Puerto Rico (officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) is an unincorporated territory of the United States. The island is located in the Caribbean and is 160 kilometres (100 miles) long and 56 kilometres (35 miles) wide. The name is Spanish for Rich Port and the island is the smallest of the Greater Antilles, a group that includes Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. Puerto Rico itself consists of the main island (known as Puerto Rico), the islands of Culebra, Vieques and Mona, as well as numerous islets.
The tropical island has an approximate population of 3,578,056 and its capital is San Juan. Originally named Borinquén, Puerto Rico became a US territory in 1898. Columbus actually named the island San Juan and the main city became known as Puerto Rico (meaning Rich Port). Over time, the island became known as Puerto Rico and the port as San Juan.
Following the arrival of Columbus, the Spanish established a permanent settlement on the island in 1508. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, isolation and neglect by the Spaniards forced Puerto Ricans into illegal trade and for more than 200 years the island survived on illicit exchanges with the French and the English.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the islanders began to show pride in being Puerto Rican and not Spanish. Following the defeat of the Napoleonic forces, new economic reforms designed by Spain’s new king to ensure continued allegiance, caused an increased demand for labour, which in turn resulted in the implementation of a mechanism that forced the landless poor to work as day labourers. This system, known as the régimen de la libreta, lasted from 1849 to 1873.
Slavery was officially abolished in 1873 and soon after a new intellectually elite generation of criollos sought economic, social and cultural changes and the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (Autonomist Party) was founded in 1887. The Spanish government persecuted and tortured the autonomists and the leaders were imprisoned at the El Morro fortress. The Spanish government finally issued the Autonomic Charter, however this new, autonomic government did not last long.
Eight days after the autonomous legislature met in its first sessions, American troops landed at Guánica, marking the beginning of American colonial control of the island. Liberals and democratic Puertorriqueños welcomed and even aided the Americans, believing they would bring the blessings of civilisation. In December of 1898 Spain formally ceded its control to the United States.
Throughout the first three decades of the 20th century there was an unwavering effort to Americanise the islanders and English language became a requirement in public schools. During World War II, the island served as a centre for hemispheric defence and the world’s largest American Naval base was developed on Puerto Rico’s eastern fringe.
Following the war, the Pro-Independence faction renewed their efforts to make Puerto Rico independent, while the United Nations and the Soviet Union accused the USA of maintaining a colony. A new constitution was adopted in 1952 and the Estado Libre Asociado (commonwealth) was established.