Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth in association with
the United States. The chief of state is the President of the United
States of America. The head of government is an elected Governor. There
are two legislative chambers: the House of Representatives, 51 seats,
and the Senate, 27 seats.
Puerto Rico has authority over its internal affairs. United States
controls: interstate trade, foreign relations and commerce, customs
administration, control of air, land and sea, immigration and emigration,
nationality and citizenship, currency, maritime laws, military service,
military bases, army, navy and air force, declaration of war,
constitutionality of laws, jurisdictions and legal procedures, treaties,
radio and television–communications, agriculture, mining and minerals,
highways, postal system; Social Security, and other areas generally
controlled by the federal government in the United States. Puerto Rican
institutions control internal affairs unless U.S. law is involved, as in
matters of public health and pollution.
The major differences between Puerto Rico and the 50 states are
exemption from some aspects of the Internal Revenue Code, its lack of voting representation in either
house of the U.S. Congress (Senate and House of Representatives), the ineligibility of Puerto Ricans
residing on the island to vote in presidential elections, and its lack of assignation of some revenues
reserved for the states.
As noted, because Puerto Rico is a territory and not a State, Puerto Rico does not have
voting representation in Congress like the States. Since 1902, Congress has authorized Puerto
Rico to be represented in Washington, DC, by one Resident Commissioner (with voice, but no vote).
The Executive Power is exercised by the Governor, who leads a cabinet conformed by the heads of
the commonwealth’s executive departments, who in turn must be ratified by the Legislature.
The Governor is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (no term limits), which begins on the
second day of January after the year of his election and ends on the date his successor
In the case of the death, resignation, or removal, of the Governor, the Secretary of State of Puerto
Rico succeeds the Governor. In case the Secretary of State is unwilling or unable to assume
it, the Attorney General (or, as the position is known, the Justice Department Secretary) would assume the
governorship, followed by the Secretary of Treasury.
The Legislative Power resides in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
The Senate consists of 27 members, 2 per
electoral district (8), and
11 elected according to the different districts proportion of
population. Two extra seats are granted in each house to the opposition
if necessary to limit any party’s control to two thirds.
The House of Representatives consists of 51 members, one per electoral
district and 11 elected proportionally. Legislators are popularly elected
to four-year terms. The bicameral
legislature determines how to spend the island’s tax revenue. Unless
specifically stated, Puerto Rico is also subject to all laws and most
regulations of the U.S. government, which sometimes cause jurisdictional
problems. Most U.S. agencies are represented on the island.
The Judicial System is directed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court
is formed by 7 judges (a chief justice and six associate justices) named
by the Governor. The structure of the Judicial System includes a Court of
Appeals, Superior Court, a District Court (civil & criminal), and
Municipal Court. There are 12 judicial districts.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also has a district court comparable to
those of the states of US. Each district court has at least one district
judge and can have more than a score of district judges, as well as a
clerk, a United States Attorney, a United States Marshall, one or more
United States Magistrates, bankruptcy judges, probation officers,
court reporters, and their staffs.
The federal government, located in San Juan, is represented by 2
district judges and the procurator, who is named by the President of the
United States. The Federal Court has final authority of the ELA.
San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and the most
populous municipality in Puerto Rico, with a population of two
million. The city was founded in 1508, by Juan Ponce de León.
It is also Puerto Rico’s main port of entry and has one of the best harbors in the
None (Commonwealth associated with
the U.S.); there are no first-order administrative divisions as defined by
the U.S. Government, but Puerto Rico is divided into 78 “municipios” (municipalities). Each is governed by a popularly elected
mayor and municipal assembly. The mayor appoints a secretary-auditor and a
treasurer. Municipalities are further subdivided into barrios, and those into sectors.
A municipality (municipio) is an administrative local area
generally composed of a clearly defined territory and commonly referring to a
city, town, or village government. In Puerto Rico, a municipality is a city
and the government unit that is the primary legal subdivision; each
municipality has an elected mayor. However, the Census Bureau treats the
municipio as the statistical equivalent of a county.
Other territories include: Mona (5,517 hectares), Monito
(15 hectares), Desecheo (122 hectares), and
Caja de Muertos (202 hectares). Numerous other small cays lie offshore of Puerto Rico.
Mona and Monito are located between Puerto Rico and the
Dominican Republic. These small islands are considered the Galápagos
Islands of the Caribbean Sea. No other reef and offshore island
habitat within U.S. jurisdiction possesses such ecological uniqueness,
invaluable habitat, and biological diversity within such a reduced
surface area. For these reasons, Mona and Monito Islands have been
recognized by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as a Natural Reserve.
The islands are a critical habitat of endangered marine turtles,
sea birds and occasional migratory marine mammals.
San Juan, Bayamón, Carolina, Guaynabo, Trujillo Alto and Caguas.
On June 4, 1951, Puerto Rican voters approved in a referendum a U.S.
law that granted them the right to draft their own constitution. The
constituent assembly began its deliberations in the following September.
In March 1952 the electorate approved the new constitution, and on July
25 Governor Muñoz proclaimed the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Political Division: 8 senatorial districts, 40 representative
districts, 78 municipalities.
The major political parties are: Popular Democratic Party (PPD)
787-725-1992, which supports an enhanced commonwealth status. The New
Progressive Party (PNP) 787-721-1992, which supports full U.S. statehood
for the island. And the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) 787-782-1455
which supports the independence from the US.
Partido Popular Democratico (PPD) followers are known as “los populares“,
identified by color red. Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) followers are
known as “los penepes“, identified by color blue.
Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP) follorwers are known as
“los pipiolos“, identified by color green.
Other political groups are: Armed Forces for National
Liberation (FALN); Volunteers of the Puerto Rican Revolution; Boricua
Popular Army (also known as the Macheteros); and, Armed Forces of Popular
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
(Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico).
In 1493, during his second voyage, Christopher Columbus landed
in Puerto Rico. He named the island “San Juan Bautista”, in honor of John the Baptist. In 1508 the
Spanish government appointed Juan Ponce de
León the first governor of the island, under this command the original settlement was relocated to
a nearby coastal islet and named Puerto Rico (Rich Port). Sometime during the 1520s, confusion over the
names led to a switch, the island took the name of Puerto Rico and the town became San
associated with the US. The island’s
inhabitants possess all the rights and obligations of United States
citizens such as paying Social Security, receiving federal welfare and serving
in the armed forces, except for the right to vote in presidential
elections and the obligation to pay federal taxes.
The term “United States” when used in a geographical sense on official
documents, acts and/or laws; includes the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the
Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa.
Old San Juan
Photo: Magaly Rivera
The U.S. has twelve unincorporated territories, also known as
possessions, and two commonwealths. The major possessions are American
Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All of these have a non-voting
representative in the U.S. Congress. The major commonwealths are Puerto
Rico and the Northern Marianas. Commonwealths have their own constitutions
and greater autonomy than possessions, and Guam is currently in the
process of moving from the status of unincorporated territory to
commonwealth. The residents of all of these places are full U.S. citizens,
with the exception of those on American Samoa who are U.S. nationals, but
U.S. Commonwealths, Territories and include: American Samao (AS), Baker
Island*, Howland Island*, Guam (GU), Jarvis Island*, Johnston Atoll*, Kingman
Reef*, Midway Islands, Navassa Island*,
Palmyra Atoll*, Puerto Rico (PR), U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St.
John and St. Thomas) (VI), and Wake Island*.
Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the U.S. has been a continuing source of debate in
Puerto Rico, the United States Congress, and the United Nations. The issue revolves around whether Puerto
Rico should remain a U.S. territory, become a U.S. state, or become an independent
country. The debate has spawn several referendums, presidential executive orders and bills in the U.S.
Congress. Ultimately the U.S. Congress is the only one who can make decisions regarding the political
status of Puerto Rico, as stated under the Territorial Clause.
Although Puerto Rico is considered a territory of the United States, the island has its own Olympic
team and competes in the Miss Universe pageant as an independent nation.
Chief of State: President of the United States.
Head of Government: Governor, elected by the voters to a
Donald J. Trump
Michael R. Pence
Wanda Vazquez Garced
|President of the Senate||
Thomas Rivera Schatz
|Speaker of the House of Representatives||
Carlos Johnny Méndez
Other goverment officials
Government Form: Republican; executive, legislative, and judicial
Ruling Party: New Progressive Party (NPP)
Percentage of votes cast in last election:
|New Progressive Party (NPP)||47.7%|
|Popular Democratic Party (PDP)||47.1%|
|Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP)||2.5%|
|Working People’s Party of Puerto Rico(PPT)||1.0%|
|Movimiento Union Soberanista (MUS)||0.6%|
|Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPR)||0.4%|
House of Representatives Seats: (51 members)
Popular Democratic Party: 28 Seats
New Progressive Party: 23 Seats (2012)
Senate: (27 members)
Popular Democratic Party: 18 Seats
New Progressive Party: 8 Seats
Puerto Rican Independence Party: 1 Seat (2012)
Next Elections: November 3, 2020
Constitution: ratified 3 March
1952; approved by U.S. Congress 3 July 1952; effective 25 July 1952.
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal; Puerto Ricans are
U.S. citizens, but island residents do not vote in U.S. presidential elections.
Puerto Rico is considered one of the highest records of voter
participation in election processes in the world.
Turnout: 78% (2012)
During election year, automobile caravans are among the activities
planned for political mobilization and propaganda. People
gather in town squares to show their support for candidates
and parade through the cities to encourage others to vote.
Electoral Commission: Comisión Estatal de
Fiscal Year: 1 July – 30 June
Puerto Rican civil and commercial codes are fashioned after Spanish
models; penal, procedural, and public (including constitutional) law are
fashioned after U.S. models.
CARICOM (observer), ECLAC (associate), FAO
(associate), ICFTU, INTERPOL (sub-bureau), IOC, WCL, WFTU, WHO
(associate), WTO (associate).
U.S. Diplomatic Representation: none (commonwealth associated
with the US).
International disputes: None.
The defense of Puerto Rico has been the responsibility of the United States since 1898, as part of the
Treaty of Paris.
no regular indigenous military forces; paramilitary National Guard, Police Force
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually:
- male: 30,517
- female: 29,010 (2010 est.)
Military Facilities/Bases: There is currently only one active military installation
in Puerto Rico (and the Caribbean). Fort Buchanan is a U.S. Army Base located in Guaynabo, about 12 miles
south of downtown San Juan, in northern Puerto Rico. The base was established in 1923 in honor
of Coronel James A. Buchanan who was the commander of the 1st Puerto Rico U.S. Army unit, commonly known
as the Porto Rico Regiment. After defending the Panama Canal Zone in WW I, the regimen was officially
designated the 65th Infantry Regument.
Throughout the 20th century Puerto Rico had as many as 25 military installations. Most
installations have been deactivated and partially turned over to the local government. The largest
Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba (closed on March 21, 2004),
the Borinquen Coast Guard Air Station in Aguadilla,
the Puerto Rico Air National Guard at Muiz Air Force base in San Juan,
the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility (AFWTF) in Vieques
the U.S. Air Force Ramey Air Force Base, and
the National Guard training facility at Camp Santiago in Salinas.
Five equal horizontal bands of red (top and bottom)
alternating with white; a blue isosceles triangle based on the hoist side
bears a large white five-pointed star in the center; design based on the
In addition, each of the municipalites of Puerto Rico have
city flags that represent
what each city stands for.
National Holiday: November 19 (The Discovery of Puerto Rico
All U.S. government holidays are celebrated in Puerto
Rico. Additionally, there are nine local holidays, which
usually honor important leaders or events in the island’s
history. Government offices, banks, the post office and most stores are closed
on the official holidays.
National Hymn (Anthem): “La
The national hymn reflects the character of the people very
accurately. The air, “La Borinqueña “, recalls the
island’s Indian past. It was originally a dance measure. Now in a slower
tone, and the orchestration of Ramón Collado, the Puerto Rican
anthem has a gracious, melancholic tone, agreeably free of the
bombast that often characterizes national anthem.
National Bird: Reina Mora
Spindalis portoricensis (formerly called the Stripe-headed
Tanager (Spyndalis zena portoricensis))
National Flower: Flor de Maga
Puerto Rican hibiscus
(Thespesia grandiflora; Maga grandiflora; Montezuma)
National Tree: Ceiba
Silk-cotton tree (ceiba pentandra)
While the coqui – a tiny frog found everywhere
in the island- is only an “unofficial national symbol”, its image figures
prominently in Puerto Rican culture and heritage.
National Instrument: Puerto Rican Cuatro
The Puerto Rican cuatro is a plucked 10-string instrument with a neck.
The word cuatro means “four”, which was the total number of strings of the earliest Puerto Rican instrument.
When Puerto Ricans want to express their nationality, they say: Soy de aquí
como el coquí (I’m as Puerto Rican as a coquí).
Motto: Joannes Est Nomen Eius (John is his name)
Tourism Motto: Puerto Rico lo hace mejor! (Puerto Rico does it