How Puerto Rico Became a Territory of the United States

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. It’s important to make this statement, because many people believe that Puerto Rico is a country or one of the United States of America. In fact, Puerto Rico is not a state or a country. It is a territory — a piece of land owned by the United States but not a state of the Union.

How did this happen?

The land which is now Puerto Rico has had human inhabitants since roughly 3000 B.C. When Christopher Columbus landed on the Island, it was inhabited by Taino people, who had come from South America. In 1509, Ponce de Leon became the governor of Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain for roughly four centuries. In 1898, Spain granted autonomy (local government) to Puerto Rico. Spain still owned Puerto Rico, however. Later that year, as part of the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded (gave) Puerto Rico to the United States.

So the United States essentially won Puerto Rico from Spain in a war.

The following year, José Celso Barbosa founded the Partido Republicano (Puerto Rican Republican Party) and proposed that Puerto Rico join the United States. The first regiment of the U.S. Army was formed in Puerto Rico that year, and one year later the Organic Act of 1900 was passed.

While things got complicated, what with the Insular Cases and the Constitution of 1952, the legal and political relationship of Puerto Rico and the United States has not changed. Puerto Rico is still a territory of the United States.

The U.S. is no longer planning an imperialist future. Congress gives every sign of being open to making a change in the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The leadership in Puerto Rico is ready to reject the territorial status. Puerto Rico has been a territory longer than any other territory of the United States, but it is time to move on to statehood. Tell your legislators that you are ready to welcome Puerto Rico into the United States as the 51st state.

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