As of January 1988, US dependencies, in addition to those listed below, included American Samoa, Guam, Midway, Wake Island, and the Northern Mariana Islands; see the Asia volume. Sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone was transferred to Panama on 1 October 1979; the canal itself reverted to Panamanian control until 31 December 1999.
Navassa, a 5-sq-km (2-sq-mi) island between Jamaica and Haiti, was claimed by the United States under the Guano Act of 1856. The island, located at 18°2´ N and 75°1´ W , is uninhabited except for a lighthouse station under the administration of the coast guard.
Puerto Rico—total area 9,104 sq km (3,515 sq mi)—is the smallest and most easterly of the Greater Antilles, which screen the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic proper. It lies between 17°51′ and 18°31′ N and 65°13′ and 67°56′ W , being separated from the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola to the w by the Mona Passage, 121 km (75 mi) wide, and from the Virgin Islands on the E by Vieques Sound and the Virgin Passage. Roughly rectangular, the main island of Puerto Rico extends 179 km (111 mi) E – W and 58 km (36 mi) N – S . It is crossed from east to west by mountain ranges, the most prominent being the Cordillera Central, rising to nearly 1,338 m (4,390 ft). The coastal plain is about 24 km (15 mi) wide at its broadest point, and approximately one-third of the island's land is arable. About 50 short rivers flow rapidly to the sea. Islands off the coast include Mona and Desecheo to the W and Vieques and Culebra to the E . The mildly tropical climate is moderated by the surrounding sea, and seasonal variations are slight. The prevailing winds are the northeast trades. In San Juan on the northern coast, mean temperatures range from 24° C (75 ° F ) for January to 27° C (81 ° F ) for July. Mean annual rainfall varies from 91 cm (36 in) on the south coast to 152 cm (60 in) in San Juan and may total more than 457 cm (180 in) on the northern mountain slopes in the interior. Tropical fruits and other vegetation abound. As of 1991, endangered species on the island included the Puerto Rican plain pigeon, Puerto Rican parrot, Puerto Rican boa, giant anole, and hawksbill, leatherback, olive ridley, and green sea turtles.
The population was estimated at 3,957,988 in 2002. San Juan, the capital, had an estimated population of 422,000, with a metropolitan area of more than 1 million. The population has more than doubled since 1930, despite extensive migration to the US mainland. Improved economic conditions on the island and diminishing opportunities in the United States had slowed the trend by 1970; net out-migration was -2.12 migrants per 1000 population in 2001. Thousands of Puerto Ricans commute annually between Puerto Rico and the United States.
Puerto Ricans are of Spanish descent (80%), black (8%), or mixed ancestry (10%). Nearly all of the Amerindian inhabitants (about 0.4% of the population in 2002) were exterminated in the 16th century. Spanish is the official language, but many Puerto Ricans also speak English, which is required as a second language in the schools. The Roman Catholic religion is predominant (85%), but evangelical Protestant sects also have wide followings.
San Juan is the busiest commercial air center in the Caribbean, and there is excellent air service to New York, Miami, other points in the Caribbean, and Latin America. More than 40 steamship companies provide overseas freight and passenger service; San Juan, Ponce, and Mayagüez are the principal ports. In 1998 there were 14,400 km (9,020 mi) of paved highway; trucks carry the bulk of overland freight.
Archaeological finds indicate that at least three Amerindian cultures settled on the island now known as Puerto Rico, long before its European discovery by Christopher Columbus on 19 November 1493. The first group, belonging to the Archaic Culture, are believed to have come from Florida. Having no knowledge of agriculture or pottery, they relied on the products of the sea; their remains have been found mostly in caves. The second group, the Igneri, came from northern South America. Descended from South American Arawak stock, the Igneri brought agriculture and pottery to the island; their remains are found mostly in the coastal areas. The third culture, the Taíno, also of Arawak origin, combined fishing with agriculture. A peaceful, sedentary tribe, the Taíno were adept at stonework and lived in many parts of the island; to these Amerindians, the island was known as Borinquén.
Columbus, accompanied by a young nobleman named Juan Ponce de León, landed at the western end of the island—which he called San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist)—and claimed it for Spain. Not until colonization was well under way would the island acquire the name Puerto Rico ("rich port"), with the name San Juan Bautista applied to the capital city. The first settlers arrived on 12 August 1508, under the able leadership of Ponce de León, who sought to transplant and adapt Spanish civilization to Puerto Rico's tropical habitat. The small contingent of Spaniards compelled the Taíno, numbering perhaps 30,000, to mine for gold; the rigors of forced labor and the losses from rebellion reduced the Taíno population to about 4,000 by 1514, by which time the mines were nearly depleted. With the introduction of slaves from Africa, sugarcane growing became the leading economic activity.
Puerto Rico was briefly held by the English in 1598, and San Juan was besieged by the Dutch in 1625; otherwise, Spanish rule continued until the latter part of the 19th century. The island was captured by US forces during the Spanish-American War, and under the Treaty of Paris (December 1898) Puerto Rico was ceded outright to the United States. It remained under direct military rule until 1900, when the US Congress established an administration with a governor and an executive council, appointed by the US president, and a popularly elected House of Delegates. In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship.
In 1947, Congress provided for popular election of the governor, and in 1948, Luis Muñoz Marín was elected to that office. A congressional act of 1950, affirmed by popular vote in the island on 4 June 1951, granted Puerto Rico the right to draft its own constitution. The constitution was ratified by popular referendum on 3 March 1952. Puerto Rico's new status as a free commonwealth voluntarily associated with the United States became effective on 25 July. The commonwealth status was upheld in a plebiscite in 1967, with 60.5% voting for continuation of the commonwealth and 38.9% for Puerto Rican statehood. In 1993 the plebiscite vote drew nearly 1.7 million voters or 73.6% of those eligible. The voters choose to keep the commonwealth status 48.4% to 46.2% for statehood, and 4.4% for independence.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico enjoys almost complete internal autonomy. The chief executive is the governor, elected by popular vote to a four-year term. The legislature consists of a 28-member Senate and 51-member House of Representatives elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The Supreme Court and lower courts are tied in with the US federal judiciary, and appeals from Puerto Rican courts may be carried as far as the US Supreme Court.
The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) was the dominant political party until 1968, when Luis A. Ferré, a New Progressive Party (NPP) candidate, who had supported the statehood position in the 1967 plebiscite, won the governorship. The NPP also won control of the House, while the PDP retained the Senate. The PDP returned to power in 1972 but lost to the NPP in 1976 and again, by a very narrow margin, in 1980; in 1984, it took roughly two-to-one majorities in both houses. The pro-commonwealth PDP remained in control of the government in every election from 1984–92, when Pedro Rosselló, a New Progressive and supporter of statehood, was elected governor; Roselló was reelected in 1996. In the November 2000 election, Sila M. Calderon of the PDP was elected governor. There is a small but vocal independence movement, divided into two wings: the moderates, favoring social democracy, and the radicals, supporting close ties with the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. Puerto Rico elects a commissioner to serve a four-year term as a nonvoting member of the US House of Representatives. In November 2000, PPD candidate Anibal Acevedo-Vila was elected commissioner from Puerto Rico.
For more than 400 years, the island's economy was based almost exclusively on sugar. Since 1947, agriculture has been diversified, and a thriving manufacturing industry has been established; since 1956 there has been increasing emphasis on hotel building to encourage the expansion of the tourist industry. By 2000, the gross domestic product (GDP) reached $43.9 billion, up from $15.8 billion in 1986. The leading industrial
products were pharmaceuticals, electronics, apparel, food products, and tourism. Sugar processing, once the dominant industry, now plays a lesser role. In 1952, there were only 82 labor-intensive plants on the island. By 1990 there were 2,000 plants—most capital intensive—in Puerto Rico.
US taxes do not apply in Puerto Rico, since the commonwealth is not represented in Congress. New or expanding manufacturing and hotel enterprises are granted exemptions of varying lengths and degrees from income taxes and municipal levies. In 1940, when annual income per capita was $118, agricultural workers made as little as 6 cents an hour, and the illiteracy rate was 70%. By 2001, per capita GDP was $11,200, and illiteracy had declined to just 11% (estimated to be slightly higher for females).
In 2000, Puerto Rico's exports totaled $38.5 billion, imports totaled $27 billion. In 1999, an estimated 5 million tourists visited Puerto Rico.
In 1995/96, 621,370 pupils were enrolled in public schools. Enrollment in the 14 institutions of higher education was 156,439 in 1994/95; the main state-supported university is the University of Puerto Rico, with its main campus at Rico Piedras. Other institutions of higher learning are the Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, and the Inter-American University with campuses at Hato Rey, San Germán, and elsewhere.
In 1997, there were 1.322 million main telephone lines on the island; in 1996, there were 169,265 mobile cellular telephone lines. As of 1998, 89 radio stations (72 AM, 17 FM) were operation. In 1997, there were 18 television stations, 6 cable television service companies, and 3 stations of the US Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. The two largest Spanish-language daily newspapers, both from San Juan, are El Vocero de Puerto Rico (259,000 daily circulation in 2002), and El Nuevo Día (227,000). Publishing in English is The San Juan Star (daily circulation 76,873).
The Virgin Islands of the United States lie about 64 km (40 mi) n of Puerto Rico and 1,600 km (1,000 mi) SSE of Miami, between 17°40′ and 18°25′ N and 64°34′ and 65°3′ N . The island group extends 82 km (51 mi) N – S and 80 km (50 mi) E – W with a total area of at least 353 sq km (136 sq mi). Only 3 of the more than 50 islands and cays are of significant size: St. Croix, 218 sq km (84 sq mi) in area; St. Thomas, 83 sq km (32 sq mi); and St. John, 52 sq km (20 sq mi). The territorial capital, Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas, has one of the finest harbors in the Caribbean.
St. Croix is relatively flat, with a terrain suitable for sugarcane cultivation. St. Thomas is mountainous and little cultivated, but it has many snug harbors. St. John, also mountainous, has fine beaches and lush vegetation; about two-thirds of St. John's area has been declared a national park. The subtropical climate, with temperatures ranging from 21° to 32° C (70–90 ° F ) and an average temperature of 25° C (77° F ), is moderated by northeast trade winds. Rainfall, the main source of fresh water, varies widely, and severe droughts are frequent. The average yearly rainfall is 114 cm (45 in), mostly during the summer months.
The population of the US Virgin Islands was estimated at 123,498 in 2002, up from 96,569 at the time of the 1980 census. St. Croix has two principal towns: Christiansted and Frederiksted. Economic development has brought an influx of new residents, mainly from Puerto Rico, other Caribbean islands, and the US mainland. Most of the permanent inhabitants are descendants of slaves who were brought from Africa in the early days of Danish rule, and about 80% of the population is black. English is the official and most widely spoken language.
Some of the oldest religious congregations in the Western Hemisphere are located in the Virgin Islands. A Jewish synagogue there is the second-oldest in the New World, and the Lutheran Congregation of St. Thomas, founded in 1666, is one of the three oldest congregations in the United States. As of 1999, Baptists made up an estimated 42% of the population, Roman Catholics 34%, and Episcopalians 17%.
In 2000 there were 856 km (531.6 mi) of roads in the US Virgin Islands; the road of the US Virgin Islands are the only US roads where driving is done of the left side of the road. Cargo-shipping services operate from Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Miami via Puerto Rico. In addition, weekly shipping service is available from Miami. Both St. Croix and St. Thomas have airports, with St. Croix's facility handling the larger number of jet flights from the continental United States and Europe.
Excavations at St. Croix in the 1970s uncovered evidence of a civilization perhaps as ancient as AD 100. Christopher Columbus, who reached the islands in 1493, named them for the martyred virgin St. Ursula. At this time, St. Croix was inhabited by Carib Indians, who were eventually driven from the island by Spanish soldiers in 1555. During the 17th century, the archipelago was divided into two territorial units, one controlled by the British, the other (now the US Virgin Islands) controlled by Denmark. The separate history of the latter unit began with the settlement of St. Thomas by the Danish West India Company in 1672. St. John was claimed by the company in 1683, and St. Croix was purchased from France in 1733. The holdings of the company were taken over as a Danish crown colony in 1754. Sugarcane, cultivated by slave labor, was the backbone of the islands' prosperity in the 18th and early 19th centuries. After brutally suppressing several slave revolts. Denmark abolished slavery in the colony in 1848. A long period of economic decline followed, until Denmark sold the islands to the United States in 1917 for $25 million. Congress granted US citizenship to the Virgin Islanders in 1927. In 1931, administration of the islands was transferred from the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Interior, and the first civilian governor was appointed. In the late 1970s, the Virgin Islands government began to consider ways to expand self-rule. A UN delegation in 1977 found little interest in independence, however, and a locally drafted constitution was voted down by the electorate in 1979.
The chief executive of the Virgin Islands is the territorial governor, elected by direct popular vote (prior to 1970, territorial governors were appointed by the US president). Constitutionally, the US Congress has plenary authority to legislate for the territory. Enactment of the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands on 22 July 1954 vested local legislative power—subject to veto by the governor—in a unicameral legislature. Since 1972, the islands have sent one nonvoting representative to the US House of Representatives. Courts are under the US federal judiciary; the two federal district court judges are appointed by the US president. Territorial court judges, who preside over misdemeanor and traffic cases, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. The district court has appellate jurisdiction over the territorial court.
Tourism, which accounts for approximately 70% of both GDP and employment is the islands' principal economic activity. The number of tourists rose dramatically throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, from 448,165 in 1964 to over 2 million per year in the 1990s. Rum remains an important manufacture, with petroleum refining (on St. Croix) a major addition in the late 1960s. Economic development is promoted by the US-government-owned Virgin Islands Corp. In 2000 the gross domestic product per capita was $15,000. The unemployment rate was 4.9% in 1999, down from 6.2% in 1994. Exports for 1992 totaled $1.8 billion while imports totaled $2.2 billion. The island's primary export is refined petroleum products. Raw crude oil constitutes the Virgin Island's principal import. In 1990, median family income was $24,036. The total operating budget of the Virgin Islands government in 1994 was $364.4.
The territorial Department of Health provides hospital and medical services, public health services, and veterinary medicine. Education is compulsory. The College of the Virgin Islands is the territory's first institution of higher learning. There are about 62,000 main line telephones and 2,000 mobile cellular phones, 66,000 televisions, and 105,000 radios in use on the islands. The Virgin Islands had 16 radio stations (5 AM, 11 FM) and 2 television stations in 2002.