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The Spanish navigator Juan Bermudez discovered Bermuda in the early 1500s, and gave his name to the group of about 150 coral reefs and limestone islands that are washed by the warm Gulf Stream.
The English admiral, Sir George Somers, was shipwrecked on the islands in 1609, and Somers Islands remains a secondary name. James I granted the islands to the Virginia Company in 1612. Representative government was introduced in 1620, and the Crown took over the islands in 1684. Since 1968 Bermuda has been an internally self-governing British colony.
The islands have a mild oceanic climate, with an average annual temperature of 21°C and, on average, 147 cm of rain a year. Thin patches of poor soil support some junipers (Bermuda cedars).
Limited agriculture and fishing, supported by slave labor until its abolition in 1833, reinforced the islands' function as a strategic naval base. Now dairy produce, vegetables, flowers, bananas and citrus fruits, raised on 340 hectares of cultivated land, contribute to the economy. However, Bermuda is heavily dependent on tourism, which accounts for nearly 45% of the gross domestic product, and on the US bases, leased from the UK since 1940.
Bermuda has become an international tax haven, and many foreign companies are registered there. Banking and other financial activities have developed, including the duty-free port of Freeport.
In 1977 resentment of British rule and of racial inequalities led to serious riots, and British troops were flown in to restore order. However, demands for Bermuda to become fully independent of Britain are increasing.