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Puerto Rico and the United States

Puerto Rico Achieves Greater Autonomy

An increasing number of Puerto Ricans sought greater autonomy for the island during the 1920s and the 1930s, and these efforts began bearing fruit in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1947 Congress permitted Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín helped transform the island's agricultural-based economy into a more industrial-based one. While his programs increased Puerto Rico's total wealth, they also deepened class divisions and increased the number of residents who lived in poverty.

In 1950 Puerto Rico won the right to enact its own constitution. Ratified in 1952, the constitution declared Puerto Rico to be a "commonwealth," an anomalous status it retains as of 2003. The people of the new commonwealth were vested with powers of self-government not characteristic of the sovereignty typically exercised by citizens of a territory. Puerto Ricans were now empowered to decide for themselves how their local government would be organized. Independent of outside influence, the residents of Puerto Rico were allowed to determine the number of branches in their local government, the allocation of powers among those branches, the method of choosing officials to serve in those branches, and the duration of each official's term of office.

However, like the governments in other U.S. territories, the government of Puerto Rico still ultimately derives its authority from the consent of Congress, even if under its new constitution it also derives some of its authority from the consent of Puerto Rican residents. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico lacks sovereignty and independence in other ways too. For example, Puerto Rico does not have control over its external relations with other nations. Puerto Rico also lacks control over the currency, highways, postal system, SOCIAL SECURITY, and mining activities and minerals, among other areas preempted by federal regulation.

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