Reconnaissance Survey of the Possibilities of Immigration into the Dominican Republic


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Reconnaissance Survey of the Possibilities of Immigration into the Dominican Republic
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Crist, Raymond E.
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Folder: Diary Transcription, Notes 1/7

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University of Florida
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Raymond E. Crivt

Economic Geographer

Institute of TropDcal Agricultu;e


The overcrowded island of Puerto Rico is separated

only by tV-e relatively narrow waters of Mona Passage from

the Dominican Republic, and it would seem natural to

attempt to solve Puerto Rico's problem of overpopulation

with large-scale migration to the westward island.

For demographic as well as geographic reasons this

solution would seem obvious, since demographically the

Dominican Republic presents a sharp contwet to Puerto

Rico, The Dominican Republic has an area of 19,324 square

miles, or 5,000,000 hectares, more than half of which is not

utilized. According to the 1935 census, only 1,675,442

hectares wpre farmed (this figure including pastures anr cut-

over lands). The population as of 1935 was 1,479,417, or

about 30 persons per square kilometer. Puerto Rico, on the

other hand, with an area of 3,435 square miles has a popu-

lation, according to the 1940 census, of 1,869,255, or

slightly over 200 people per square kilometer; in other

words, it is at least four times as densely populated as

the Dominican Republic.

In investigating the possibilities of the migration

of Puerto Ricans to the Dominican Repuolic, I made the

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circuit overland from Ciudad Trujillo westward to the border

town of Elias Pila and southwest to Port au Prince, Haiti;

thence north to the border town of Dajabdn, to Monte

Cristi and Santiago de los Caballeros in the Cinao Valley

in the northern part of the Dominican Republic, from

Santiago returning via the towns of La Vega and Bonao to

Ciudad Trujillo. From Ciudad Trujillo I made a trip

eastward to San Pedro de Maceris. I consulted literature

and archives, and gathered what information I could from

questioning and conversation. The results of my necessarily

cursory survey are as follows.


In the course of my stay inr the Republica Dominicana,

official statements were issued in the Dominican Embassies

in Washington and London/ to the effect that refugee immigration

would continue to be welcome. It was my understanding that

the Republic would be especially glad to receive those who

had capitalit invest. And it is ~XAoeA+- those with their

own capital, or with backing, that have been most success-

ful in their new home in the Dominican Republic. According

to old residents or Puerto Plata as well as general comment,

the refugee colony of Sosua is now out of the red. Those

who were not farmers or interested in farming have left,

- 3 -

and those remaining--approximately 500-have established

themselves on a paying basis. They ship two tons of butter

to Ciudad Trujillo every month, and their hams, sausages

and cheeses are delicacies much sought for in the local


It would seem then that there is a real opportunity

tn the Republica Dominicana for those who have a little

capital, and who wish to settle on small owner-operator

farms. This is, however, the type of person who is already

successful in Puerto Rico, and who would be little likely

to think of emigration.

Every year there is large influx of cane cutters into

the Dominican Repunlic from the neighboring Renublic of

Haiti; they represent the healthiest speciments, they are

very hard working and they are cheaper than laborers from

Puerto Rico. They come into the Dominican Republic by

the thousand. The Central Santa Fe, near San Pedro de

Macorls, I was told by the manager, has 1500 Haitians on

its payroll, and I was given to understand that other

centrales also have large numbers. The infiltration of

Haitian laborers into the Dominican Repunolic appears to

be increasing from year to year. Mr. Leslie Holdridge,

forester in charge or operations in le Foret des Pins,

Haiti, told me that the exodus of workers from the Massif


de la Selle into the neighboring bpptn had caused

a scarcity of laborers for the saw mills. Officially,

now ver, this movement of Haitian laDorers, is only on a

e rary basis, and article 9 of Law 95# of March 29,

39, is undoubtedly directed in large part against them,
requiring, as it does, the payment of $500 by every negro

immigrant who wishes to establish residence in tne Repuolic.,

t ) Tnis law would probably be susceptible of broad interpretation

in tne matter of desirable immigrants from other islands.

Bnt, it places a heavy burden on refugees from Europe

of semitic origin,

Ciudad Trujillo, Dominican

Law 95 of March 29, 1939.

Art. 9.
(b) Los inmigrantes que lleguen al pals despues
Sde la fecha de entrar en vigor la present ley, que
sean predominantemente de origen cancasico o de las razas
antdctonas de America, deber&n pagar un derecho de $6,00
por el permiso de residencia.

Para los Inmigrantes que no sean predominantemente
de origen caucAsico o de las razas autdctonas de Amjrica,
o para aquellos que hubiesen perdido su nacionalidad o
que sus derechos politicos o civiles hublesen sido res-
tringidos en su pals de origen, o para aquellos Que siendo
predominantemente de origen caucdsico pertgnezcan a la
raza semftica, sin haber estado establecidos de manera
continue, durante los tres afios anteriores a la punlica-
cidn de esta. ley en palses o territories del Continente
Americana, el derecho por el expresado permiso de resi-
mencia serd de $ 500.00.
From Gaceta Oficial, Vol. I, 1939

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This seasonal influx of cheap labor from Haiti was

soon resented by the Dominicans who were thrown out of work,

or were forced to compete with laborers used to a lower

wage. The tide of immigration increased during the late

'twenties and the depression period of the 'thirties,

and fierce resentment was aroused. The climax came in the

fall of 1937 when, according to report, several thousands of

Haitians -(a total of 60,000 were estimated to be living in the

Dominican Republic), were systematically murdered. The

massacre was vigorously protested by Haiti through diplo-

matic channels. A joint committee of the United States,

Mexico and Cuba investigated the protests and awarded

Haiti damages to the extent to $750,000, $250,000 of which

the Dominican government immediatley #aid, with the promise

to pay the rest in installments. Since these events the

Dominican government has made strenuous efforts to fix the

Boundary between its territory and that of the AoWQl' -

Republic. Border patrols have been strengthened, and

border towns on the Dominican side have been built upi and

maintained. At present there is a kind of no man's land

between the two countries, and a road connecting the

southern border town of Elias Pila with the northern

border town or Dajabnn nas been completed. It is this

1. Introduction

2. The Attitude of the Dominican Government

vis-a-vie Immigration

3. The Capacity of the Dominican Republic

to Absorb Immigrants

4. Land Tenure and Credit Facilities in the

Dominican Republic

5. Emigration from Puerto Rico

6. Conclusion

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frontier area that the Dominican government would like to

see settled, but Dominican nationals would certainly be

given prefernwe4. for strengthening the region.

At all events any penetration of immigrants from

other countries should be made in such a way that all

parties to the arrangement are satisfied, and are kept

satisfied. A repetition of border incidents or their

equivalent should be studiolisly avoided.


The large acreage of irrigable land in the Western

Cibao, in the flood plaift of the Yaque, and on parts of

the lower terraces, will be put to use when the Granada

Fruit Company. has completed thie installation of its

irrigation works. The modern overhead spray system is to

be used. The Companry alreadyemplovs around 2500 workers.

On the gravelly permeable terraces, the vegetation,

which is markedly xerophytic, supports little besides goats.

The country between Dajab6d and Monte Cristi to the north

is particularly dry. But progressing thence eastward

toward Santiago) the observer notes that cattle grazing

becomes important. The terraces in the eastern nart of

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the Yaque Valley, and the plains of Sabaneta, east of

Dajabdn, provide good pastures. Most of the Cibao

might be referred to as lying in the technological pioneer

tinge; in other words, all the teonniques of modern

agricultural science must be applied if its resources are

to be fully developed and utilized, and if it is to become

the home of prosperous people.

- Westward from Ciudad Trujillo to the southern border

town of Elias Piffa (whence one continues southwest to

Port au Prince, Haiti), the road follows the valley of the

Rio Yaque del Sur. This river, in a previous geologic&I

periods during which precipitation was greater then at

present, covered large areas of the depression between

the Cordillera Central and the Sierra de Neib4 with

alluvial deposits, which now stand out as terraces as the

river deepens its valley. Some of the lower terraces are

irrigated on a small scale, but if the headwaters of this

river were impounded in the mountains, extensive tracts

would be irrigable that are now in wothbless scrub.

The possibilities of this region have been discussed in
some detail by William Van Royen, "A Geographical Re-
connaissance of the Ciao of Santo Domingo," Review
V01.28, No. 4, 1938, P. 565. sq *'

- 8 -

The contrast, in the cultural landscapes -w44e

strikesthe eye as one goes from one Republic to the other

A a reflection of diverse historical backgrounds. The

history of the Repunlica Dominicana has been one of ereat

estates and primogeniture, which for centuries made land

parcelling either impossible or only remotely possible,

whereas the tradition in Haiti has been just the opposite;

,Then the slaves were successfull in their revolt against their

white masters, they fell upon the plantations, in the

tradition of the peasants of the French Revolution, and

began to cultivate what they could as individuals, on a

',self-sufficient basis. For a century and a half, small

landholdings have been the tradition, with the result that

Haiti is densely settled by a highly disseminated population,

whereas the Republica Dominicana contains vast areas that

are sparsely populated or entirely lacking in inhabitants.

The density of population is by no means always a

faithful reflection of the qualities of climate, soil,

topography and vegetation. For instance, the fertile

alluvial lands of the valleys which are followed by tne

highway from Santiago de los Caballeros to Ciudad Trujillo

are almost exclusively in pastures, for eighty miles bet-

ween the town of Bonao and the capital. This whole area

could easily become a market garden for the large regional

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centers, where all sorts of truck crops could be grown.

At present almost all these lands are the property of

President Tru~illo and are used as holding and fattening

pastures for his cattle as they move slowly toward

Ciudad Trujillo.

Large tracts of fertile land are held in many parts

of the country by absentee landowners and are leased for

pastures or for charcoal production--relatively unproductive

forms of exploitation which require little supervision on

the part of the owner. The existence of large, inefficient-

ly utilized estates on fertile alluvial land--some of which

is irrigable--is a potent factor in forcing the growing

farm population into the steep slopes of the foothills and

mountains where the forests are destroyed to make conucos,

or self-sufricient gardens. The topsoil is thereby laid

care and becomes a prey to tne erosive activity of the

torrential downpours.

A survey of potentialities in the Dominican Repuolic,

conducted under the auspices or the Brookings Institution,

presented a pessimistic view of the capacity of the

country to absorb refugees. It sets its estimate of the

Refugee Settlement in the Dominican Republic, Washington,
D. C., 1942.

- 10 -

colonization capacity of the Republic at 5,000 immigrants,

--an estimate based on the amount of potentially arable

land and the requirements of the rapidly increasing native

population. In these calc ulations however, no account was

taken of the industrialization potential, or of the

intensification of land use in areas now extensively ex-

ploited. Radical improvement of agricultural techniques

and industrial development would increase the output of

real wealth in tne country and, if the benefit of this

wealth were well distributed among the producers, the rate

of natural increase of population would probably decline,

as has been the case in all parts of the world. Capital,

enterprise and skills, if combined in the right propor-

tions, result not only in a surprisingly swift attainment

of higher standards of living but also in the creation

of a labor market, which can absorb people from over-

crowded countttes.

As the density of population increases in the

Dominican Republic, the interests of local nutrition will

conflict ever more keenly with the interests of the export

In Puerto Rico, it has been observed that when families
attain a minimum salary of $8001a- year (as contrasted
with the average family income of $340 for 80% of all
families), the birth rate immediately declines.

- 11 -

trade; this problem is common to all countries that

depend largely on agricultural exports for their economic

existence. At present in the local diet there is a de-

ficiency of animal protein and animal fats and an excess

of starchy foods. Yet the improved and more intensive

methods of production which are urgently needed in the

agricultural system cannot be achieved unless good food

is plentifully available to all members of Dominican

society. If higher standards of efficiency can be realized,

as well as greater output.-not only greater output per

capital of the present population but also greater output per

unit of land--then the outlook for immigrants is very good.

From the point of view of the country settled

it goes without saying that the first immigrants should

be of a desirable type) so that they can act as a kind

of leaven in their respective rural communities.

What Araujo y Rivera wrote in a report to His

Majesty as early as 1699, holds true today: "It is

hardly worthwhile to send people (to Santo Domingo] and

to discuss those already settled, unless provision is made

for the protection and economic well-being of tVose already

on the spot as well as of those to be sent, so that they

will take root and he a credit to the government, and niant

- 12 -

useful crops ..................... But they must -e able

to trade rin tnose crops); otherwise they will lack the

ambition to work, an'd to cultivate crops, except those

necessary for their own consumption,"#


The Land Registration Act set up a Land Court to

grant titles to be registered in the offices of the

Direcci6n General de Mensuras Catastrales. It is esti-

mated that titles to lands covering approximately one-

thitd of the area of the Republic have been made. I

was assured by a surveyor in the Instituto de Geograffa

in Ciudad Trujillo that it is no longer difficult to

obtain a clear title to land. There still remain extensive

areas, however, according to the statements of reliable

residents, where legal title is hard to establish, especial-

ly in productive regions. Colonists cannot be expected

to occupy land for years without title, in the vague hone

of obtaining 44 some day. To interest worthwhile colonists,
the Dominican government must guarantee clear titles,

what has been said with reference to the Argentine Pampa

"Relaciones Histdricas de Santo Dnmingo" Ciudad Trujillo
1942, P. 317.

- 13 -

is equally applicable here: "Not immigration agencies,

not free passages, not money help to the newcomer unadjusted

to any capacity he has shown to pay obligations, but a fair

chance to buy land at actual present worth, unaugmented

by speculative estir ates of the value that his labor will

some day give it, makes for successful settlemnt here

as elsewhere. A nation that allows one group of its citi-

zens, whether large or small, to withhold the land from

those who will give it value, until they have paid to the

withholders a great share of the value that is to be given

it, is not in intelligent hanis, The land must be purchasable

at something near its taxable value; andt will be so pur-

onasable when it is taxed at something near its selling

price, possible ownership of the land is the crucible

wherein the foreigner who is worth while is transmuted into

a citizen." #

In most of Latin America there is a dearth of capital

and credit, &a, The Dominican Republic has been no ex-

ception to tne rule. Yet credit at low rates must be

available at all times to assist competent farmers, whether

renters or small landholders, before colonists can be

expected to flourish,

Mark Jefferson1 "Peopling the Argentine Paimpa", NNwYeAK
1930, PP. 123-124.

- 14 -

On August 29, 1945 tne Dominican Land and Mortgage

Bank was opened with a capital of $2,000,000 to be

suscribed by the state. "The bank is authorized jo make

real estate mortgage Loans for a maximum term of 30 years,

at interest not more tnan 3 percent above tne interest tne

Dank pays its creditors, Sncn loans may oe made for tne

purchase of real property; for drainage and irrigation works;

for equipment and machinery for agricuItural, livestock

or industrial purposes; for construction and improvements

on land; and for toe payment of deots contracted under

less favorable conditions than the debtor may obtain from

the oank. Snort-term credit is also authorized, through

cooperatives and other agricultural credit groups, for the

development or agricultural, livestock, and industrial

enterprises, and especially for the benefit of persons

of modest economic resources."# T~is is a step in the

right direction, but the entire amount of capital is small,

and it is certainly not available to immigrants.


In Puerto Rico the sugar plantation preempted much

of the fertile alluvial land,gradually forcing a movement

"The Dominican Land and Mortgage Bank", Bulletin of the
Pan American Union, January, 1946, PP. 21-22.

- 15 -

up the sides of the mountains on the part of the more or

less self-sufficient agriculturalists. This movement from

the insalubrious lowlands to the more healthful highlands

was paralleled by a rapid increase of births over deaths,

and the already bign rate of population increase gained

momentum, with the result that there is now a movement

of surplus population dew. into the lowerlying areas. It
is presumably/ from this group of people, brought up on

small farms, that would, or could, come those interested

in emigration, the group that would at the same time be

of most interest to countries contemplating the admission

of immigrants, Proper selection would ensure that only

those Puerto Ricans would emigrate who would adjust well

in their new home. Such emigres would no doubt tend to

let lapse their American citizenship--surely a desideratum,

since the Dominican government would not be desirous of

having a bloque of American citizens within its territorial


It is easier to talk about migration in the Caribbean

than to initiate it, for in spite of modern transportation

facilities there have been few demographic adaptations or

population movements in the Caribbean--exactly the opposite

of wnat happened in the Mediterranean. Indeed the Caribbean

seems to be a barrier rather than a highway, as far as the

- 16-

interchange of Carionean peoples and products--even ideas,

in many cases--is concerned. The superimposition of the

plantation system in the Carionean area, by business men

in distant mother countries, has meant that the autochtho-

nous self-sufficient agriculture has been frozen, as it

were, in its most primitive phase and has been unable to

progress beyond that phase. In many ways the system of small

owner-operator plot is socially superior to that of the

plantation and of the latifundio: the small owners do not

merely occupy a country, they settle it; they are attached

to the soil and inured to hard work, and the work is not

merely drudgery--it is a satisfaction. There is a world

of dir'ference between the psychology of the owner-operator,

the worker who is working on his own farm, and of the rural

wage earner who will never own land and who knows that

he never will. It is the plantation worker that has made

the poorest emigrant in the Far East. One of the "Teh

Oonmandments" prescribed in Java for the selection of

colonists was: "Don't select former plantation laborers;
in 90% of all cases they are the cause of discontent in

the colonies."*

Karl pelzer, "Pioneer Settlement in the Asiatic Tropics"
Sr-- 1945, P. 210.

Up to the present time very little has been done

in an organized way to make Puerto Ricans 'emigration-

minded", apr paganda is of tremendous importance in any

undertaking involving the movement of peoples. The Dutch

have been very successful in its usef. The following

account is pertinent: "In order to persuade a conservative

and wary Javanese tani to leave his native island one

must approach him at the psychological moment and in a con-

vincing manner. For this purpose a few successful, well-

dressed, and satisfied colonists were brought back to their

home districts with samples of soils, agricultural produce,

and numerous photographs of-life in the colony. With such

concrete evidence they often dispelled the fear and scep-

ticism of their former fellow villagers. Peasants who

would be too shy to ask questions in a large assembly

were given an opportunity to talk confidentially with the

visitor over a leisurely smoke or cup of coffee. The

visitor was usually accompanied by his wife, who would

discuss her experiences with the women of the village.N
*After having selected a satisfied colonist as their pro-

pagandist, the officials left him entirely to his own

devices. Recruiting by this means met with the greatest

success when undertaken shortly before the scheduled date

- 18 -

of departure; if it was attempted too far in advance the

volunteers might change their minds. It was also important

to time the recruitment during patcheclick, the annual

period of food scarcity in Java, that is, during the last

weeks before harvest. Another direct propaganda method

was to send Javanese villagers on excursions to
lonies in the Outer Islands at the government's

And again: "The most powerful weapon of modern

propaganda, the motion picture, played a prominent part

in the program. A. Jqnkers, an official of the Department

of the Interior familiar with Javanese customs and ideas,

supplied the script for a film, "Tanah Sabrang," which was

directed by Mannus Franken. As most Javanese villagers

had never seen a motion picture, the action is slow and

very detailed. The picture shows all the steps in migration,

from recruiting to the final well established desa where

every settler has his own house, garden and fertile sawah

(plot of farm land). The picture cleverly portrays a

wajang play, the traditional Javanese entertainment. Three

of the characters are the beloved old wajang figures of

Semar and his two sons Petruk and Gareng, to whom the Javanese

ikw*var, Pelzer, P. 250.

- 19 -

has been accustomed since childhood. A special point

was made in the film of the fact that the familiar characters

of the wajang go along to Sumatra, so that the Javanese

might feel more at home in the new land, The other

characters are modern Javanese villagers and officials who

make the journey step by step from central Java to the


"Three trucks with projectors and sound machinery

made the rounds of central and eastern Java, presenting

the picture each night in a new desa, The performances

were held in the open air and were attended by thousands

of Javanese of all ages who came in from the surrounding

desas. Many saw it several times, delighted at being able

to attend a free movie. In this way the film's persuasive

powers had a chance to take hold of their imagination."#

A campaign of propaganda of an analogous kind would

certainly be in order for Puerto Rico.

There is an urgent need for basic population and

emigration studies in the Caribbean Area. Particular

emphasis should be laid on breaking down the barriers-

physical and wan-made--Detween the areas of "high" and "low"

population pressure. The Dutch have worked on this problem

t--l J. rtl -1 Cit.1, 41) 1945 P. 251.

- 20 -

in tne Far East for many years, and Dr. Pelzer's recent

book, cited at length in connection with propaganda,

should he required reading for those interested in the

ebb and flow of population anywhere in the world.

The Dutch tried for a generation to settle Javanese

on the sparsely settled island of Sumatra. Dr. Pelzer

studied their colonization efforts in great detail ,and ka-

states that "the government did not follow up this important

innovation immediately [i.e., 44e rednc~t ef its finan-
from the premium of 22.50 guilders, originally offered,
cial support to tl'e payment of the costs of transportation

only]. In 1929 and 1930 the colonies in southern Sumatra

received only such colonists as migrated independently

of any financial aid from the government. Altogether a

total of 3,500 Javanese migrated to these colonies without

depending upon public fu' during the years from 1927

through 1931. Thus, finally, after 25 years of priming,

a small but steady stream of migrants had begun to flow.

These new pioneers did not have to be enticed by the 22.50

guilder premium and were definitely of a better type than

r $the earlier colonists. For the premium in the opinion

of a Javanese reduced pioneering to the level of selling

one's self as a contract laborer to a plantation. These

settlers, on the contrary, did not beloWr to the poorest

strata but had sold their meager possessions in Java in

- 21 -

order to profit from the greater opportunities awaiting

them in the Outer Islands."#

His detailed surveys of colonization projects in the

Asiatic tropics lead Dr. Pelzer to conclude that "A study

of the work of the National Land Settlement Administration

and of the Netherlands Indies Government brings out certain

prerequisites for successful agricultural colonization.

All settlement projects should be carefully studied in

advance by specialists. It is most important to give

an adequate amount of time and effort to surveys covering

land rights and land requirements of the indigenous popu-

lation, topography, soil, climate, vegetation, drainage,

irrigation possibilities and needs, suitable crops, proper

cultivation methods, and necessary soil-conservation

measures. In the Netherlands Indies the preparatory stu-

dies and surveys for each project have in recent times
.J'3 -UL
required approximately two years."Of

In this connection, a concrete problem might

ne studied for Puerto Rico which would throw light on

various phases of the "emigration problemnr

...T relpe- =' Git., I Y 194, P. 199.

arlC J.i 1t.)4 Y.,1945, P. 235.

- 22 -

Puerto Ricans do emigrate. There axe already several

thousands of them in the Dominican Republic. It would

certainly be advantageous to make a survey of their

experiences in their new home. Why did they leave

Puerto Rico in the first place? What economic classes

do they come from? Did they have friends or relatives

in the Republicf ofomintoean before they immigrated? Did

they have capital to start with? How have they adjusted to

their new environment? What activities are they engaged

in? An answer to these and many other questions would

be of great immediate help in formulating long range emigra-

tion policies.


To recapitulate: the Dominican Government is not

sympathetic to the immigration of Haitians, and would

prefer Europeans who have capital to poverty-stricken

Haitians. Those immigrants from Puerto Rico with a

little capital have tended to settle in towns and not

on the land. Proper selection in Puerto Rico would

ensure that in future only those people brought up on small

rarms woukd emigrate to the Dominican Republic. The land

available for settlement in the Dominican Renuulic is

- 23 -

either in extensively exploited great landed estates,

or it is now desert and must be irrigated before it can be

reclaimed. Tnere are still extensive areas where it is

difficult--for nationals as well as immigrants-to establish

a clear title to land. Only a small amount of credit

is available to agriculturalists in the Dominican Republic,

and this is certainly not meant to be extended to


If the migration of Puetto Ricans to the Dominican

Republic is desired by the governments of the United

States and the Dominican Republic,thetr basic surveys

should be made jointly by those two governments of such

areas as could absorb immigrants, the fact not being lost
sight of that many areas extensively exploited at present

would greatly benefit by intensification, as would their neigh-

boring urban agglomerations. At the same time a campaign

of propaganda might well be started in Puerto Rico, com-

parable in seriousness and scope to that carried on in

Java, as indicated above. Cooperative efforts must be

the keynote from the start, and all the activities, from

the showing of moving pictures to the grade school children

of Puerto Rico to the harvesting of the first crop in

the4 new country, must be well coordinated, so that the

Here the problem was incomparably simplified by the fact
that the islands in question were both Dutch colonies.

- 24 -

whole migrational machinery may work as a unit.

The problem of the rapidly increasing population

in Puerto Rico is one of great magnitude and many rami-

fications; simple and speedy solutions may be just as

speedily rejected when resolution of the difficulty is

not immediately forthcoming. Planning should comprehend

a period of decades. Programs of action should be inaun

gurated only after practical facts and factors have been

studied, and after the governments concerned have resolved

on a concerted policy.