Puerto Rico ( or ; ), officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (literally the Associated Free State of Puerto Rico), is an unincorporated territory of the United States, 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 3.6 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 and is subject to hot weather all-year-round. The national language is Spanish but English is recognized as an official language as well.
Originally populated for centuries by the 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 peoples 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 Christianity, the Spanish language, and advances of European civilization such as agriculture, construction in stone, and new technologies such as the clock and the printing press. Numerous public buildings, forts, churches and public infrastructure were built during Spanish colonization, including ports, roads and lighthouses, many of which survive to this day. For over three centuries the island was linked to Spain through regular convoys of the West Indies Fleet, which sailed from Cádiz to the Spanish West Indies every year. Since the beginning of Puerto Rico's colonization by Spain in 1508, the inhabitants of Puerto Rico were Spanish citizens. For over 400 years, Puerto Rico remained Spanish territory despite attempts to capture the island by the French, Dutch, and the British.
On November 25, 1897, Spain's central government in Madrid granted the island the Autonomic Charter, giving the Province of Puerto Rico more sovereignty over its local affairs. Thus, Puerto Rico became an overseas autonomous province in full equality with the other provinces of the Spanish nation. But in 1898, Spain was forced by the United States to cede the island following the Spanish–American War, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
In 1917, the U.S. granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans. In 1948, Puerto Ricans were given the right to elect their own governor. In 1952, under request by the United States, a local territorial constitution was adopted and ratified by the electorate. Under the tenets of the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act, residents of the island are still subject to the plenary jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. As of 2014, 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.