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Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico (Spanish for “Rich Port”; abbreviated PR), officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Spanish: Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, lit. ”Free Associated State of Puerto Rico”) and briefly called Porto Rico, is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the northeast Caribbean Sea, approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of Miami, Florida.

An archipelago among the Greater Antilles, located between the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico includes the eponymous main island and several smaller islands, such as Mona, Culebra, and Vieques. The capital and most populous city are San Juan. The territory’s total population is approximately 3.4 million. Spanish and English are the official languages of the executive branch of government, though Spanish predominates.

Originally populated by the indigenous Taíno people, Puerto Rico was colonized by Spain following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was contested by the French, Dutch, and British, but remained a Spanish possession for the next four centuries. The island’s cultural and demographic landscapes were shaped by the displacement and assimilation of the native population, the forced migration of African slaves, and settlement from the Canary Islands and Andalusia. In the Spanish Empire, Puerto Rico played a secondary but strategic role compared to wealthier colonies like Peru and New Spain. Spain’s distant administrative control continued up to the end of the 19th century, producing a distinctive creole Hispanic culture and language that combined indigenous, African, and European elements. On September 23, 1868, Ramón Emeterio Betances unleashed a revolt against Spanish rule, declaring for the first time the idea of Puerto Ricans as a distinct people, with the right to sovereignty. This revolt, known as El Grito de Lares, was eventually put down by Spanish forces, but the movement continued. In 1898, following the Spanish–American War, the United States acquired Puerto Rico under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Since then, Puerto Rico has remained an unincorporated territorial possession, making it the world’s oldest colony.

Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States since 1917, and enjoy the freedom of movement between the island and the mainland. As it is not a state, Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the United States Congress, which governs the territory with full jurisdiction under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950. However, Puerto Rico does have one non-voting member of the House called a Resident Commissioner. As residents of a U.S. territory, American citizens in Puerto Rico are disenfranchised at the national level and do not vote for the president or vice president of the United States, and only some residents pay federal income tax. Like other territories and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico does not have U.S. senators. Congress approved a local constitution in 1952, allowing U.S. citizens of the territory to elect a governor. Puerto Rico’s future political status has consistently been a matter of significant debate.

In early 2017, the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis posed serious problems for the government. The outstanding bond debt had climbed to $70 billion at a time of an unemployment rate of 12.4%. The debt had been increasing during a decade-long recession. This was the second major financial crisis to affect the island after the Great Depression when the U.S. government, in 1935, provided relief efforts through the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration. On May 3, 2017, Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board in the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico filed the debt restructuring petition which was made under Title III of PROMESA. By early August 2017, the debt was $72 billion with a 45% poverty rate.

In late September 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, causing devastating damage. The island’s electrical grid was largely destroyed, provoking the largest power outage in American history. Recovery efforts were slow in the first few months, and over 200,000 residents had moved to the mainland state of Florida alone by late November 2017.

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Etymology

Puerto Rico is Spanish for “rich port”. Puerto Ricans often call the island Borinquén – a derivation of Borikén, its indigenous Taíno name, which means “Land of the Valiant Lord”. The terms boricua and borincano derive from Borikén and Borinquen respectively and are commonly used to identify someone of Puerto Rican heritage. The island is also popularly known in Spanish as La Isla del Encanto, meaning “the island of enchantment”.

Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honor of Saint John the Baptist, while the capital city was named Ciudad de Puerto Rico (“Rich Port City”). Eventually, traders and other maritime visitors came to refer to the entire island as Puerto Rico, while San Juan became the name used for the main trading/shipping port and the capital city.

The island’s name was changed to Porto Rico by the United States after the Treaty of Paris of 1898. The anglicized name was used by the U.S. government and private enterprises. The name was changed back to Puerto Rico by a joint resolution in Congress introduced by Félix Córdova Dávila in 1931.

The official name of the entity in Spanish is Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (“free associated state of Puerto Rico”), while its official English name is Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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