some Puerto Rican support in New York City of radical activist Albizu Campos, who staged a riot in the Puerto Rican city of Ponce on the issue of independence that same year; 19 were killed in the riot, and Campos's movement died out.

The 1950s saw wide proliferation of community organizations, called ausentes. Over 75 such hometown societies were organized under the umbrella of El Congresso de Pueblo (the "Council of Hometowns"). These organizations provided services for Puerto Ricans and served as a springboard for activity in city politics. In 1959 the first New York City Puerto Rican Day parade was held. Many commentators viewed this as a major cultural and political "coming out" party for the New York Puerto Rican community.

Low participation of Puerto Ricans in electoral politicsin New York and elsewhere in the countryhas been a matter of concern for Puerto Rican leaders. This trend is partly attributable to a nationwide decline in American voter turnout. Still, some studies reveal that there is a substantially higher rate of voter participation among Puerto Ricans on the island than on the U.S. mainland. A number of reasons for this have been offered. Some point to the low turnout of other ethnic minorities in U.S. communities. Others suggest that Puerto Ricans have never really been courted by either party in the American system. And still others suggest that the lack of opportunity and education for the migrant population has resulted in widespread political cynicism among Puerto Ricans. The fact remains, however, that the Puerto Rican population can be a major political force when organized.

Individual and Group Contributions

Although Puerto Ricans have only had a major presence on the mainland since the mid-twentieth century, they have made significant contributions to American society. This is especially true in the areas of the arts, literature, and sports. The following is a selected list of individual Puerto Ricans and some of their achievements.


Frank Bonilla is a political scientist and a pioneer of Hispanic and Puerto Rican Studies in the United States. He is the director of the City University of New York's Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños and the author of numerous books and monographs. Author and educator Maria Teresa Babín (1910 ) served as director of the University of Puerto Rico's Hispanic Studies Program. She also edited one of only two English anthologies of Puerto Rican literature.


Olga Albizu (1924 ) came to fame as a painter of Stan Getz's RCA record covers in the 1950s. She later became a leading figure in the New York City arts community. Other well-known contemporary and avant-garde visual artists of Puerto Rican descent include Rafael Ferre (1933 ), Rafael Colón (1941 ), and Ralph Ortíz (1934 ).


Ricky Martin, born Enrique Martin Morales in Puerto Rico, began his career as a member of the teen singing group Menudo. He gained international fame at the 1999 Grammy Awards ceremony with his rousing performance of "La Copa de la Vida." His continued success, most notably with his single "La Vida Loca" was a major influence in the growing interest in new Latin beat styles among mainstream America in the late 1990s.

Marc Anthony (born Marco Antonio Muniz) gained renown both as an actor in films like The Substitute (1996), Big Night (1996), and Bringing outthe Dead (1999) and as a top selling Salsa song writer and performer. Anthony has contributed hit songs to albums by other singers and recorded his first album, The Night Is Over, in 1991 in Latin hip hop-style. Some of his other albums reflect more of his Salsa roots and include Otra Nota in 1995 and Contra La Corriente in 1996.


Deborah Aguiar-Veléz (1955 ) was trained as a chemical engineer but became one of the most famous female entrepreneurs in the United States. After working for Exxon and the New Jersey Department of Commerce, Aguiar-Veléz founded Sistema Corp. In 1990 she was named the Outstanding Woman of the Year in Economic Development. John Rodriguez (1958 ) is the founder of AD-One, a Rochester, New York-based advertising and public relations firm whose clients include Eastman Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, and the Girl Scouts of America.


San Juan-born actor Raúl Juliá (1940-1994), best known for his work in film, was also a highly regarded figure in the theater. Among his many film credits are Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on South American writer Manuel Puig's novel of the same name, Presumed Innocent, and the Addams Family movies. Singer and dance Rita Moreno (1935 ), born Rosita Dolores Alverco in Puerto Rico, began working on Broadway at the age of 13 and hit Hollywood at age 14. She has earned numerous awards for her work in theater, film, and television. Miriam Colón (1945 ) is New York City's first lady of Hispanic theater. She has also worked widely in film and television. José Ferrer (1912 ), one of cinema's most distinguished leading men, earned a 1950 Academy Award for best actor in the film Cyrano de Bergerac.

Jennifer Lopez, born July 24, 1970 in the Bronx, is a dancer, an actress, and a singer, and has gained fame successively in all three areas. She began her career as a dancer in stage musicals and music videos and in the Fox Network TV show In Living Color. After a string of supporting roles in movies such as Mi Familia (1995) and Money Train (1995), Jennifer Lopez became the highest paid Latina actress in films when she was selected for the title role in Selena in 1997. She went on to act in Anaconda (1997), U-turn (1997), Antz (1998) and Out Of Sight (1998). Her first solo album, On the 6, released in 1999, produced a hit single, "If You Had My Love."


Jesús Colón (1901-1974) was the first journalist and short story writer to receive wide attention in English-language literary circles. Born in the small Puerto Rican town of Cayey, Colón stowed away on a boat to New York City at the age of 16. After working as an unskilled laborer, he began writing newspaper articles and short fiction. Colón eventually became a columnist for the Daily Worker; some of his works were later collected in A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches. Nicholasa Mohr (1935 ) is the only Hispanic American woman to write for major U.S. publishing houses, including Dell, Bantam, and Harper. Her books include Nilda (1973), In Nueva York (1977) and Gone Home (1986). Victor Hernández Cruz (1949 ) is the most widely acclaimed of the Nuyorican poets, a group of Puerto Rican poets whose work focuses on the Latino world in New York City. His collections include Mainland (1973) and Rhythm, Content, and Flavor (1989). Tato Laviena (1950 ), the best-selling Latino poet in the United States, gave a 1980 reading at the White House for U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Geraldo Rivera (1943 ) has won ten Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award for his investigative journalism. Since 1987 this controversial media figure has hosted his own talk show, Geraldo.


José Cabrenas (1949 ) was the first Puerto Rican to be named to a federal court on the U.S. mainland. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1965 and received his LL.M. from England's Cambridge University in 1967. Cabrenas held a position in the Carter administration, and his name has since been raised for a possible U.S. Supreme Court nomination. Antonia Novello (1944 ) was the first Hispanic woman to be named U.S. surgeon general. She served in the Bush administration from 1990 until 1993.


Roberto Walker Clemente (1934-1972) was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and played center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 until his death in 1972. Clemente appeared in two World Series contests, was a four-time National League batting champion, earned MVP honors for the Pirates in 1966, racked up 12 Gold Glove awards for fielding, and was one of only 16 players in the history of the game to have over 3,000 hits. After his untimely death in a plane crash en route to aid earthquake victims in Central America, the Baseball Hall of Fame waived the usual five-year waiting period and inducted Clemente immediately. Orlando Cepeda (1937 ) was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but grew up in New York City, where he played sandlot baseball. He joined the New York Giants in 1958 and was named Rookie of the Year. Nine years later he was voted MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals. Angel Thomas Cordero (1942 ), a famous name in the world of horseracing, is the fourth all-time leader in races wonand Number Three in the amount of money won in purses: $109,958,510 as of 1986. Sixto Escobar (1913 ) was the first Puerto Rican boxer to win a world championship, knocking out Tony Matino in 1936. Chi Chi Rodriguez (1935 ) is one of the best-known American golfers in the world. In a classic rags-to-riches story, he started out as a caddie in his hometown of Rio Piedras and went on to become a millionaire player. The winner of numerous national and world tournaments, Rodriguez is also known for his philanthropy, including his establishment of the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation in Florida.


More than 500 U.S. newspapers, periodicals, newsletters, and directories are published in Spanish or have a significant focus on Hispanic Americans. More than 325 radio and television stations air broadcasts in Spanish, providing music, entertainment, and information to the Hispanic community.


El Diario/La Prensa.

Published Monday through Friday, since 1913, this publication has focused on general news in Spanish.

Contact: Carlos D. Ramirez, Publisher.

Address: 143-155 Varick Street, New York, New York 10013.

Telephone: (718) 807-4600.

Fax: (212) 807-4617.


Established in 1988, it covers Hispanic interests and people in a general editorial magazine format on a monthly basis.

Address: 98 San Jacinto Boulevard, Suite 1150, Austin, Texas 78701.

Telephone: (512) 320-1942.

Hispanic Business.

Established in 1979, this is a monthly English-language business magazine that caters to Hispanic professionals.

Contact: Jesus Echevarria, Publisher.

Address: 425 Pine Avenue, Santa Barbara, California 93117-3709.

Telephone: (805) 682-5843.

Fax: (805) 964-5539.

Online: http://www.hispanstar.com/hb/default.asp.

Hispanic Link Weekly Report.

Established in 1983, this is a weekly bilingual community newspaper covering Hispanic interests.

Contact: Felix Perez, Editor.

Address: 1420 N Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

Telephone: (202) 234-0280.

Noticias del Mundo.

Established in 1980, this is a daily general Spanish-language newspaper.

Contact: Bo Hi Pak, Editor.

Address: Philip Sanchez Inc., 401 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10016.

Telephone: (212) 684-5656.


Established in September 1985, this monthly magazine supplement appears in major daily English-language newspapers.

Contact: Renato Perez, Editor.

Address: 999 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Suite 600, Coral Gables, Florida 33134.

Telephone: (305) 442-2462.


Caballero Radio Network.

Contact: Eduardo Caballero, President.

Address: 261 Madison Avenue, Suite 1800, New York, New York 10016.

Telephone: (212) 697-4120.

CBS Hispanic Radio Network.

Contact: Gerardo Villacres, General Manager.

Address: 51 West 52nd Street, 18th Floor, New York, New York 10019.

Telephone: (212) 975-3005.

Lotus Hispanic Radio Network.

Contact: Richard B. Kraushaar, President.

Address: 50 East 42nd Street, New York, New York 10017.

Telephone: (212) 697-7601.

WHCR-FM (90.3).

Public radio format, operating 18 hours daily with Hispanic news and contemporary programming.

Contact: Frank Allen, Program Director.

Address: City College of New York, 138th and Covenant Avenue, New York, New York 10031.

Telephone: (212) 650-7481.

WKDM-AM (1380).

Independent Hispanic hit radio format with continuous operation.

Contact: Geno Heinemeyer, General Manager.

Address: 570 Seventh Avenue, Suite 1406, New York, New York 10018.

Telephone: (212) 564-1380.



Hispanic television network.

Contact: Jamie Davila, Division President.

Address: 2121 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 2300, Los Angeles, California 90067.

Telephone: (310) 286-0122.

Telemundo Spanish Television Network.

Contact: Joaquin F. Blaya, President.

Address: 1740 Broadway, 18th Floor, New York, New York 10019-1740.

Telephone: (212) 492-5500.


Spanish-language television network, offering news and entertainment programming.

Contact: Joaquin F. Blaya, President.

Address: 605 Third Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, New York 10158-0180.

Telephone: (212) 455-5200.

WCIU-TV, Channel 26.

Commercial television station affiliated with the Univision network.

Contact: Howard Shapiro, Station Manager.

Address: 141 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60604.

Telephone: (312) 663-0260.

WNJU-TV, Channel 47.

Commercial television station affiliated with Telemundo.

Contact: Stephen J. Levin, General Manager.

Address: 47 Industrial Avenue, Teterboro, New Jersey 07608.

Telephone: (201) 288-5550.

Organizations and Associations

Association for Puerto Rican-Hispanic Culture.

Founded in 1965. Seeks to expose people of various ethnic backgrounds and nationalities to cultural values of Puerto Ricans and Hispanics. Focuses on music, poetry recitals, theatrical events, and art exhibits.

Contact: Peter Bloch.

Address: 83 Park Terrace West, New York, New York 10034.

Telephone: (212) 942-2338.

Council for Puerto Rico-U.S. Affairs.

Founded in 1987, the council was formed to help create a positive awareness of Puerto Rico in the United States and to forge new links between the mainland and the island.

Contact: Roberto Soto.

Address: 14 East 60th Street, Suite 605, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (212) 832-0935.

National Association for Puerto Rican Civil Rights (NAPRCR).

Addresses civil rights issues concerning Puerto Ricans in legislative, labor, police, and legal and housing matters, especially in New York City.

Contact: Damaso Emeric, President.

Address: 2134 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10035.

Telephone: (212) 996-9661.

National Conference of Puerto Rican Women (NACOPRW).

Founded in 1972, the conference promotes the participation of Puerto Rican and other Hispanic women in social, political, and economic affairs in the United States and in Puerto Rico. Publishes the quarterly Ecos Nationales.

Contact: Ana Fontana.

Address: 5 Thomas Circle, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

Telephone: (202) 387-4716.

National Council of La Raza.

Founded in 1968, this Pan-Hispanic organization provides assistance to local Hispanic groups, serves as an advocate for all Hispanic Americans, and is a national umbrella organization for 80 formal affiliates throughout the United States.

Address: 810 First Street, N.E., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20002.

Telephone: (202) 289-1380.

National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC).

Founded in 1977, the NPRC advances the social, economic, and political well-being of Puerto Ricans. It evaluates the potential impact of legislative and government proposals and policies affecting the Puerto Rican community and provides technical assistance and training to start-up Puerto Rican organizations. Publishes National Directory of Puerto Rican Organizations; Bulletin; Annual Report.

Contact: Louis Nuñez, President.

Address: 1700 K Street, N.W., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20006.

Telephone: (202) 223-3915.

Fax: (202) 429-2223.

National Puerto Rican Forum (NPRF).

Concerned with the overall improvement of Puerto Rican and Hispanic communities throughout the United States

Contact: Kofi A. Boateng, Executive Director.

Address: 31 East 32nd Street, Fourth Floor, New York, New York 10016-5536.

Telephone: (212) 685-2311.

Fax: (212) 685-2349.

Online: http://www.nprf.org/.

Puerto Rican Family Institute (PRFI).

Established for the preservation of the health, wellbeing, and integrity of Puerto Rican and Hispanic families in the United States.

Contact: Maria Elena Girone, Executive Director.

Address: 145 West 15th Street, New York, New York 10011.

Telephone: (212) 924-6320.

Fax: (212) 691-5635.

Museums and Research Centers

Brooklyn College of the City University of New York Center for Latino Studies.

Research institute centered on the study of Puerto Ricans in New York and Puerto Rico. Focuses on history, politics, sociology, and anthropology.

Contact: Maria Sanchez.

Address: 1205 Boylen Hall, Bedford Avenue at Avenue H, Brooklyn, New York 11210.

Telephone: (718) 780-5561.

Hunter College of the City University of New York Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños.

Founded in 1973, it is the first university-based research center in New York City designed specifically to develop Puerto Rican perspectives on Puerto Rican problems and issues.

Contact: Juan Flores, Director.

Address: 695 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10021.

Telephone: (212) 772-5689.

Fax: (212) 650-3673.

E-mail: [email protected].

Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, Archivo General de Puerto Rico.

Maintains extensive archival holdings relating to the history of Puerto Rico.

Contact: Carmen Davila.

Address: 500 Ponce de León, Suite 4184, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00905.

Telephone: (787) 725-5137.

Fax: (787) 724-8393.

PRLDEF Institute for Puerto Rican Policy.

The Institute for Puerto Rican Policy merged with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1999. In September of 1999 a website was in progress but unfinished.

Contact: Angelo Falcón, Director.

Address: 99 Hudson Street, 14th Floor, New York, New York 10013-2815.

Telephone: (212) 219-3360 ext. 246.

Fax: (212) 431-4276.

E-mail: [email protected].

Puerto Rican Culture Institute, Luis Muñoz Rivera Library and Museum.

Founded in 1960, it houses collections that emphasize literature and art; institute supports research into the cultural heritage of Puerto Rico.

Address: 10 Muñoz Rivera Street, Barranquitas, Puerto Rico 00618.

Telephone: (787) 857-0230.

Sources for Additional Study

Alvarez, Maria D. Puerto Rican Children on the Mainland: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. New York: Garland Pub., 1992.

Dietz, James L. Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist Development. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Falcón, Angelo. Puerto Rican Political Participation: New York City and Puerto Rico. Institute for Puerto Rican Policy, 1980.

Fitzpatrick, Joseph P. Puerto Rican Americans: The Meaning of Migration to the Mainland. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1987.

. The Stranger Is Our Own: Reflections on the Journey of Puerto Rican Migrants. Kansas City, Missouri: Sheed & Ward, 1996.

Growing up Puerto Rican: An Anthology, edited by Joy L. DeJesus. New York: Morrow, 1997.

Hauberg, Clifford A. Puerto Rico and the Puerto Ricans. New York: Twayne, 1975.

Perez y Mena, Andres Isidoro. Speaking with the Dead: Development of Afro-Latin Religion Among Puerto Ricans in the United States: A Study into Inter-penetration of Civilizations in the New World. New York: AMS Press, 1991.

Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History, edited by Arturo Morales Carrion. New York: Norton, 1984.

Urciuoli, Bonnie. Exposing Prejudice: Puerto Rican Experiences of Language, Race, and Class. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.

Puerto Rico

views updated Jun 08 2018

Puerto Rico

Culture Name

Puerto Rican

Alternative Names

Borinquen, Borincano, Borinqueño


Identification. Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico in 1493, during his second voyage, naming it San Juan Bautista. The Taínos, the indigenous people, called the island Boriquén Tierra del alto señor ("Land of the Noble Lord"). In 1508, the Spanish granted settlement rights to Juan Ponce de León, who established a settlement at Caparra and became the first governor. In 1519 Caparra had to be relocated to a nearby coastal islet with a healthier environment; it was renamed Puerto Rico ("Rich Port") for its harbor, among the world's best natural bays. The two names were switched over the centuries: the island became Puerto Rico and its capital San Juan. The United States anglicized the name to "Porto Rico" when it occupied the island in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. This spelling was discontinued in 1932.

Puerto Ricans are a Caribbean people who regard themselves as citizens of a distinctive island nation in spite of their colonial condition and U.S. citizenship. This sense of uniqueness also shapes their migrant experience and relationship with other ethnoracial groups in the United States. However, this cultural nationalism coexists with a desire for association with the United States as a state or in the current semiautonomous commonwealth status.

Location and Geography. Puerto Rico is the easternmost and smallest of the Greater Antilles, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Basin to the south. Puerto Rico is a crucial hemispheric access point. It was thus a valuable acquisition for European powers and the United States. Puerto Rico retains its strategic importance, housing the U.S. Army Southern Command and other military facilities. Since the 1940s, the U.S. Navy has used its offshore islands for military maneuvers that have damaged their ecology, economy, and quality of life.

Puerto Rico includes the surrounding small islands, including Culebra and Vieques to the east and Mona to the west. Mona is a nature reserve and wildlife refuge under government jurisdiction. The total land area, including the smaller islands, is 3,427 square miles (8,875 square kilometers).

The tropical island ecosystem is unique and diversified in spite of industrialization and urban sprawl. Beside Mona, the government has established several other nature reserves. There are twenty forest reserves, such as El Yunque Rain Forest and the Caribbean National Forest, which are under federal jurisdiction.

A rugged central mountain range constitutes two-thirds of the island and separates a northern coastal plain noted for karst formations from a drier southern plain. The Taínos recognized the power of the seasonal hurricanes that affect the island. The Spanish word huracán originated from the Taíno juracán, the sacred name for this phenomenon.

Spain turned Puerto Rico into a military stronghold. San Juan was walled and fortified to house military forces, but the other settlements were neglected until the eighteenth century; isolated by the scarcity of roads, they subsisted on contraband, with little official management. The impenetrable highlands became a refuge in which settlers, runaway slaves, Taínos, and deserters produced a racially mixed population.

Demography. Puerto Rico is densely populated and urbanized. Census projections for 2000 place the population at 3,916,000, not including the estimated 2.7 million Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States. Almost 70 percent of the island is urban, in contrast to its rural character up to the 1940s. Sprawl has integrated formerly distinct barrios (rural and suburban neighborhoods), cities, and towns. The San Juan metropolitan area extends almost to Fajardo in the east and west to Arecibo. Ponce in the south and Mayagüez in the west also have become sprawling metropolitan areas.

Puerto Ricans self-define as a homogenized Taíno, African, and Spanish mixture. Taínos were Amerindians who occupied the island before European domination. Then estimated at thirty thousand, they were reduced to two thousand by the seventeenth century through exploitative labor, disease, native uprisings, and emigration to the other islands. But many fled into the highlands or intermarried: Spanish immigration to the island was mostly male and interracial relations less stigmatizing than among Anglo settlers. The contemporary revival of Taíno identity is partially based on the survival of Taíno highland communities.

Although the Spanish introduced slavery to replace a dwindling Taíno labor force, slavery never reached large proportions until the plantation system was fully implemented in the nineteenth century. However, there was a significant African influx of slave, indentured, and free labor.

Chinese labor was introduced in the nineteenth century, and immigrants came from Andalusia, Catalonia, the Basque provinces, Galicia, and the Canary Islands. Threatened by Latin America's nineteenth century revolutions, Spain facilitated immigration through economic incentives, attracting other nationalities as loyalists fled republican uprisings. The nineteenth century also brought Corsican, French, German, Lebanese, Scottish, Italian, Irish, English, and American immigration.

The U.S. occupation increased the American presence, and the 1959 revolution in Cuba brought an estimated 23,000 Cubans. Many Dominicans immigrated in search of economic opportunities; some use Puerto Rico as a port of entry into the United States. Tension and prejudice against these two groups have emerged. Americans, Cubans, and Dominicans tend to consider their presence in Puerto Rico temporary.

Linguistic Affiliation. Spanish and English are the official languages, but Puerto Rico is overwhelmingly Spanish speaking, despite government efforts to eradicate Spanish or foster bilingualism. Puerto Rican Spanish is a dialect of standard Spanish that has its own particularities. The influence of Taíno is evident in descriptions of material objects ("hammock" and "tobacco"), natural phenomena ("hurricane"), place names and colloquialisms. However, Africans gave Puerto Rican Spanish defining nuances. African speech contributed words and also influenced phonology, syntax, and prosody.

Language is a significant cultural marker of national identity for a people whose culture has always been under siege because of colonialism. U.S. officials disdained Puerto Rican Spanish as an unintelligible "patois" that had to be eradicated; they also believed that by learning English, Puerto Ricans would be socialized into "American values." The U.S. government imposed educational policies prescribing schooling in English through the first half of the twentieth century; language became part of the long-standing struggles over Puerto Rico's culture and colonial condition.

Although "English-only" policies were abrogated after the establishment of the commonwealth in 1952, debates about language have intensified. Purists decry the loss of the "mother tongue," advocating vigilance and "correctness," yet the "deterioration" of Puerto Rican Spanish through English "interference" has been exaggerated. Puerto Ricans in the United States have developed a linguistic repertoire that involves mixing English and Spanish in everyday talk. This code switching has been stigmatized as "Spanglish" and condemned by language purists, but is actually culturally significant as an identity marker.

Symbolism. The most powerful cultural symbol is the island itself. Idealized in a variety of media, its image resonates even among members of U.S. migrant communities. Natural and human-made features associated with the island are imbued with great value. The coquí (a tiny indigenous tree frog), royal palms, Taíno petroglyphs, Luquillo Beach and El Yunque, bomba and plena (music and dance forms of African origin), literature, and native food are some of these features. Puerto Ricans in New York City have built casitas, copies of the traditional rural wooden houses painted in vibrant colors and decorated with Puerto Rican objects.

The jíbaro, the highland rural folk, has become a controversial symbol because jíbaros are depicted as descendants of white Spanish settlers in a way that casts Puerto Rico as a backward rural society and negates Puerto Rico's African roots.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The Taínos received the Spanish with civility but were quickly farmed out in encomiendas, a system of indentured labor, to work at mining and cultivation. By mid-century, African slaves were imported for labor, and both slaves and Taínos soon rose in armed rebellion.

Spain realized that the island's wealth did not lie in gold and silver, yet it was attacked repeatedly by European powers that recognized its strategic location. Puerto Rico survived on contraband and piracy, trading cattle, hides, sugar, tobacco, and foodstuffs directly with other nations.

In the eighteenth century, the Spanish initiated a series of improvements, reforming the system of land tenure and in effect initiating private ownership. Overhauled policies allowed trade with other nations. These measures fostered development and increased settlement, urbanization, and population growth; they also facilitated the emergence of a sense of culture. By the eighteenth century, Puerto Ricans had developed a definite creole identity, distinguishing themselves from the hombres de la otra banda ("men from the other side"), who were transient colonial administrators, military personnel, or exploiters.

The nineteenth century fostered increased political consciousness and claims for autonomy or incorporation as an overseas province. In liberal times, Puerto Rico was granted civil liberties, which were abrogated upon the return to conservatism and repression.

The independence movement culminated in the Grito de Lares of 1868, an armed rebellion that was reported to the Spanish by an infiltrator and suppressed. Some of its leaders were executed, and those who were exiled continued their struggle from Europe, Latin America, and New York City, where they worked alongside Cuban patriots.

National Identity. Cultural nationalism generated political activism, literary and artistic production, and economic development. In 1897, Spain granted Puerto Rico an Autonomic Charter that recognized its right to internal self-government. The first autonomous government was constituted in April 1898, but its accession was postponed when the United States declared war on Spain.

The national consciousness that emerged under Spanish rule survived into the twentieth century under U.S. control. The United States saw itself as exercising a benign modernizing function, but Puerto Ricans saw it as eroding their culture and curtailing their autonomy. This tension was aggravated by U.S. capitalistic practices. The government facilitated the economic exploitation of the island's resources by absentee corporations and fostered the exportation of local workers as cheap migrant labor. Claiming that the island lacked resources and was overpopulated, the U.S. government encouraged migration, with the consequent formation of diasporic communities across the United States.

Americanization efforts included English-only education and the implementation of an American educational system, the appointment of pro-U.S. officials, the incorporation of Anglo-Saxon common law principles and practices into the island's legal system, the grant of U.S. citizenship on the eve of World War I, and the introduction of U.S. currency and the devaluation of the local peso.

The advent of the commonwealth in 1952 did not end debates over Puerto Rico's culture and colonial status. Many people view the changes over the last century as modernization and the introduction of a corporate capitalist culture that has spread around the world without erasing cultural differences.

Ethnic Relations. Cultural identity is commonly defined in terms of nationality rather than ethnicity. Puerto Ricans in the United States have been defined as an ethnoracial group in spite of their nationalism.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Old San Juan is a world-class example of Spanish urban architecture adapted to a tropical environment. After the commonwealth government initiated its renovation, it became a tourist attraction and a handsome residential and commercial area. Its landmarks and fortifications, such as the Castle of San Felipe del Morro, are regarded as international treasures. The greater San Juan metropolitan area is a congested mix of undistinguished building styles that contains functionally distinct areas: Condado and Isla Verde are tourist enclaves, Santurce is a mix of commercial and residential spaces, Hato Rey has become the financial and banking center, and Río Piedras is the site of the University of Puerto Rico. Sprawl has eroded the sense of community and precluded pedestrian use, and an excellent network of modern highways has fostered car dependency to the detriment of the environment.

The Spanish plan of cities organized in a grid pattern of intersecting streets with central plazas bordered by public buildings recurs throughout the older sectors of the island's towns and cities. Residential architecture is eclectic. The U.S. occupation brought about a revival of the Spanish colonial style. Grillwork is ubiquitous because it offers security against criminality. Elite families built Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses, some luxurious and deserving of their designation as private "castles." The 1950s brought good examples of contemporary architecture.

Puerto Ricans have a strong cultural preference for owning their own houses. Housing developments (urbanizaciones ) are the norm; shopping centers and strip malls have partially replaced the old marketplaces. Public housing projects (caseríos ) have supplanted the old urban slums; people initially resisted them because they violated cultural expectations of individual housing and community. High-rise condominiums were constructed in the 1950s and have become desirable housing choices. In the few remaining rural areas, wooden and straw huts have been replaced by cement block houses.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Food preferences were shaped by the island's cultural diversity and predominantly rural lifestyle. Taíno and African influences are seen in the use of tropical fruits and vegetables, seafood, condiments, and legumes and cereals (the ubiquitous rice and beans). The Spanish contributed culinary techniques and wheat products and introduced pork and cattle. The tropical climate required the importation of preserved food; dried codfish was long a dietary mainstay. Candied fruits and fruits preserved in syrup are also traditional. Rum and coffee are the preferred beverages.

Traditionally, meals were patterned after Spanish custom: a continental breakfast, a large midday meal, and a modest supper. Many people now eat a large breakfast, a fast-food lunch, and a large dinner. Puerto Ricans tolerate fast-food, but prefer native food and home cooking. There are fast-food establishments that serve rice and beans, and other local dishes. The island boasts restaurants and eating places across the economic and gastronomic spectrums; San Juan, in particular, offers international choices.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Although American holidays are legally celebrated, the foods associated with them are prepared according to local tastes and culinary techniques. Thus, the Thanksgiving turkey is done with adobo, a local seasoning mix. The traditional holiday menu includes pernil or lechón asado (spit-roasted pork), pasteles (plantain or yucca tamales), and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas); typical desserts are arroz con dulce (coconut rice pudding), bienmesabe (coconut pudding), and tembleque (coconut milk pudding). Coquito is a popular coconut and rum beverage.

Basic Economy. Industrialization has eroded the viability of agriculture as an important economic activity and the island is dependent on food imports. Local products are considered of higher quality.

Land Tenure and Property. Most Puerto Rican land is in private hands. Owning a home holds important cultural value. The emphasis placed on owning one's own home led to agrarian reform in the 1940s and the parcela program, a local homesteading effort by which the government appropriated land held by corporations for exploitative agribusiness and sold it for minimum prices. The only period within the twentieth century when private property was affected was precisely between 1898 and the 1940s when the whole island was literally carved up among a handful of absentee U.S. sugar-producing corporations and their local subsidiaries.

The government holds portions and there are protected nature reserves.

Commercial Activities. Beginning in the 1950s, Operation Bootstrap, the commonwealth's developmental program, fostered rapid industrialization. Tax incentives and cheap skilled labor brought many U.S. industries to the island, but by the late 1960s, the social costs and the ending of tax incentives eroded the economy. The flight of industry to cheaper labor markets in Asia and Latin America and the rise of transnational business have reduced the process of industrialization.

Major Industries. Restrictive U.S. laws and policies and U.S.-dominated banking and finance have limited Puerto Rico's ability to develop its own markets and conduct international business. The island is now dependent on manufacturing and services. The government remains a major employer. It has fostered petrochemical and high-technology industries that capitalize on an educated labor force. Pharmaceuticals, chemicals, electronics, medical equipment, and machinery are the leading products. Tourism is the most important service industry.

Trade. Major imports include chemicals, machinery, food, transport equipment, petroleum and petroleum products, professional and scientific instruments, and clothing and textiles.

Major exports include chemicals and chemical products, food, and machinery.

Division of Labor. There is a professional class in Puerto Rico. It is a full-fledged Westernized society, with the government being a major employer. Unemployment rates average at 12.5 percent. Agriculture is a waning labor source.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. A capitalist class structure is organized by access to wage labor and means of production. During the colonial period, small farms and subsistence agriculture prevailed. This prevented the emergence of a privileged hacendado class as in other latin societies. In the nineteenth century, with the implementation of an economy dependent on sugar, tobacco, and coffee, landowning and merchant classes emerged, along with a small class of urban professionals. Most political leaders came from those classes, but the bulk of the population remained artisans, sharecroppers, and laborers. Families that retained their assets under U.S. control made the transition to the professional, business, banking, and industrialist class. The economic changes of the 1950s produced an expanded middle class of government employees, administrators, and white-collar workers and an industrial working class replaced the rural one.

Symbols of Social Stratification. A "good" family and education are considered more important than wealth, but class distinctions increasingly are based on the ability to purchase and consume certain goods and commodities such as cars, electronic media, clothes, and travel.

Political Life

Government. The official head of state is the president of the United States even though Puerto Ricans can not vote in presidential elections. A local governor is elected every four years through universal suffrage. An elected resident commissioner represents the island in the U.S. Congress but has no vote. Puerto Rico has its own constitution. A bicameral legislature is elected every four years. The Senate is composed of two senators from each of eight senatorial districts and eleven senators at large; the House of Representatives consists of eleven representatives at large and one each from forty representative districts. Minority party representation is guaranteed in both chambers regardless of election returns.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties are based on the three traditional positions on status: autonomy in an enhanced commonwealth status, statehood, and independence. Currently, these positions are represented by the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), the New Progressive Party (PNP), and the Independence Party of Puerto Rico (PIP). The PPD was founded in the late 1930s by the architect of commonwealth status, Luis Muñoz Marín, who became the first elected governor in 1948. The PNP emerged in 1965, succeeding an old pro-statehood party. The PIP was established in 1948 when a PPD faction split off because of Muñoz's failure to support independence. Its popularity peaked in 1952 but has decreased. However, the PIP plays an important opposition role.

Over the last forty years, government control has alternated between the PPD and the PNP. Puerto Ricans vote politicians in and out for their governing abilities rather than their position on status. Concerns about the economy and the quality of life predominate.

Several plebiscites have been held to allow residents to exercise their right to self-determination by expressing their status preference. However, the United States has not honored any plebiscite results.

Social Problems and Control. The unified court system is administered by the island's Supreme Court, which is appointed by the governor. But Puerto Rico is also subject to federal law and constitutes a district within the U.S. federal court system, with a local district court that has jurisdiction over federal law cases. Legal practice incorporates elements from Anglo-American common law and the continental civil code law inherited from Spain. There is no "customary" law.

The island has its own police force, though the FBI also exercises jurisdiction. The correctional system has been plagued by overpopulation, lack of rehabilitation programs, poor physical facilities, undertrained correctional officers, and violent inmate gangs. Criminality is a major problem. Some attribute it to the flight of Cuba's organized crime, which shifted operations to Puerto Rico after 1959. Others blame modernization and the alleged deterioration of traditional values. Many crimes are committed by drug addicts. Drug addiction has also brought the spread of AIDS.

Military Activity. The island is fully integrated into the U.S. military system. Puerto Ricans serve in the U.S. forces. There is also a local national guard. Many residents object to U.S. military control and the military use of Culebra and Vieques. The U.S. ceased maneuvers in Culebra in the mid-1970s, but intensified them in Vieques. It has faced resistance and civil disobedience from many Puerto Ricans.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Ongoing economic difficulties have produced high rates of unemployment. Puerto Rico receives federal aid but does not get equal coverage or qualify for most welfare programs. The local government is the main welfare provider. Although it has managed to sustain a relatively high standard of living, the cost of living is steep and Puerto Ricans accumulate high levels of debt. However, Puerto Rico's achievements in reducing mortality, increasing literacy, improving medical services, and raising life expectancy have placed it on a par with many U.S. states.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The list of organizations and associations in Puerto Rico is vast, since the number and kind of them there parallel those found in any state of the U.S. They include international (the Red Cross), national (YMCA, Boy and Girl Scouts), and local groups (Puerto Rico Bar Association).

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Gender relations have become increasingly egalitarian. When the island had a subsistence lifestyle, women were important economic producers in rural households and outside the home. The ideal of the home-tending housewife has been honored among the middle and upper classes but has become impractical. In an ideal male world, women are expected to do the double duty of workplace and household labor, but this is changing because of the need to maintain double-salary households.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. There is a long-standing tradition of women being active in public life as intellectuals, writers, activists, politicians, and professionals. When women's suffrage was approved in 1932, Puerto Rico elected the first woman legislator in the Western Hemisphere.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Puerto Ricans consider family life a core cultural value; family and kin are viewed as the most enduring and reliable support network. Despite a high divorce rate and an increase in serial monogamy, most people prefer marriage to living together, although female virginity is not as important as it was in the past. Today courting is based on group or individual dating rather than chaperoned outings. Wedding ceremonies may be religious or secular but preferably include receptions for relatives and friends. Although remaining single is increasingly acceptable, marriage is an important marker of adulthood.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is prevalent, but relatives socialize often. Having children is preferable to childlessness, but it is increasingly the couple's choice. Working spouses who share household chores are becoming common, but socializing children is still predominantly a female role even among family-oriented men. Male authority is invoked and appealed to, but women's authority over many domains and activities is recognized.

Kin Groups. Relatives are expected to support each other materially and emotionally. Support is legally prescribed and required along descent, ascent, and collateral lines. Elders are respected. Kinship is bilateral, and people commonly use both the father's and the mother's family name as surnames.

Inheritance. Civil law requires that a third of an estate must be bequeathed equally among all the legal heirs. Another third may be used to improve an heir's lot, and the last third may be disposed of freely by the testator. The estate of a person who dies without a will is divided equally among all the legal heirs.


Infant Care. People try to rear children within the family. When the mother is unavailable, relatives are preferred to outsiders, and professional infant care providers are regarded with ambivalence. Puerto Ricans have adopted most modern child raising practices, such as separate beds and bedrooms, medical care, toys, and equipment. From infancy, children are socialized toward family and communal participation. Traditionally, they are expected to learn through observation rather than instruction. Children must learn respeto, the most valued trait in the culture. Respeto refers to the belief that every person has an intrinsic dignity that must never be transgressed. One must learn to respect others by learning to respect oneself. All other valued qualities, such as obedience, industriousness, and self-assurance, follow when a child internalizes respeto.

Child Rearing and Education. Elementary education is legally mandated, but the youth of the population has strained the public education system. Those who can afford it prefer private schooling, which better prepares children for college.

Puerto Ricans distinguish between instrucción (schooling) and (educación) (education). Education transcends schooling. Education is within the province of the family, since an educated person is not someone who has achieved "book learning" but a person who is respectful, cordial, courteous, polite, and "cultured."

Higher Education. Credentialism is on the rise, and a college degree is required for most positions and for upward mobility. The rates of high school and college graduation have increased in recent decades. The newly acquired importance of higher education sustains the university system, which includes the public University of Puerto Rico and the private Interamerican University, Sacred Heart College, and Catholic University. All these institutions have multiple campuses. People have access to professional training in law, medicine, engineering, and other fields.


Respeto and educación are indispensable components of social interaction. Indirection is also an important strategy. People believe that directness is rude and use a variety of euphemisms and hedges to avoid it. Close friends are allowed directness but maintain the boundaries of respect. Puerto Ricans prefer people who are publicly expressive but not excessively so. Friends customarily greet by kissing each other, and engaging in animated conversation is viewed as a social asset. Although social drinking is approved, drunkenness is not. Relajo is a joking form of indirection that is similar to teasing. It is used to criticize others indirectly, convey problematic aspects of their behavior, stress absurdities, and impart potentially negative information.


Religious Beliefs. The U.S. occupation brought Protestant missions to a predominantly Catholic society. An estimated 30 percent of the population is now Protestant. All major denominations are represented, and there is a synagogue in San Juan but no mosque. Revivalism is quite popular.

The Catholic Church had much power under Spain, but Catholics are prone to a populistic kind of religion that is wary of the established church and its hierarchy. Many people are nonobservant, yet consider themselves devout because they pray, are faithful, treat others with compassion, and communicate directly with God.

African slaves introduced brujería (witchcraft practices). In the nineteenth century, European spiritualism became popular. It is the most important alternative practice and coexists with established religions. Many people consider both forms equally legitimate and practice both. Spiritualist mediums are predominantly women who hold divinations and seances in their homes; many have become successful and even wealthy. Cuban immigrants brought santería, a blend of Yoruba and Catholic religions. Spiritualism and santería have merged into santerismo. Both posit a spirit world, worship a hierarchy of guiding saints and deities from the sacred and secular worlds, and practice divination.

Religious Practitioners. Most religious life in Puerto Rico is enacted in terms of a populist style, in the case of established religions, and engages espiritismo and santería as culturally-specific systems of belief that co-exist with mainstream religious practices.

Medicine and Health Care

Until the second half of the twentieth century, Puerto Rico suffered from the dire health conditions that are typical of poor, underdeveloped countries. Tropical diseases and parasites contributed to high mortality rates and low life expectancy. Progress in health care has been dramatic, and the island now has modern medical facilities. Mortality rates and life expectancy have improved, and many diseases have been eradicated.

Secular Celebrations

People celebrate both United States and Puerto Rican holidays and feast days. Major local holidays include New Year's Eve (1 January), Three Kings Day (6 January), Hostos Day (11 January), Constitution Day (25 July), Discovery Day (19 November), and Christmas Day (25 December). Easter Thursday and Friday are observed. Cities and town celebrate the patron saint's feast day, usually with carnivals, processions, masses, dances, and concerts. These celebrations are local, except for the eve of the island's patron saint, Saint John (23 June).

The government sponsors civic and military parades for political holidays such as the Fourth of July and Constitution Day. Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Three Kings are the high points of a holiday party season that extends from mid-December to mid-January. Easter brings religious processions.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The arts are important as expressions of cultural nationalism. The government has contributed to their institutionalization through the establishment of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, which sponsors and funds artistic activities and programs. Although the institute has been criticized for fostering an essentialistic notion of national identity and favoring "high" culture, it has been instrumental in recovering the artistic past and fostering new arts production. Local artists have access to support from U.S. institutions. Universities and colleges are also sources of work, support, and facilities. There are museums in Ponce and San Juan and art galleries all over the island. A performing arts center in Santurce has facilities for theater, concerts, opera, and dance.

Literature. Puerto Rican literature is usually dated to the nineteenth century publication of El Gíbaro, a collection of pieces on the island's traditions, because the book represents the first self conscious expression of a native culture. Literary production is diverse, locally valued, and internationally acknowledged. Puerto Rican authors work in all genres and styles.

Graphic Arts. Graphic arts production is diverse and prolific. The pictorial tradition dates back to the eighteenth century with José Campeche, who specialized in religious painting and portraiture and is acknowledged as the island's first artist. Francisco Oller's impressionist work hangs in Paris museums. Twentieth century artists have been particularly successful in print media.

Performing Arts. Music ranges from popular and folk genres to classical works. Salsa, the island's most recent contribution to world music, is rooted in African rhythms. Puerto Rico has classical composers and performers and has been the site of the international Casals Festival since the 1950s. There are established ballet companies and groups that perform modern, folk, and jazz dance. Efforts to establish film production companies have floundered.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Most social and physical science research is conducted in institutions of higher learning. The social sciences have been instrumental in documenting and analyzing Puerto Rican society and culture. Because of its uniqueness, Puerto Rico is among the most intensely researched places in the world.


Berman Santana, Deborah. Kicking Off the Bootstraps: Environment, Development, and Community Power in Puerto Rico, 1996.

Cabán, Pedro. Constructing a Colonial People, 1999.

Carr, Raymond. Puerto Rico: A Colonial Experiment, 1984.

Carrión, Juan Manuel, ed. Ethnicity, Race, and Nationality in the Caribbean, 1970

Fernández García, Eugenio, Francis Hoadley, and Eugenio Astol eds.El Libro de Puerto Rico, 1923.

Fernández Méndez, Eugenio. Art and Mythology of the Taíno Indians of the Greater West Indies, 1972.

. Historia cultural de Puerto Rico, 1493-1968, 1980.

. Eugenio ed. Crónicas de Puerto Rico, 1958.

Fernández de Oviedo, Gonzalo The Conquest and Settlement of the Island of Boriquén or Puerto Rico, 1975.

Flores, Juan. The Insular Vision: Pedreira's Interpretation of Puerto Rican Culture, 1980.

. Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity, 1993.

González, José Luis. Puerto Rico: The Four-Storeyed Country and Other Essays, 1993.

Guinness, Gerald. Here and Elsewhere: Essays on Caribbean Culture, 1993.

Harwood, Alan. Rx: Spiritist as Needed: A Study of a Puerto Rican Community Mental Health Resource, 1977.

Lauria, Antonio. "'Respeto,' 'Relajo' and Interpersonal Relations in Puerto Rico." Anthropological Quarterly, 37(1): 5367, 1964.

López, Adalberto, and James Petras, eds. Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans: Studies in History and Society, 1974.

Maldonado Denis, Manuel. The Emigration Dialectic: Puerto Rico and the USA, 1980.

Mintz, Sidney W. Caribbean Transformations, 1974.

. Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History, 1974.

Morris, Nancy. Puerto Rico: Culture, Politics, and Identity, 1993.

Osuna, Juan José. A History of Education in Puerto Rico, 1949.

Steiner, Stan. The Islands: The Worlds of Puerto Ricans, 1974.

Steward, Julian, Robert Manners, Eric Wolf, Elena Padilla, Sidney Mintz, and Raymond Scheele. The People of Puerto Rico: A Study in Social Anthropology, 1956.

Trías Monge, José. Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World, 1997.

Urciuoli, Bonnie. Exposing Prejudice: Puerto Rican Experiences of Language, Race, and Class, 1995.

Wagenheim, Karl, ed. Cuentos: An Anthology of Short Stories from Puerto Rico, 1978.

and Olga Jiménez de Wagenheim. eds. The Puerto Ricans: A Documentary History, 1993.

Zentella, Ana Celia. Growing Up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York City, 1993.

Vilma Santiago-Irizarry

Puerto Rico

views updated May 23 2018


Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico



Puerto Rico, an island situated between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, lies just east of the Dominican Republic. With an area of 9,104 square kilometers (3,515 square miles), Puerto Rico is almost 3 times the size of the state of Rhode Island. As an island commonwealth with a coastline of 501 kilometers (311 miles), Puerto Rico shares no borders with other nations. San Juan, the capital, is located on the northeastern shore of the main island; there are also 3 small islands included in the Commonwealth: Vieques and Culebra to the east and Mona to the west. San Juan's location makes it one of the Caribbean Sea's most valuable ports. The Mona Passage, off Puerto Rico's west shore, is also a crucial shipping route to the Panama Canal. Major cities include Guánica, Playa de Ponce, and Guayanilla, all 3 along the southern coast, in east-to-west order. Puerto Rico's most important cities are port cities, vital to the Puerto Rican economy.


Puerto Rico's colonial history with Spain resulted in a racially mixed population (Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino), 85 percent of which is Roman Catholic. The population was estimated at 3,915,798 in July 2000, a growth of 10 percent between 1990 and 1999, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. People between the ages of 15 and 64 constitute two-thirds of the population, and people 14 and under make up roughly one-fourth. With an annual population growth rate of 0.56 percent as of 2000, the population is estimated to reach 4,117,633 by 2010. The average life expectancy of the population is 75.55 years.

Population growth is discouraged by the government, which supports family-planning programs and birth-control measures on the community and national levels. In the 20th century, large-scale migration to the U.S. mainland had slowed population growth and alleviated overcrowding, but since the 1990s there has been a growing movement of Puerto Ricans from the mainland returning to the island because of improved living conditions. The government also places high emphasis on education, which explains the high literacy rate on the island (90 percent). Bilingual education measures are growing, and are the source of great debate on the island.

The population of Puerto Rico shows high concentrations in urban areas along the coastal lowlands. Several pairs of neighboring cities are virtually growing together due to urban expansion. For example, the capital and its surrounding areas have a population of more than 1.5 million. Still, almost 70 percent of the island's population remains rural.


Until about 1950, the Puerto Rican economy depended heavily upon the sugar plantations typical of Caribbean islands. By the mid-1950s, however, industry began to surpass agriculture as the base of the economy, especially in pharmaceuticals, electronics, textiles and clothing, petrochemicals, processed foods, and tourist-related businesses. By 1999, industry provided 45 percent of total GDP, and services provided 54 percent, with agriculture accounting for only 1 percent. Dairy and livestock production has replaced sugar as the leading source of agricultural income.

Puerto Rico is relatively poor in natural resources, which resulted in economic dependence on the United States. Imports include chemicals, machinery, food, textiles, and fuel, most of which come from the continental United States. Puerto Rico's ideal location, however, allows the island to profit greatly from trade and commerce, thanks to its many port cities. The island is situated on many paths between the Americas as well as paths from Europe to the Panama Canal.

Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, the United States has a large impact on the island's economy. Tax incentives and duty -free access to the island encourage the U.S. firms that have invested a great deal in Puerto Rico since the 1950s and that now dominate industry, finance, and trade on the island. An overwhelming majority of Puerto Rico's foreign trade is with the United States, but the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) also encourages Puerto Rico to trade with Canada and Mexico. Still, the economy relies heavily on the United States, and receives many forms of federal economic aid. The island's biggest government expenditures are in health, education, and welfare. As a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico's external debt is part of the U.S. debt, but the island has a public debt approaching US$16 billion.


The structure of the Puerto Rican government is similar to that of the United States, with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The island has a governor and a resident commissioner who has a non-voting seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The governor, 28-seat Senate, and 54-seat House of Representatives are popularly elected for 4-year terms. Members of the Supreme Court and lower courts are appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate.

The 4 major political parties differ primarily in their views about whether Puerto Rico should change its relationship with the United States. The pro-statehood New Progressive Party emphasizes that the island is already economically dependent on the United States and believes that making the island a state would gain it representation in Washington. The Popular Democratic Party emphasizes the economic incentives that the island enjoys under its commonwealth status, including federal tax exemption and foreign-investment incentives. The 2 other major parties, the Puerto Rican Independence Party and the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, advocate independence for the island state. These latter parties are much smaller and less significant.

The Puerto Rican government is heavily involved in its economy. Fomento, the island's Economic Development Corporation, stimulates and guides economic growth. Since the 1950s, government involvement in economic affairs has included Operation Bootstrap, a plan to mix local labor and foreign investment by boosting industrialization based on exports; Fomento's efforts to promote petrochemicals and advanced technology industries in the 1960s; and high government spending in social welfare programs. In 1994, the government created the Foreign Trade Board to stimulate foreign investment and encourage exports. The board was mainly concerned with providing support to small businesses that had the potential to export goods to foreign markets. Puerto Rico's was the first economy in the world to become industrialized around a program that fully relied on exports, and Puerto Rico continues to focus its efforts on an economy for export, bolstering its image as an ideal location for tourism and business.

Since there is no official representation in the U.S. government, Puerto Rican citizens on the island do not pay federal taxes, although they do enjoy U.S. citizenship. Customs taxes and excise taxes on imports and exports go to the federal treasury. The island also has welfare programs similar to those in the United States. Today more than ever, the U.S. government plays a large role in Puerto Rico's economy, via tax incentives and exemptions, duty-free access, and wage and infrastructure incentives that encourage large U.S. firms and corporations to invest in the island's economy. As a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico controls only its internal affairs; the U.S. federal government controls all interstate and international trade relations. The island has no military of its own, so, unlike the situation in most of Latin America, the military exerts no control over the economy. The

CountryTelephones aTelephones, Mobile/Cellular aRadio Stations bRadios aTV Stations aTelevisions aInternet Service Providers cInternet Users c
Puerto Rico1.322 M169,265 (1996)AM 72; FM 17; shortwave 02.7 M181.021 M76110,000
United States194 M69.209 M (1998)AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18575 M1,500219 M7,800148 M
Jamaica353,000 (1996)54,640 (1996)AM 10; FM 13; shortwave 01.215 M7460,0002160,000
Cuba473,031 (2000)2,994AM 169; FM 55; shortwave 13.9 M582.64 M4 (2001)60,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

island's tax system is independent of the U.S. tax system, with the U.S. legislature deciding how tax revenues are spent.


Except for its lack of a public railway system, Puerto Rico has a well-developed infrastructure and transportation network. The island's minimal railways are used only for hauling sugarcane. The vast majority of the island's 14,400 kilometers (8,949 miles) of roadways are paved. Some 30 international and domestic airports allow for easy access to various cities on the island and provide transportation for industry and tourism. Economically speaking, the most important form of transportation in Puerto Rico is by water. Puerto Rico's location between the Americas and en route to the Panama Canal, coupled with its valuable port cities, boosts the economy through trade and commerce. There is no Puerto Rican merchant marine; the majority of its ships are owned by the United States. The advanced infrastructure and transportation systems also make it easier to profit from the booming tourism industry.

Power is widely available on the island, with even isolated rural villages receiving electricity and running water. The island is self-sufficient in power production; it produces and consumes almost 18 billion kWh each year (1998). Puerto Rico generates 98 percent of its electric power from oil, with coal and hydroelectric power accounting for the remainder. PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, is the only distributor of power on the island.

Puerto Rico's media include a free press, some of which is independent and some of which is politically aligned. Local and U.S. mainland newspapers are easily accessible. The 2 major daily papers on the island are El Vocero de Puerto Rico and El Nuevo Día. Radio and television are easily accessible, and have programs similar to those on the U.S. mainland. As of 1997 there were 18 television stations and 3 stations of the U.S. armed forces. Islanders owned more than 1 million televisions and 2.7 million radio sets. Puerto Rico has a modern telephone network, integrated with the United States. The network includes digital and cellular services, and 18 Internet service providers.


Before the 1950s, the Puerto Rican economy was typical for a Caribbean island, relying heavily on the plantation system. Agriculture was the primary source of income, and sugar production was particularly vital. From about 1950, largely due to government involvement in the island's economy, the industry and service sectors experienced exponential growth and quickly replaced agriculture as the foundation of the economy. As of 1999, agriculture provided only 1 percent of the island's GDP

GDP per Capita (US$)
Puerto Rico8,2008,6009,0009,80010,000
United States28,60030,20031,50033,90036,200
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

and provided jobs for only 3 percent of the island's work-force . Foreign investment incentives offered by the U.S. federal government have attracted much foreign capital, and by 1999, the industry sector produced 45 percent, and the service sector 54 percent, of total GDP. The island depends heavily on trade, commerce, and tourism, the latter of which is the most rapidly growing sector of the Puerto Rican economy currently.


Puerto Rico lacks arable flat lands and natural resources. The only truly abundant resources on the island are clay, sand, and limestone. Despite these drawbacks, Puerto Rico depended heavily on agriculture until the mid-1950s, when industry and services showed rapid growth and development. Sugar, exported in large quantities to the United States, was the primary cash crop . Other major crops were coffee and tobacco. The production of these 3 crops has declined considerably since the 1950s, although sugar production is still important for the production of rum and molasses. Despite expansion in dairy products, livestock, poultry and eggs, and exotic citrus fruits, the importance of the agricultural sector has diminished. In addition, tropical and hard woods supply a very small furniture industry on the island. From an environmentalist standpoint, deforestation rates are almost nonexistent. Game fishing exists in the coastal regions, but most of the island's fish come from the U.S. fishing industry in waters closer to Africa. These U.S. fleets bring their catch to Puerto Rico to be processed and exported.



With the government-run Operation Bootstrap, Puerto Rico began intensive industrialization efforts and strong economic development in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Investment incentives and tax exemptions also encouraged foreign investment in industry, and the island's labor force shifted from agriculture to manufacturing. The manufacturing sector also saw a rapid shift from labor-intensive industry (food, tobacco, leather, and clothing) to capital-intensive industry (pharmaceuticals, chemicals, machinery, metal products, and electronics). Industry now accounts for 45 percent of the island's GDP, while manufacturing accounts for almost three-fourths of that percentage. Many manufacturers are offshore extensions of U.S. companies, importing raw materials mainly from the United States, adding value with low-cost labor, and then exporting products back to the United States and other wealthy nations. Some 161 of the Fortune 500 companies have facilities in Puerto Rico. Major U.S. companies operating in Puerto Rico include the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, K-Mart, Walgreen's, Woolworth's, and Kraft General Foods.


The construction industry in Puerto Rico is one of the most rapidly growing components of the economy, particularly in response to heavy expansion in manufacturing and tourism. In 1994, Governor Pedro Rosello backed a US$7.5 billion construction project with aims to improve the country's image and tourist appeal. Large sums of money have been allocated to the construction of hotels, roads, and infrastructure, and the renovation of existing tourist industries. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1999 approved US$1.7 billion for the construction of a rail system called Tren Urbano. As with most industries, the United States backs the majority of the construction companies, and most materials and machinery parts are imported from the United States as well.



With visitors spending over US$2 billion each year, tourism has blossomed as the fastest growing industry on the "Enchanted Island" (the tourism marketing slogan). Puerto Rico's attractive beaches and tropical climate are perhaps the island's greatest natural assets. Virtually all of the major cities are coastal tourist attractions; the most popular include San Juan, Ponce, Mayaguez, Bayamón, and Caguas, which together attracted more than 4 million tourists each year during the 1990s. Puerto Rico's uniquely blended African, Spanish, and indigenous Taino traditions have produced colorful and diverse cuisine, music, and customs that appeal to the international tourist. The island has also effectively developed its transportation network to enhance the tourism industry. Some 30 airports (domestic and international) provide easy access to a variety of locales on the island. Hotels, restaurants, and retail stores and centers have multiplied nearby.

Tourism produces 7 percent of the island's GNP and employs more than 60,000 islanders, a figure that is rapidly increasing. Hotels provide over 12,000 rooms, operating at full occupancy. Hotels built on the island enjoy a 90 percent local tax exemption while hotels built on Vieques and Culebra receive 100 percent exemptions. These exemptions also apply to condominiums, inns, theme parks, golf courses, marinas, and land used for other tourism-related activity. Largely due to the 1993 Tourism Incentives Act, the government is repaving roads, erecting signs and billboards around cities, financing a US$30 million facelift for the island's main airport, pouring money into cruise ships, and investing large sums of money in every aspect of the industry.


By far, the United States is the island's largest trading and financial partner. More than one-third of U.S. investment in Latin America goes to Puerto Rico. Banks, retailers, hotels, restaurants, airlines, and many other firms have capitalized on the island's economy and have taken advantage of the booming tourism sector. The U.S. monetary system and tax incentives are among many forces that attract international investment in Puerto Rican finances.

Local corporations own most commercial banks. Banco Popular is the largest one, with more than 100 branches. The government owns and operates 2 banks: the Government Development Bank (GDB) and the Economic Development Bank (EDB). There are also several foreign-owned banks and 2 U.S. banks on the island: Citibank and FirstBank. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insures all banks, which are subject to U.S. banking regulations and federal controls.


Puerto Rico's economy is highly dependent on imports and exports, both of which doubled between 1987 and 1997. In 1999, the island imported US$25.3 billion in goods, and it exported US$34.9 billion. For a century, the United States has been by far Puerto Rico's largest trading partner, accounting for 60 percent of imports and 88 percent of exports in 1999. The remainder of the island's trade is with various nations from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The United States has created a variety of incentives for foreign investment in Puerto Rico, including tax incentives and exemptions, the use of U.S. currency, and government-backed startup costs. The island imports chemicals, machinery and equipment, clothing, food, fish, petroleum products, and raw materials; it exports pharmaceuticals, electronics, apparel, canned tuna, rum, beverage concentrates, and medical equipment.

Exchange rates: Puerto Rico
Jan 20011.0000
Note: US currency is used in Puerto Ricos.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].


As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico enjoys many benefits of the stable U.S. dollar, referred to as a "peso" by most local people, and the U.S. central banking structure. Economic trends tend to follow those on the mainland, and the dollar retains a relatively strong and stable monetary value. The monetary stability gives the island an advantage over many other Latin American countries. Puerto Rico's per capita income at purchasing power parity (an economic measure of the strength of a nation's currency) of US$9,800 (1999 est.) is one of the highest in all of Latin America, and the inflation rate is a relatively low 5.2 percent.


The average family size in Puerto Rico is 3.6, and the average family income is just over US$27,000. The government has consistently focused on making education, health care, and better housing more available to the population. Some 7 percent of the island's GDP is earmarked for education. Although literacy has increased to 90 percent, and most children complete at least 8 years of school, a high drop-out rate is still a problem for Puerto Rico. The University of Puerto Rico,

GDP per Capita (US$)
Puerto Rico8,2008,6009,0009,80010,000
United States28,60030,20031,50033,90036,200
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

the main public university, offers a wide variety of programs. There are also several private universities. Vocational schools have recently helped to combat unemployment rates.

Health conditions and standards are approaching those of the United States. The government funds urban and rural health clinics to provide basic health care on a local level. Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs have also contributed to maintaining health standards. The Urban Renewal and Housing Corporation oversees a broad range of specialized housing programs and focuses on projects in low-income areas. Although birth control and family planning efforts have helped reduce population growth, improved conditions on the island have recently encouraged many Puerto Rican outmigrants to return from the continental United States, which puts more strains on health-care delivery and housing.

Although Puerto Rico's per capita GDP is remarkably high in comparison to the rest of the Caribbean, it is still lower than the per capita GDP of the poorest U.S. state, Mississippi. Even though the GDP is growing more rapidly than the island's population, about half of the people in Puerto Rico receive Food Stamps, a benefit available only to those whose incomes fall below a certain level.


The largest obstacles to better working conditions in Puerto Rico are overcrowding, its high unemployment rate of 12.5 percent (1999 est.), and its high drop-out rate. Since Operation Bootstrap in the 1950s, the government has consistently worked to reduce unemployment. Working conditions in Puerto Rico are better than most in Latin America, largely due to its U.S. commonwealth status. U.S. labor laws, including those regulating minimum wages and workplace safety, apply to Puerto Rico and protect workers from abuse. Four major labor unions, with 115,000 members, protect workers' interests. The largest of them is the General Confederation of Puerto Rican Workers, with 35,000 members.


PRE-1400s. Puerto Rico is inhabited by the Taino Indians.

1493. Christopher Columbus arrives; gold mining begins.

1508. Formal Spanish colonization begins.

1509. Repartimiento begins (a system of using the indigenous population as indentured labor).

1513. Spain brings first African slaves to the island.

1519. Spain establishes a capital at San Juan.

1530. Sugar becomes the most important agricultural product.

1570. Gold mines are depleted by the Spaniards.

1598. The British Navy conquers Spanish forces and holds the island for several months. Ginger emerges as the primary cash crop.

1810s-1820s. Liberal Party gains more political support; the island gains experience in self-government.

1897. Spain gives Puerto Rico powers of self-government.

1898. Spain cedes Puerto Rico to the United States after the Spanish-American War.

1917. United States grants Puerto Rico partial self-government powers.

1930s. Political parties organize around statehood/independence issue, a debate that continues into the 21st century.

1940. Overpopulation becomes a serious problem.

1946. The first native governor, Jesus T. Piñero, is appointed by the United States.

1952. Puerto Rico becomes a U.S. commonwealth under a constitution following the U.S. model.

1950s. Operation Bootstrap shifts economic priorities from agriculture to labor-intensive manufacturing industries.

1967. Commonwealth status is approved in a plebiscite, the first time Puerto Ricans vote for the status of their own island.

1987-97. Imports and exports double in value.

1992. North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is signed by the countries of North America, encouraging more trade between Puerto Rico and Canada and Mexico.

1993. Commonwealth status is approved by a very narrow margin over statehood in a controversial plebiscite boycotted by many voters.

1994. The Foreign Trade Board is established to promote foreign business and investment.


Puerto Rico has excellent prospects for future economic growth and development. The incentives for domestic and foreign investment provided by the U.S. government are highly successful and show no signs of slowing down. The island's severe lack of natural resources has been overcome by the practice of mixing local labor with external capital to produce a booming import/export economy. Improving social and economic conditions on the island may slow economic progress as Puerto Rican outmigrants return to the island from the continental United States. It is unlikely that the small independence movement will gain enough strength to be effective, but the United States is bound to respect Puerto Rican self-determination in regular plebiscites. If Puerto Ricans were to choose independence over commonwealth status, economic stability would be a significant challenge. Realistically speaking, the Puerto Rican economy is strong and well developed, and all signs point to a future of growth and prosperity.


Puerto Rico has no territories or colonies.


Braus, Patricia. "The Spending Power of Puerto Rico." American Demographics. Vol. 13, No. 4, April 1991.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Puerto Rico. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Polin, Zena. "Tourism: Puerto Rico's 'Rising Star.'" The Washington Times. 29 September 1999.

"Puerto Rico Fact Sheet." Energy Information Administration. <http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/prico.html>. Accessed March 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>. Accessed August 2001.

David L. Childree


San Juan.


U.S. dollar ($). One dollar equals 100 cents. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents, and 1 dollar, and bills of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 dollars.


Pharmaceuticals, electronics, apparel, canned tuna, rum, beverage concentrates, medical equipment.


Chemicals, machinery and equipment, apparel, food, fish, petroleum products.


US$38.1 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$34.9 billion (f.o.b., 1999). Imports: US$25.3 billion (c.i.f., 1999).

Puerto Ricans

views updated May 29 2018

Puerto Ricans

ETHNONYM: Puertorriqueños


Identification. The people of Puerto Rico weave their distinctive ethnic identity from three historical traditions: Spanish colonial, Afro-Caribbean, and North American. Puerto Rican cuisine, religious beliefs, and other identifying components of their expressive culture draw heavily upon Spanish and Afro-Caribbean traditions. Puerto Ricans share rituals and practices with their neighbors throughout Latin America as well as with English- and French-speaking peoples of the Caribbean; yet Puerto Rican educational, political, and economic systems have had to incorporate many North American features owing to U.S. domination since 1898. Puerto Ricans identify strongly with their homeland, their history, and their place in the Caribbean. Although Puerto Ricans have a legal claim to U.S. citizenship, they rarely refer to themselves as "Americans," even while residing on the U.S. mainland. Puerto Rican attachment to their islands has endured despite large-scale emigration to the mainland since 1917, the year they were granted citizenship status (largely because the War Department wanted legal grounds to enlist Puerto Ricans into the World War I endeavor).

One segment of the population, derogatorily referred to as "Nuyoricans," are children born to Puerto Ricans living in New York City. The often impoverished condition and ambivalent cultural status of mainland Puerto Ricans adds yet another dimension to Puerto Rican identity, with some segments of the population incorporating urban street-survival methods and outlooks into their ways of life.

Location. Lying on the eastern end of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean, between Hispaniola and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico is so well situated in the sealanes that it was a prize territory of the Spanish from the earliest years of the Conquest. The main island is around 169 kilometers long and 56 kilometers wide, although the territory includes a number of smaller outer islands, the largest of which, Vieques, rivals Saint Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands) in size and serves, in part, as a base for the U.S. Navy. Puerto Rico has a land mass of 8,874.6 square kilometers, and its climate is subtropical.

Three overlapping mountain rangesCordillera Central, Sierra de Cayey, and Sierra de Luquilloextend in an east-west direction along its interior. North of the chain of mountains, as with most Caribbean islands, the island is generally wetter and lusher; the southern slopes and plains tend to receive less rain and have a drier, savanna appearance. Its surrounding waters include the Mona Passage (just west of the main island) a highly productive fishing ground and often treacherous channel for illegal immigrants crossing from the Dominican Republicand the extremely deep Puerto Rican Trench, renowned in the tourist industry for its sportfishing.

Demography. Puerto Rico is the homeland of between 6 and 7 million people, although only slightly more than half the population actually resides on the island. The 1990 census counted 3,522,037 Puerto Ricans living on the island, and estimates of those living in the continental United States range between 2.5 and 3 million. The Puerto Rican people thus constitute a diasporaa dispersed people residing in areas of New York City, such as the South Bronx, as well as in the Caribbean. Migration, a common demographic feature of the population at least since 1917, has been a means to escape domestic problems, seek education and fortune, and deal with economic woes. The Puerto Rican fertility rateperceived to be high in relation to natural and economic resourceshas been a matter of much social planning and dispute, leading to spotty and largely ineffective sterilization and other family-planning programs. Population density on the island is high, with 369.9 persons per square kilometer.

Linguistic Affiliation. Puerto Ricans speak Spanish, although it is distinctly different from the Spanish spoken in other Latin American or Caribbean regions. The ability to speak English is widespread, owing to the high rates of migration between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland and to the practice of teaching English in many of the private and public schools. At the university level, much of the instruction is in English, and the exchange of faculty and students between U.S. mainland and Puerto Rican universities is quite common.

The teaching of English in the primary and secondary public schools has been a subject of much debate in Puerto Rico, since many regard the teaching of English instruction as an infringement upon Puerto Rican cultural autonomy. Others view the lack of English instruction in school as a barrier to statehood; still others view it as a mechanism for maintaining the island's status quo.


Because Puerto Ricans constitute a diaspora, it is difficult to locate them in terms of defined territory. Their "settlement" patterns include New York City and other major metropolitan areas off the islands, and the dispersed households of Puerto Ricans may include members living in as many as three to five locations on the islands and the mainland.

The main island of Puerto Rico is most densely populated along its coastal fringe. The four major metropolitan centers are San Juan, Ponce (south-central coast), Mayagüez (west-central coast), and Arecibo (north coast). The San Juan metropolitan area, which includes several cities and districts, extends in all directions except north (the seaward side). Old San Juan retains its prominent position at the mouth of San Juan harbor. Bayamón and Cataño ajoin the western limit of the metropolis. The business and financial center of Hato Rey, along the Rio Piedras, home of the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico, lie along the south end of the city, and the tourist districts stretch out along the ocean to the east.

Most of the settlements depart from the usual grid pattern of Spanish settlement and instead extend outward from town squares that might have once been centrally located. The development of public housing and land-annexation schemes to accommodate the growing population have undermined the centrality of town squares. Government housing-development schemes have been implemented islandwide.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Puerto Rico emerged from a Spanish colonial past of haciendas and peasant farming to become dominated by large-scale farming of sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco following the U.S. annexation of the island, in 1898, during the Spanish-American War. During the first part of the twentieth century, the sugar industry in particular stimulated migrations of the small peasant farmers from the inland highlands to create a rural proletariat to work on the sugar plantations. Until after World War II, agriculture in general and sugar in particular dominated the economy, lending a seasonal dimension to the island's work that was common throughout much of the Caribbean. It became usual to work on the island during the later fall and winter months, when sugarcane and other crops needed their heaviest labor inputs, and then to migrate to the mainland during the summer months. This regime succeeded in converting much of the smallholding peasant population into wage laborers.

Puerto Rico retains the vestiges of a peasantry today, but few Puerto Ricans conform to the jíbaro stereotype of the strong, hardworking, independent farmer, which today serves as a Puerto Rican national symbol. For part of their subsistence, many of the island's inhabitants still rely on combinations of fishing, farming, and gardening with casual wage work. The Caribbean practice of "occupational multiplicity"combining a number of odd jobsis common enough in Puerto Rico that short-term, irregular jobs have been given their own termchiripas. Puerto Ricans are eligible for some social assistance from the U.S. government. Although they receive fewer transfer payments per capita annually than the general population of the United States, transfer payments make up proportionately more of the incomes of Puerto Rican households that receive them.

Industrial Arts. Since the 1950s, agriculture as a cornerstone of the Puerto Rican economy has yielded ground to service industries, tourism, and manufacturing. A development program known as "Operation Bootstrap" was designed to industrialize the island following the decline of sugar production. Much of the growth in manufacturing has been the result of special provisions in the U.S. tax code that make it desirable for U.S. firms to operate assembly plants on the island. Most of the products of these plants are produced solely for export. They include optical equipment, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, shoes and clothing, and electronics.

Attracting industry to the island is also facilitated by a labor force perceived to be docile and generally antiunion. Owing to similarities between Cuban and Puerto Rican histories and the fear of a revolution like Cuba's, since the late 1950s there has been a subtle yet comprehensive suppression of socialist thought in Puerto Rico. The antiunion sentiments thus derive in part from the association of unionism with socialism.

Puerto Rico's tourist industry is centered around San Juan, which serves as a port for cruise ships. Old San Juan, with its Spanish-colonial cathedrals, fortifications, customs and merchant houses, and other impressive architecture, is a well-known shopping and historical district for tourists. San Juan is also known for its luxury resort hotels and casinos, which grew in favor after restrictions on travel between the United States and Havana. The promotion of other parts of the island, especially its beaches and two national parksEl Yunque (a tropical rainforest), and Bosque Seco (a dry forest on the southwest coast)has intensified since the early 1980s.

Trade. Puerto Rico's position in the sea-lanes established San Juan as an important port early in the island's European history. Today Puerto Rico competes with Miami as an international center of banking and commerce for many Latin American and Caribbean nations. Its political status as a U.S. territory, combined with the bilingual capabilities of most of its businesspeople, gives it an advantage over other Caribbean nations in acting as a liaison between Latin American and North American business interests. Its commerce is constrained, however, in that the same restrictions that apply to trade between the United States and other nations also apply to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican politicians cannot negotiate trading and other international arrangements independently of the U.S. federal government.

Division of Labor. Unskilled and semiskilled labor has been one of Puerto Rico's principal exports since late in the nineteenth century. Migration between the mainland and the island, whether spontaneous or encouraged by the insular government, served the needs of low-wage industry and agriculture much more than it encouraged or facilitated upward mobility across generations or entrepreneurial behavior. The working histories of Puerto Ricans reveal cycles of work and rest, or employment and unemployment, owing to the hazardous or monotonous nature of many of the jobs Puerto Ricans obtain. Most civilian Puerto Ricans work either in the public sector or at low-wage jobs. Since 1917, the U.S. military has drawn upon Puerto Ricans as soldiers and civilian workers; the large number of Puerto Ricans involved in the Vietnam War is reflected in the fact that some neighborhoods bear Southeast Asian names.

Although much of the population remains a low-income proletariat, partially dependent on government transfer payments, the labor force includes a substantial professional and managerial class because of the growth of the island's prominence in banking, insurance, and commerce. Many of these individuals have found work in Sunbelt cities such as Miami and Houston, where their bilingual skills are in demand because of growing Latino business transactions.

The island's labor force also includes those who occupy positions in the informal economy of petty commerce, small-scale manufacturing, food processing, fishing, and farming. Historically, within peasant farming and fishing families, there has been a division of labor by sex, although men and women tend to be capable of most of the same tasks required to pursue small-scale fishing and farming. Often these "informal sector" jobs are combined with government jobs, which tend to be allocated through political patronage.

Land Tenure. The agrarian past and jíbaro identity make landownership a desirable goal for Puerto Ricans. In accordance with U.S. law, land in Puerto Rico is privately owned and available for sale or purchase on the open market. Yet there have been variations owing to Puerto Rico's special political status and circumstances. The state has owned and operated sugar plantations, for example, but more common have been government schemes designed to make land available to the poor for house construction. These schemes emerged as the sugar industry began to decline in importance, leaving many sugar workers unemployed or displaced from company housing. Called parcelas, the program consisted of providing plots of land to families with low incomes and then providing a number of contiguous plots with public services such as water, sewer, garbage collection, and electricity. The growth of squatters' settlements is not unknown to Puerto Rico; sometimes these precede parcelas development.


Puerto Ricans trace their ancestry through both sexes, but have nothing corresponding to corporate lineal descent groups. Their kinship terminology conforms to the Eskimo system, with some local variations for the expression of deference, affection, respect, and fictive-kinship ties based on the common Latin tradition of compadrazgo. Compadrazgo, acknowledged as ritual coparenthood at the baptism of a child, is one of the principal institutions for establishing interhousehold relations.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages in Puerto Rico are usually recognized by the Catholic church. Common-law or consensual unions, once typical in peasant regions, have become less common. Marriage takes place at a young age, usually in the teens, and most Puerto Ricans desire children shortly after marriage. Both marriage and the birth of children are important events in terms of forming bonds between families and households, with well-established visiting patterns among related households and compadrazgo relations formed between households at the baptisms of children.

Domestic Unit. The Puerto Rican diaspora has had a strong influence on the character of the domestic unit. Households may or may not be units bounded by dwellings, plots of land, or even the boundaries of the commonwealth. The 1990 census reports 3.31 persons per household in Puerto Rico, a figure that is probably an underestimate because of the dispersed nature of Puerto Rican households. Interdependent groups of individuals residing in a number of different locations characterize most Puerto Ricans' domestic units. Individuals come together and part over the course of seasons, years, and phases of the life cycle. In Puerto Rico, the typical unit consists of a woman and man and their unmarried children, yet it is not uncommon for unmarried or widowed parents to live with their children, and visiting patterns among households and dwellings are such that the lines between households often become blurred. On the mainland, there is a much higher incidence of households headed by women with small children than there is on the island.

Inheritance. In principle, all possessions of the deceased are to be divided into three equal parts: the legitimá (legitimate), which is divided equally among the children; the mejora (best), which is divided among the children according to the decisions of the deceased; and the libre disposición (freely disposable), which is given to the spouse. In real terms, possessions are divided among surviving kin and heirs based on access and residence. Specifically, heirs who have direct access to family land or fishing equipment because they farm or fish nearby plots or waters are likely to benefit from the inheritance more than heirs who have migrated to an urban area in Puerto Rico or emigrated to the U.S. mainland. The extent to which inheritance causes legal disputes among surviving family members varies with the size of the inheritance. A small inheritance generates few disputes, whereas great wealth is likely to be transferred from the dead to the living by careful legal documentation.

Socialization. The socialization and enculturation of Puerto Rico's young occurs in the home and neighborhood, public and private schools, the Catholic church, and in the fluid social realms of the diaspora. In these varied social fields, Puerto Ricans are affectionate and loving toward their own and others' children. Much of the teaching is by example; corporal punishment is rare.

In the ghettos of the South Bronx, these ideals are difficult to uphold under the stress of poverty. Puerto Rican children on the mainland are as susceptible as any ghetto youth to the influences of the street: gangs, drugs, crime, the reification of sports as an escape, and pressures to leave school. Witnessing their children coming under these influences, many household heads choose to return to the island with their families or, failing that, send their children back to families still on the island once those children have reached adolescence. On the island, children from lower-class families who work in the informal sector, from fishing households, or from small farming households tend to learn the crafts of the household between the ages of 8 and 10.

Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. Puerto Rico is a highly politicized society, with three main political parties that compete with one another in elections. For the first five decades of U.S. domination of the island, island politics were overseen by a series of U.S. government officials similar to colonial administrators. Just before, during, and after World War II, the Partido Popular Democrático (Popular Democratic Party, PPD) gained the strength necessary for Puerto Ricans to demand greater autonomy from Washington. Early in Puerto Rican party politics, the issue of the island's political status was at the forefront of its relationship with Washington. Prior to 1952, the political debate dealt with whether the island should become a state or become independent, but in 1952 the compromise status of commonwealth was granted, which allowed the islanders to continue receiving tax benefits and limited assistance from the United States yet elect their own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín oversaw the declaration of the new status; his legacy remains in Puerto Rican politics to this day. Today three political parties, differentiated from one another primarily over the issue of the island's status relative to the United States, compete for power in Puerto Rico. The most powerful party since 1952, the PPD, still prefers commonwealth status, and two others, the Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party), and Partido Independentisa Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Independence Party), are prostatehood and proindependence, respectively. Elections often affect one's job prospects, as changing local and regional politics determine the distribution of jobs in the public sector.

Social Control. Puerto Rico has its own civilian police force, along with a National Guard. The U.S. military maintains bases on the island as well. All this force is insufficient to control crime, which ranges from petty theft, larceny, and carjacking to murder and terrorism. The high crime rate has been linked to the island's poverty, high unemployment, high fertility levels (which have resulted in large proportions of juveniles), and the influence of New York City street culture on Puerto Rican youth. Many programs designed to alleviate poverty and unemployment are seen as social-control mechanisms, particularly the housing-development programs. The Catholic church has had a moderating influence on the island's crime rate.

Conflict. Conflict and conflict resolution occur on formal and informal levels. Formal conflicts involve crimes against people and property and are dealt with through police, judicial, and penal methods common throughout the United States. Informal conflicts arise within and between Puerto Rican households over moral and ethical behaviors, inheritance, courtship, and other issues important to Puerto Rican values. These types of conflicts often involve families, as opposed to individuals, in their resolution. Conflicts among groups quite often are resolved through combinations of negotiation, publicity, and civil disobedience.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Puerto Ricans are predominantly Catholic, yet their beliefs, rituals, and practices often stray outside the orthodox boundaries of Catholicism. Puerto Ricans do not generally differentiate between official Catholicism and their rituals and beliefs and give little credit to African and Latin American influence on their religion. In addition to the rich homage paid to saints, as is common throughout Latin America, parts of the island still host beliefs in the evil eye, saints' miracles, faith healing, and witchcraft. Catholic icons are common in Puerto Rican households, often intermingled with photographs of family members and clusters of ceramic and porcelain figures. Protestant sectsparticularly the Pentecostal church have converted a small portion of the population.

Ceremonies. Baptisms, marriages, weddings, vigils, processions, and funerals all come within the scope of Catholic ceremonies. In addition to these, Puerto Ricans celebrate religious and political holidays with great enthusiasm singing, playing music, drinking, and feasting in recognition of a sacred day, an historical event or figure, or a time of year. Often called "home fiestas," these observances tend to be private affairs that bring together close friends and family members. Public fiestas include those that honor patron saints and occasional folk-music festivals. Some towns, for commercial reasons, have invented festivals, for example, the seafood festival in Puerto Real, a fishing community on the west coast. Cockfights, which can assume as ritualist and ceremonial a flavor as other sporting events, bring large numbers of people together.

Arts. Puerto Rican theater, dance, and other arts benefit from the culture's association with New York City yet combine with these influences more local cultural elements considered unique to the island. Puerto Rico has a rich history of folk music, which incorporates Caribbean and Spanish influences and often involves public storytelling, social critique, and joking. As in other Caribbean countries, there exist wood carving, doll making, and weaving traditions on the island, although many of these have come to be oriented toward the tourist trade.

The distinctive literary tradition of Puerto Ricans negotiates among Spanish, Latin American, and Nuyorican influences. Critics all too easily dismiss much of Puerto Rican literature and drama as overly political, obsessed with U.S. domination and the colonial past. For example, René Marqués uses rebellious and critical protagonists to illustrate the complex effects that imposed economic and political structures have on dislocated folk, but his work goes beyond a simple indictment of the status quo, tracing subtle and overt influences of social conditions on individual character. In personal essays, he acknowledges without apology his kinship with social critics throughout Western history.

In their poetry, Puerto Ricans have labored to free themselves from the formal qualities that characterized their verse during the years after U.S. occupation, when many poets withdrew into Spanish traditions in search of a defining cultural identity. Julia de Burgos internalized this struggle in her poems and marshaled it to confront the difficulties of romantic love and desire in a society dominated by Catholicism and machismo. Since the 1960s, growing attention has been given to the poetry originating from New York's Nuyorican Poets' Cafe: violent images in the work of Miguel Piñero, pride in the Puerto Rican heritage overcoming despair in that of Pedro Pietri, or the strength that poverty and bitterness inspire in that of Jorge Lopez.

Medicine. Western medicinal practice is as firmly established in Puerto Rico as it is throughout much of the United States, yet the Latin American and Caribbean traditions continue to provide solutions where Western medicine is weak, especially in the realm of prevention. Curanderos (native curers) and brujas (witches) are still prevalent throughout the island; these individuals often mix herbal remedies with religious ritual and Western medicines in their cures.

Death and Afterlife. In Puerto Rico, death and the passage into afterlife are commonly marked by vigils, or wakes, and novenas, which are days of prayer for the dead. During the vigils, which occur between death and burial, the close friends and relatives of the dead gather around the body, which lies in state, and pray for the soul's passage into heaven. Throughout the night of the vigil, people who knew the deceased come and go while a small group of women and men who were particularly close to the dead say the rosary. Candles burn, and the prayers last until dawn of the day the person is to be buried. Following the funeral, the novenas begin. These nine consecutive days of prayer take place in the house of the deceased and constitute a means by which God's favor is solicited on behalf of the deceased's surviving kin and friends, as well as a means of reaffirming ties among households and community solidarity.


Bonilla, Frank, and Ricardo Campos (1981). "A Wealth of Poor: Puerto Ricans in the New Economic Order." Daedalus 110:133-176.

Buitrago Ortiz, Carlos (1973). Esperanza: An Ethnographic Study of a Peasant Community in Puerto Rico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Griffith, David, Manuel Valdés Pizzini, and Jeffrey C. Johnson (1992). "Injury and Therapy: Proletarianization in Puerto Rico's Fisheries." American Ethnologist 19:53-74.

Koss-Chioino, Joan (1992). Women as Healers, Women as Patients: Mental Health Care and Traditional Healing in Puerto Rico. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

Lewis, Oscar (1977). La Vida; A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty: San Juan and New York. New York: Random House.

Mintz, Sidney W. (1974). Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Picó, Fernando (1986). Historia general de Puerto Rico. Río Piedras, P.R.: Ediciones Huracán.

Steward, Julian, Robert A. Manners, Eric R. Wolf, Elena Padilla Seda, Sidney W. Mintz, and Raymond L. Scheele (1956). The People of Puerto Rico. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.


Puerto Rico

views updated Jun 11 2018


PUERTO RICO is the easternmost and smallest of the Greater Antilles. Located between the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Basin to the south, the island is a crucial access point to hemispheric waters and coasts, representing a valuable acquisition for European powers and the United States. Columbus landed in Puerto Rico on his second voyage in 1493. The island and its indigenous people, the Taínos, were colonized by Spain, which in 1508 appointed Juan Ponce de León its first colonial governor. In 1897, after almost four centuries of colonial administration, Spain approved an Autonomic Charter for the island that entailed local self-government, elected legislators, and voting rights in the Spanish parliament. But its implementation was soon thwarted by war between Spain and the United States. The Treaty of Paris (1898) that ended the Spanish-American War placed Puerto Rico under U.S. colonial authority.

Previous Relations

The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States did not begin with this war. By the eighteenth century, the Spanish and British colonies had long engaged in contraband trade. At the time a major producer of sugar and molasses, Puerto Rico exchanged these commodities for basic food staples produced by Anglo American colonists. Ongoing expansionism concerning the Spanish-speaking Caribbean paralleled these economic relations, becoming official policy by Jefferson's presidency in 1801. The initially clandestine economic exchanges were officially authorized in 1815 when Spain sanctioned commerce between its colonies and other nations. A declining colonial power, Spain no longer had the means to extract primary resources from its few remaining colonies—Cuba and Puerto Rico being the most productive among them—and benefited from their participation in international trade. The authorization of commercial ties facilitated U.S. intervention and claims of vested interests on the two islands. By the 1830s, Puerto Rico's (and Cuba's) relations with the United States were so extensive that Cuban and Puerto Rican merchants established a Sociedad Benéfica Cubana y Puertorriqueña (Cuban and Puerto Rican Benevolent Society) in New York City.

Ideological ties also emerged as nationalist struggles escalated in Puerto Rico. By the eighteenth century, Puerto Ricans were asserting a unique Creole identity that distanced them from their Spanish colonizers, who were increasingly designated hombres de la otra banda (men [sic] from the other side). Resistance against Spain during the nineteenth century, either through claims for autonomy and independence or for equality and incorporation as an overseas province of Spain, brought Puerto Rican political activists, exiled as subversives, to the United States. They settled mostly in New York City, where they established an organizational base from which to work against Spanish rule, often acting jointly with Cuban exiles who were struggling equally for sovereignty. Puerto Rican exiles developed local political and communal associations and pioneered in the northeastern United States the historic and sociocultural bases for Latinismo—the assertion of a Latino identity based on shared linguistic, historical, and cultural resources—that spread throughout the nation in the later twentieth century. They also founded the first of many Puerto Rican communities on the mainland.

The Spanish-American War was thus the culmination of long-standing political, ideological, and economic ties, as well as the instantiation of U.S. interests in the Caribbean. Although the war was ostensibly triggered by concerns over the struggle for Cuban independence, the Puerto Rican campaign figured from the outset as a major military target and political goal. Controlling the Caribbean was consonant with national interests and the ideological orientations embodied in such historic principles as the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny.

Although an armistice had already been proposed, the United States invaded Puerto Rico on 25 July 1898, landing in the small southwestern town of Guánica. The American military forces made their way to Ponce, the island's second-largest city, through a series of skirmishes with Spanish militia. They marched on to Coamo, in the southeast, to engage in the most serious fighting of the Puerto Rican campaign, with casualties amounting to six dead and thirty to forty wounded Spanish soldiers, and six wounded Americans. The U.S. forces soon gained control of the island, aided by relatively small Spanish garrisons and an enthusiastic populace anticipating the speedy acknowledgment of Puerto Rican sovereignty by the United States. Puerto Ricans assumed that this invader would be different from Spain and expected that it would uphold anticolonial and democratic principles.

Establishing the Colony

The immediate outcome of the takeover, though, was military rule. Significantly, the drafters of the Treaty of Paris had not provided for Puerto Rico's incorporation into the nation through citizenship and implementation of the Constitution. Enactment of the Foraker Act of 1900 reaffirmed the island's territorial status and consequently its colonial relationship with the United States. Unlike Spain's Autonomic Charter, it did not give Puerto Rico voting rights in Congress. Neither did it confer U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans, whom Spain had recognized as Spanish citizens. It gave the president full powers of appointment over the offices of the governor, the local Supreme Court, and key executive branches—education, treasury, and justice. Unlike other "territorial" peoples—Mexicans after the 1848 Mexican-American War and Hawaiians upon their 1898 annexation and the 1900 grant of U.S. citizenship—Puerto Ricans would enjoy neither incorporation as citizens nor the automatic extension of the benefits of constitutional protections because Puerto Rico was not considered an "incorporated" territory. This fostered the continuation of the local separatist movements that emerged during the island's struggles against Spain. As under the previous colonial regime, Puerto Ricans were divided about whether to advocate outright independence or incorporation through statehood in parity with other states of the union. The period saw the continuation of political parties organized around these forms of political relationship to the United States, or "status formulas," as they have been called ever since.

Congress continued to respond to the situation with mixed signals and equivocal measures. In 1917, rather than terminate or redefine the colonial relationship, the Jones Act conferred U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans yet confirmed their continuing status as an "unincorporated" territory. The U.S. Supreme Court also determined as much in a series of cases decided between 1901 and 1922, collectively known as the Insular Cases, in which the debate centered on whether or not the U.S. Constitution automatically applied of its own force (ex proprio vigore) and "followed the flag" into any territorial expansion. Since Puerto Ricans began clamoring for a solution to their status from the moment that they were forcibly involved in the 1898 war, unilateral congressional actions and decisions were increasingly viewed as oppressive, cynical, and undemocratic. The unsolicited grant of citizenship authorized by the Jones Act was regarded as a convenient imposition that anticipated the nation's entry into World War I and its need for soldiers; citizenship subjected island youth to military draft by a federal U.S. government that Puerto Ricans had no right to elect or to participate in.

The tensions between Puerto Rico and the United States throughout the twentieth century were not only experienced at the level of government, legislation, and case law. They also reached everyday domains, issuing from how Puerto Ricans were being regarded. The United States saw itself as exercising a benign "modernizing" function upon a society that it considered backward, underdeveloped, and bereft of any civilizing trait as the product of Spanish oppression. Puerto Ricans were racialized as the product of centuries of intermarriage between Europeans, indigenous people, the African slaves that were imported for its plantation economy, and Asian laborers. Puerto Ricans saw U.S. efforts at "modernization" as eroding their culture, curtailing their autonomy, and negating their uniqueness; they were also conscious that they were being regarded and defined through the prejudicial terms of U.S. racial hierarchies.

Spain had initially neglected the island after the colonial power realized that Puerto Rico's wealth did not lie in gold and silver. For 300 years, Puerto Rico survived as a strategically located military outpost for Spain, supporting itself through contraband and piracy, trading cattle, hides, sugar, tobacco, and foodstuffs directly with other nations.

In the eighteenth century, though, the Spanish monarch initiated a series of reforms inspired by enlightened despotism. Puerto Rico's system of land tenure was reformed through the establishment of private ownership. The 1815 sanctioning of commerce with other nations fostered development, immigration, urbanization, and population growth. These changes also facilitated the emergence of a strong sense of cultural nationalism among Puerto Ricans that was compounded by increased political consciousness. Because Spain was subject to periods of liberal reform, Puerto Ricans were exposed to the experience of civil liberties, constitutional principles, and representative government. Unlike the backward and politically unsophisticated colony that the United States assumed it to be, Puerto Rico was a complex society with a persistent sense of uniqueness, definite culture, and an intricate historical experience.

The colonial situation was aggravated by capitalist practices. The U.S. government facilitated the island's economic exploitation by absentee mainland corporations, abetted by local landowning and merchant elites. The implantation of monopolistic agribusiness in the form of the single-crop cultivation of sugarcane eroded economic diversity and autonomy, impoverishing the local economy. The United States also instituted the exportation of Puerto Rican workers as cheap, unskilled migrant labor. Depicting the island as overpopulated and as lacking prime material resources, the U.S. government encouraged migration, with the consequent expansion of Puerto Rican communities throughout the United States.

Widespread Americanization efforts targeted other significant sociocultural domains. These included, among others, the imposition of English-only education in the implementation of an educational system modeled on that of the United States, the appointment of pro–United States local elites to government positions, the incorporation of Anglo-Saxon common-law principles and practices into the island's Continental legal system, massive importation of U.S. consumer goods, and the devaluation of the local peso with the introduction of U.S. currency, a measure that bankrupted many middle-class families.

The dependency that ensued fostered the resurgence of strong political resistance. In the late 1920s, the Nationalist Party was founded under the leadership of Pedro Albizu Campos, a Harvard-trained attorney. The 1930s brought much turbulence to Puerto Rico, exemplified by the 1935 murder of five Nationalists during a university strike; two party members countered by assassinating the chief of police and were beaten and killed while in police custody. In 1937, Albizu Campos was successfully tried for sedition by federal prosecutors and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment in a federal facility. A Nationalist demonstration in Ponce, organized to protest both the persecution of Nationalist leaders and colonial measures of Americanization, ended with the massacre of participants and bystanders when police fired into the assembled crowd. The Ponce Massacre remains a significant Puerto Rican historical and ideological landmark.

The Nationalist Party represented the most militant promoter of independence among Puerto Rico's political parties. Other political parties were organized by prostatehood advocates and those moderate pro-independence advocates who did not join the Nationalists. The lack of resolution to the colonial situation, its very complexity, and the perceptions of exploitation at the hands of the U.S. government, representing a nation that ostensibly stood for fundamental democratic principles, generated complex and fluid party politics. Shifting alliances emerged during these decades, bringing together pro-independence and pro-statehood advocates in such bipartisan party formations as La Alianza (Alliance Party) that emerged in the late 1920s and subsisted through the 1930s.

The Commonwealth

In 1938, Luis Muñoz Marín founded the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which eventually proved to be the most significant political development for Puerto Rico in the twentieth century. The son of Luis Muñoz Rivera, a prestigious journalist, politician, and advocate for autonomy under both Spain and the United States, Muñoz Marín initially espoused independence and a socialist agenda of reform. He was incredibly successful in achieving control over the island's government by the mid-1940s and initiating local socioeconomic reforms. But he met congressional resistance when he attempted to gain any kind of resolution of Puerto Rico's colonial status.

Muñoz Marín devised the third "status formula"—the commonwealth—after World War II. Known in Spanish as Estado Libre Asociado (Free Associated State), it entailed the grant of greater control over local matters to Puerto Ricans. Its most evident change was to allow Puerto Ricans to elect their governor and to appoint local officials. It also provided for the enactment of a local constitution, but one subject to congressional approval. The colonial residues of commonwealth status were dramatically obvious when Congress rejected several dispositions of the Puerto Rican Bill of Rights that mandated universal education and health services because these rights were deemed too radical, even "communist," for the conservative postwar period. Finally, commonwealth status meant that island-based Puerto Ricans still could not vote in U.S. federal elections; they were and continue to be represented in Congress by a resident commissioner who can speak on their behalf but cannot vote. The situation has often been justified by appealing to the circumstance that island Puerto Ricans are not subject to federal taxes.

In 1952, Puerto Ricans went to the polls to approve their new constitution and commonwealth status. The change was consonant with both local claims for autonomy and the postwar situation, as the United States had become the leading world power and the Cold War had begun. The concession of commonwealth status persuaded the United Nations to drop Puerto Rico from its list of colonies, precluding both official UN support for its decolonization and the United States's status as a colonial power with regard to Puerto Rico. The short-lived Nationalist insurrection of 1950 was only the most dramatic resurgence of resistance at the time. Led by an aging Albizu Campos, Nationalists managed to take over some of the island's towns and attack both the governor's palace in San Juan and Blair House in Washington, D.C., in a failed attempt to assassinate President Harry S. Truman. The uprising had been anticipated by local legislation that curtailed freedom of speech in proscribing the use of media for advocating for independence; when it floundered, Nationalist and other pro-independence leaders were rounded up and incarcerated.

The commonwealth complemented limited local autonomy with industrialization programs to boost the island's economy, as embodied in Operation Bootstrap, the government's master developmental plan. Tax incentives and cheap but skilled labor brought many U.S. industries to the island, fostering a shift from an agriculture-based economy to one dependent on outside industrial investments. Consonant infrastructural changes included urbanization and suburbanization; improved public education, vocational training, and higher education to create a middle class and an educated and skilled labor force; the establishment of public medical services that reduced mortality and raised life expectancy; and the development of an island-wide network of modern highways and expressways.

By the late 1960s, Puerto Rico had achieved the highest standard of living in Latin America and had become a model for developing and newly decolonized nations. But it had also experienced steep social costs such as environmental pollution, social dislocation, wealth inequalities, consumerism, and more subtle forms of economic and political dependence. The end of tax incentives began to erode the economy, and U.S. economic cycles became even more intensely felt. As their ten-year tax exemption ended, U.S. industrialists fled to cheaper labor markets; ironically, labor legislation and educational campaigns had produced a protected, well-trained, educated, and thus expensive Puerto Rican labor force that was not competitive with unskilled labor in other nations. The rise of transnational business reduced the thrust of industrialization, since restrictive U.S. laws and policies concerning shipping, manufacturing, and tariffs, as well as U.S. dominated banking and finance, limited Puerto Rico's ability to develop its own markets and attract more advantageous international business.

Puerto Rico remains economically dependent and reliant on manufacturing and services. The Puerto Rican government, a major employer, has fostered petrochemical and high-technology industries that capitalize on Puerto Rico's educated labor force. Pharmaceuticals, chemicals, electronics, medical equipment, and machinery are leading products. Tourism is the most important service industry.

Politically, the advent of the commonwealth has failed to end ongoing debates over Puerto Rico and its neocolonial condition. Muñoz Marín became Puerto Rico's first elected governor in 1948 and was reelected for four consecutive terms until he retired from the governorship in 1964. The PPD lost the 1968 elections, when a prostatehood party, the New Progressive Party (PNP) won government control. The PNP had emerged in 1967, succeeding the old pro-statehood party, the Republican Party of Puerto Rico; along with the PPD, it remains one of the two strongest of the island's political parties. The leading independence party, the Puerto Rican Pro-Independence Party (PIP), was founded in 1948, when a PPD faction split off, disappointed at Muñoz Marín's failure to support independence and his "treason" in proposing, developing, and advocating for commonwealth status. Other short-lived political parties have waxed and waned under the commonwealth.

Since 1968, government control has alternated between the PPD and the PNP, indexing the ongoing struggle over the island's situation. Puerto Ricans are steadfast participants in the election process, practically the island's total adult population. The commonwealth's limitations and the lack of resolution in the island's relationship with the United States have increasingly led voters to overlook status preferences to support politicians on the strength of their immediate agendas rather than on the basis of status positions. The PIP's election returns peaked in 1952 when it was second only to the PPD, but it has since decreased to less than 5 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, the party and other independence advocates play important opposition roles in local politics. Concerns over the economy and quality-of-life issues have predominated over colonialism in elections, yet cultural nationalism, the fact of congressional control, and the ambiguities of the U.S.–Puerto Rico relationship have kept the colonialism issue from being fully disregarded.

On the occasions when Puerto Ricans have been consulted in plebiscite and referenda, they have to varying degrees supported commonwealth status. Yet incidents such as the widespread resistance, particularly in the 1990s, to the U.S. Navy's use of Vieques, one of Puerto Rico's outlying island extensions, for military maneuvers that include the use of live munitions, have brought to the fore the residual tensions between the two nations.


Berman Santana, Déborah. Kicking Off the Bootstraps: Environment, Development, and Community Power in Puerto Rico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996.

Burnett, Christina Duffy, and Burke Marshall, eds. Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001.

Cabán, Pedro A. Constructing a Colonial People: Puerto Rico and the United States, 1898–1932. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999.

Carr, Raymond. Puerto Rico: A Colonial Experiment. New York: New York University Press, 1984.

González, José Luis. Puerto Rico: The Four-Storeyed Country and Other Essays. Translated by Gerald Guinness. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1993.

Lauria, Antonio. "'Respeto,' 'Relajo,' and Interpersonal Relations in Puerto Rico." Anthropological Quarterly 37, no. 1 (1964): 53–67.

López, Adalberto, and James Petras, eds. Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans: Studies in History and Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1974.

Maldonado-Denis, Manuel. The Emigration Dialectic: Puerto Rico and the USA. Translated by Roberto Simón Crespi. New York: International, 1980.

Rivera Ramos, Efrén. The Legal Construction of Identity: The Judicial and Social Legacy of American Colonialism in Puerto Rico. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2001.

Steward, Julian H., et al. The People of Puerto Rico: A Study in Social Anthropology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956.

Trías Monge, José. Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.


Puerto Rican Americans

views updated May 18 2018

Puerto Rican Americans

For more information on Puerto Rican history and culture, seeVol. 2: Puerto Ricans.


A few Puerto Rican political exiles from the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Spanish rule emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century, but large-scale Puerto Rican immigration to the U.S. mainland did not begin until the early 1900s. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 when the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War, making it fairly easy (legally speaking) for Puerto Ricans to immigrate to the United States. The rate of immigration was slow at first, however, because transportation by ship was too expensive for most Puerto Ricans. By the time of World War I (1914–18), the number of Puerto Ricans arriving on the U.S. mainland had risen sharply, despite the continuing high travel costs. Th is was due to conditions in both Puerto Rico and the United States.

In Puerto Rico, improved health care and public health systems had caused a sudden population boom, resulting in high unemployment, overcrowding, and poverty. In the United States, the war economy had created a surfeit of unskilled jobs. Many Puerto Ricans decided that the prospect of employment in the United States was worth the cost of transportation. In 1917, citizens of Puerto Rico were granted U.S. citizenship and were therefore exempt from the immigration quotas established in 1924 for other nationalities. Competition for jobs in the United States decreased as the flow of other immigrants lessened, and Puerto Ricans rushed to fill the demand for unskilled laborers. Worsening economic conditions in Puerto Rico, combined with a series of natural disasters, drove the number of Puerto Rican immigrants to the United States to an all-time high. By 1930, the Puerto Rican American population had reached approximately 53,000.

With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, economic opportunities in the United States decreased rapidly and it was no longer worth the cost for Puerto Ricans to relocate. Immigration consequently slowed considerably during the 1930s. U.S. agriculturalists, however, were looking for cheap farm laborers in the 1930s, and a number of Puerto Ricans began to travel to the U.S. mainland during the off-season of Puerto Rico's sugarcane industry (which was summer and fall harvest season in the United States) to become migrant workers along the Atlantic coast. By 1940, Puerto Ricans made up a significant percentage of Atlantic coast migrant workers. The work was exhausting and paid very little, and living conditions were miserable, but many laborers felt it was better than being unemployed in Puerto Rico. After increasing protests by Americans over the terrible treatment of migrant farm workers, the U.S. government passed laws in 1947 to improve their conditions. Although conditions did improve somewhat, the life of migrant farm workers and their families was still harsh (and continues to be so today).

When World War II began in 1939, sea transportation was suspended because of German submarine activity. Puerto Rican immigration to the United States therefore ceased until the war ended in 1945. The second wave of Puerto Rican immigration, termed "the great migration" began as soon as the war was over and lasted through the mid–1960s. Air travel had become a very affordable option, and in the booming postwar economy in the United States, unskilled jobs were plentiful. Puerto Rican immigration to the U.S. mainland surged, peaking in the 1950s. By 1960, the Puerto Rican American population had risen to almost 900,000. Since the mid–1960s, Puerto Rican immigration has slowed somewhat, but the numbers of new arrivals each year are still significant.

It is difficult to determine the exact Puerto Rican American population because there is a high rate of travel between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. It is impossible to know who is immigrating on a permanent basis, who is coming on a trial basis, and who is just visiting family and friends or traveling on business. There are no official immigration records because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and cross the border freely, and U.S. Census figures are only approximate because not all Puerto Ricans report themselves as "Puerto Rican." Some place themselves in the catch-all categories of "Latin American," or "Hispanic," etc. The estimated Puerto Rican American population, therefore, is somewhere around 4 million. Puerto Rican Americans made up some 9% of the Hispanic population in America in the 2000s.

About 95% of Puerto Rican Americans are urban, concentrated in the larger cities of New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Half of all Puerto Rican Americans live in New York City, giving it the highest Puerto Rican American population in the United States. In fact, in 1970 New York City's Puerto Rican population was higher than that of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico and the country's largest city. By 1980, the numbers had reversed, but New York City continues to have the second highest Puerto Rican population in the world. Many Puerto Rican Americans in New York City call themselves Nuyoricans. In the United States, Puerto Rican Americans are the second largest Hispanic group, after Mexican Americans. Their population is very young, with the median age around 25, compared to around 35 for the total U.S. population.

At the time of the "great migration," many U.S. cities had just begun to implement public housing systems in which people were randomly assigned housing in public housing projects throughout the city. Puerto Ricans, therefore, were scattered across neighborhoods. They were not able to develop the same sort of ethnic communities in which other earlier immigrants had found comfort and support. Despite these public housing systems, however, Puerto Rican Americans did manage to congregate in certain areas, especially in New York City. The stretch along East 116th Street has been called El Barrio ("the Neighborhood"), or Spanish Harlem, since the 1930s because of the heavy concentration of Puerto Rican Americans who live there.

In New York City and other places in the United States with large Hispanic American populations, signs and other public information are written in both English and Spanish. Puerto Rican Americans still encounter a language barrier, however, because English is the standard language of American business and education. Most Puerto Rican Americans continue to speak Spanish at home and with their friends, making it more difficult for them to become fluent in English. Bilingual education programs have been instituted in some elementary schools to help Puerto Rican and other Hispanic American children succeed, but many still fail. The drop-out rate among Puerto Rican American high school students was as high as 75% in the 1970s and 1980s. Though more Puerto Rican American students are finishing high school in the 2000s (over 63%), the percentage of those who drop out is still among the highest of any ethnic group in America. (For example, in 2000 84% of whites, 73.6% of blacks and 83.4% of Asians graduated from high school.)

Puerto Ricans have two surnames: the father's family name, followed by the mother's family name. In Puerto Rico, both names are usually used when addressing someone, but if only one name is used, it is the father's. To avoid confusion in the United States, many Puerto Rican Americans drop their mother's family name altogether.

Most Puerto Rican Americans (80%) are Roman Catholic. However, Puerto Rican Catholicism is quite different from mainline American Catholicism. When the Spanish introduced Catholicism to Puerto Rico in the 1500s, the Puerto Ricans simply blended Christian teachings and rituals with their previous beliefs, creating a magical religion of saints and spirits. When Puerto Rican Catholics began to immigrate to the United States, they found Irish, Italian, and German Catholic churches that were quite strange to them. They were never allowed to establish their own ethnic parishes (as the Italians and Germans were), so they struggled to maintain their particular brand of religion at home while attending the unfamiliar European churches. Eventually, European Catholics moved on to better neighborhoods, and the parishes became predominantly Puerto Rican American. The language of church services shifted to Spanish, and traditional Puerto Rican rites and festivals began to be celebrated, such as Three Kings Day (or Epiphany) on 6 January, and Fiesta de San Juan (The Feast of St. John the Baptist) on 24 June.

The influence of Hispanic Americans on the Roman Catholic Church in America is finally being felt. In 1972, there was only one Hispanic bishop in the United States. By 2008, there were 38 Hispanic bishops in the United States, 25 of whom remained active and 10 were retired. They made up 6% of all U.S. Catholic bishops. Three Kings Day and the Fiesta de San Juan are celebrated each year in many cities with huge festivals, fairs, processionals, and fireworks. Bótanicas, shops that sell charms, incense, herbs, magic potions, candles, and santos (homemade statuettes of religious figures) are found in every Puerto Rican American neighborhood.

Not all Puerto Rican Americans are Catholic, however. About 20% are Protestant, with the largest share belonging to the Pentecostal Church and other evangelical denominations. There are also Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians. Some Puerto Rican Americans choose to follow various combinations of spiritualism and folk religion, such as Mesa Blanca, Santería, Brujería, and Curandera. A number of Puerto Rican Americans follow both Christianity and a spiritualist folk religion.

Family is very important to Puerto Ricans, and immigration has always been in whole family groups. Puerto Rican families are typically large, and Puerto Rican Americans in New York City continue to have the largest families of all city residents. A high percentage of Puerto Rican American families are headed by single females, many of whom receive financial assistance from the government. Puerto Rican Americans have one of the highest poverty rates (22.8% for families) among Hispanic Americans, surpassed only by Dominicans. This is partly due to their young average age, which is a result of the high number of children per family. Poverty rates for Puerto Rican American families headed by single women is 39.3%.

Despite their relative poverty and poor performance in school, many individual Puerto Rican Americans have found success in the United States. Puerto Rican American contributors to the world of American arts include actors Rita Moreno, Freddie Prinze, Erik Estrada, Liz Torres, Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Roxann Biggs-Dawson, Raul Julia, José Ferrer, Chita Moreno, and Jennifer Lopez; television personalities Geraldo Rivera and Vanna White; and film director Leon Ichaso.

Salsa music has become popular with the wider American public. Some individual Puerto Rican American contributors to the world of music are opera singer Justino Díaz; singer-guitarist José Feliciano; pop singers Tony Orlando and Julian; rappers Lisa M and Vico-C; the teen singing group Menu-do; bandleader and percussionist Tito Puente; violinist José Figueroa; jazz trombonist Juan Tizol; and jazz flutist Dave Valentin.

Well-known Puerto Rican American visual artists have included Dennis Mario Rivera, Roberto Lebrón, Ramón Carrasquillo, Rafael Ferrer, Wilfred Labrosa, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Ballet artists Brunhilda Ruiz, Tina Ramirez, and Edward Villella are all Puerto Rican American. Many Puerto Rican American writers have found success, including René Marqués, Piri Thomas, Jesús Colón, Miguel Algarín, J. L. Torres, Ed Vega, Judith Ortíz-Cofer, Nicholasa Mohr, Pablo Guzmán, and David Hernández.

Though voter registration and turnout among Puerto Rican Americans is consistently low, preventing them from becoming a significant voice in the political scene, Puerto Rican Americans have managed to make a mark in U.S. politics. Herman Badillo became the first Puerto Rican American in the U.S. Congress when he was elected to the House of Representatives from New York City in 1970 and Dr. Antonia Novello was appointed U.S. surgeon general by President George Bush in 1990.

Sports is perhaps where Puerto Rican Americans have become best known among the wider American public. Golfer Juan A. "Chi Chi" Rodriguez and horse jockey Angel Cordero became famous in their arenas. Boxers Sixto Escobar and Carlos Ortiz, tennis player GiGi Fernández, and Olympic swimmer Chayenne Vasallo have also been highly successful. The sport with the most Puerto Rican American success stories, however, is baseball. Roberto Clemente, Orlando Manuel Cepeda, Ruben Sierra, Sandy Alomar, Sr., Sandy Alomar, Jr., Roberto Alomar, Joey Cora, Carlos Baerga, Juan Gonzalez, Bernie Williams, José Santiago, Edgar Martinez, Carlos Delgado, and José Valentin have all been stars of the game.

One of the biggest contributions that Puerto Rican Americans could make to American culture is a new attitude towards race. In Puerto Rico, centuries of interracial marriage have led to a kaleidoscope of skin colors and facial features. Social structure in Puerto Rico is therefore not based as strictly on race as it is in the United States. "Black" and "White" as rigid categories do not exist in Puerto Rico.

Recent clinical studies of Puerto Rican women living in the United States link acculturation, sex-role traditionalism, assertiveness, and symptoms of mental and physical illness. Examining such indicators as migration history, educational attainment, sex-role traditionalism, assertiveness, religious beliefs and practices, and family background indicated that second-generation Puerto Rican women (those born in the United States), when compared with their first-generation counterparts, were better educated and less sex-role traditional. Th ose Puerto Rican American women who followed traditional sex-roles were less assertive, and more assertive women experienced fewer mental or physical illnesses. Such studies are important in measuring the degree to which modern Puerto Rican American women are responding to the traditional Hispanic "macho" culture, and carving out strong new sex roles for themselves.


Aliotta, Jerome J. The Puerto Ricans. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.

Cockcroft, James D. Latino Visions: Contemporary Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Cuban American Artists. New York: Franklin Watts, 2000.

Denner, Jill, and Bianca L. Guzmaìn, eds. Latina Girls: Voices of Adolescent Strength in the United States. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

Jensen, Jeffrey. Hispanic Americans Struggle for Equality. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Corporation, 1992.

Oboler, Suzanne. Latinos and Citizenship: The Dilemma of Belonging. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Press, Petra. Puerto Ricans. Tarrytown, NY: Benchmark Books, 1996.

—reviewed by J. Hobby

Puerto Rico

views updated May 14 2018

Puerto Rico

Official name: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Area: 9,104 square kilometers (3,515 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Cerro de Punta (1,338 meters/4,390 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 8 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 179 kilometers (111 miles) from east to west; 58 kilometers (36 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 501 kilometers (313 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States of America, is located at the eastern end of the Greater Antilles archipelago, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles) southeast of the U.S. mainland, between the island of Hispaniola to the west and the Virgin Islands to the east. In addition to its main island, Puerto Rico also includes three smaller ones: Vieques and Culebra to the east and Mona to the west.


Puerto Rico has no territories or dependencies.


Trade winds from the northeast moderate Puerto Rico's tropical climate. Temperatures year-round generally stay between 21°C and 27°C (70°F and 80°F), although more extreme temperatures are possible in lower inland areas and on the southern coast. The mean temperature in San Juan is 24°C (75°F) in January and 27°C (81°F) in July. Hurricanes are a hazard between August and October. Average annual rainfall varies from 91 centimeters (36 inches) in the south, to 152 centimeters (60 inches) at San Juan, to as much as 457 centimeters (180 inches) in the mountains. Rainfall is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year.


Puerto Rico's main island, rectangular in shape, has a hilly and mountainous interior ringed by a narrow coastal plain. The major mountain system is the Cordillera Central, which bisects the western and central parts of the island.


Puerto Rico is bordered on the north by the rough, cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and on the south by the warmer, calmer Caribbean Sea.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The waters just off the coast are shallow, but a few miles to the north the ocean floor drops to a depth of 1,829 meters (6,000 feet). Some 64 kilometers (40 miles) farther north lies the Puerto Rico Trench. At its western end is the Milwaukee Depth, where the ocean floor plunges more than 8,380 meters (27,493 feet)among the deepest ocean trenches in the world, and the greatest known depth in the Atlantic.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Puerto Rico is separated from the island of Hispaniola to the west by the Mona Passage, and from the Virgin Islands to the east by both the Vieques Sound and the Virgin Passage.

Islands and Archipelagos

Vieques, Puerto Rico's largest island aside from the main island, has an area of about 135 square kilometers (52 square miles), much of it occupied by a U.S. naval training facility. Culebra, which also lies to the east of the main island, is an archipelago consisting of a largely flat main island surrounded by twenty islets. Mona Island, to the west, has an area of 52 square kilometers (20 square miles).

Coastal Features

Puerto Rico's coastline is moderately indented at most points. San Juan Bay is in the northeast, and Mayagüez Bay marks the western end of the island. Águila Point and Brea Point are in the southwest. The shore has both rocky and sandy beaches.


There are no natural lakes in Puerto Rico, but there are more than a dozen artificial ones.


The major rivers flow northward over the mountains to the coast. These waterways include the La Plata River (the longest), the Río Grande de Loíza (the widest), the Bayamón River, and the Río Grande de Arecibo. The rivers in the south are fewer, shorter, and smaller in volume.


There are no deserts in Puerto Rico.


Puerto Rico's steep mountains descend to foothills before giving way to the coastal plains that ring the island. They span 24 kilometers (15 miles) at their widest point, and the strip of plain on the north is only 8 kilometers (5 miles) wide. The Turabo Valley, a largely agricultural area, lies between three mountain chains in the eastern part of the island.


Steep mountain slopes cover nearly one-fourth of the island. The highest and longest mountain range is the Cordillera Central, which extends 97 kilometers (60 miles) across the center of the island and reaches elevations of over 914 meters (3,000 feet). Puerto Rico's highest peak, Cerro de Punta (1,338 meters/ 4,390 feet), is part of this system, which rises rapidly from the southern coast and ascends more gradually in the north. The other major mountain system is the Sierra de Luquillo in the east, where the country's most famous peak, El Yunque (1,062 meters /3,483 feet) is located. A third mountain rangethe Sierra da Cayeyis found in the southeast.


The Camuy River cave system is home to a rare species of fish that is completely blind.


Numerous cliffs, caves, sinkholes, and tunnels have been carved by rainwater into the limestone of Puerto Rico's karst region in the northwest. The subterranean caves at the Camuy River form one of the largest cave systems in the world. The largest single cave, Cueva Clara, is 210 meters (695 feet) long.


Puerto Rico's karst region in the interior northwest of the island lies on a plateau ranging in elevation from 30 to 213 meters (100 to 700 feet).


Dams built on all but one of Puerto Rico's major rivers have created more than a dozen reservoirs. Lakes Guayabal, Guajataca, Dos Bocas, and La Plata are among the largest of these reservoirs.



Luxner, Larry. Puerto Rico. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Marino, John. Puerto Rico: Off the Beaten Path. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2000.

Pariser, Harry S. The Adventure Guide to Puerto Rico. Edison, NJ: Hunter Publications, 1996.

Web Sites

Welcome to Puerto Rico! http://welcome.topuertorico.org/ (accessed March 12, 2003).

Sol Boricua Web Site. http://www.solboricua.com/index.htm (accessed March 12, 2003).

Puerto Rico

views updated May 23 2018

Puerto Rico

Basic Data

Official Country Name:Puerto Rico
Region (Map name):Caribbean
Language(s):Spanish, English
Literacy rate:89%

Puerto Rico is a very fertile island for the media, largely due to its ever-changing political status. The varied opinions of its inhabitants are largely expressed through the print and broadcast media.

The first newspaper in Puerto Rico appeared on December 31, 1806, just months after the first printing press arrived on the island. Spanish governor Toribio Montes imported the press and published La Gaceta, a bi-weekly available on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The first school dedicated to the development of literacy and writing opened in 1851. Governor Juan de la Pezuela Cevallos founded the Royal Academy of Belles Letters, an institution that licensed schoolteachers, formulated teaching methods and held writing contests.

Independence movements in Puerto Rico gained momentum in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Spanish Government suppressed Eugenio Maria de Hostos' 1863 book The Pilgrimage of Bayoán because it of its opposition to the Spanish regime. In 1867, the Spanish government tried to regulate the press as well. On August 31, it passed a law that required publishers to have a license and to pay a substantial deposit. Two years later, on January 3, 1869, Governor Laureano Sanz authorized the newspapers to criticize the government and the political system as long as they paid a 500 peso fee.

The independence movement culminated in the Grito de Lares revolt, a short-lived revolution that lasted only a few days. The very next year newly appointed Governor Gabriel Baldrich declared that none of these liberal laws applied to Puerto Rico. Despite Baldrich, since 1869 there have been hundreds of periodicals supporting Puerto Rican independence, from Spain prior to 1898 and the United States since then. One of the most notable in the late twentieth century was Claridad.

The United States took possession of Puerto Rico as a result of its victory in the Spanish-American War 1898. The American presence in Puerto Rico helped found over one hundred newspapers in the two years following the war. Most of these serials did not last; in fact some of them published only a single edition. Information about these publications is scarce as the facilities of early twentieth century Puerto Rico were not the best for storing copies of old newspapers.

There have been hundreds of independent newspapers published in Puerto Rico. These range from Catholic and Protestant papers, such as El Piloto and El Defensor Cristiano, to the Fascist organ Avance. With the growth of journalism came the first Puerto Rican Press Association, founded in 1891 at a meeting in the San Juan restaurant La Aurora.

There have been approximately twenty English language papers published in Puerto Rico since 1898. One of the first, The San Juan News, lasted less than a year because the owner, remembered only as Mr. Racklin, was accused of libel three times. Two political rivals, Luis Muñoz Rivera and José Celso Barbosa, founded their own bilingual newspapers to take advantage of the American presence, The Puerto Rico Herald (1901-1904) andEl Tiempo, respectively. Muñoz favored a higher degree of self-government for the island, while Barbosa favored statehood.

Some of the most important newspapers in Puerto Rico include the now defunct El Mundo, El Nuevo Día, and The San Juan Star. In 1919 Romualdo Real, editor of the magazine Puerto Rico Ilustrado founded El Mundo. El Mundo was a respected, conservative newspaper, and was one of the best sources of news until its collapse in 1990. El Nuevo Día is one of the largest Spanish-language papers on the island since the collapse of El Mundo. William Dorvillier, once the Washington correspondent for El Mundo, founded The San Juan Star in 1959. Dorvillier won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism and Editorial Writing in 1961, for his editorials reflecting on clerical interference in the 1960 gubernatorial elections. Spanish-speakers also read and write in The San Juan Star, long one of Puerto Rico's most influential papers.

Puerto Rico received its first radio station WKAQ in 1922. The first television transmissions took place in January 1954. The first commercial TV station was Telemundo (Channel 4), owned by the same parent company as El Mundo. In the beginning only about 7000 families had televisions. However, by 1997 there were over 1.021 million TVs and twenty-one channels on the island, including the three channels broadcast by the US military.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). World Factbook 2001. Directorate of Intelligence, 2002. Available from www.cia.gov/

Mohr, Eugene V. Language, Literature and Journalism in The American Presence in Puerto Rico. Ed. Lynn-Darrell Bender. Colombia: Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, Inc., 1998.

Mount, Graeme S. Presbyterian Missions to Trinidad and Puerto Rico. Hansport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press, 1983.

Ribes Tovar, Federico, Historia Cronológica de Puerto Rico. Panama: Editorial Tres Américas, 1973.

Scarano, Francisco A. Puerto Rico: Cinco Siglos de Historia. San Juan: McGraw-Hill, 1993.

Silen, Juan Angel. Historia de la Nación Puertorriqueña. Rio Piedras: Editorial Edil, Inc., 1980.

Tirado de Delucca, Elba M. Historia de Puerto Rico siglo XX. Quebradillas, Puerto Rico: Talleres Gráficos, 1997.

Andy Lefebvre

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Puerto Rico