Porto Rico, Or Poerto Rico, the smallest and most easterly of the Greater Antilles, "West Indies, belonging to Spain, lying between lat. 17° 55' and 18° 30' N., and Ion. 65° 39' and 67° 11' W.; area, including its dependencies, the isles of Vieques, Culebra, and Mona, 3,530 sq. m.; pop. about 625,000, of whom 338,000 are white and the remainder colored. It is separated from Santo Domingo on the west by the Mona passage, in which lies the island of Mona, and from the Virgin islands on the east by the Virgin passage, in which are Vieques and Culebra. It is nearly a rectangle, the length of which E. and W. is about 100 m., and the breadth N. and S. about 40 m. The principal capes are San Juan on the N. E., Mala Pascua on the S. E., Rojo on the S. W., and Bruquen on the N. W. The coasts are generally regular, but there are many bays and inlets, and the N. coast is lined with navigable lagoons. The principal ports are San Juan, Arecibo, Aguadilla, Mayaguez, Ponce, Guay-anilla, Humacao, and Fajardo. A range of mountains extends through the island from E. to W., having a general height of about 1,500 ft. above the sea, with one peak in the N. E., Luquillo, whose summit is called Yun-que, of 3,678 ft.
From these mountains descend many small streams, some of which are navigable a few miles inland for small vessels. In the interior are extensive plains, and there are level tracts from 5 to 10 m. wide on the coast. The soil is exceedingly fertile. In the mountains it is a red clay, colored with peroxide of iron; in the valleys it is black and less compact, and on the coasts it is sandy, but capable of some culture. The pasture lands in the N. and E. parts are superior to any others in the West Indies. The climate, though very warm, is more healthful than that of the other Antilles. The prevailing winds are E. and E. N. E., but from November to March N. winds are frequent. The land wind, so constant at night in the other islands of the Antilles, is felt but seldom. The island has suffered much from hurricanes, of which those in 1742 and 1825 were very destructive. The natural productions are numerous and valuable. Many varieties of cabinet and dye woods, including mahogany, ebony, lignum vitaa, cedar, and logwood, and plants valuable in the arts and in pharmacy, abound. The tropical fruits grow to perfection. Among the agricultural products are sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, cotton, rice, and maize.
The amount of sugar obtained from a given area is greater than in any other West India island. The poverty of the fauna and flora is remarkable, there being scarcely any wild animals, birds, or flowers. Gold, copper, iron, lead, and coal are found, but no mines are worked; considerable quantities of salt are procured from lakes. Agriculture is almost exclusively in the hands of the natives, but most of the business and commerce is controlled by foreigners and Spaniards from the Peninsula. The total value of the commerce in 1871 was about $33,000,000, of which $17,500,000 was for imports. The chief exports are sugar, molasses, coffee, tobacco, cotton, cacao, cattle, and hides. The total amount of sugar exported in 1871 was 111,084 tons, of which 1,732,897 cwt. was sent to the United States, 460,688 cwt. to Great Britain, 5,374 cwt. to Spain and Cuba, and 9,088 cwt. to Germany. The export of coffee in the same year was 210,366 quintals, of tobacco 54,640 quintals, and of molasses 7,590,-915 gallons. The entrances in 1871 were 1,919 vessels, of an aggregate of 327,941 tons, of which 544, of 81,966 tons, were British. Porto Rico is connected by a telegraphic cable with the other West India islands, and a land telegraph connects the principal towns.
Several railways are projected, but none have been built. There is great need of better facilities for internal communication, as well as of drainage, sewerage, and water supply; but as the surplus revenue has been used of late years to continue the war in Cuba, few public improvements have been made. - Porto Rico is governed under a constitution voted by the Spanish cortes in 1869. The civil governor is president of the superior tribunals of justice and of the superior juntas of the capital; but the fiscal administration has a special chief called intendant. The supreme judicial power lies in a royal aucliencia. Justice is administered in the cities and in the country by judges of the first instance and by alcaldes. There are nine special tribunals: civil, ecclesiastical, war, marine, artillery, engineers, administration, probate, and commerce. Ecclesiastical affairs are presided over by a bishop chosen by the crown and approved by the pope. For administrative purposes the island and its dependencies are divided into nine districts: Porto Rico, Bayamon, Arecibo, Aguadilla, Mayaguez, Ponce, Humacao, Guayama, and Vieques. The chief towns are San Juan de Puerto Rico, the capital, San German, Ponce, Mayaguez, Arecibo, Guayama, Aguadilla, Oaguas, Bayamon, and Humacao. - Porto Rico was discovered by Columbus in 1493, and invaded in 1509 by the Spaniards under Ponce de Leon, who in a few years exterminated the natives, then 600,000 or 800,000 in number.
Slavery was abolished in the island by the Spanish cortes in March, 1873.