The Daily News. 1994
Puerto Rico has much
for ecotourists to see
Early this month. I was in Puerto
Rico for the TriAgency IR4 pesti-
cide conference and I was able to
talk to many people about Puerto
Rico's history, culture, politics,
environment and economy.
When Columbus first encoun-
tered the Taino-Arawak Indians in
1493 in Puerto Rico. he was
In his note, Columbus wrote:
"They go quite naked as their moth-
ers bore thrm -
"They are so ingenious and free
with all they have, that no one
would believe it who has not seen
it. Of anything they possess, if it be
asked of them they never say no."
Around 1508. the Spanish set-
tied in Puerto Rico. searching for
gold. They brought Africans slaves
to work in the gold mines, so
Africans played an essential role in
the development of the Spanish
colony in Puerto Rico.
By 1540. though, the production
of gold had declined.
In 1553, the were 1.500 slaves.
By 1834, there were 30.000 slaves.
After the decline of gold, agricul-
ture became the major force of the
economy. By that time. the Indian
population in Puerto Rico was near-
ly extinct, killed off by European
disseaes and other mistrematenrs.
By 1797 the major part of the
population indigenous to Puerto
Rico was exterminated by the con-
But some huttxrian believe that
the mountain erior of uamo Rico
was unexplored by the white set-
tiers before Indians were totally
Puerto Rico today ar a mixture
of Africans, Spanish ad Indian ori-
gin. The term Hispanic does not
refer to a people or race but to a
large group of people who speak
This word Hispanic dates to the
second century before Christ. When
a great African King named Hanni-
bal tried to conquer Rome. a Roman
identified his forces as Hispanics.
During the following centuries. the
term Hispanic grew to what it is
Hispanics tend not to have the
same attitude toward race as Black
and White have. but that does not
preclude racial prejudices among
Hispanics. For example. Black His-
panics are not perceived as a distin-
guishable ethnic group, but rather
as Hispanics of a different hue.
One thing for sure thai keep His-
panic people together is their cul-
ture and common religious faith:
In the early history of Puerto
Rico, Christianizaon went in hand
with the enforcement of slavery on
the Indians and African people.
In 1873, slavery was abolished
in Puerto Rico. Like other
Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico
always bad a group of people that
fought against the colonial system.
The revolts lead to the Spanish-
American War of 1898. From then
on. Puerto Rico became pan of the
United States and eventually a U.S.
Puero Rico is an island of con-
trast tropical rain forests, high
mountains exceeding 3,000 feet.
rivers, flat lands, and coastal areas.
The traditional agricultural econo-
my has largely given way to phar-
maceuticals, electronics and other
Since the 19th century, Puerto
Rico has had an urban society.
Many Puerto Ricans make their liv-
ing a professional business people
or factory workers or in and other
urban occupations. In spite of Puer-
to Rico's modem commercialism
and international links, the people
retain many festivities based on
Indian. Spanish and African cus-
toms. The population is about 3
million and still growing.
As in he Vrgn Islands, Puerto
Rico's major industry is tourism,
but especially ecotourism. Plants
and animals are abundant on the
island. Such places as the El
Yungue 28,000-4cre rain forest pre-
serve ram species of orchids and an
unusual species of small green par-
rots. It is the United States' only
Caribbean National Tropical Forest.
For ecotourists, Puerto Rico
offers rain forest hikes, many
waterfalls, horseback riding through
the Rio Grande and along Luquillo
Beach, historical sites, scenic sites.
Puerto Rico has a rich cultural
tradition and many natural habitats.
I for one enjoy the island. And so
Olasee Davis. who holds a mas-
ter of science degree in range man-
agement and forestry ecology, is a
St. Croix ecologist, activist and