Puerto Rico: Commonwealth, Uncommon Beauty

Puerto Rico is located in the Caribbean Sea east of the Dominican Republic. The island is roughly rectangular in shape, about 100 miles wide and 35 miles north to south. Most of Puerto Rico is rugged and mountainous although the northern coastline boasts many impressive beaches.

Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World and Ponce de Leon (of “Fountain of Youth” fame) was its first governor. San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capitol, was established on the northern coast in 1521. The fortified port withstood many foreign assaults over nearly 400 years as the preeminent Spanish stronghold in the Caribbean. The distinctive architecture of the city’s seaside forts is a major tourist attraction today.

Puerto Rico became an American possession in 1898 along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam following the U. S. victory in the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted U. S. citizenship with full passport rights under the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917. The island has held a distinctive status as a “Commonwealth” of the United States since 1952.

Puerto Rico has made great strides economically since achieving Commonwealth status. The island’s people benefited by having the greenback as its currency and from congressionally sponsored industrialization programs. Today, Puerto Rico features a strong pharmaceutical industry and is a favored port of call for major cruise ship lines. A vibrant expatriate community in the United States resulting from extensive emigration in the 1950s and 1960s has been a strong influence on American pop culture.