Puerto Rico, the United States’ Caribbean island

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AFP) —Amid mounting demands that the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, leave office, here is some background about the US territory in the Caribbean.

100 YEARS OF US NATIONALITY

The former Spanish colony was annexed by the United States after the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Its mostly Spanish-speaking people have had US nationality since 1917 but are not able to vote in US presidential elections, although they can be called up to serve in the US military.

Puerto Rico has limited representation in the US Congress, with only one non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. It also fields its own Olympic teams.

The closest major US mainland city is Miami, about 1,660 kilometres (1,030 miles) away.

WITH ITS OWN GOVERNMENT

The territory has had its own government and constitution since 1952, when it adopted the status of a “free associated state” of the United States.

It also has its own flag and national anthem.

Two parties have alternated in power since the 1950s —Rossello’s New Progressive Party and the Opposition Popular Democratic Party. Each blames the other for the island’s dire financial woes.

Rossello took over in January 2017, aged 37, after winning November 2016 elections held amid a crippling recession and with the island burdened by debt.

The protests demanding that Rossello resign come amid anger over alleged corruption involving money meant for victims of 2017’s Hurricane Maria and text chats in which he and other officials make fun of journalists, gays, women and hurricane victims.

Rossello has said he will not seek re-election in 2020 and will step down as leader of his party.

ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

The 9,000-square-kilometre (3,475-square-mile) island has been locked in recession for more than a decade.

In May 2017, it declared itself bankrupt, with public debt surpassing US$70 billion, having defaulted on US$422 million in debt a year earlier.

A lack of employment and the recession have seen Puerto Ricans leaving in droves, with even more joining the exodus after Hurricane Maria.

The population has fallen from 3.8 million in 2006 to under 3.2 million in 2018, according to the US Census Bureau, which puts the poverty rate at 44 per cent.

Unemployment was 8.5 per cent in May 2019, the highest for the United States and more than double the national rate, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

HURRICANE MARIA

The storm struck in September 2017 and resulted in the deaths of 2,975 people, according to a government-commissioned study released almost a year later.

The toll was a shock as the government had previously said that 64 people had died.

Puerto Rico stopped publicly sharing its data on hurricane deaths in December 2017, but it said it would accept the study’s toll as the official figure.

After the storm hit, households went for an average of 84 days without electricity, 64 days without water and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage, investigations found.

It caused about US$90 billion in damages, ranking as the third-costliest storm in the United States since 1900.

US President Donald Trump rejected the toll of nearly 3,000 as inflated after his Administration’s response was highly criticised, including for not providing additional federal funds for emergency housing and debris removal.

MOST-WATCHED VIDEO

The music video Despacito has been a major hit for Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi, also attracting publicity for the La Perla barrio of the capital’s Old San Juan area where it was filmed.

First released in January 2017 by Fonsi and Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee, it passed more than six billion views on YouTube in February 2019, making it the service’s most-watched video at the time.

Ricky Martin, one of the biggest stars of the Latin music world and famous for Livin’ la Vida Loca and She Bangs, also hails from Puerto Rico.

Martin, among those ridiculed in Rossello’s leaked chats, has joined protests against the governor.

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