Is Puerto Rico Part of the U.S.? A Complicated Relationship

is puerto rico part of the united states

While most people are familiar with Puerto Rico, many are confused about whether it’s a country, state, territory, or commonwealth. Is Puerto Rico part of the United States of America? Yes, but it’s a complicated relationship.

Puerto Rico Introduction

Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico is an archipelago (an island grouping) in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, about 1,000 miles from Miami, Florida, between the Dominican Republic and the Us Virgin Islands.

The island is home to about 3.2 million, primarily Spanish-speaking residents, with nearly 336,000 residing in San Juan, the capital city. Known for its abundance of gorgeous beaches, Puerto Rico is also a popular Caribbean vacation hub.

A Brief History

Before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1493 and “claimed” the island for Spain, its population was composed of the Native Taino people. A short while after Columbus’ “discovery,” Juan Ponce de Leon founded the first European settlement, beginning the Spanish colonial rule over the island.

Despite several independence movements and uprisings, the Spanish maintained control of Puerto Rico until the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Is Puerto Rico Part of the United States?

Part of the United States

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While Puerto Rico is neither an independent country nor a state, it is part of the United States of America. Although technically a constitutional “commonwealth,” Puerto Rico is treated as a U.S. unincorporated territory.

Essentially Puerto Rico functions with self-governance, but the U.S. Congress holds the power to overrule its decisions. Moreover, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens free to reside and work in all 50 states.

What Is Puerto Rico’s Government?

Based on the American model, Puerto Rico has three branches of government: a governor, a bicameral legislature (composed of a senate and a house of representatives), and a judicial branch containing a supreme court.

However, all powers are subject to the sovereignty of the U.S. government and military. Furthermore, Puerto Rico lacks the complete protection of the U.S. Constitution, with citizens only guaranteed “fundamental” rights of the federal document.

Why Is Puerto Rico Part of the United States?


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Incentivized by lucrative sugar crops and naval strategy, the United States invaded and occupied Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War on July 25th, 1898. Shortly afterward, Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, ceding Puerto Rico to the United States of America which then annexed Puerto Rico under the U.S. congressional doctrine of territorial incorporation.

In 1917 the Jones Act granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship, and in 1950, Congress passed legislation allowing Puerto Rico to write its own constitution, leading to its commonwealth status in 1952.

What Is the Current Relationship Between Puerto Rico and the United States?

The circumstances and details of the United States’ current and future relationship with Puerto Rico remain an ongoing debate among politicians and scholars. Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria have exacerbated concerns and a call for action.

One primary issue is the lack of representation provided by the colonial model for territories, with Puerto Rican citizens having no voting rights for U.S. federal representation despite being subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. While citizens expressed divided opinions, in late 2020, 52% of Puerto Rican voters responded in favor of Puerto Rico gaining statehood.

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