Location| Climate| Population & Language| Economy
Puerto Rico's lone star flag symbolizes the island known as “The Shining Star of the Caribbean.” Interestingly, Puerto Rico's flag was literally “Made in the USA” – designed in New York City by Puerto Rican patriots in collaboration with their Cuban counterparts. In 1895, the exiled leaders of Spain's last two colonies in the Americas agreed that Puerto Rico's flag would use the same design as the Cuban flag, but with inverse colors.
As it turned out, the Puerto Rico flag's red, white and blue colors more closely match the schematic coloring of the national colors of the United States. Puerto Rico's flag also bear a striking resemblance to the flag of another former Spanish colony turned state of the Union – Texas – whose citizens may also rival Puerto Rico's in their display of fierce pride in the powerful symbolism of their own lone star flag.
However, in contradistinction to Cuba, the island of Puerto Rico itself in the 1890s was not the locus of any significant armed rebellion or clamor for independence from Spain. When the U.S. went to war in 1898 to put an end to four centuries of Spanish rule, U.S. forces in both Cuba and the Philippines joined the fight alongside native forces that were already well on their way to winning independence. That was not the case with respect to Puerto Rico
The Momentous Change of Sovereignty
Accompanied by some of the same New York-based Puerto Rican patriots who were involved in the design of the island's flag, on July 25, 1898 U.S. Army General Nelson Miles led the American expeditionary forces that landed in the coastal town of Guánica, Puerto Rico with the objective of defeating the Spanish military and ending Spanish sovereignty over the island. That day, General Miles made the following proclamation – and promise - to the people of Puerto Rico:
“We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but, on the contrary, to bring you protection…to promote your prosperity, and to bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our Government.” “It is not our intention or purpose to interfere with any existing laws and customs that are wholesome and beneficial to your people,” Miles went on to declare, concluding that “this is not a war of devastation, but one to give to all within the control of its military and naval forces the advantages and blessings of enlightened civilization.”
The local leaders of the then recently-installed provincial government of Puerto Rico were quite impressed with Miles' statement, and showed themselves to be receptive to the intentions manifest therein to make Puerto Rico a part of the United States. The action and attitude of the leaders of the local government reflected the action and attitude of the vast majority of the people of Puerto Rico, who received the American troops, accompanied by the group of Puerto Rican scouts from the U.S. mainland, as liberators. Local postmasters immediately added to the address on insular mail the following inscription: Puerto Rico, U.S.A.
The executive branch of the local government was led by a governor who would not be elected by the people, but rather appointed by the President of the United States. The people of Puerto Rico's representation in the United States Congress would be limited – as it continues to be limited up until the present day – to one single representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, and that representative, given the title of “Resident Commissioner”, would have a voice but no vote in the deliberations of the national government.
In 1917, the U.S. Congress finally granted U.S. citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico, and all persons born on the island since then are born as U.S. citizens. The Jones Act of 1917, which granted U.S. citizenship, also expanded local self government by creating an elected upper legislative chamber, the Puerto Rico Senate.
In 1950, the United States Congress agreed to further extend self government in local matters by authorizing the drafting of a local Constitution. The new constitutional government of the island was given the name of "Commonwealth." However, the new governing arrangement did not change the fundamental territorial status of the island.
In the preamble to the Constitution of Puerto Rico, approved by both the United States Congress and by island voters in a 1952 referendum, the people of Puerto Rico declare that “We consider as determining factors in our life our citizenship of the United States of America and our aspiration to continually enrich our democratic heritage in the individual and collective enjoyment of its rights and privileges; our loyalty to the principles of the Federal Constitution; and the coexistence in Puerto Rico of the two great cultures of the American hemisphere.”
The Constitution of Puerto Rico is considered comparable to and compatible with U.S. state government constitutions. The ratification of the Constitution was the first popular vote ever directly related to the island's political status, and it effectively demonstrated to the world that Puerto Rico's relationship to the United States was democratically consented to by the people of Puerto Rico. As a result of that democratically expressed consent and the self government over local affairs provided by the new Constitution, in 1953 Puerto Rico was removed from the United Nations' list of non self-governing territories.
Over the las 40 years, Puerto Rico has held three local referendum on the political status question. Puerto Rico, however, remains an unincorporated territory of the United States. In a message to the people of Puerto Rico on January 2, 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama pledged “to work with Congress and all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years.”
“I am fully aware of the difficulties Puerto Rico has faced in the past when dealing with this issue,” Obama declared. “But self determination is a basic right to be addressed no matter how difficult. Your right to self determination is deepened even further by the brave service that Puerto Ricans have provided to the nation’s armed forces, protecting all our people from foreign dangers throughout the past century. We will work to give a voice to the people of Puerto Rico to enable them to determine their political future,” Obama concluded.
At present, as a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. Federal Government is, in many respects, similar to that of a state of the Union. The U.S. Constitution, as well as laws passed by Congress, are applicable in Puerto Rico. Residents of the island, however, do not vote for President or have equal voting representation in Congress. Puerto Rico is treated as a State in most federal laws but these are some exceptions. It receives less funding in some federal programs, primarily programs for the needy and in health care. Federal taxes have not been extended to local income.
Puerto Rico occupies a central position in the Caribbean, approximately 1000 miles southeast of Miami. Puerto Rico is comprised of six main islands with a land area of 3,421 square miles, more than twice the size of the state of Rhode Island, roughly the same size as the state of Connecticut.
The main island, approximately 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, is divided into three main geographic regions: the mountainous interior, the northern plateau, and the coastal plains. The central mountain range, known as the Cordillera Central, rises to more than 3,000 feet, with the highest points at Cerro de Punta, 4,389 feet, and Monte Guilarte, 3,949 feet.
In the northeast region of the island, the Sierra de Luquillo includes the rain forest of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. The whole area of 29,000 acres is included in the El Yunque National Forest, administered by the U.S. Forest Service, and is a major tourist attraction.
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Puerto Rico lays claim to the most pleasant, hospitable climate in the nation, with an average annual temperature of 82° F (28° C) with constant mild easterly trade winds. The U.S. National Weather Bureau has never recorded temperatures in San Juan below 64° F or higher than 97° F, 365 days a year, day or night.
Lying within the tropical zone, the island’s climate is greatly influenced by the sea and the warm North Equatorial Current. Throughout the island, temperatures very seldom fall below 60° F. The highest recorded monthly average is 89° F; the lowest, 66° F. Hurricane season is June l through November 1.
Population and Language
According to U.S. Census figures, Puerto Rico has a population of 3.7 million. Additionally, an estimated 4 million Puerto Ricans and people of Puerto Rican origin live in the 50 states, with concentrations in New York and Florida that top 1 million and 700,000, respectively. Altogether, Puerto Ricans comprise the second largest population group of Hispanic origin within the United States.
Spanish, naturally, is the primary language spoken on the island. In 1901, both Spanish and English were designated as official languages, and it is estimated that the island has the highest proportion of bilingual citizens in the United States – as well as all of Latin America. English is an integral part of the K-12 public school curriculum, and the level of bilingualism continues to grow throughout the island.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated in 1937, “Clearly there is no desire or purpose to diminish the enjoyment or usefulness of the rich Spanish cultural legacy of the people of Puerto Rico. What is necessary, however, is that the American citizens of Puerto Rico should profit from their unique geographical situation and the unique historical circumstance which has brought to them the blessings of American citizenship by becoming bilingual.”
Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean but , like the national and global economy, it has been in a local recession that preceded the national recession by three years. Manufacturing industry has surpassed agriculture as the primary sector of economic activity and income. Manufacturing by U.S. mainland-based companies is an important component of the economy. Within the manufacturing sector, important industries include pharmaceuticals, electronics, textiles, petrochemicals, and processed foods.
Puerto Rico is also globally acclaimed for the quality of its coffee and rum. However, sugar production has lost out to dairy production and other livestock products as the main source of income in the agricultural sector. Tourism is also an important source of income for the island.