Puerto Rico, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, literally the Free Associated State of Puerto Rico), is a United States territory located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic, and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico is an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands, the largest of which are Vieques, Culebra, and Mona. The main island of Puerto Rico is, by land area, the smallest of the Greater Antilles. With around 3.5 million people, it ranks third in population among that group of four islands, which include Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaica. The capital and largest city is San Juan. Due to its location, Puerto Rico has a tropical climate with warm weather year-round and does not observe daylight saving time. Its official languages are Spanish, which is prevalent, and English.
Originally populated for centuries by aboriginal people known as Taíno, the island was claimed by Christopher Columbus for Spain during his second voyage to the Americas on November 19, 1493. Like Cuba, Puerto Rico remained a Spanish colony until 1898. Despite the Laws of Burgos of 1512 and other decrees for the protection of Indians, some Taíno people were forced into slavery in the early years of colonization. The population suffered extremely high fatalities from epidemics of European infectious diseases.
During the four centuries of Spanish rule, the island’s culture and physical landscape were transformed. European knowledge, customs and traditions were introduced, namely Roman Catholicism, the Spanish language, and advances such as agriculture, construction in stone, and the printing press. Numerous public buildings, forts, churches and public infrastructure built during Spanish rule are still standing to this day, forming an indelible part of the island’s cultural heritage.
Regular convoys of the West Indies Fleet linked the island to Spain, sailing from Cádiz to the Spanish West Indies every year. From the start of Puerto Rico’s colonization by Spain in 1508, its inhabitants were Spanish citizens, and it remained Spanish territory despite invasion attempts by the French, Dutch, and the British. On November 25, 1897, Spain granted limited self-government to the island by royal decree in the Autonomic Charter, including a bicameral legislature. But in 1898, Spain ceded its control of the island to United States following the Spanish–American War, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
Today, people born in Puerto Rico are natural-born U.S. citizens. The territory operates under a local constitution, and Puerto Ricans elect their own governor. However, Puerto Rico lacks voting members in Congress and is subject to the plenary jurisdiction of the United States under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950. As of 2015, Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory, although a 2012 referendum showed a majority (54% of the electorate) in favor of a change in status, with full statehood the preferred option.