Puerto rico is part of what country: Is Puerto Rico Part of the U.S?

What Country Is Puerto Rico In?


One of the common questions we see here at The Puerto Rico Report is this: “What country is Puerto Rico in?”

The simplest answer: the United States.

But it’s not a simple question.

According to controversial rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States, the islands are an unincorporated territory of the United States. That means a territory that has not been made a full and permanent part of the country. The U.S. Constitution mentions territories, saying that Congress can make all the rules applying to a territory of the United States. The Supreme Court invented the concept of unincorporated territories: territories belonging to the U.S. but still not a part of the United States.

Puerto Rico has been a U. S. territory since 1898, when the United States took Puerto Rico, along with the Philippines and Guam, and liberated Cuba from Spain.

Like Cuba, the Philippines eventually gained independence, but the United States has kept ownership of Guam and Puerto Rico.

Citizenship for Puerto Rico

In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act granted citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico. Many Puerto Ricans thought that this would mean that Puerto Rico would become part of the United States — and that statehood was in the islands’ future. The Supreme Court later ruled that Congress had not indicated an intent to make Puerto Rico a full and permanent part of the United States.

Most but not all laws, however, treat Puerto Rico as if it were a part of the United States.

So, Puerto Rico simply belongs to the United States. It isn’t exactly in the United States, but it is a possession of the United States.

Does it matter?

The Supreme Court has ruled that territories can be treated differently from States by the Federal government. Unincorporated territories can be treated differently in even more ways, according to the Court. This often means that Puerto Rico – and individual Puerto Ricans — receive less in Federal benefits than States and their residents – even non-citizens.

Being an unincorporated territory is not a permanent, settled status. It is presumed that a territory that has been made a part of the United States will become a State. But an unincorporated territory can also become a nation – whether independent or in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end. In theory, the United States could also cede Puerto Rico back to Spain. As long as a territory is unincorporated, its future is uncertain.

In 1952, the local Government of Puerto Rico took on a new name, “the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.” Puerto Rico is a “commonwealth” just as Massachusetts is a commonwealth: the word is part of the official name of the insular government. Neither Puerto Rico nor Massachusetts – nor any of the other States named “Commonwealth” or the other territory that use the word in the official name of its insular government – has a status different from other States and territories.

So, Puerto Rico is currently in the uncomfortable position of being a possession of the United States with its ultimate status undetermined, although its people are citizens of the United States.

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Although Puerto Rico had just begun its experiment with self-government granted by the Spanish rulers in 1897, its citizens initially greeted the transfer of ultimate authority from Spain to the United States in 1898 with much enthusiasm because of the promise of the expansion of American democratic values and economic development. However, while the transfer led to dramatic socioeconomic transformation, Puerto Ricans’ dreams of political and economic development faded during the first three decades of the twentieth century. The promises of self-government and better conditions for Puerto Rico had to wait almost fifty years.

In the first years of U.S. military occupation, political and economic power centered in San Juan and all former Spanish administrative bodies were dismantled. Most local landowners lost their economic power to North American companies which came to own the principal centers of sugarcane production. Following two years of U.S. military occupation (1898-1900), a civilian government was established in 1900 by the Foraker Law (April 12, 1900) imposing trade tariffs, denying American citizenship, and creating a local government led by a governor, an Executive Council, and a judiciary appointed by the president of the United States. Nevertheless, local politics flourished as Puerto Ricans were given the right to elect the lower chamber of the legislature. In that forum, the local elite continued their demands for a more open and democratic political arrangement between Puerto Rico and the United States. Thus began Puerto Rico’s political struggle for a definition of its status, a struggle that has lasted into the twenty-first century. And thus the national political parties came to divide around three fundamental alternatives: statehood, self-government, and independence.

«The Star Spangled Banner — Puerto Rico’s Flag.» [Detail] A little journey to Puerto Rico; for intermediate and upper grades. General Collections, Library of Congress.

In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Jones Act, which brought Puerto Rico the first significant political changes under U.S. colonial rule. With this law, Congress established a popularly elected legislative branch (a Senate and a House of Representatives) and extended American citizenship to Puerto Rican citizens. At about the same time, the island’s economy experienced its first radical change. Although it continued to have an agrarian base centered in sugar production, it changed from a mercantilist system under Spain to a capitalist system under the United States.

Increasing American investments in the sugar and tobacco industries led to unprecedented economic growth but failed to bring social change. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, and disease permeated the population. Such social stresses induced a wave of low-income Puerto Rican workers to migrate to the United States, particularly during the 1930s when unemployment on the island was approximately 65 percent.

Free Associated State of Puerto Rico


The Freely Associated State of Puerto Rico is a dependency of the United States of America with the status of an «unincorporated organized territory». It has its own constitution, legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. The validity of the US Constitution in the territory is limited; supreme power belongs to the US Congress, but the territory has a system of self-government. The capital is San Juan. The area of ​​the country is 9104 km2. The population, as of 2018, is 3,195,153 people. The climate is maritime mild tropical.

Puerto Rico is an island nation in the Caribbean. An agricultural country that supplies sugar cane and rum to the world market. The pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries are actively developing. The main income of the state comes from tourism. The country consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and many smaller ones, including Mona, Vieques, Culebra, Deseceo and Caja de Muertos. The main island is 170 km long and 60 km wide, mostly mountainous with large coastal areas in the northern and southern parts.

All sights and landmarks of Puerto Rico can be divided into historical monuments that have remained here since the time of Spanish colonization, and creations of local nature. It is better to start acquaintance with the history of this piece of land from the old part of San Juan. In fact, this quarter is a museum in itself. Encircling all this splendor is a powerful fortress wall, a remnant of the architectural heritage of the Spanish conquistadors.

In the northwestern part of the capital, in the vicinity of Cape Punta del Moro, there is the main gathering place for tourist groups — the sea fortress of Fuerte San Felipe del Morro. The fortification, for many years considered perhaps the most significant in the Caribbean, was founded in 1539year. At one time, the citadel withstood the most powerful set of attacks by the pirate fleet under the command of Francis Drake.

Of the architectural monuments of the past, preserved on the territory of Viejo San Juan, one can note the oldest church of the island — Iglesia San José, built in a Gothic style unconventional for Central America. The Casa Blanca also looks colorful — the former home of the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon, the Dominican monastery Convento de los Dominicos, the former fortress, and now the residence of the Puerto Rican governors of La Fortaleza and the Capilla del Libro chapel.

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Citizens of Puerto Rico voted to join the US

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A referendum was held in Puerto Rico, which resulted in a majority of those who voted in favor of joining the United States. Archipelago Governor Ricardo Rossello promised that he would force Washington to «obey the will» of the Puerto Ricans. At the same time, the past plebiscite caused skepticism even in the ranks of the Puerto Rico authorities and may remain unanswered by the White House and the US Congress.

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Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello promised to make his public entity the 51st US state. The politician stated this after the June 11 referendum among Puerto Ricans on joining the United States. Puerto Rico has the status of an «unincorporated organized territory» (is administered by the United States, but is not an integral part of them).

Note that accession to the United States was approved by the majority of those who voted. However, in general, this plebiscite has absolutely no legal force in relation to the States themselves and, with a greater degree of probability, will remain without any response from Washington at all.

Also, the legitimacy of the past vote is also called into question by the low turnout — 23% of the total number of residents with the right to vote. Nevertheless, in a speech in San Juan’s central square, where several hundred of his supporters cheered the results of the referendum by waving US flags, Rossello said he would soon set up a commission to appoint two senators and five representatives who would «demand statehood from the US Congress.» .

According to the plan of the head of Puerto Rico, Washington must approve the change in the political status of the archipelago. «The United States of America will have to obey the will of our people!» Rossello said.

More than 500,000 people voted for full-fledged entry into the United States, 7,600 people for free association or independence, and 6,700 people for maintaining the current status of Puerto Rico, reports the Associated Press.

In addition, Rossello noted that the referendum was a democratic process in which majority opinion prevailed. He also said that when Wisconsin and Hawaii were part of the US, participation rates in those referendums ranged from 7% to 35%.

Puerto Rico’s three main political parties boycotted the referendum, which they called a failure. Former Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who did not seek re-election last year, also dismissed Sunday’s vote as fake.

Over the past few years, nearly half a million Puerto Ricans (a seventh of the country’s total population) have fled to the US mainland to escape a 10-year recession and a 12 percent unemployment rate.

Those who stayed in the archipelago faced new taxes and higher utility bills. For example, food costs 22% more in Puerto Rico than in the US mainland, and government services are 64% more expensive. A month earlier, it was reported that at least 184 schools were closing in Puerto Rico due to the economic crisis. This was told by the head of the Department of Education Yolanda Rosali. According to her, by the beginning of summer, more than 27,000 schoolchildren will be transferred to other educational institutions.

However, the problems of the archipelago are not exhausted by the economic crisis. No less a difficulty for the country is the gigantic drug trafficking. So, in November 2016, US law enforcement agencies seized a shipment of cocaine weighing 1.78 tons in Puerto Rico, the largest in the history of the archipelago. According to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, large batches of employees were detained on boats near the islands. The total amount of narcotic substances is estimated at $45 million.

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A drug interception operation also took place at the home of one of the suspects near the city of San Juan. Seven people were arrested in the case, all Dominicans, four of whom were detained in Puerto Rico. $30,000 in cash and firearms were seized from the caches. According to the investigation, the drugs were delivered to Puerto Rico, which continues to be the zone through which the potion enters the United States.

In May 2016, Puerto Rico authorities announced they were suspending the payment of a portion of the $422 million public debt following the unsuccessful conclusion of negotiations on the possibility of easing the economic crisis in the country. At the same time, Puerto Rico officially applied to the district court of San Juan, the main city of the island, with a request to protect it from creditors. In other words, the procedure for bankruptcy of an island in the Caribbean has begun.

It is noteworthy that the bankruptcy of the archipelago was discussed immediately after the ex-Minister of Finance of Ukraine Natalia Yaresko received the post of executive director of the financial management and control board of Puerto Rico.

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