Puerto Rico is a non-sovereign territory of the United States. The territory is comprised of several islands, but when people speak of Puerto Rico, they usually mean the largest of the islands. The island is located in the Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rico was originally inhabited by Arawaks (specifically Taínos) who traveled from South America. It was eventually settled by Spain, and languished as a mostly undeveloped colony for the next 400 years. Puerto Rico was acquired by the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898, ushering what would eventually become a wave of change. Following a breif military government, the Foraker Act created a civil government for Puerto Ricans in 1900. The early 20th century saw the domination of the local economy by stateside plantation owners interested in growing sugar. In 1917, Puerto Ricans were made citizens of the United States and granted slightly more autonomy by the Jones Act. During the Great Depression, the New Deal was extended to the island via the P.R. Emergency Relief Act, and later the P.R. Reconstruction Administration.
The Depression also saw the rise and dominance of the Partido Popular Democrático, whose leaders aligned themselves with stateside Democrats to pursue local economic development and growth. Puerto Ricans were allowed to elect their own governor in 1948, and adopted their own Constitution in 1952. By the 1960s, economic growth had slowed substantially, but poverty never returned to pre-World War 2 levels. Since the end of PPD dominance in the late ‘60s, Puerto Rico has been run either by the pro-status quo PPD or the pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresista.
The Puerto Rican economy was completely dominated by agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century. Manufacturing was not a major source of employment until the 1940s. Capital-intensive manufacturing slowly replaced labor-intensive manufacturing during the latter half of the century, which was in turn slowly supplemented by financial sector employment. Currently, service jobs make up the majority of employment opportunities in Puerto Rico, but there are still important manufacturing jobs that contribute to GDP.
The Puerto Rican Constitution was largely based on the US Constitution. There is a republican government, separated into three branches. The legislative branch consists of a Legislative Assembly, which is divided into a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. Representatives and Senators are elected to four-year terms via a mix of geographic and proportional representation. A Governor, elected to four-year terms via popular vote, heads the executive branch. The judicial branch is topped by a Supreme Court, whose members are nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.
As of 2008, there are two major parties and two minor parties. The Partido Popular Democrático (Popular Democratic Party) is somewhat divided into members who favor the status quo and members who favor a more autonomous status. The Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party) favors Puerto Rico being admitted as a State of the Union. The Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rico Independence Party) favors (you guessed it) independence. Finally, Puertorriqueños por Puerto Rico (Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico), recently formed, do not favor a status resolution, instead focusing on sustainable development and efficient government.
Puerto Rico is allowed to send a Resident Commissioner to the House of Representatives. The Resident Commissioner is not allowed a floor vote in the House, but may caucus with other members, deliver speeches, serve on committees, and hold positions of seniority in those committees. The Resident Commissioner is elected every four years.
Close to 4 million people live in Puerto Rico. Most are of Spanish ancestry. However, there are descendants of a diverse array of cultures: African, French, Italian, Irish, German, and American, as well as a spattering of other minorities.
Starting in the 1940s, large numbers of Puerto Ricans have moved to the United States. Roughly 4 million people of Puerto Rican descent live in the United States, not counting Puerto Rico.
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