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Rough Cut: Puerto Rico: Samurai Surfers
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Puerto Rico, where half of the residents are in favor of the island becoming the 51st state.


Located about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, Puerto Rico is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles island chain, which forms a border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Puerto Rico's pre-Columbian indigenous Taino Indians were wiped out when the Spanish settled on the island in the late 15th century. The island was ruled by Spain until 1898, when the United States invaded it during the Spanish-American War. Then it was a colonial protectorate until 1952, when Puerto Rican voters approved a constitution and the island became a self-governing U.S. commonwealth.

Puerto Rico has authority over its internal affairs, with its own elected governor, but it does receive some federal funds, and its currency is the U.S. dollar. Puerto Ricans do not pay federal taxes, nor do they have voting representation in the U.S. Congress (although they do elect a non-voting delegate). The commonwealth's chief of state is the U.S. president, but Puerto Ricans do not vote in U.S. presidential elections. Puerto Rico has a population of about 4 million.

Because of the island's strategic importance, U.S. military presence has been substantial over the years, and centered around Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, a base that has brought in about $300 million per year to the local economy.

The U.S. Navy used the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range for 60 years. Cancer rates on Vieques were higher there than anywhere else in Puerto Rico, and in 1999, a security guard was killed by an errant bomb. After years of protests by the Puerto Rican people, the Vieques bombing range was closed in 2003 and designated as a wildlife refuge, albeit a dangerous one because of unexploded bombs and other hazards. As one activist told The Economist, "Anybody coming along to start a bonfire or watch turtles could explode." These days, western Vieques -- fenced off from the former bombing range -- is a tourist destination.

Puerto Rico is sharply divided over the possibility of becoming the 51st state: In the last gubernatorial election, in 2004, Anibal Acevedo Vila, who is in favor of Puerto Rico remaining a commonwealth, beat Pedro Rosselo, who favored statehood, by a mere 0.2 percent.

Related Links
"Victory in Puerto Rico"
This site at Surfrider -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the coastal environment -- has information on the Arecibo Harbor story and on other conservation efforts that surfers in Puerto Rico have been involved in.

"Island Showdown"
The Online NewsHour reports on the conflict over Vieques, an island off of Puerto Rico that has long been the site of bombing exercises by the United States Navy.

"Scientists Track Degradation of World's Coral Reefs"
At this comprehensive site about coral reefs, the Online NewsHour explores the degradation of coral reefs around the world. An interactive feature called "Anatomy of a Reef" explains how different types of reefs flourish, and a slide show presents coral from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Coral Reef Connections

This interactive feature produced by the PBS show "Evolution" allows visitors to "dive" and "swim" through different coral reef zones to learn about their inhabitants and the interconnectivity between creatures and habitats. (Flash required.)