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Puerto Rico is Not a Country

Does Not Meet Independent Criteria: Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory

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Woman Holds Flag Dress at Puerto Rico Carnival
Amy Toensing/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images
Updated May 16, 2014
There are eight accepted criteria used to determine whether an entity is an independent country (also known as a State with a capital "s") or not.

Puerto Rico, a small island (approximately 100 miles long and 35 miles wide) territory located in the Caribbean Sea east of the island Hispaniola, has been the home of indigenous peoples for centuries. In 1493, the island was claimed by Spain in 1493 following Columbus' second voyage to the Americas. After 400 years of colonial rule that saw the indigenous population nearly exterminated and African slave labor introduced, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Let us now examine the eight criteria of independence in regard to Puerto Rico.

1. Has space or territory that has internationally recognized boundaries (boundary disputes are OK).

Yes, Puerto Rico's boundaries are undisputed because it is an island.

2. Has people who live there on an ongoing basis.

Yes, Puerto Rico is home to nearly four million people (2005). However, the people of Puerto Rico have been citizens of the United States since 1917.

3. Has economic activity and an organized economy. A country regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money.

No. While Puerto Rico has economic activity and an organized economy, it does not regulate foreign trade nor does it issue money. The United States dollar is used in Puerto Rico and the U.S. controls the economy.

4. Has the power of social engineering, such as education.

Somewhat. Puerto Rico is able to engineer society to the extent allowed by the U.S. federal government.

5. Has a transportation system for moving goods and people.

Yes but boat and air traffic is regulated by U.S. law and federal agencies.

6. Has a government that provides public services and police power.

No. While Puerto Rico has a police force, defense is provided by and the responsibility of the United States military.

7. Has sovereignty. No other State should have power over the country's territory.

No. The United States claims Puerto Rico as its own and this is recognized internationally. In referendums held in 1967, 1993, and 1998, voters chose to retain commonwealth status and remain part of the United States.

8. Has external recognition. A country has been "voted into the club" by other countries.

No. No country recognizes Puerto Rico as an independent country. Even Puerto Rico recognizes its place as a territory of the United States. Puerto Rican voters have rejected independence three times (1967, 1993, 1998, and 2012). (In 2012, voters in Puerto Rico rejected the status quo and requested the United States consider establishing Puerto Rico as the 51st state.)

Thus, Puerto Rico does not meet the criteria to be considered an independent country since it is truly a dependent territory of the United States.

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