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Is Puerto Rico the oldest colony in the world?

Puerto Rico, considered by some to be "the world's oldest colony.

To understand Puerto Rico's current political status, it is important to know the events of the past.

Taíno Indians inhabited the island when Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico in November 19, 1493. Soon after, Puerto Rico became a Spanish colony and remained under Spanish rule for over 400 years.

In 1809 the first declarations of independence from Spanish rule occurred, and by the end of the 1800s, Spain had lost all of its New World colonies except Cuba and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is the only territory that never gained its independence.

It was not until November 25, 1897 that Spain granted Puerto Rico self-rule. However, this autonomy was short lived, on 25 July 1898, American troops invaded and raised the U.S. flag over the island, formalizing U.S. authority over its one million inhabitants.

The island came under U.S. control in 1989 after the Spanish-American War, which ended with the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, signed between Spain and the United States, forcing Spain to relinquish claims on Cuba, and to cede sovereignty over Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States. Under Article IX of the treaty, the civil rights and political status of the inhabitants of these territories were left to future determination by the United States Congress. Puerto Rico came under the military control of the United States of America

Puerto Rico remained under direct control of US military forces until the US Congress ratified the Foraker Law on April 12th, 1900, establishing civil government and free commerce between the island and United States.

On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act, with this law Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship, separated the three governmental powers into: the legislative, executive and judicial branches, established that elections were to be celebrated every four years, among few other concessions. However, United States maintained control over fiscal and economic matters and exercised authority over mail services, immigration, defense and other basic governmental matters. The United States Congress had the power to stop any action taken by the legislature in Puerto Rico.

On July 4, 1950, President Harry S. Truman signed what is known as Public Act 600, which allowed Puerto Ricans to draft their own constitution establishing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The new constitution would only grant Puerto Rico's autonomy over its local affairs, relieving the United States Congress of that responsibility (Public Law 82-447). Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952, although remained a territory of the United States. At the end, the new constitution did not change its official status as a territory of the United States. United States Congress still has ultimate control over Puerto Rico.

As a commonwealth, Puerto Rico, the United States still controls all important aspects of Puerto Rican life: communications, currency, trade (national and international), transportation, citizenship/naturalization, immigration and emigration, foreign travel (passports), customs laws and tariffs, labor relations, wage laws, census (population, agriculture, commerce, industry), defense/military service/internal security (FBI, CIA), international relations, banking systems, health standards (slaughterhouse, food products, medicines), Social Security/unemployment and disability benefits (just not as much as an official state gets), environmental laws, prices, penal system and court system.

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.

Interestedly, with the institution of Commonwealth status, United States was freed from the obligation of reporting on Puerto Rico's status to the UN Decolonization Committee.

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Did You Know?

The only succesfull attack against San Juan happened on June 15. The British Navy led by George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, conquered the island and held it for several months.