Here’s a look at the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a self-governing US territory located in the Caribbean.
About Puerto Rico
(from the CIA World Factbook)
Area: 9,104 sq km
Population: 3,098,423 (2022 est.)
Median age: 43.6 years
Capital: San Juan
Religion: Roman Catholic 56%, Protestant 33%, other 3%, none 7%
Unemployment: 10.8% (2017 est.)
The people of Puerto Rico are US citizens. They vote in US presidential primaries, but not in presidential elections.
First named San Juan Bautista by Christopher Columbus.
The governor is elected by popular vote with no term limits.
Jenniffer González has been the resident commissioner since January 3, 2017. The commissioner serves in the US House of Representatives, but has no vote, except in committees. Gonzalez is the first woman to hold this position.
It is made up of 78 municipalities.
Over 40% of the population lives in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.
Puerto Ricans have voted in six referendums on the issue of statehood, in 1967, 1993, 1998, 2012, 2017 and 2020. The 2012 referendum was the first time the popular vote swung in statehood’s favor. Since these votes were nonbinding, no action had to be taken, and none was. Ultimately, however, Congress must pass a law admitting them to the union.
In addition to becoming a state, options for Puerto Rico’s future status include remaining a commonwealth, entering “free association” or becoming an independent nation. “Free association” is an official affiliation with the United States where Puerto Rico would still receive military assistance and funding.
1493-1898 - Puerto Rico is a Spanish colony.
July 25, 1898 - During the Spanish-American War, the United States invades Puerto Rico.
December 10, 1898 - With the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Spain cedes Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. The island is named “Porto Rico” in the treaty.
April 12, 1900 - President William McKinley signs the Foraker Act into law. It designates the island an “unorganized territory,” and allows for one delegate from Puerto Rico to the US House of Representatives with no voting power.
March 2, 1917 - President Woodrow Wilson signs the Jones Act into law, granting the people of Puerto Rico US citizenship.
May 1932 - Legislation changes the name of the island back to Puerto Rico.
November 1948 - The first popularly elected governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, is voted into office.
July 3, 1950 - President Harry S. Truman signs Public Law 600, giving Puerto Ricans the right to draft their own constitution.
October 1950 - In protest of Public Law 600, Puerto Rican nationalists lead armed uprisings in several Puerto Rican towns.
November 1, 1950 - Puerto Rican nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola attempt to shoot their way into Blair House, where President Truman is living while the White House is being renovated. Torresola is killed by police; Collazo is arrested and sent to prison.
June 4, 1951 - In a plebiscite vote, more than three-quarters of Puerto Rican voters approve Public Law 600.
March 3, 1952 - Puerto Ricans vote in favor of the constitution.
July 25, 1952 - Puerto Rico becomes a self-governing commonwealth as the constitution is put in place. This is also the anniversary of the United States invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.
March 1, 1954 - Five members of the House of Representatives are shot on the House floor; Alvin Bentley, (R-MI), Ben Jensen (R-IA), Clifford Davis (D-TN), George Fallon (D-MD) and Kenneth Roberts (D-AL). Four Puerto Rican nationalists, Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero and Irving Flores Rodriguez, are arrested and sent to prison. President Jimmy Carter grants Cordero clemency in 1977 and commutes all four of their sentences in 1979.
July 23, 1967 - Commonwealth status is upheld via a status plebiscite.
1970 - The resident commissioner gains the right to vote in committee via an amendment to the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970.
September 18, 1989 - Hurricane Hugo hits the island as a Category 4 hurricane causing more than $1 billion in property damages.
November 14, 1993 - Commonwealth status is upheld via a plebiscite.
September 21, 1998 - Hurricane Georges hits the island causing an estimated $1.75 billion in damage.
November 6, 2012 - Puerto Ricans vote for statehood via a status plebiscite. The results are deemed inconclusive.
August 3, 2015 - Puerto Rico defaults on its monthly debt for the first time in its history, paying only $628,000 toward a $58 million debt.
January 4, 2016 - Puerto Rico defaults on its debt for the second time.
May 2, 2016 - Puerto Rico defaults on a $422 million debt payment.
June 30, 2016 - President Barack Obama signs the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), a bill that establishes a seven-member board to oversee the commonwealth’s finances. The following day Puerto Rico defaults on its debt payment.
January 4, 2017 - The Puerto Rico Admission Act is introduced to Congress by Rep. Gonzalez.
May 3, 2017 - Puerto Rico files for bankruptcy. It is the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history.
June 5, 2017 - Puerto Rico declares its Zika epidemic is over. The Puerto Rico Department of Health has reported more than 40,000 confirmed cases of the Zika virus since the outbreak began in 2016.
June 11, 2017 - Puerto Ricans vote for statehood via a status plebiscite. Over 97% of the votes are in favor of statehood, but only 23% of eligible voters participate.
September 20, 2017 - Hurricane Maria makes landfall near Yabucoa in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane. It is the strongest storm to hit the island in 85 years. The energy grid is heavily damaged, with an island-wide power outage.
October 3, 2017 - President Donald Trump visits. The trip comes after mounting frustration with the federal response to the storm. Many residents remain without power and continue to struggle to get access to food and fuel nearly two weeks after the storm hit.
December 18, 2017 - Gov. Ricardo Rosselló orders a review of deaths related to Hurricane Maria as the number could be much higher than the officially reported number. The announcement from the island’s governor follows investigations from CNN and other news outlets that called into question the official death toll of 64.
January 30, 2018 - More than four months after Maria battered Puerto Rico, the Federal Emergency Management Agency tells CNN it is halting new shipments of food and water to the island. Distribution of its stockpiled 46 million liters of water and four million meals and snacks will continue. The agency believes that amount is sufficient until normalcy returns.
February 11, 2018 - An explosion and fire at a power substation causes a blackout in parts of northern Puerto Rico, according to authorities.
May 29, 2018 - According to an academic report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, an estimated 4,645 people died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath in Puerto Rico. The article’s authors call Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 64 a “substantial underestimate.”
August 8, 2018 - Puerto Rican officials say the death toll from Maria may be far higher than their official estimate of 64. In a report to Congress, the commonwealth’s government says documents show that 1,427 more deaths occurred in the four months after Hurricane Maria than “normal,” compared with deaths that occurred the previous four years. The 1,427 figure also appears in a report published July 9.
August 28, 2018 - The Puerto Rican government raises its official death toll from Maria to 2,975 after a report on storm fatalities is published by researchers at George Washington University. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a critic of the Trump administration, says local and federal government failed to provide needed aid. She says the botched recovery effort led to preventable deaths.
August 29, 2018 - Trump says the federal government’s response to the disaster was “fantastic.” He says problems with the island’s aging infrastructure created challenges for rescue workers.
September 4, 2018 - The US Government Accountability Office releases a report revealing that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was so overwhelmed with other storms by the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico that more than half of the workers it was deploying to disasters were known to be unqualified for the jobs they were doing in the field.
September 13, 2018 - In a tweet, Trump denies that nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He expresses skepticism about the death toll, suggesting that individuals who died of other causes were included in the hurricane count.
July 9, 2019 - Excerpts of profanity-laden, homophobic and misogynistic messages between Rosselló and members of his inner circle are published by local media.
July 10, 2019 - Six people, including Puerto Rico’s former education secretary and a former health insurance official, are indicted on corruption charges. The conspiracy allegedly involved directing millions of dollars in government contracts to politically-connected contractors.
July 11, 2019 - A series of protests begin in response to the leaked messages and the indictment, with calls for Rosselló to resign.
July 13, 2019 - The Center for Investigative Journalism publishes hundreds of leaked messages from Rosselló and other officials. Rosselló and members of his inner circle ridicule numerous politicians, members of the media and celebrities.
July 24, 2019 - Rosselló announces he will resign on August 2.
August 7, 2019 - Puerto Rico’s Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced is sworn in as the third governor Puerto Rico has had in less than a week. Earlier in the day, Rosselló’s handpicked successor, attorney Pedro Pierluisi’s August 2nd swearing-in is thrown out by the Supreme Court, on grounds he has not been confirmed by both chambers of the legislature.
September 27, 2019 - The federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances releases a plan that would cut the island’s debt by more than 60% and rescue it from bankruptcy. The plan targets bonds and other debt held by the government and will now go before a federal judge. The percentage of Puerto Rico’s taxpayer funds spent on debt payments will fall to less than 9%, compared to almost 30% before the restructuring.
December 28, 2019 - A sequence of earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or higher begin hitting Puerto Rico, including a 6.4 magnitude quake on January 7 that killed at least one man, destroyed homes and left most of the island without power.
November 3, 2020 - Puerto Ricans vote in favor of statehood.
January 2, 2021 - Pierluisi is sworn in as Puerto Rico’s governor.
April 21, 2022 - The Supreme Court rules that Congress can exclude residents of Puerto Rico from some federal disability benefits available to those who live in the 50 states.