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Puerto Rico


Background Note: Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

BACKGROUND: Populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples, the island was claimed by the Spanish Crown in 1493 following COLUMBUS' second voyage to the Americas. In 1898, after 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. Popularly-elected governors have served since 1948. In 1952, a constitution was enacted providing for internal self government. In plebiscites held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose not to alter the existing political status.

ECONOMY: Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region. A diverse industrial sector has far surpassed agriculture as the primary locus of economic activity and income. Encouraged by duty-free access to the US and by tax incentives, US firms have invested heavily in Puerto Rico since the 1950s. US minimum wage laws apply. Sugar production has lost out to dairy production and other livestock products as the main source of income in the agricultural sector. Tourism has traditionally been an important source of income, with estimated arrivals of nearly 5 million tourists in 2004. Growth fell off in 2001-03, largely due to the slowdown in the US economy, recovered in 2004-05, but declined again in 2006-07.

TELEPHONE SYSTEMS: general assessment: modern system integrated with that of the US by high-capacity submarine cable and Intelsat with high-speed data capability
domestic: digital telephone system; cellular telephone service
international: country code - 1-787, 939; submarine cables provide connectivity to the US, Caribbean, Central and South America; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat



Puerto Rico is connected by a system of freeways, expressways, and highways, all maintained by the Highways and Transportation Authority and patrolled by the Police of Puerto Rico. The island's metropolitan area is served by a public bus transit system and a metro system called Tren Urbano (in English: Urban Train). Other forms of public transportation include sea-born ferries (that serve Puerto Rico's archipielago, composed of various substantially-populated islands) as well as "Carros Públicos" (Mini Bus), similar to jitney service on the United States.

The island's main airport, is located in Carolina, and serves the rest of the island as well as the Virgin Islands. The most recently renovated airport in the west of Puerto Rico is that of the former Ramey Military airbase in Aguadilla, Rafael Hernandez Airport, which has made it easier to explore the towns of the newly created tourism area known as "Porta del Sol." The main port of the island San Juan Port.

Various U.S. laws that govern the domestic and domestic-foreign-domestic transportation of merchandise and passengers by water between two points in the U.S. have been extended to Puerto Rico since the initial years of U.S.'s claim over the sovereignty of the island. For example, Jones Act of 1920 mandates that vessels that are U.S.-built, U.S.-crewed, U.S.-citizen owned and appropriately U.S.-documented by the Coast Guard must be used to transport any merchandise or persons shipped entirely or partly by water between U.S. points—directly or indirectly via foreign points. Strictly construed, the Jones Act refers only to Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (46 USC 883; 19 CFR 4.80 and 4.80(b)), which has come to bear the name of its original sponsor, Sen. Wesley L. Jones.

Another law, enacted in 1886, requires essentially the same standards for the transport of passengers between U.S. points, directly or indirectly transported through foreign ports or foreign points (46 App. USC 289; 19 CFR 4.80(a)). But, since the mid-1980s, as part of a joint effort between the cruise ship industry that serves Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican politicians such as then Resident Commissioner, U.S. non-voting Representative Baltasar Corrada del Río, obtained a limited-exception since no U.S. cruise ships that were Jones Act-eligible were participating in said market.

The application of these coastwise shipping laws and their imposition on Puerto Rico consist in a serious restriction of free trade and have been under scrutiny and controversy due to the apparent contradictory rhetoric involving the U.S. government's sponsorship of free trade policies around the world, while its own national shipping policy (Cabotage Law) is essentially mercantilist and based on notions foreign to free-trade principles.


Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

CIA World Factbook

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