How did Puerto Rico become a US territory?

By Holly Yan, CNN

Updated 1:21 PM ET, Wed July 24, 2019

Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony for centuries until the US invaded it during the SpanishAmerican War in 1898. The next year, Spain ceded Puerto Rico (and Guam) to the US.

In 1900, President William McKinley designated Puerto Rico as an "unorganized territory." Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917. In 1950, President Harry Truman allowed Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution.

Since then, Puerto Ricans have voted five times on whether the island should be become a state - in 1967, 1993, 1998, 2012 and 2017.

Puerto Ricans voted yes in 2012, but that didn't really matter because Congress would still need to pass a law admitting Puerto Rico as a state. That hasn't happened yet.

Why is Puerto Rico's economy so bad?

Puerto Rico's debt is huge -- about $70 billion. About 40% of its residents live in poverty, and the median household income in 2017 was $19,775 .

Part of the problem stems from a US law back in 1920. The Jones Act requires all goods ferried between US ports to be carried on ships built, owned and operated by Americans.

Those ships are much more expensive to buy and operate than ships from other countries. And that makes just about everything on the island more expensive.

Then there's overspending by the Puerto Rican government. Things got really bad in 2015, when Puerto Rico defaulted on its monthly debt for the first time, and in 2017, when Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy -- the largest US municipal bankruptcy in history.

It's a vicious cycle. As the economy gets worse, more Puerto Ricans leave, and the government has less tax money to pay its debts.

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