Nation profile

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

General information
3,193,694 (2019 estimate)
9,104 km2
Legislative Assembly, Government, Supreme Court
Major cities
San Juán (capital), Bayamón, Carolina, Ponce
State administration
United States of America
Territorial languages
Official languages
Spanish (de facto)
Major religion
Roman Catholicism, Protestantism


Puerto Rico is a country and island, the smallest and easternmost of the Greater Antilles, located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. A former Spanish colony, it is currently a dependency of the United States Congress under a semi-autonomy system, the Commonwealth.

Originally inhabited by the Taino people, Puerto Rico was occupied by Spain between 1508 and 1509. Part of the Taino people were enslaved as per the encomienda system. In 1511 the Spanish crushed a Taino revolt. Violence and diseases introduced by the Spaniards decimated the Taino population. The surviving Tainos assimilated into the European or African populations that had settled on the island.

During the colonial period, Puerto Rico was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Towards the end of the colonial period, the island’s strategic and economic importance increased in the eyes of the Spanish Empire, while Spanish loyalists from other American territories settled on the island during the Spanish American wars of independence. These factors helped keep Puerto Rico under Spanish rule. The island was first recognised as a Spanish province in 1809.

During the second half of the 19th century, pro-independence sentiments grew in Puerto Rico, a process symbolised by the Lares Revolt (1868), led by Ramón Emeterio Betances and crushed by the colonial authorities. In 1897, Antonio Mattei started a new independence revolt, the Intentona de Yauco, which was followed by the granting of a Statute of Autonomy.

In 1898, the United States invaded the island. Spain subsequently ceded Puerto Rico to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Despite granting it a system of limited autonomy in 1900, the United States established a colonial-like relationship with the island. In 1917 the US Congress granted US citizenship to Puerto Ricans.

Political and economic subordination, and poverty on the island, caused growing discontent with American rule, which led to several protests. In 1950, the US Congress gave the green light to the formation of a constitutional convention to change Puerto Rico’s status to that of a Commonwealth. The new status provided Puerto Rico with its own semi-autonomous institutions and a constitution approved in 1952, but kept the country as a Congress dependency.

Poverty drove a considerable part of the Puerto Rican population to emigrate to the United States, where they were hired as cheap labour. From the 1950s onwards, various US federal plans developed industry in Puerto Rico while providing subsidies to the majority of the population. As a result, the standard of living improved, but the Puerto Rican economy remained weak and dependent on the United States.


Spanish is the language spoken at home by 95% of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants, according to the 2010 census. English follows, as the home language of almost 5%. There are small minorities (about 1,000 people) of French and Chinese speakers. Only 20% of the population declare that they can speak English “very well”.

Although the Constitution of Puerto Rico makes no mention of an official language, in practice Puerto Rican institutions overwhelmingly use Spanish, including in the administration and education system.


In a political context of dependence on the United States, Puerto Rican identity is anchored in the use of the Spanish language and in a culture of its own where European, African, Indigenous and, more recently, American contributions converge.

Nationalist sectors have been promoting the idea of a Puerto Rican nation since the 19th century, which between 1920 and 1950 had one of its most prominent expressions in the movement led by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, which had a pro-independence and pro-Latin American orientation.

The repression against the nationalist movement and a certain margin of autonomy granted in 1952 made it easier for the proponents of the Puerto Rican identity to concentrate in its linguistic and cultural dimension, to the detriment of political aspects.

The peculiar Puerto Rican context —neither an independent country nor a US state, with features of a colonial relationship with this country but at the same time with US citizenship— has led to the formation of an identity in which some have seen “ambiguous” or “paradoxical” features, and which is made more complex by the geographical dispersion of the Puerto Rican people, between the Caribbean island, where 3.2 million people live, and the US diaspora, which outnumbers them with 5.8 million.

Politics and government

Puerto Rico is a partially self-governing entity, under the Commonwealth system. Although Puerto Rican institutions have broad powers to manage the island’s internal affairs, the United States remains in control of areas such as citizenship, immigration, defence, constitutionality of laws, telecommunications, social security, currency, borders, and foreign relations, among others.

The Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico is the legislative branch of the Puerto Rican government. It is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The executive branch is headed by the Governor, who is the head of government. The judicial branch consists of the island’s courts and is headed by the Chief Justice.

Since the 1960s Puerto Rico’s party system has been fairly stable, with two major parties sharing governments and most seats in the Legislative Assembly: the New Progressive Party (PNP, centre-right), which favours Puerto Rico’s accession to the US as its 51st state, and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, centre), which vows to maintain a status of association with the US without joining the union. Electoral support for each of the two parties has stood at 40% to 50% until the middle of the 2010 decade. The third party during this period has been pro-independence Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP, centre-left), with an electoral support ranging from 5% to 10%.

Since the mid-2010’s, support to political parties has diversified. The PNP and PPD have since received 30% to 45% of the votes each, while the PIP has remained stable. Two new parties have emerged: The Citizen’s Victory Movement (MVC, centre-left), which favours ending the colonial relationship with Washington and exercising the right to self-determination by convening a Puerto Rican Constitutional Assembly to decide between joining the USA, a new Commonwealth agreement, or full independence; and the Dignity Project (PD, right to far-right), which has no defined position on the status of the island and is strongly anchored to Christian conservatism.


Puerto Rico has voted six times (1963, 1993, 1998, 2012, 2017, and 2020) on its relationship with the United States. None of the votes have been recognised by the US federal authorities, and therefore all have been non-binding and, so far, inconclusive.

In the most recent plebiscite (3 November 2020), with a turnout of 52 percent, the option for joining the United States received 52.3 percent of the votes.
Governor: Pedro Pierluisi (elect, inaugurated in Jaunuary 2021), New Progressive Party
Distribution of seats in the House of Represntatives (51 members). November 2020 election:
Popular Democratic Party (PPD, centre) - 26
New Progressive Party (PNP, centre-right to right) - 21
Citizen’s Victory Movement (MVC, centre-left) - 2
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP, centre-left) - 1
Dignity Project (PD, right to far-right) - 1

(Last updated December 2020)