Puerto Rico is a mountainous tropical island directly in the path of trade winds. These tropical conditions account for its tropical rain forest and tropical wet and dry climates. There is little difference from season to season in the energy received by the sun, and being near the equator the length of the day remains fairly constant throughout the year.
Puerto Rico is composed of one large island and several small islands. It is bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by the Virgin Passage (which separates it from the Virgin Islands), on the South by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the Mona Passage (which separates it from the Dominican Republic).
On November 19, 1493 Puerto Rico was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to claim lands for the rulers of Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
In 1493 the island was called Borinquen by the indians who lived there. Columbus named it San Juan Bautista. Later Spanish traders began calling the island Puerto Rico, which means “rich port”, and that name stuck.
One of the men who landed in Puerto Rico with Columbus was Juan Ponce de Leon. He was looking for the Fountain of Youth. In 1508 he founded the first Spanish settlement colony in Puerto Rico at a spot near where old San Juan is now located. The ruins are still preserved there.
Due to the close proximity of Puerto Rico and the United States, their association had its roots as early as the end of the eighteenth century. This was when the United States had recently won its independence from England and had a great interest in establishing sources of trade. Trade between Puerto Rico and the United States developed so quickly that the United States soon rivaled Spain in trade importance with the island.
On September 23, 1868 an army of Puerto Ricans proclaimed independence for the island from Spain in what is known as the Grito de Lares, but the army was quickly defeated by Spanish soldiers. In 1897 Puerto Rico was granted autonomy by Spain through the Charter of Autonomy, which gave governing power to an island government. However, the Spanish-American War of 1898 hardly gave autonomy time to develop. In July 1898 American troops landed in Puerto Rico, and the United States acquired Puerto Rico through the Treaty of Paris.
The island thus again reverted to colony status now under the military domination of the United States. Military control ended in April 1900 through the enactment of the Foraker Act which established free trade between the island and the United States, and placed Puerto Rico under the American monetary system and tariff provision. In 1917 the Jones Act replaced the Foraker Act, granting American citizenship to Puerto Ricans and providing them with protection under the Bill of Rights.
During the postwar World War II period American economic influence on the island grew tremendously, to the point where the United States essentially controlled the island’s economy. In 1947 the American government gave Puerto Rico the right to elect its own governor, Luis Munoz Marin became the first elected governor of Puerto Rico. In 1950 Puerto Rico was authorized by the United States Congress to draft its own constitution. Finally on July 25, 1953, Puerto Rico was transformed from an American territory to a commonwealth, a status it still retains.
Commonwealth status links Puerto Rico to the United States through common citizenship, common defense, common currency, and a common market. However, Puerto Ricans do not pay federal taxes, and are denied voting representation in the U. S. Congress. Almost without exception, the same federal rules and regulations apply to Puerto Rico as a commonwealth as to the States.