Puerto Rico was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. It was the main stronghold of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean during the first years of the colonization of the Americas.
As the Spanish government became more liberal at home, its policies in the New World also became more liberal. Early in the 19th century Puerto Rico sent its first representative to the Spanish Cortes, Ramón Power y Giralt[?]. Power was an outstanding speaker, and he achieved important improvements in internal government and trade regulations for Puerto Rico. But when politics in Spain went back to absolutism, some of the old repressive policies were again imposed on the Spanish colonies.
There was a desire for freedom in Puerto Rico, too, but with two distinguishing characteristics. Puerto Ricans wanted change but rejected violence. There was never a revolution on the island; the only attempted uprising, in 1868 in the small mountain town of Lares, collapsed almost immediately because of lack of support from the people. The second difference was that Puerto Ricans wanted freedom but not independence from Spain. The Puerto Rican goal was to achieve personal freedom, the abolition of slavery, and full self-government, but without breaking the bonds with Spain. Champions of this autonomist movement were such political leaders as Ramon Baldorioty de Castro, and towards the end of the century, Luis Muñoz Rivera[?]. Finally, in 1897, Muñoz Rivera got a liberal Spanish government to agree to an Autonomic Charter for the island. The following year Puerto Rico's first autonomous government was organized with Muñoz Rivera as leader. But there was to occur, within a year, an abrupt and unexpected change in the entire course of Puerto Rican history.
Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States in the Spanish-American War, after Spain was forced to cede Puerto Rico to the victorious Americans under the Treaty of Paris (1898). Strangely enough, the Americans were welcomed warmly by the Puerto Rican people, who saw in the United States flag a symbol of freedom and prosperity. Under the new sovereignty, however, Puerto Rico reverted back to a purely colonial government. Its local government is now based on a constitution adopted in 1952 after approval by the US Congress which maintains ultimate sovereignty, without any Puerto Rican voting representation. Puerto Rico has an elected resident commissioner, who sits in Congress, and has voice but cannot vote.
Under this constitution, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth governed by the United States. Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917, and as such are free to live anywhere in the United States; similarly, all Americans have the right to migrate to Puerto Rico. However, residents of the island have no voting representation in Congress, do not vote for president, and pay no federal income tax. Spanish is the primary language on Puerto Rico; estimates are that less than a quarter of the population is fully bilingual in English and Spanish. When asked to choose between independence, statehood, or continuation of the present status, Puerto Ricans have voted to remain a commonwealth.
The economic conditions in Puerto Rico have improved dramatically since the Great Depression due to external investment in capital-intensive industry such as petrochemicals and computers. Once the beneficiary of special tax treatment from the US government, today local industries must compete with those in more economically depressed parts of the world where wages are not subject to US minimum wage legislation.
The people of Puerto Rico are of diverse racial and national origins, mostly European and African. The most obvious are those descended from the families established by the colonizing Spaniards who mainly came from Southern Spain and the Canary Islands. During the early period of colonization, there was some mixture between Spaniards and the native Tainos, but the Indian population was soon wiped out. African slaves were imported to the island and today there are many Puerto Ricans with visible Negro strains. Later, Corsican and French immigrants arrived along with numerous Spanish loyalists from Spain's former colonies in South America. Other settlers have included Irish, Russian and Chinese immigrants, and in recent times other Latin American immigrants.
Modified heavily from original text, taken from the CIA World Factbook 2000.