Puerto Rico profile - Overview
- 30 June 2015
- From the section US & Canada
Hispanic, Afro-Caribbean and North American influences meld in Puerto Rico, a self-governing commonwealth that belongs to the United States.
The tropical Caribbean territory is urbanised, industrialised and relatively prosperous.
The US invaded and occupied Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War of 1898, ending centuries of rule from Spain. The US saw the island as a strategic asset and ran it as a colonial protectorate.
Under American administration Puerto Rico saw growth and development. But nationalist sentiment sometimes spilled over into violence, notably in the 1930s and 1940s. Nationalists staged an armed attack in the US Congress in 1954.
A series of bombings and killings in the 1970s and 1980s were blamed on a pro-independence group, the Macheteros, or Cane Cutters. The group's fugitive leader was killed by federal agents in 2005.
In a November 2012 non-binding referendum for full membership of the United States, 66% of voters favoured statehood, against 33% for a sovereign free association with the US, and 5% for independence.
Any constitutional change requires approval by the US Congress and president. President Barack Obama has already indicated that he will respect the Puerto Rican decision, and has called on Congress to take steps in that direction.
Puerto Rican voters, who elect a governor for the island, have tended to favour parties that support the union with the US. Puerto Ricans do not pay US income tax, and the island receives federal funds.
There is an established cycle of migration between Puerto Rico and the US; hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have lived and worked in New York and other cities.
The once substantial US military presence has been scaled down with the closures of a major naval base and a bombing range. Rancour over the latter grew after a civilian employee was killed by a stray bomb.
Explorer Christopher Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain in 1493, heralding an influx of Spanish settlers. The newcomers, and the diseases they brought with them, decimated the territory's Taino indian population.
The main settlement, San Juan, became an important Spanish outpost. Slaves were brought to the island in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Puerto Rico's landscape is varied, and includes rainforests in the north-east. The territory is prone to hurricanes.
Tourism is an important money-earner; the island receives millions of visitors each year and is a port-of-call for cruise liners.
But the economy has serious structural problems, with far lower incomes, higher unemployment and larger public sector than elsewhere in the US.
The expiry of a federal tax break for corporate income in 2006 left the island mired in a lasting recession and saddled with a large public debt amounting to $72bn in 2015, which the territory is finding difficult to repay.