Puerto Rico  is a self-governing commonwealth of the United States. Its residents are U.S. citizens, but they can’t vote for members of Congress or the president. A resident commissioner represents the island’s interests in Washington but cannot vote on legislative matters. Businesses pay federal taxes, but individuals do not, although they do contribute to federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Individuals also pay about 32 percent of their income in local taxes.
Ever since Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in the early 1950s, its residents have debated the best course for the island’s political future. A small but fervent number want independence, but the rest of the island is evenly divided between pro-statehood and pro-commonwealth factions. Statehood would mean more federal funding and a voice in national decisions. Those opposed to statehood fear losing their Spanish language and heritage in the rush toward Americanization. For the first time since the United States claimed the island as a territory in 1898, Puerto Rico may be in the position of deciding its own fate. A U.S. task force has recommended the island hold a public vote to determine its future status no later than Dec. 31, 2009.
In some ways, Puerto Rico  is already like a state. The United States oversees all federal affairs, including interstate trade, foreign relations, customs, immigration, currency, military service, judicial procedures, transportation, communications, agriculture, mining, and the postal service. The local Puerto Rican government oversees internal affairs. The head of government is an elected governor, and there are two legislative chambers—the House and the Senate. The island’s capital is based in San Juan . The island is divided into 78 municipalities, and each one is governed by a popularly elected mayor and municipal assembly.