PRFAA | Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration



Location| Climate| Population & Language| Economy

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The Flag of Puerto Rico is the patriotic symbol of "The Island of Enchantment." The star represents the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and it rests on a blue triangle whose angles evoke the integrity of the three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. The three red stripes symbolize the lifeblood that nourishes the three branches of government, which serve independent and separate roles. The two white stripes symbolize human rights and individual freedom, which are a perpetual reminder of the need to monitor our democratic government in order to preserve it.


Change of Sovereignty

The History of Puerto Rico began with the settlement of the ostoinid people in the archipelago of Puerto Rico between the years 3000 and 2000 B.C. Other tribes such as the Arawak Indians and the saladoids populated the Island between the years 430 B.C. and 1000 A.D. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in 1493, the dominant indigenous tribe was the Taínos. The Taínos became extinct during the second half of the 16th century A.D. due to the exploitation, war and disease brought about by the Spaniards. The Puerto Rican population later became a mosaic that comes from the mix of the Spanish, Africans, and Taínos.

Located in the Northeastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico was of key importance to the Spanish Empire ever since the early years of exploration, conquest, and colonization of the New World. The Island served as an important military outpost during many of the wars between Spain and other European powers during the XVI, XVII, and XVIII centuries. The smallest of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico was a launching pad for many of the European voyages to Cuba, Mexico, Central America and other territories in northern South America. During much of the 19th century Puerto Rico and Cuba remained the last two Spanish Colonies in the New World; serving as the final outposts in a larger strategy of regaining control of the American continent.

In 1898 during the Spanish American War Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States leading to a change in sovereignty. The first half of the 20th century was marked by a struggle by Puerto Ricans to obtain greater democratic rights from the United States. The Foraker Act of 1900 established a civilian government and the Jones Act of 1917 gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship, leading the way to the first democratically elected Governor of Puerto Rico in 1948 and the creation of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952.

Relationship with the U.S.

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.

Local Constitution

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."

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.

Political Status

Over the las 40 years, Puerto Rico has held three local referendum on the political status question. However, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico established in 1952 remains as the preferred political status. At present, Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. Federal Government is, in many aspects, 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. 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.