The mineral resources are very limited. Brick clay and limestone are abundant, and there are on the south coast a sand marl rich in phosphates and productive salt deposits. Iron ore, lignite, copper, mercury, molybdenite, nickel, platinum and other minerals have been found, but the quantity of each is too small, or the quality too poor, for them to be of commercial value. There are important mineral and thermal springs in various parts of the island.
The only manufacturing industries of much importance are the preparation of sugar, coffee and tobacco for market, and the manufacture of cigars, cigarettes, straw hats, soap, matches, vermicelli, sash, doors, ice, distilled liquors and some machinery.
Transport facilities are inadequate. The American Railroad of Porto Rico, about 190 m. long, connects the principal cities along the north and west coasts and those as far east as Ponce on the south coast; a railway between Ponce and Guayama, farther east, was virtually completed in 1910, and the Vega Alta railroad connects Vega Alta with Dorado on the north coast; but there are no inland railways and most of the products of the interior are carried to the coast in carts drawn by bullocks or on the backs of mules. The mileage of wagon roads was increased from about 170 m. in 1898 to 612 m. in 1909. The principal harbours are San Juan on the north and Ponce on the south coast; the former is accessible to vessels of about 30 ft. draught, and the latter has a natural channel which admits vessels of 25 ft. draught. Two lines of steamboats afford regular communication between San Juan and New York; one of them runs to Venezuelan ports and one to New Orleans; and there are lines to Cuba and direct to Spain.
The commerce of Porto Rico is principally with the United States. The value of its exports to the United States increased from $5,581,288 in the fiscal year ending on the 30th of June 1901 to $26,998,542 in 1909, and the value of its imports from the United States increased during this period from $7,413,502 to $25,163,678. In the meantime the value of its exports to foreign countries increased only from $3,002,679 to $4,565,598, and the value of its imports from foreign countries only from $1,952,728 to $3,054,318.
Population.—The population increased from 583,308 in 1860 to 798,565 in 1887, and to 953,243, or 277.5 per sq. m., in 1899. Of the total population in 1899, 589,426, or 61.8% were whites, 304,352 were of mixed blood, 59,390 were negroes and 75 were Chinese. In 1910 the census returned the population as 1,118,012. The proportion of whites is greater at the west end than at the east end, greater on the north side than on the south side, and greater in the interior than along the coast. Only 13,872, or about 1.5% of the total population of 1899, were foreign-born, and of these more than one-half were born in Spain. The married portion of the population was only 16.6% in 1899. The principal towns, with the population of each in 1910, are: San Juan, 48,716; Ponce, 35,027; Mayaguez, 16,591; Arecibo, 9612. The Roman Catholic is the predominant church and the bishopric of Porto Rico (1512) is one of the oldest in the New World.
Government.—The constitution of Porto Rico is contained in an act of the Congress of the United States (the Foraker Act) which came into operation in May 1900. The governor is appointed by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate for a term of four years, and associated with the governor is an executive council consisting of the secretary, treasurer, auditor, attorney-general, commissioner of the interior, commissioner of education, and five other members, all appointed in the same manner and for the same term as the governor. The constitution requires that at least five of the eleven members of the Executive Council shall be native inhabitants of Porto Rico; in practice the six members who are also heads of the administrative departments have been Americans while the other five have been Porto Ricans. The insular government, however, has created a seventh administrative department—that of health, charities and corrections—and requires that the head of this shall be chosen by the governor from among the five members of the Executive Council who are not heads of the other departments.
The Executive Council constitutes one branch of the legislative assembly; the House of Delegates the other. The House of Delegates consists of 35 members elected biennially, live from each of seven districts. The right to determine the electoral franchise is vested in the legislature itself and that body has conferred it upon practically all adult males. The governor has the right to veto any bill, and for passing a bill over his veto an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of each house is required. All laws enacted by the insular legislature must also be submitted to the Congress of the United States, which reserves the right to annul them. Railway, street railway, telegraph and telephone franchises can be granted only by the Executive Council with the approval of the governor, and none can be operative until it has been approved by the President of the United States. The governor and Executive Council have the exclusive right to grant all other franchises of a public or quasi-public nature and Congress reserves the right to annul or modify any such grant.
The administration of justice is vested in a United States district court and a supreme court, district courts, municipal courts and justice of the peace courts of Porto Rico. The judge of the United States district court and the chief justice and associate justices of the supreme court are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate, and the judges of the district courts by the governor with the consent of the Executive Council.
The principal local government is that of the municipalities or municipal districts, but for the Spanish municipal government the insular legislature has substituted one resembling that of small towns in the United States, and it has reduced the number of districts from 66 to 47. Each municipal district elects biennially a mayor and a municipal council, the membership of which varies from five to nine according to the population of the district. The mayor appoints practically all municipal employés and may veto any ordinance of the council; his veto, however, may be overridden by two-thirds of the council. The police force of each municipality, or rather of each of 66 police districts, is maintained and controlled by the insular government; justice in each municipality is also administered by the insular government; the building, maintenance and repair of public roads are under the management of a board of three road supervisors in each of the seven insular election districts; and matters pertaining to education are for the most part under the insular commissioner of education and a school board of three members elected biennially in each municipality; nearly all other local affairs are within the jurisdiction of the mayor and municipal council.
Education.—In 1899 more than three-fourths of the inhabitants ten years of age or over were unable to read or write, and when in the following year the present system of government was established large powers were given to the commissioner of education. He controls the expenditure of public money for school purposes, the examination and the appointment of teachers, whose nominations by the municipal school boards are referred to the commissioner. The school system comprises preparatory schools, rural schools, graded schools, three high schools and the university of Porto Rico. The university at Rio Piedras was established by act of the insular legislature in 1903, but in 1910 only two departments had been organized—the insular normal school and the department of agriculture. Numerous scholarships have been established at government expense in Porto Rican schools and in colleges or universities of the United States. The average daily attendance in the public schools increased from 47,277 in 1906-1907 to 74,522 in 1908-1909. Each municipality is required to pay to its school board 25% of its receipts from the general property tax.
Finance.—Trade between Porto Rico and the United States is free, but upon imports to Porto Rico from foreign countries the Federal government collects custom duties and pays the net proceeds to the insular government. Other principal sources of income are excise taxes, a general property tax, an inheritance tax, and a tax on insurance premiums. For the fiscal year ending June 1909 the net income of the insular government was $3,180,111.75 and the net bonded indebtedness was $3,759,231.22.
History.—On his second voyage Columbus sighted the island, to which he gave the name San Juan Bautista, and remained in its vicinity from the 17th to the 22nd of November 1493. In 1508 Nicolás de Ovando, governor of Hispaniola (Haiti) rewarded the services of Juan Ponce de Leon, one of Columbus's companions in 1493, by permitting him to explore the island, then called by the natives “Borinquen,” and search for its reputed deposits of gold. Ponce's hospitable reception by the native chief, Aquebana or Guaybaná, and his fairly profitable search for the precious metal led King Ferdinand in 1509 to give him an appointment as temporary governor of the island, where his companions had already established the settlement of Caparra (Pueblo Viejo, near the present San Juan). In 1510 the king through Ovando's influence made this commission permanent. Meanwhile Ferdinand had also restored to Diego Columbus, son of the discoverer, the privileges of his father, including the control of the islands of Haiti and Porto Rico. The new admiral removed Ponce and appointed Juan Cerón to administer the affairs of Porto Rico. The quarrels between these two leaders disturbed the affairs of the island for the next