OTHER BOOKS by Ralph Hancock:
The Lost Treasure of Cocos Island
Blondes, Brunettes and Bullets
Laughter is a Wonderful Thing
The Forest Lawn Story
Douglas Fairbanks: The Fourth Musketeer
Exploring American Neighbors
The Magic Land: Mexico
The Rainbow Republics: Central America
/Opportunities in Latin America
Our Southern Neighbors
'JLet's Look at Latin America
America's Southern Neighbors
Mexico and Central America
A SUCCESS STORY
D. VAN NOSTRAND COMPANY, INC.
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY
D. VAN NOSTRAND COMPANY, INC.
120 Alexander St., Princeton, New Jersey (Principal office)
24 West 40th Street, New York 18, New York
D. VAN NOSTRAN COMPANY, LTD.
358, Kensington High Street, London, W.14, England
D. VAN NOSTRAD COMPANY (Canada), LTD.
25 Hollinger Road, Toronto 16, Canada
COPYRIGHT 1960, BY
Published simultaneously in Canada by
D. VAN NOSTRAND COMPANY (Canada), LTD.
Library of Congress Catalogue Card No. 60-11064
No reproduction in any form of this book, in whole or in
part (except for brief quotation in critical articles or reviews),
may be made without written authorization from the publishers.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Para mis amigos
A "tdew" u mOwe &1)
' eacA 14 er uJnder
^d%^~\ o^ 9o^r
The island of Puerto Rico hangs like a neon shingle from the
bracket formed by the Lesser Antilles. That is the way it appears
on the map. To the world it is a bright but modest sign advertis-
ing one solution to the complex colonial problems that have
plagued nations from the beginning of time.
On a land barren of natural resources and an economy chained
to one master, sugar cane, Puerto Rico has created a favorable
business climate and sparked a phenomenal boom in industry.
With a population density that was dangerously excessive and,
despite a high death rate, increasing by 60,000 a year, Puerto
Rico has made jobs for thousands and raised the living standards
of everyone on the island. Out of an atmosphere of despair, dis-
illusion and discouragement, Puerto Rico has evolved and in-
spired a cultural renaissance. From an environment once con-
sidered hopeless Puerto Rico has become, in the language of the
common man, a signpost pointing the way to security with free-
dom, to hope with dignity.
It is a uniquely satisfying experience for any people to find solu-
tions to its problems. It is always a keenly gratifying task to record
it. Especially is this true in the case of this report on Puerto
Rico, for one cannot sit on the sidelines for thirty years watching
such a battle without a deep feeling of satisfaction in reporting
Though some objectivity should be maintained in such a report,
one cannot talk to many Puerto Ricans without becoming emo-
tionally and deeply involved in their affairs for no people any-
where are more simpdtico. The only way to achieve balance in-
stead of bias, therefore, is to "show both sides of the coin," as
the islanders say. This, the present report has attempted.
The sources, of course, were several hundred Puerto Ricans
on the island and on the mainland. A few of these are mentioned
in the text. To them all, mil gracias for their many courtesies,
their willingness to talk and their patience.
Palm Springs, California
I OPERATION BOOTSTRAP 1
II PUERTO RICAN PROFILE 11
III HISTORY 29
IV THE SAD YEARS 50
V LUIS MUNOZ.MARIN 76
VI THE WAY FORWARD 89
VII THE TREASURED ISLE 116
VIII MANPOWER 135
IX THE FUTURE? 163
Puerto Rico twenty years ago was one of the most poverty-
stricken, disease-ridden, underdeveloped countries in the world.
Today it stands foremost as a prosperous, healthy land of oppor-
tunity. Largely by its own intensive effort Puerto Rico has
achieved today a level of economic and social development little
short of the miraculous. Its extraordinary success has inspired
hope and given encouragement to other nations in similar cir-
For the United States the example set by Puerto Rico is of
vital importance. Besides the moral satisfaction of having pro-
vided the opportunity for the island's self-improvement, there
are other direct values for this nation and for the individual
American in Puerto Rico's success. The American taxpayer, for
instance, may be relieved to hear that one of the Congressional
cornucopias, from which all bounties flow, has been closed off to
a comparative trickle. Indeed, there is every evidence that the
flow in Puerto Rico's direction may have reversed itself-an un-
precedented and unexpected turn that is in itself no minor
Though several of our political incumbents have tried to take
credit for this most admirable stoppage and reversal, this phe-
nomenon has occurred largely despite Congress and not because
The fumbling and frequently ignoble role which the Congress
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
of the United States (and accompanying administrations) has
played in this doorstep drama will come out in the course of this
story, but that is not the whole tale, nor even the half of it.
Rather, this is the story of a people so low on the social and
economic ladder they could hardly have been pushed down an-
other rung. Discouraged by their inabilities, weary with mis-
management, and with little hope for the future, they reached
bottom in the years of the Great Depression.
No community should be judged entirely by its slums. But
when one person out of eight inhabits an indescribable pigsty,
when three out of four live in what would be denounced as
slums in New York, St. Louis, or San Francisco, when one out
of two is diseased because of inferior diet, housing, clothing, or
simple sanitation, and only one in three can read and write, then
it must be conceded that the economic and social status of that
people is close to rock bottom.
As everyone knows, there are only two route's at such a fork.
One leads on to death and total extinction for a whole society;
the only other way to go is up.
Therein was the miracle: The phenomenon, the high drama
involved in this social and economic renaissance lay in the fact
that the upward trend was a self-generating force, the only ex-
ample the world has ever seen where a whole community of
desperately depreciated people lifted itself by its own bootstraps.
And the only credit which Congress can assume in this connec-
tion is the fact that it had sense enough when the time came,
or was sufficiently dismayed and desperate for a solution, to keep
hands off and let nature (for, surprisingly, the phenomenon is
natural) take its course. There is evidence that our territorial
policy is finally entering an age of reason.
And thereon hangs this story, for the best example of this
kind of thinking, the common sense approach, applied to a
typical state-sized, socio-economic problem, is Puerto Rico. Here,
in an atmosphere of practicality, a whole country is working out
its own salvation on a realistic basis. Man, in this environment
of hard fact and national introspection, has come face to face
with the basic formula that there is no utopia but that which he
can find within himself, no public paradise but that which he
creates with his own hands.
For the political policy makers it is the best counter-propa-
ganda the United States can use to deflect Communist aims. In
the Middle East, Asia, Africa, even Latin America, wherever
colonial countries are straining at their bonds or newly inde-
pendent countries are feeling their way, Soviet propagandists
ply their trade. They teach that only through Communism can
such nations achieve their goals. Western freedom, they say, is
only a mask for capitalist imperialism, implying that capitalist
imperialism is synonymous with aggression.
Defamation of this sort should make little impression on any
nation that provides opportunity and gives encouragement to
Puerto Rico is the best example, the one unique answer which
the United States can throw in the teeth of any such Soviet line.
For, after all outr fumbling, we have provided opportunity and
given encouragement to self-improvement, and the result is
something every American (and particularly the Puerto Rican
American) can be proud of. And the future? Quien sabe? At
least for the moment there is courage, hope, and vitality, and in
such an atmosphere almost anything can happen. Anything good,
From "pesthole of the Caribbean," "dynamite on our door-
step," "the stricken land," Puerto Rico has now become the most
talented star on the territorial stage. There was a time when
some Americans wished it were on another planet. Today they
ring all the bells and kill the fatted calf and talk of bringing it
closer than it really is. At that, Puerto Rico is 1500 miles nearer
to Washington than Alaska, 3500 miles closer than Hawaii!
So it is hardly a figure of speech to say it is on our doorstep
when several hundred thousand visitors last year found it closer
to New York than California.
The visitor is easily intrigued by the many curious and un-
expected things going on. But there is no mystery about any of
it. Explore some of those questions to their ends and you'll find
logic is the key. And Puerto Ricans are so proud of what has
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
happened to their little island that anyone you meet will be
articulate and pardonably boastful.
Take that element of obvious vigor, for instance. Their ex-
planation is that they had it all the time, a potential resource
that all peoples possess. The puertorriquefios only needed oppor-
tunity and encouragement. That may be an oversimplification of
a complex situation, but it is essentially true. One could hardly
credit it to the climate, the island's natural resources, or the
Puerto Rican racial stock.
The climate of Puerto Rico can be matched in a dozen places
in the West Indies. Its resources are little different from its
neighbors'. Its racial stock is a cross-section of the Caribbean.
Yet no other country around this American sea has produced a
similar outburst of vitality. The Dominican Republic, seventy-five
miles away, is a somnolent park filled with statues of Trujillo,
its inhabitants inhibited by fear. Haiti, the darker portion of the
same island, may have three revolutions in a weekend, but such
a burst of activity is little more than a game of musical chairs
played by a few people. And Jamaica, the not-so-virgin Virgins,
the Leewards and the Windwards clear to Trinidad drowse along
much as they have for the past century. The unrest in Cuba,
Venezuela, Colombia, and the Central American countries indi-
cates more temperament than vigor.
Puerto Rico has experienced a uniquely creative explosion.
The combination of a desperate need and the arrival on the
scene of a dedicated leader touched off the spontaneous com-
bustion that propelled one of the most backward countries in the
world up into the middle of twentieth century progress. Its jet
take-off may, indeed, have given it such acceleration that it is
now moving faster than any other country, certainly faster than
any other territorial* entity. No other people, to our knowledge,
have doubled their living standard in a single decade, or quad-
rupled it in two such periods. Within this same twenty years the
average span of life has been increased from 46 to nearly 70
Never say "colonial" in Puerto Rico where the term is, understandably,
years so that it is today a healthier place to live than the United
States. The springboard for this fantastic jump was the initiation
of an industrial program that has changed the country from a
one-crop rural slum into an urbanized country, with an economy
balanced between agriculture and industry, with the odds on
How did the Puerto Ricans trigger this take-off and orbit into
such a celestial position in so short a time? The whole world
wants to know. Since 1950, thousands of government leaders,
students and technical observers from every part of the globe
have come to see the methods that Puerto Rico is using to lift
itself economically and sociologically. They come mostly from
Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Here (they
hope) may lie the key to their problems-a magic recipe for
transforming their own overcrowded, underdeveloped and hun-
gry lands. About eighty percent of the earth's population (for
that is the size of the problem) has a kinship of feeling with
the Puerto Ricans. What the Puerto Ricans were, nearly eighty
percent of the world still is. What the Puerto Ricans are aiming
at, the whole world wants to attain.
Ask any Puerto Iiean and you are likely to get this explana-
tion, or some variation of it. It began, they say, with the dreams
of one man: uis Munioz tPari he islanders love to tell how
as a young man, arely nineteen years old and fresh from a stint
at Georgetown University, he began a promising literary career
with the pu location of poetry like this:
I have broken the rainbow
against my heart
as one breaks a useless sword against a knee.
I have blown the clouds of rose color and blood color
beyond the farthest horizons.
I have drowned my dreams
in order to glut the dreams that sleep for me in the veins
of men who sweated and wept and raged
to season my coffee ..
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
The deep and articulate feelings he had for the complex social
problems of Puerto Rico were to find expression a year later in
the establishment of La Revista de Indias, a publication devoted
to Pan American culture. But the field of battle was not in Wash-
ington, or Baltimore or Greenwich Village where he found others
always ready to listen but loath to action. The "men who sweated
and wept and raged" were in the cane fields of Puerto Rico, in
the shanties of the underpaid needle workers, in the tobacco
plots clinging to the steep hillsides of the island.
So Mufioz came home from Greenwich Village to organize
a revolution. It was a peaceful revolution, for the character of
the poet never left him, but nonetheless it was genuine.
Politically the island had long been split between the desire
for statehood and the demand for independence. Mufioz asked
the people to forget these issues for the moment and to concen-
trate on raising the standard of living. In his vote-getting cam-
paigns he traveled by car, by mule-back and by foot to every
remote part of the island and wherever he could gather an
audience of fibaros (Puerto Rican peasants-low men on the
economic totem pole), he told them it was not necessarily God's
will that they should live forever in rags and hunger. He cur-
tailed vote-selling by preaching: "You can vote and get justice
or sell your vote and get $2, but you can't get both."
The island was dismally dubbed "the poorhouse of the West-
ern World," and the opprobrium was often employed by Commu-
nists and fellow travelers as a handy tool with which to clobber
"United States colonialism."
But in 1940 Mufioz came down from the hills with the strong
peasant support which swept him into the senate presidency
and virtual leadership of the island. His campaign to raise the
standard of living was an experiment in economic levitation. By
1946, labeled "Operation Bootstrap," it was beginning to show
results. It gained new impetus im i48 when Puerto Rico elected
its first native born governor. Then, and twice since, Luis Mufioz
Marin was an easy winner. Puerto Ricans were already United
States citizens, without vote but free of U. S. income tax. In
1952 they won commonwealth status with complete control of
internal affairs. Mufioz helped write the island's own constitu-
tion. This done, he speeded up Bootstrap's drive to industrialize.
To get things moving, the government began planning and
building new plants. As its most persuasive temptation for out-
side capital, it offered ten years of freedom from corporate taxes,/
a seven-year exemption from personal income tax on dividends.
The operation benefited immensely from several millions in
grants-in-aid given by a sympathetic United States government.*
Hundreds of factories were put up and leased to United States
industrialists. Remington Rand, Maidenform, Paper-Mate, Sun-
beam were typical of the familiar companies whose products
were soon rolling off assembly lines scattered all over the land.
The island's tourist potential was ta e nd th w i -
ere natural resource. The one-crop agricultural
economy wabroadened and balan An in s a pr am
creating jobs for 50,000 transformed the island from a scabrous
slum, "the orphan of the Caribbean," to a shiny exhibit of de-
mocracy and free enterprise in action. For this outstanding
achievement Mufioz won the 1956 Freedom House award. (For- L
mer recipients: Churchill and Eisenhower.)
Meanwhile, his new Popular Democratic party led the country
to self-government and established an administration which is
rare in its honesty and competence. "Today," he says, "our main
objective is to raise the pride of the people. I want them to
think of themselves as not just one drop of water in a rain barrel
but a special drop of water in a modem laboratory on which
the eyes of the world are fixed expectantly."
To implement the program, the campaign for better living
standards included a strenuous drive for social and educational
advancement. As the island's slums were torn down, the resi-
dents were moved into modem low cost apartments and subur-
ban housing projects. Under a land reform law underpaid cane
workers in rural areas received plots of their own and higher
wages when they worked for others.
Puerto Rico still participates, as do the states, in the federal grants-in-
aid program. However, there is no special subsidy of any kind and Puerto
Rico's portion is less than the states'.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
Throughout the island children were gaining access to new
schools ranging from primary to complex vocational training
centers and the University of Puerto Rico. New hydroelectric
dams began to spread wider the benefits of electricity and land
use under irrigation. A thousand miles of new roads opened up
new vistas for the backward, barefoot jibaro and new land use
for all. The ultimate goal is to boost Puerto Rico's living standard
(by 1975) to the level of the poorest states of the mainland. The
total budget of the Government of Puerto Rico for the fiscal
years 1940 and 1960, with typical allotments, tells the story.
Total budget $27,948,805
Department of Education
University of Puerto Rico
Public Recreation and Parks
Department of Labor
Economic Development Administration
Dept. of Agriculture and Commerce
Puerto Rico Planning Board
Department of Health
Payments on Public Debt
The gross product rose to almost $1.5 billion in 1958-1959, for a
second consecutive annual increase of over 6%. The budget dollar
is allocated as follows: education, 26.5%; health and welfare,
22.7%; roads, bridges, etc., 8.9%; agricultural development, 5%;
public debt service, 4.5%; industrial development, 4.1%; all others,
The methods, the blueprints, the processes by which these
remarkable changes have been brought about are there for every-
one to see. And people are coming-from all over the world.
Puerto Rico on a normal day looks like a corridor in the United
The Indian woman in her sari and the young Arab in his
galabia are amazed. As visitors watching the smooth operation
of a new knitting mill, they express wonder that such compli-
cated machinery can be run by people formerly so low in the
economic scale. They gaze in awe at the dams, the new high-
ways, the soaring new hotels, and marvel that they have been
built through local initiative, in a country that only twenty years
ago was one of the poorest in the world.
These are typical of the thousands of visitors from a hundred
different countries who have been swarming over Puerto Rico as
observers, official and unofficial, for their own governments.
Some have been students on grants from the Puerto Rican De-
partment of State and the United States International Coopera-
tion Administration. Others have represented the United Nations
or the Organization of American States. And there have been
hundreds who have represented private business in many lands,
interested in Puerto Rico's surging development.
All of these people have come to Puerto Rico to see how a
colony, acquired in war and speaking a language different from
that of the conquerors, could be peacefully transformed into a
flourishing commonwealth, one of the most prosperous states in
Jose Figueres, former President of the Central American re-
public of Costa Rica, called it "a link between North and South
America." And our political leaders, taking all the credit they
can, call it a "showcase of American cooperation." But Operation
Bootstrap was on the rails and rolling by 1949 when President
Truman announced "the bold new program" that would become
known as Point Four. Mufioz Marin told him: "In the past ten
years we have begun to do the things you call for in your Point
Four. We have worked out techniques and have pretty much
solved the basic problems. We have something to show the
underdeveloped countries of the world. Send us their representa-
tives and your technicians, and well teach them what we have
The thousands who have come in the decade since then have
been amazed.* "This is wonderful," they say, but it is not the
More than 10,000 experts from 107 foreign countries have gone to
Puerto Rico in the last eight years to study Operation Bootstrap.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
size of the dams, nor the number of factories, nor even the
hundreds of new housing developments that impresses them. It
is the fact that these have been built by people so much like
themselves. One of the things that helps Puerto Rico's relations
with underdeveloped countries is the fact that there are no
racial bars or prejudices. Another is the very smallness of the
island. As Undersecretary of State Arturo Morales Carri6n ex-
plained it to us: "The United States is too vast for the people
of newly independent states. They see great hydroelectric proj-
ects and multi-billion dollar campaigns and feel that this is
impossible for them. Puerto Rico is in a scale of reference they
can match. We achieved what the Communists promised but
without resorting to Soviet methods or to the destruction of
individual rights and initiative."
Political scientists call it state socialism employed to serve
capitalistic ends. The average American would call it a do-it-
yourself campaign to raise living standards. Idealists dream of it
as the practical road to utopia. The Puerto Ricans have reduced
it to its simplest equation: Operation Bootstrap.
PUERTO RICAN PROFILE
Puerto Rico is 1500 miles nearer to Washington than Alaska,
3500 miles closer than Hawaii-if measured in airline miles.
Three airlines operate to the island from the U. S. mainland and
half a dozen to other points. Not only is it the cheapest and most
comfortable way to get there, but air transportation is a key
factor in the Puerto Rican renaissance.
The contrast, however, between the monotony of over-ocean
flying and the brilliance and variety of island hues is startling
and sudden. One's plane banks in a sharp left turn over El
Morro and the Bay of San Juan, with hardly more than a glimpse
of the old fort. There is time for only the fleetest memory of
what a blood-soaked pile of rocks it is. Biggest bastion of the
Spanish Main, it was fought over by such eminent cutthroats as
Drake, Cofresi, Hawkins-sensible pirates all, for they promptly
spent whatever ill-gotten gains they found here on rum, women,
Before the traveler can dwell on that or wonder how the pres-
ent product compares, the plane slides downhill quickly in the
face of the prevailing northeast trade wind. One gets a few
quick glimpses of distant hills, a green plain (this piece they
call Isla Verde), a yellow palm-shaded beach-and a white ruffle
breaking the blue water a few yards off shore. The hills, the
plain, the curving beach protected by the coral fringe, are like a
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
Spanish skirt and the imagination easily sets the stage for Bizet
and his Carmen.
But the plane comes to rest in front of a spectacularly modem
airport. There are a lot of Carmens in the waiting crowd, and
they are wearing colorful dresses, but the skirts are short and
modish and so is their hair. There are no tortoise shell peinetas,
no mantillas, and no flowers if one discounts the gaudy prints
in some of the dresses.
And there is too much modern efficiency in the way incoming
passengers are hustled through the baggage room. There is a
convenient bar in the room, suggestively decorated with bamboo
and palm thatch (and drinks are on the house-courtesy of the
rum makers), but the tourist scarcely has a chance to imbibe
anything that might help sustain those Bizet illusions, before he
is whisked out to a waiting taxi.
The taxi, too, is fast and businesslike, though the warm breeze
whipping in the open window carries a faint whiff of jasmine
and ginger and the slightly musty odor of tropical vegetation.
Where the broad new highway skirts the Laguna Los Corozos
one may get a glimpse of water hyacinths against a background
of willows, mangroves and coconut palms. But before this jungle
can register more than a fleeting impression, you are breezing
past modern new suburbs and vast new housing developments,
and presently you are in the city of San Juan itself. The neigh-
borhood names say that this is Santurce, and other signs point
the way to Martin Pefia, Hato Rey and Rio Piedras, all once
separate towns but now incorporated into San Juan.
On the drive into the city more preconceptions get dropped
by the wayside. The old familiar symbol of the mafiana spirit,
the peon dozing against a wall with his sombrero resting on his
chin, is no part of the scenery. Nor are there the beggars, the
afflicted mendicants, or the shoeshine boys who lounge in hordes
on the sidewalks of many Latin American cities. Everyone in
these streets seems to be going somewhere-and they are. En-
ergy, purpose, and determination are in the very atmosphere.
Energy is, in fact, the most obtrusive characteristic of the island.
The dredges and the bulldozers, the carpenters and the painters
Puerto Rican Profile
start at 7:00 A.M. The service trucks of the public utility com-
panies make their first calls at the same time. Houses, hotels,
factories, schools, and new streets and highways are a-building
everywhere you look.
And if the sights have changed a little, so have the sounds.
Babies don't seem to cry as vociferously as they used to, cars
and buses are quieter. Gone are the rickety buses of a few years
back-the raucous guaguas* with entrances in the rear and such
picturesque names as "In God We Trust" and "La Coqueta."
And there is not the noise of the loud radios of the cantinas that
used to be so notorious. The morning street noises that added a
picturesque touch to the sounds of the day are rarely heard
today: the musical lilt of the vegetable peddler pushing his cart
along the shady side of the street has been replaced by the super-
market. The song of the egg man who used to deposit eggs (a
little larger than those of the robin) in baskets let down from
the second-story balcony is not heard any more either. Bigger
eggs and fresher are also bought in the supermarket. And hardly
any of the new bungalows have second-story balconies.
The chicharron peddler still shouts his wares ("cracklings" or
roast pig skin, golden brown and delicious) and still, for a few
cents, a sidewalk vender will peel an orange for you with a
knife so sharp that the peeling reaches in one long strip un-
broken to the ground. But their stands are movable carts in front
of modem air-conditioned department stores.
It is hard to realize that scarcely any of this was here twenty
Puerto Rico's dilemma was not unique then; its problems are
not unique now. Its dilemma is one shared with the rest of the
world in greater or less degree. The disastrous tendency for
economic gains to be swallowed up by the continuing rapid
growth of the population is a problem faced by every nation.
In areas which are already densely populated and economically
underdeveloped the situation can become critical. Where natural
resources are limited or nonexistent, continued population ex-
pansion can spell national suicide. Twenty years ago Puerto Rico
Pronounced wah-wahs and coined from the sound of the old klaxons.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
was not far from this latter extreme, with an annual population
increase about the highest in the world. In an economy that
provided fewer and fewer jobs, on a base of scarce natural re-
sources the island, obviously, was headed for disaster when
Mufioz and his Populares proposed their solutions.
S Puerto Rico's population of 2.300,000 makes it one of the most 1-
densely populated areas in the world: 672people per square
mile as compared to 59 people per square mile for continental
United States. If you have never been to Puerto Rico then try
to imagine what the United States would be like if its population
included everybody in the world.
Jaime Benitez, the suave young Chancellor of the University
of Puerto Rico, suggested we illustrate the point this way: "Popu-
lation pressure in the States would begin to compare with that
of Puerto Rico if all the people of the world-two and a half
billion men, women, and children-landed there overnight, and
if by the same nocturnal magic, all available mineral resources
were eliminated, heavy industry disappeared, agriculture became
the main source of employment and your top executive officers
were selected in some mysterious way by somebody else.
"I do not say," Dr. Benitez continued, "that mainland in-
genuity would be incapable of solving such a riddle. Your solu-
tion might be so adequate and audacious as to keep under control
unemployment, illiteracy, disease, and prices, and at the same
time foster production, wages, efficiency, and democracy. Life
might become better than ever before. In their own microcosm,
Puerto Rican leaders have been trying to do that since 1940."
How successful they have been we shall see. All Dr. Benitez
would say was: "Ours has been a task both worthwhile and
exhausting. At every vantage point the double-barreled aim has
been to broaden the range of service and raise its quality. Let
the world judge our success."
The most surprising thing about Puerto Rico is American ig-
orance about what it is and where it is.
It is the smallest and the easternmost of the four islands j.
(Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico) which form the 1
Puerto Rican Profile
(_Great nti It is the northernmost of a chain of smaller
islands curving east and southward to South America. These
islands are the summits of submerged mountain ranges and
Puerto Rico is the top of what would be one of the highest moun-
tains in the world if it were all above water. The Atlantic Ocean
reaches its greatest depth about 45 miles north of the island in
what is known as the Milwaukee Deep, an awesome chasm
30,246 feet deep. One of the deepest spots in the Caribbean is
just off the south shore of the island. Thus it is no figure of
speech to say that Puerto Rico is located in the middle of the
Cradle of the Deep.
Puerto Rico is 1600 airline miles south-southeast from New
York. Its land area, including the offshore islands Mona, Vieques
and Culebra, is 3,435 square miles. That is roughly three times
the size of Long Island or about the same as Corsica, Cyprus,
Lebanon or Los Angeles County, and about half the size of New
Jersey or Israel. In shape it is roughly rectangular-about 100
miles long by 35 miles wide. No place on the island is more than
18 miles from the ocean.
The physical geography of Puerto Rico is responsible for both
its dramatic scenic beauty and its extraordinary variety of social
ills. For a tropical island only 3,435 squar miles in area, it has c
a.surprising diversity of physical environment. Here in micro-
cosm, as Dr. Benitez called it, are all the varieties of land,
climate and topography to be found around the Caribbean, and
yet its natural resources are too poor to support its rapidly grow-
Generalizations about the tropics, and about Puerto Rico in
particular, minimize the importance of these differences, but
since Puerto Rico has become the world's laboratory for the
study of tropical environment perhaps some of the details should
Puerto Rico's size and location do not contribute much to its
heterogeneous physical environment. Topography, more than
any other factor, causes its diversity. There are several types
of rocks and land forms. There are sedimentary rocks, limestone,
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
shale, conglomerates and volcanic flows, and the disintegration
of these has produced a wide variety of sands, clays and loams.
The natural agents of erosion, aided and abetted by the handi-
work of man, have carved these into steep hills and valleys and
The island is extravagently beautiful, subtropical, and with a
climate which comes close to being perpetual June. Much of its
beauty is in contrasts, for its scenery ranges from scalloped
shores and beaches lined with coconut palms to verdant coastal
plains that sweep up to green-decked mountain ranges which
cover the interior and extend over three-fourths of the island.
Puerto Rico is full of Columbus legends, and one of them con-
cerns the description of the island which the Admiral gave to
Isabella upon his return from his second voyage. Crumpling a
piece of parchment, he threw it on the queen's dais. "It is like
that," he said.
The highest of the mountains (La Punta, south of Jayuya) do
not exceed 4,400 feet; le coastal plain, which surrounds the
island, varies from 8 to 13 miles in width on the north side and
from 2 to 8 miles on the south side. Thus the long, gradual
slopes are toward the north, and the short abrupt slopes face
south. At the west end of the island the mountains spread out
fanwise, filling the width of the island, while in the east the
divide curves to the northeast corner, where there is a somewhat
detached group of rugged hills known as the Luquillos.
Though Puerto Rico is situated within the boundaries of the
Torrid Zone, its climate could hardly be called "tropical," in the
sense that tourists imagine it. Temperatures are relatively uni-
form for the whole island, with always a ten- to twenty-degree
difference between coastal points and the mountain tops, ten
degrees between day and night, and about five degrees' differ-
ence between winter and summer average temperatures.
The island lies in the path of the trade winds which blow
almost constantly from the east-northeast and provide what the
islanders call their natural air conditioner. This wind, which is
seldom more than a steady breeze (average 13 miles per hour),
Puerto Rican Profile
and the smallness of the island, give it one of the most delightful
climates imaginable. Daily mean temperatures for San Juan and
north coast towns range from 74.90 in January and February to
80.50 in August and September. The south side of the island is /
generally one or two degrees warmer than the north side.
The most remarkable differences are recorded in the amounts
of rainfall received on the windward (north) and leeward
(south) exposures, and in low and elevated areas. Puerto Rico's
brick-like shape (with its southeast corer broken out) and
mountainous central backbone running east-west the length of
the island, dividing it roughly into two parts, makes it an efficient
Though San Juan and the north coast towns can boast of 360
days of sunshine a year (361.5 days a year for San Juan accord-
ing to the U. S. Weather Bureau), Puerto Rico also averages
about 215 days of the year when it rains. The rains are no
impediment to movement, however, since they ride in on the
trade wind in quick tropical showers that cool the air, clean the
streets, and refresh the body. Watch the Puerto Ricans. Few
carry umbrellas or raincoats, for they know they need only wait
a moment under an awning or in a soda fountain and the shower
will soon give way to pleasant sunshine.
Rainfall for the north coast around San Juan averages 65 inches
a year. The rain clouds pile up against the mountain tops only
20 miles away and drop nearly 200 inches a year. Here, in the
Trujillo range, is the mountain El Yunque, on which the U. S.
National Forest Service administers one of the world's most
exotic rain forests. No ranger is guarding it from fire, however,
because it couldn't be burned with a blowtorch.
Fields are always green, coconut groves and fruit trees abound,
and bamboo grows in clumps and long hedgerows beside the
fields of sugar cane and dairy meadows of the north coast. But
the mountainous central spine of the island is a wall over which
comparatively few rain clouds reach the south side. Here, in a
semi-desert climate, with an annual rainfall half that of the
north coast (and more sunshine), agriculture is almost entirely
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
dependent on irrigation. Cactus and thorny shrubs grow on the
slopes and for most of the year the sere gray and brown scene is
relieved only by the pale green fields of irrigated sugar cane.
There is a certain softness about Puerto Rican scenery despite
these sharp contrasts. It may be the tranquil climate, or the
small scale of its geographic factors. Perhaps it is the gentleness
of its people, for people, in the mass or individually, can effect
extraordinary impressions about a land.
But surely there is no such thing as an average Puerto Rican
any more than there is any such thing as an average Missourian.
Taking physical contours and colors in their majority, most visi-
tors come away with the impression that Puerto Ricans generally
are small, dark and youthful. Otherwise they are much like their
brothers in any other state.
The smallness of the Puerto Rican has been attributed to
several factors, but perhaps several hundred years of meager
diet have been the principal cause. Feed giants half their mini-
mum standard daily requirements of vitamins and calories and
you might have pigmies in four generations. It is significant that
Puerto Ricans of the upper class, whose fathers and grand-
fathers have always had plenty to eat, are generally big people.
Thus size has as much to do withr,the caste system as color. And 4-
since Americans, generally, are bigger people, the islanders tend
to lump their own upper class and maiilanders together as one.
The amalgam of Spanish (frequently itself a Moorish admix-
ture), African Negro, indigenous Indian, colonial French, and
Anglo-Saxon (whatever that is) in Puerto Rico is a blend which
anthropologists believe will eventually occur in the rest of the
United States. Sixty years ago the census takers were separating
the colors into three major divisions: blancos (white), pardos
(gray), and morenos (brown or black). Perhaps their color sense
was more cultivated than ours but we fail to see anything today
but a spectrum so broad it would be impossible to classify the
gradations in three or even a dozen shades.
The miscegenetic processes in Puerto Rico have been acceler-
ated, perhaps, by its geography, economy and social mores.
Which is another way of saying the puertorriquefos are more
Puerto Rican Profile
advanced (i.e., less color-prejudiced) than United States con-
tinentals. Any chauvinists who would disagree with this con-
tention should, for more disturbance of their peace of mind,
read Chapter 15 of Bergen Evans' The Natural History of Non-
The increased life span of Puerto Ricans is the expected aver-
age. That doesn't mean that in this year-of-our-Lord 1960 there
are a lot of Puerto Ricans nearly 70 years old or older. Far from
it. It is the life expectancy at birth based on the better health
of all Puerto Ricans, and since this is a condition that has seen
its biggest advances in recent years, not enough time has passed
yet to prove the figure and so a majority of the citizens of this
island are on the sunny side of middle age. (A high birth rate
and a dropping death rate always have this effect.) Of the total
island population of 2.3 million people, 1.55 million are less than
35 years old; 621,000 are 35 to 64; and only 105,000 are 65 and
over. Thus if half the population seems to be school children
and the other half young adults, that impression wouldn't be far
wrong. The crone and the codger are noted for their rarity.
Dividing Puerto Ricans into socio-economic classes is far
simpler than separating them according to race. Whereas there is
no rule-of-thumb for measuring color degrees or racial charac-
teristics, the contrast between wealth and poverty can be meas-
ured in dollars and cents. The aristocracy of the island twenty
years ago was made up of the few great landowners, bankers,
and high government officials. They belonged to the few clubs;
their standard of living was similar to privileged groups in other
parts of the world. They shared control of the island with the
great sugar corporations. They lived in large plantation houses
or town homes that were virtual palaces. Their households were
staffed with a dozen or more servants whose total take-home pay /
The rest, the overwhelming majority, belonged to a class that
was in many respects below that of the American Negro in
slavery days. More than 85 percent of the people were without
real property. The average Puerto Rican in this class lived a life
of want from the cradle to the grave: born of parents frequently
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
afflicted with hookworm or malaria, suffering from malnutrition
in childhood, living his entire life in a crowded shack with no
sanitary facilities whatsoever.
There was no middle class. The few small merchants, teachers,
professional men who might have been called the middle class
were a minority hardly worth counting.
Today there remains some vestige of a wealthy aristocracy
(though most are down to their last half dozen Cadillacs) and
there still are many very poor people, but now there is some-
thing more. There is a middle ca siJPuerto _Rico. It is large, itt-'
is growing, and it is going to be heard. These are the children of
Operation Bootstrap, the "workers," and though their standard
of living can hardly compare with that of middle class con-
tinentals, still, for Puerto Rico, this articulate, confident class is
Color, size, age, and take-home pay have little to do with
the predominately Spanish character of Puerto Ricans. Even the
pure Negro types, unless they happen to be from St. Thomas
or some other island, show less African than Spanish influence.
Spanish influence on the Puerto Rican character shows up
primarily in his emotional pattern and cultural mores. Like the
Spaniard, he is inclined to be fatalistic. Though death is always
just around the corner and he treats it with proper respect, he is
not unduly oppressed by it. He is perhaps overly sensitive;
manifestations of this are evident in his inferiority complexes
when his education, physical size, color, and honor are questioned.
It shows in his susceptibility to criticism, in the ease with which
he may be slighted. Any condescension of feeling of superiority
is quickly sensed and resented.
Spanish, of course, is the native language though more English J
is spoken in Puerto Rico than in any other basically Spanish-(
speaking country. In San Juan, Ponce, and Mayagiiez the ma-
jority of the people a visitor meets speak English and even in the
smallest pueblo there is always someone who can understand.
If you know only a smattering of Spanish and want a little
exercise in that language, you may have difficulty in the places
where a lot of English is spoken. The Puerto Rican who knows
Puerto Rican Profile
English would rather converse with you in English than put up
with your poor Spanish. If you find yourself in such a situation
don't insist on using Spanish, even though you think his English
is poorer than your Spanish. You will thus give his ego a boost,
eliminate one sensitive point in his inferiority complex, and con-
tribute to your own better public relations.
On the other hand, if you have some facility with Spanish just
bear in mind that Puerto Rico was an isolated island for several
hundred years, with little or infrequent contact with the world,
even the Spanish-speaking world, and its language has developed
some peculiarities not found anywhere else. The Puerto Rican
dialect,* generally, is spoken so rapidly that many syllables are
slurred or never pronounced.
How do you know when you've made the grade? When you
say, "Gracias," and the waiter doesn't come right back with,
There is more confusion in the area of religion in Puerto Rico f <
The Puerto Ricans are a very religious people-the Puerto Ricani
don't give a damn-depending on which magazine you read.
For 450 years Puerto Rico has been called a Catholic country.
The Roman Catholic Church is as indigenous to the island scene
as the courthouse square in the average United States county
seat. Most Puerto Ricans are born into the Catholic faith and
die in it as a matter of course (though their practice of it may
be something else again) but since the island became a part of
the United States, the influence of the Church has been largely
restricted to the spiritual field rather than the political field.
Despite the opening of new schools during United States ad-
ministration, much of Puerto Rico's educational facilities were
run by the Church and some still are. Despite dissemination of
hygienic information by the United States Government and a
concerted effort on the part of the Commonwealth government,
the Church's traditional opposition to birth control was and is a
contributing reason for Puerto Rico's basic problem-overpopu-
Technically, it is not a dialect but a distinct language, just as American
English could hardly be called a dialect of British English.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
And although in the hills it has always been hard for the
fibaros to get to church, the attendance at the churches in the
cities has always been good.
In addition, for sixty years an influential part of the American
invasion has been Protestant missions. One might assume, there-
fore, that Puerto Ricans today are religiously saturated. They are
religious by nature, as all simple people are religious, but in
their practice of organized religion, Catholic or Protestant, the
vast majority has been less than conscientious.
During the Spanish regime there was no separation of church
and state, and the inhabitants came to look upon the crown and
the Church as one. The few schools that existed were controlled
by the Church, and the Church's influence reached into every
sphere of activity, including the economic. As an established re-
ligion Catholicism is now and will probably continue to be the
most important in the island.
There was only one Protestant church on the whole island at
the time of the American occupation, and this was restricted to
English-speaking persons. It could not announce its services in
the local press and its members, if they were in business, fre-
quently were mildly boycotted. But within a few weeks after the
change of government was effected, missionaries from the North
American churches established beachheads in the principal cities
and fanned out over the island.
Unfortunately, however, their infiltration coincided with the
beginning of United States military control and the puertorri-
quehos were not conditioned by inheritance or experience to
separate church and power. Most of the missionaries were in-
adequately trained, frequently lacking even rudimentary knowl-
edge of Puerto Rican culture or any idiomatic command of the
language. Further, this was the era when proselytizers were not
so interested in understanding the culture of the native as they
were in selling their own brand of mores and religious customs.
But whatever they lacked, it wasn't fervor or professional
courtesy. With a remarkable degree of comity, they organized
themselves in their new enterprises. They zoned the island to
prevent overlapping of effort. Thus one seldom found more than
Puerto Rican Profile
one evangelical group working in a given area. The Baptists-first
to arrive-occupied a broad diagonal strip extending across the
island from San Juan to Ponce. The Methodists were located
around Arecibo. The whole western end of the island was given
to the Presbyterians, while the eastern end was assigned to the
Congregational missionaries. The Disciples, the United Brethren,
the Episcopalians got smaller areas sandwiched in between the
others. Patterns for interdenominational cooperation were thus
originated in Puerto Rico long before they became common in
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, suddenly alarmed at this
Protestant invasion, stirred up its priesthood and sparked re-
newed interest in its activities.
The fibaro and the vast "heathen" population of the island,
caught up in this squeeze play between the sects, came out of
it with more confusion than religion.
Recent studies in the field show that despite the traditional
hold of the Catholic Church and 60 years of proselytizing by the
Protestant sects, organized religion has a superficial hold on
At heart these are pagan, and while they may not worship
idols,_ o~p~iTra6ice voodoo, table rapping, seances, and spir-
itual psychography. In the recent study of Puerto Ricans in New
York, Up From Puerto Rico by Elena Padilla, the small sampling
of 48 Puerto Rican slum families indicated the hold which spir-
itualism has on these people. Their belief in spirits and ghosts,
she says, is ingrained in their conception of man and the universe.
"They are regarded as a means of reaching into powers and mys-
teries beyond the understanding of man." As such they are a
part of religious experience and in many represent the only
religion experienced even though they may outwardly profess
membership in some established church.
But the Puerto Rican is no fool. We recall watching a mission-
ary at work some years ago in a hill village near Juncos. He had
a large barrel of crackers on one hand and The Good Book in
the other and as long as he handed out crackers he had an
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
Things have changed since then, of course, and the present
popularity of the English language and stateside customs and
culture are all tremendous psychological factors aiding Yankee
religions. Puerto Ricans still register surprise when a mainlander
says he is a Catholic.
Meanwhile, there are many evidences of a new trend: Parallel-
ing the raised cultural level is a growing appreciation for the
native heritage. Museums have been dusted off and their col-
lections augmented; folklore, all the arts, and the language have
come in for study and reappraisal; and antiques of all kinds have
found a rising market.
Fortunately, contact with mainland Americans has not dulled
the Puerto Rican's friendliness and hospitality. Stop and ask
directions of anyone you meet on the street or on a country road,
and likely as not he will volunteer to go along and show the way.
The jibaros are reticent and taciturn with strangers, and yet if
you stop by his humble bohio (native shack) he will probably
ask you in and insist on sharing his meager rice and plantains.
Family ties are strong among most Puerto Ricans, and marked
loyalties are evident. But economic pressures of the past century
caused a breakdown in marital relations, a further widening of
the prevailing Latin concept of moral values. It is not considered
extraordinary for a (middle or upper class) husband to take a/-
( fistres4 and there are frequent indications that it is accepted'
as aTmatter of course. Neither the man, his wife, nor his mistress
loses caste, though it would be a horse of a different color should
a wife take a lover. Those who are repulsed by this practice may
be able to conceal any outward signs of shock by remembering
that it is more honest to admit that such relationships exist, as
the Puerto Ricans do, than to attempt to conceal their existence,
as certain mainlanders do. There is little hypocrisy in the Puerto
The most obvious and frequent result of economic pressures,
however, occurs in the marriage state. A man and his wife may
have been married by a judge or a clergyman, or they may be
living out of wedlock in what they consider a perfectly respect-
Puerto Rican Profile
able relationship. Friends, relatives, neighbors, even government
may regard it in that way too.
An early traveler writing about island customs said that con-
sensual marriage had become socially acceptable among many
people. The Catholic priests charged marriage fees which most
of the poor people could not pay, and it became the custom for
certain classes of Puerto Ricans to be married without being
"parsoned," as he put it. Moreover, the entire population of some
villages was related, and those wishing to marry found it difficult
and expensive to secure a papal dispensation which permitted
marriage between cousins or other close relatives.
Puerto Ricans recognize the two types of marriage oiisensw ,
(Puerto Ricans say que viven juntos-those who live together)
and( ef, and admit that the latter is more desirable, but in the
practice of everyday life, in the proper conduct of family busi-
ness, and in the expectations of behavior of every member of
the family, there is no difference in the marriages. A consensual
marriage that meets the barrio (neighborhood) standards of a
good marriage enjoys as much social approval as a legal one. No
sin is involved.
In a situation where even the few dollars needed for a legal
or church wedding may represent a week's pay for two-thirds of
the people, it is easy to understand how illegitimacy could be
the status of a third of the population.* Here writers and speak-
ers, as a matter of common practice, add to the phrase, "race,
religion and condition of servitude," the words, "or legitimacy."
The contribution to the cultural growth of Puerto Rico which
this third has made is no better and no worse than that of the
others. Dr. Benitez, discussing educational objectives, said: "I
am persuaded that our rapid advance of the last twelve years
would have been impossible had it not been for the residuum
of experiences accumulated through forty years of learning,
In the period from January to June 1959, 24.5 percent of all Puerto \
Rican births were illegitimate. Officials admit this is an improvement, but
over what is not known as no figures exist on the percentage of the total
population now living which was born illegitimately.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
playing, and sitting together in the same classrooms, the rich and
the poor, the white and the black, the pampered girl and the
In thirty years of writing about Latin America and Latin
Americans we have probably contributed our share toward the
impression that the worker in these countries is lazy, shiftless
and completely without ambition. It was what the line editors ex-
pected of you. "Manifest destiny" was not a vestigial influence
but an active idea motivating Americans for half a century.*
Only in the last twenty years has it become a cliche. But the atti-
tudes it nurtured remain and a large segment of the American
public still will buy any statement that compares them favorably
with people of other lands. It is with considerable personal satis-
faction, therefore, that we make this flat statement: Puerto Ricans
are no more lazy or shiftless than Hoosiers, Hawkeyes, or Crack-
Back in the days when we were pouring millions into Puerto
Rico in a wide range of relief measures, the Puerto Rico Recon-
struction Administration attempted to establish several coopera-
tives. When some of these failed PRRA administrators attributed
their failure to the fact that members would no longer work
when they discovered that they were the actual owners of the
enterprise. "Bosses don't work," was their conviction.
But a reporter for an American Chamber of Commerce publi-
cation writes that ". . Mainland Americans now doing business
in Puerto Rico are pleasantly surprised at finding so much ability
and character in what they had feared would be another 'ma-
Expansionist stirring in the United States, which began early in the
nation's history, were quickened measurably by the break-up of Spain's
empire in Latin America. By the end of the revolutionary period in those
countries, Spain had lost every one of its American colonies except Cuba
and Puerto Rico.
These possessions were coveted by American expansionists who consid-
ered the extension of the territorial limits of the United States to the South-
west, to the Pacific, and California as inevitable. One of them, during the
proceedings of annexation of Texas in 1845, declared: "Our manifest des-
tiny is to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free devel-
opment of our yearly multiplying millions." When the U. S. annexed Hawaii,
President McKinley remarked that it was "manifest destiny," and the term
eventually became synonomous with imperialism.
Puerto Rican Profile
fiana-land.' Some typical comments culled from his interviews
"Puerto Ricans are thirsty for knowledge, they try hard, and
they pick up basic skills with unbelievable speed."
"They react marvelously to responsibility. I had expected sies-
tas and soldiering. Instead, they work right up to quitting time."
"They are sensitive, and proud. Here in Puerto Rico, more than
in most places, an employer's good or bad judgment in personnel
relations will make or break him."
As a matter of fact, there is historical precedent for the island-
er's indifferent, even disdainful attitude toward manual labor.
The original Indian inhabitants never found it necessary to exert
themselves, what with food fairly easy to come by, in a climate
that required few clothes, with enough women to supply these
and any other desires. And certainly none of the Spanish colonists
who followed them came to America looking for work. Anything
that resembled manual labor was beneath the dignity of the
humblest once he had negotiated the metamorphic crossing of
the Atlantic. Indeed, a careless reading of any Spanish-American
history is likely to give one the impression there were no Spanish
peons, that among the conquistadors there were only hidalgos,
literally, from hifo de algo, son of somebody. And the islander's
Negro ancestors, brought in as slaves, couldn't have been ex-
pected to think of work with anything short of horror.
There has been too much authoritative discussion about the
relationship between malnutrition and disease and native vitality
for us to go into that, but one could make a pretty good case for
Puerto Ricans in this respect.
Sociologists and social workers used to remark upon the curious
lack of community spirit among Puerto Ricans. The point was
belabored so frequently in their reports, in magazine and news-
paper stories, and in government analyses that everyone came
to believe it. "Islanders act as individuals more often than they
act as members of a group," they said. "They are not likely to
be concerned with affairs which do not affect them personally."
Even their own investigators followed this line. Jos6 Rosario
gave several examples of this lack of group responsibility in his
I wte '^
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
monograph, The Development of the Puerto Rican Jibaro and
His Present Attitude Toward Society (1935). When a man beats
his wife, said the professor, his brother-in-law may chastise or
even murder the offender, but no social disapproval is brought
to bear on either. When a teacher is flagrantly neglectful of
duty, those living in the community are likely to shrug their
shoulders and say that it is not their responsibility to correct the
There wouldn't be a Bootstrap program if this trait were
typical or common among Puerto Ricans today.
Puerto Rico has had a somewhat peculiar experience in the
matter of its nomenclature. Throughout much the greater parts
of its history it has either borne a nickname or a name which
did not at all belong to it. Even its old Carib-Arawak title has
been a point of more or less contention among historians.
Dr. Chanca (Diego Alvarez Chanca, Spanish physician who
accompanied Columbus on his second voyage), writing in the
year 1493, called it Buriqu6n. Pedro Martir de Angleria, author
of one of the first published books (1516) giving an account of
the discovery of America, called it Burichena. Juan de la Cosa,
in 1500, called it Boriqu6n. A writer in 1517 dropped back to
Buriqu6n. From the years 1535 to 1647 the form of Boriqu6n was t
adopted by the leading wiiters and historians. In 1788, Fray
Ifiigo Abbad, one of the leading authorities on the history of the
island, turned it into orin uen form of doubtful correctness,
but that which is ost commonly used today s.
Friar Ifiigo Ab s istoria de la Isla San Juan Bautista,
written by disposition of the Minister of Colonies under Charles
III, was the first and only history of the island for eighty years.
In 1830 it was reproduced in San Juan without any change in the
text, and in 1866 Jos6 Julian Acosta published a new edition
with copious notes, comments and additions which added much
data, corrected numerous errors and supplemented the chapters
but terminating the whole history abruptly with the beginning
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
of the 18th century. It was not until 1902, after American occu-
pation, that any attempt was made to bring the island's history
up to date and, significantly, little has been done since.
On all the maps of the island, its northwest corner is indicated
under the title of Cape Borinquen. Borinqu6n is the spelling
usually adopted by the local press and a number of stores in
different cities display the sign of "La Borinquefia," including
one in Harlem, and this is the title of the Puerto Rican national
Disposing of the tangle of the Carib or Arawak name of the
island for the moment, we run into another in its Spanish title.
When el Almirante Cristobal Colon, whose name we have twisted
into Christopher Columbus, discqyred~ esland of Boringln,
on his second voyage in 1493, he gave it the name of SanJuan
Bautista, for St. John the Baptist's relics were an object of par-
ticular veneration in Genoa, the Admiral's birthplace.
This name was applied to the island and not to a city on its
coast. In a letter, dated November 14, 1509, from the King of
Spain to the Almirante don Diego, son of Crist6bal, reference is
twice made to "la isla de San Juan," "the island of SanJuan." ,
The city, which we now know as San Juan, founded on a small
island enclosing a beautiful harbor, soon became the trans-ship-
ment depot for ocean traffic between New World mainland
points and Spain. It was called Puerto Rico or Rich Port, which,1 /
in truth, now and then it was. In time the city became San Juan
de Puerto Rico, there came a confounding of the terms, and the
whole island became "rich port," or harbor, which is not at al
a fitting name for its generally harborless coastline.
The first American use of the name was "Porto" Rico, for
which there was no authority save its establishment by common
usage in this country. It was a corruption, a compounding of the
Spanish rico with the Portuguese porto. Finally, by Federal and
Insular enactment, the lawful name of the island was established
and spelled as "Puerto" Rico during the ear ears of the (New /
\ \ Deal) Roosevelt regime. And that, finally, was that.
Other errors, less excusable, have been perpetrated and per-
petuated right up to the moment. They pertain to dates and
Columbus' landing on the island.
All day November 19, 1493, Columbus' fleet sailed along the
spectacular southern coast of the island he had named (the day
before) San Juan Bautista. They kept to leeward, outside the
line of reefs, and the wind was so fresh that the Admiral did
not stop to investigate the harbors. Covering the whole length
of the island between dawn and dark, they lay-to for the night
off Cabo Rojo. On the morning of November 20, they made sail
and beat into the spacious Boquer6n Bay. There they spent the
better part of two days filling their casks with fresh water and
securing what provisions they could. The natives fled at their
approach, so there was no opportunity to trade. However, fish-
ing was good and a shore party wandering inland found a de-
serted village of a dozen huts arranged around a plaza. One of
the landing party was a young grandee from _e inamed-Juan_. I
Ponce. He was destined to become immortal by his bravery,
adventurous spirit, and quest for the Fountain of Youth.
There is still considerable argument among scholars and cer-
tain puertorriquehos as to the exact place where Columbus
landed. A great many modern writers have said that the landing
occurred at one of the natural harbors between Cape San Fran-
cisco and Cape Borinquen, near the present sites of Rinc6n,
Aguada, or Aguadilla. A monument to commemorate the event
was once erected at the mouth of the Culebrinas River, about
halfway between Aguada and Aguadilla.
The hills come down to Aguadilla, so the town is built close
to the sea. Here we once saw youngsters bathing in a basin fed
by a spring which the boys said was the one from which Colum-
bus filled his water casks. South of town a monument, more or
less in need of repair, embellishes a little park which the agua-
dillanos stoutly affirm marks the spot where the discoverer came
Boquer6n's only claim to fame, history to the contrary, are its
salt pans and the harvest of salt from sea water, the oldest in-
dustry on the island.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
We are aware that we can stir up an argument by saying
Columbus put in at Boquer6n. This site is near the southwest
corner of the island and the other places are up the coast near
the northwest corner, thirty or forty miles away. We are pre-
pared, however, to prove our point and be unwelcome in Rinc6n,
Aguada, and Aguadilla.
Obviously, we are less astute than the Governor in matters of
diplomacy. He is no slouch as a historian when it comes to
Puerto Rican history but when we asked him about this im-
portant detail he said: "We have been trying to interest Puerto
Ricans in their history, but when two towns argued over just
where Columbus landed, we compromised and put a statue of
Columbus in one of them pointing toward the other, saying,
'It was over there.'"
As a matter of fact, it is not of record that Columbus ever
actually set foot on Puerto Rican soil, so the only point on which
we are in accord is the fact that this and the Panama Canal Zone
is the only land now under the American flag which was seen
by the great admiral.
From 1502 on, ships from Spain regularly stopped at the
western end of the island for water and, no doubt, in time,
they discovered the more abundant source around the Rio Cule-
brinas. By the time history was being recorded, this had become
a regular call and subsequent chroniclers assumed it had been
the place of Columbus' landing.*
Our inference that Columbus was little careless about his exploration
and interest in Puerto Rico should be explained. It was not that he was
uninterested in the island; it was simply that he did not have time to do
more than pause for water. He was beginning to feel some anxiety about
the fate of the small colony he had left on the island of Hispaniola on his
first voyage the previous year. He was to learn, to his sorrow, a few days
later that it had been wiped out by the Indians, but when he paused to
fill his water casks at the island he had named San Juan Bautista, he was
impatient to get on. That is why they put in at the first open bay (Bo-
quer6n) and sailed from there diagonally (on a northwest course) across
the Mona Passage to the nearest tip of Hispaniola. This route took him past
Mona Island, which he named, and this fact alone is sufficient to prove
that he did not sail farther up the coast of Puerto Rico-certainly not as
far as Rinc6n, Aguada or Aguadilla, which would have been unnecessary
miles out of his way.
Much was learned of the habits and customs of the natives,
for we find considerable material about them in some of the
earliest writings. Dr. Chanca has left us a reasonably vivid pic-
ture of the aborigines of the islands as seen by the original dis-
coverers, and Father Bartolome de Las Casas (1474-1566),
Spanish Dominican missionary, "protector of the Indians," and
chronicler of Indian history, added much to the sum of infor-
mation regarding them._
Columbus found th Cari in the Windward Islands a warlike,
aggressive, migratory race, preying on their more peaceful neigh-
bors, and in Puerto Rico he found a peaceful agricultural people,
the Borinqu6n, who had developed a considerably higher status
of culture. Although these two races differed widely in social
characteristics, religion, and life, it seems clear that both had the
same origin and were descended from common ancestors, prob-
ably Arawak) cradled somewhere in South America.
Pat eof e earlier migration became sedentary in Puerto Rico
and attained a certain development, while later migrations set-
tling in the Lesser Antilles were subject to frequent attacks from
the continent-based Caribs, which prevented their advancement
to the cultural standard of their predecessors.
It is believed that the peopling of the Antilles and other West
Indian islands took place at a comparatively modern date. The
Borinquen were enough in advance of their more warlike cousins,
the Caribs, to have attained a culture sufficiently self-centered to
be characteristic. Puerto Rico.was the point of highest develop-
ment, since here, due to the fertility of the soil and healthfulness
of the climate, existed conditions most favorable to this develop-
Though most modern historians infer that the Indians disap-
peared as a race before the year 1600, this is highly doubtful.
S Indians were not annihilated in Puerto Rico as they had been
in other parts of the New world. Some of them did die of dis-
ease and some of overwork, but the Borinquen were a peaceful
pastoral people and as the Spaniards moved in and began to
occupy the coastal plains the majority simply retreated to the
security of the wild inland valleys. There, for nearly three
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
centuries after the first settlement, they remained without moles-
tation. The mountainous interior remained unexplored and un-
wanted by white settlers.
Negro slaves were brought in from Africa to till the soil and
work the few small mines, and only gradually did the coastal
communities expand their interests inland. Eventual absorption
of the incigenes was so gradual and free of conflict it was never
recorded, but the fact remains that there are many communities
in the interior today where physiognomies are almost pure In-
dian. One reporter (Earl Parker Hanson) who agrees with this
theory says: "Among the fibaros there are obviously more Indian
genes than is generally believed or can be accounted for by the
prevailing doctrine of ruthless extermination."
It is significant that the most frequently occurring Indian place
names are found in the interior. The familiar names of towns in
the center of the island, such as Utuado, Yabucoa, Gurabo,
Cayey and Agueybana, are believed to perpetuate the names of
Borinquen chiefs. Guayanilla, Yauco, and numerous others are
of Indian origin.
The houses of this prehistoric people were very similar to
those of some of the more primitive still found in remote sections
of the island as late as twenty years ago: a fragile shack tied
together with fibers and covered with the bark of the royal palm
or yuccas and thatched with straw, it was usually raised on
posts to avoid insects, floods, and provide circulation of air. One
would have difficulty finding an authentic one today for the
modern jibaro lives in a shack of scrap boards and flattened tin
cans (civilization's influence) or an all-cement box (Bootstrap's
influence). The only thing remaining in evidence of its ancestry
is the name "bohio."
The borinquefos' furniture also was very primitive but it had
some advantages over that in use today. There was a hammock
made of leaves of palm, maguey, or fiber of native cotton. It was
cool, easy to keep free from bugs and comfortable. A few cala-
bashes and crude clay vessels served as household utensils.
Neither male nor female wore any clothing, though the married
women and village caciques covered their genitals with a breech-
cloth not unlike some seen on the Puerto Rican beaches today.
A liberal covering of paint protected them from the rays of the
sun and from the bites of insects-a practice also duplicated
Their written culture, preserved in pictographs, was at about
the same level as their contemporaries in North America. Many
excellent specimens of writing remain in caves near Arecibo,
Ciales, and Aguas Buenas.
Some vestigial elements of the areito or native dance remain,
the most obvious, perhaps, being the rhythm which some an-
thropologists insist can be recognized in La Borinquefia, the
national anthem. Several strains of melody in this song may also
have survived from prehistoric times.
These peoples, of whom but scattered traces now remain, had
reached a high state of cultural development under peaceful
conditions in Puerto Rico and the neighboring islands when the
Spaniards arrived, while their relatives of the later migration of
Caribs were maintaining an active and aggressive existence on
sea and land extending from South America to Florida. These
two branches of the parent stock were rapidly becoming amal-
gamated when Columbus appeared on the scene.
Whatever else it did for the islands and the central American
mainland, the advent of the European resulted in the complete
absorption of the Borinquen and the reduction of the Carib
to a wretched remnant of what had been one of the purest of
American races. The fibaro dirge, Lamento Borincano, by Rafael
Hernandez is about all we have left.
The 19th century is called the "Golden Age of Puerto Rican
History," for Puerto Ricans, looking back, recall only the material
progress and compare it with the three centuries that preceded
it. The nineteenth century, in fact, may safely be credited with
all such progress as had been attained by the inhabitants of the
island up to the time of the American occupation. During this
century, the population multiplied five fold and its character
materially changed. But three hundred years should not be de-
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
preciated in a single paragraph. Whatever progress can be
credited to the nineteenth century was attained on a foundation
laid in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth.
The rich and fertile Hispaniola, Cuba, and the mainlands far-
ther west seemed of much more importance to Columbus and
his immediate successors than the smaller islands of the West
Indies or even San Juan Bautista. Noattempt, therefore, was
made to colonize the latter until 1505, twelve years after its /
discovery. In that year a royal commission was granted to Vi-
cente Yafi6z Pinz6n as captain and corregidor (magistrate) "to
conquer and to colonize" the island. But Pinz6n, succumbing to
the westward trend, never carried out that mandate. All history
has to say about him is that he stopped off at the island (prob-
ably at Aguada) and dropped off a few goats and hogs. One
wonders what the borinquefos thought when they saw these
Three years later the young adventurer named J an Poince'i
. Le6~rwho had sailed with Columbus on his second voyage and
had remained in Hispaniola, petitioned Governor Ovando for
permission to fit out an expedition to explore and colonize the /.
island he had visited with Columbus in 1493.
Ponce was appointed captain. He fitted out a caravel and
landed at the western end of the island.
Here, again, we could stir up an argument. GuAnica, on the
south coast, claims don Juan landed there on August 12, 1508.
(The date and place have a later American connotation: Guanica
was the place of the first landing of American troops in the
Spanish-American War; August 12, 1898, was the day of the
signing of the armistice that ended the fracas.) From this point
he continued eastward, exploring the coast in a counter-clockwise
route around the island until he came to the land-locked bay he
called Rich Port or Puerto Rico, the present site of San Juan.
The other contender naturally is Aguadilla. The aguadillanos
say he landed there and traversed the island overland to San
Juan harbor. In any case, he named the bay "Puerto Rico" and
here he established the first settlement which he governed as an
agent of the Governor of Hispaniola. The point he chose for his
capital, named Caparra, was located across the bay from San
Juan near the boulevard to the present suburb of Bayam6n. A
stockade was built on a low hill in the center of a small swampy
plain some distance from the sea. Remnants of the foundation of
Ponce's house may still be seen.
Estimate as to the number of borinquefios originally inhabiting
the island vary. There are figures, depending on the sympathies
of the writer, ranging from seven thousand to seven hundred
thousand. Father Las Casas stated that they were "as thick as
bees" and from similar reports by other contemporary chroniclers
one may surmise that population explosions are not new in
Puerto Rico. There was a time, within the memory of many, when
a large number of people believed that there was something
peculiarly fecund in the island's water, though some secretly
think that was a rumor sparked by the rum producers. "There is
in this island a class of inhabitants, not the least numerous by
any means, who dwell in swamps and marshes, live on vegetables,
and drink muddy water," wrote Dr. Richard Rey in the 1880s.
And these people, despite what the good doctor inferred were
bad habits, were prolific breeders. The record shows that from
Columbus to Commonwealth they have changed very little in
One of the first acts of the new governor was the institution
of the system of repartimientos and e omiendas. It was a system
inaugurated by Columbus and provided or te distribution of an
allotted number of natives, as well as land, to each of the col-
onists. Certain quotas of gold and agricultural products were
assigned each native. If he failed to produce these he was pun-
ished. They were ill fed, often not fed at all, brutally ill-treated,
whipped for attempting to escape, and slaughtered at the slight-
est show of resistance, with the result that large numbers
Ponce, despite repeated attempts to unseat him, and local
skirmishes with the aroused Indians, remained in his capital
Caparra until March 3, 1512, when he sailed under royal charter
on his first voyage in search of the Fountain of Youth and the
discovery of Florida.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
The Spanish population of the island at this time was about
four hundred persons, described as a mongrel breed of gentlemen
adventurers, government officials, and pardoned criminals, all
at odds with each other. It was nowhere a part of Spanish col-
onial policy to include Spanish women among first settlers. They
came later, if at all. As long as Indian females were to be had,
there was no necessity to subject Spanish women to the indigni-
ties of colonial life.
Periodic misfortunes have fallen on the island ever since re-
corded history. In 1515, a succession of(hurrica-i-eof devastating
character visited the young colony an -e-ft but few houses
standing. In 1520, the inhabitants were attacked by an epidemic
of smallpo nd in 1536 by a plague of an;~ -'
TIeisland was smitten by a prolonged frbugWDthat left pas-
ture lands and farms burned and parched. Then came the ants.
They spread over the land, invading homes and stinging and
biting the inmates. When things were at their worst, a conclave
of citizens and churchmen called on St. Patrick who rid the
island of the pests in torrential rains, thus crediting St. Patrick
with two extraordinarily similar miracles in two different worlds.
Storms again hit the island in 1526, 1530, and 1537.
In 1519, it was decided to change the capital from Caparra
to the small islet on which old San Juan is now located. One of
the reasons given for the change was the "greater salubrity" of
the new location. Ponce opposed it and was left in his fortified
house at Caparra.
His oldest daughter Juana was married in 1519 to Garcia
Troche, one of the original colonizers and the first treasurer of
the island government. It was he who built Casa Blanca and
who completed the construction of La Fortaleza when the city
was moved. These buildings remain today, the oldest on Ameri-
can soil, and the oldest in continuous use as government build-
When the first news of Cortez' achievements in Mexico reached
CuertolicLTn i-_,Ponce, by then old for a Spanish conquista-
dor (abousixty), was fired to make his third and last voyage
in search of the legendary springs of Bimini, the Fountain of
Youth. The Florida Indians attacked the Spaniards with such
ferocity that many were wounded, including Juan Ponce himself.
They withdrew and made their way to the nearest Spanish
settlement in Cuba where Ponce died. His body was later re-
moved to San Juan and there it rests today, in the Cathedral of
San Juan Bautista.
In 1534, the news of the great riches discovered in Peru nearly
depopulated the island of its Spanish settlers, although the death
penalty was imposed on any man caught in the act of leaving.
By this time too British and French corsairs were beginning to
raid Puerto Rico periodically. Repeated appeals to the throne
for relief finally resulted in the construction of the fortifications
now known adEl Morro) (San Felipe del Morro). The compli-
cated and extensive series of walls, citadels, battlements and
moats around the city were in use bf 154Q0)
The port and its guardian fortress soon became the Caribbean
Gibraltar for the Spanish treasure galleons and many times were
under attack by roving pirates. Once when a particularly large
shipment of gold and silver from Mexico was stored in the fort
awaiting some repairs on a ship, the greatest freebooter of them
all, the widely feared Sir Francis Drake, attacked with a fleet of
ships and 2,500 men. The battle raged for days during which
Drake lost several hundred men in a vain attempt to storm the
bastions. This defeat was the turning point in Drake's career.
For years he had been virtual master of the seas. He had so
crippled Spain by the capture of its treasure ships that he was
called "the man who singed the King's beard." But this was his
last great raid, and it failed. Drake died aboard his ship off
Panama a few weeks later.
The port city was later captured by the British under the Earl
of Cumberland and held for five months In 1625, a Dutch fleet
under Hendrick Bowdoin attacked the island but was driven off.
The French attempted a landing the same year but were repulsed
also. Meanwhile, additions to the fortifications were constantly
being made and no one knows how many hundreds of lives of
Chinese and Negro slaves old Morro eventually cost, but there
is a legend that a Queen of Spain once stood in her tower gazing
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
over the waters to see if she could see the battlements of Puerto
Rico, for "surely so much gold have they cost, one should be
able to see them from here."
In the years that followed, every cutthroat that "brandished
sword or pointed pistol with fell intent" or flew the Jolly Roger
visited the rich port of San Juan as enemy or as dishonest
traders. Captains Morgan, Kidd, Teach, and Cofresi all knew the
port at one time or other. The latter settled on the island and
though some present generations claim no kin, the name is locally
common, and honorable.
Indeed, few places in the Western Hemisphere can boast of a
greater concentration of legends, romances, adventurous yarns
than San Juan Antigua (Old San Juan, as distinguished from its
present incorporated inclusion of half a dozen big suburbs).
Throughout these three hundred years Puerto Rico received a
wide range of blood infusions. No European women came with
the conquistadors, so the first mestizos were Spanish-Indian. To
this was added the Negro slave very early in the island's history.
The mutations resulting from these became a mixture of so many
gradations of color that it became difficult to tell from a man's
appearance to what original stock he belonged. And since it was
a rule in Spanish colonies to grant no civil or military appoint-
ment to any but peninsures (natives of Spain or Portugal) or
their descendants of pure blood, it became necessary to demand
documentary evidence (expediente de sangre-certificate of good
blood) of each applicant in proof that he was not of Indian or
Negro blood. The rule was not abolished in Puerto Rico until
Near the end of the sixteenth century, a company of Portu-
guese troops was sent from Lisbon to garrison La Fortaleza.
Some of the men brought their wives and the rest married
natives. These troops never left the island; they were the originals
of the many Portuguese names found on the island today. A con-
siderable and influential number of immigrants came from the
Mediterranean islands Majorca and Corsica, the ancestors of all
those Puerto Ricans named Mattei, Antonsanti, Pietri, and the
origin of much of the Puerto Rican sense of dignity. A small
emigration of Catalonians from Spain occurred about the middle
of the eighteenth century, but few additional elements were
added until the influx of Spanish loyalists from South and Cen-
tral America and Cuba with the beginning of the revolutionary
period in those countries. Several Louisiana plantation owners,
heeding the threat of emancipation a few years before our Civil
War, moved with their slaves to Puerto Rico, where slavery was
not abolished until 1873.
The most important political development during this period
was the growing demand for island autonomy. The Puerto Ricans
date the militant stage of the revolution with the "Grito de
Lares" (the shout or cry of Lares).
It could have begun with any one of a number of grievances,
but the first insurrection arose over the question of slavery. The
abolition of slavery had not been brought to a decision. The in-
sular deputies were almost equally divided in their opinions for
and against, but the revolutionary committee in its manifesto
declared that from September 19, 1868, all children born of a
slave mother should be free.
In Puerto Rico this measure remained without effect for years
owing to the arbitrary and reactionist character of the Governor,
but the declaration triggered the first real attempt at revolution
on the island. Strangely, an American was involved in it but
histories are aggravatingly frugal with the details. We have only
this tantalizing scrap: "September 20, 1868, two or three hundred
individuals of all classes and colors, many of them Negro slaves
brought along by their masters under promise of liberation, met
at the coffee plantation of a Mr. Bruckman, an American, who
provided them with knives and machetes, of which he had a
large stock in readiness." Thus armed, the little band proceeded
to the plantation of a Sefior Rosas who saluted them as "the army
of liberators" and announced himself as their general-in-chief, in
token whereof he was dressed in the uniform of a fireman, with
a tri-colored scarf across his breast, a gaming sash around his
waist, with sword, revolver, and cavalry boots.
During the day detachments of men from different parts of
the district joined the party and brought the numbers to nearly
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
a thousand. Since the commissary was not yet organized, the
general-in-chief generously provided an abundant meal for his
men which, washed down with copious drafts of rum, put them
in excellent condition to undertake the march on Lares that same
At midnight the peaceful inhabitants of that small town,
which lies nestled among precipitous mountains in the interior
of the island, were startled from their sleep by loud yells and
cries of "Long Live Independence! Down with Spain! Death to
the Spaniards!" This was the "Grito de Lares." The alcalde and
his secretary, who came out into the street to see what the noise
was about, were made prisoners and placed in their own calabozo,
where they were soon joined by a number of Spaniards who lived
in the town.
The contents of two or three colmados (small general stores)
that were plundered kept the enthusiasm alive.
The next day the Republic of Borinquen was proclaimed. To
give solemnity to the occasion, the local priest was forced to hold
a thanksgiving service and sing a Te Deum, after which the
Provisional Government was installed. Francisco Ramirez, a
small landholder, became the president and sundry village clerks
were transformed into important officials. The impresario of a
cockpit was secretary of state. The alcaldia (mayor's office) was
the executive's palace and the queen's portrait, which hung in
the room, was replaced by a white flag with the inscription:
"Long Live Free Puerto Ricoiberty or j Deatlif-868 .
The declaration of independence came next. All Spaniards
were ordered to leave the island with their families within three
days, failing which they would be considered as citizens of the
new-born republic and obliged to take arms in its defense; in
case of refusal they would be treated as traitors.
The next step was to form a plan of campaign. It was agreed
to divide "the army" into two columns and march them the
following day on the towns of Pepino and Camuy, but when
morning came it appeared that the night air had cooled the
enthusiasm of more than half the number of "liberators." Con-
sidering discretion the better part of valor, they had returned
to their homes.
It was a bold, if foolhardy attempt, and it petered out in a few
days with the leaders and some liberators clapped into jail.
Political differences with the mother country greased during
the next twenty years and finally resulted, in (89', in the grant
of considerable atit noiRj for the island. It included liberal
powers to administer internal affairs, as well as some control over
the island's foreign relations. The plan contemplated a represen-
tative legislature, with upper house, budget systems, etc., similar
to the British Dominions, but before the representatives elected
in March could meet, the United States had declared war on
The revolutionary movements which began throughout Latin
America at the end of the eighteenth century and extended well
into the nineteenth were not without their effects on the Spanish
mind. The loss of her South American colonies caused Spain to
show a little more consideration for those few that remained
loyal. Reforms were, however, palliative rather than fundamental.
They were neither sufficiently far-reaching to satisfy the more
energetic and combative Cubans, nor did they come soon enough
to prevent the final loss by the end of the century of Cuba and
Puerto Rico, the last of Spain's great empire in the New World.
Puerto Rico's participation in th 5_siash-Ameiican WarNwas
slight and practically bloodless. On May_12,T819 he American
fleet, under Admiral Smpson appeared before San Juan while
cruising in search of Admiral Cervera and his Spanish fleet. El
Morro and other harbor defenses were bombarded for a short
period but little actual damage was done.
The landing of American troops in Puerto Rico followed the
successful culmination of the campaign in eastern Cuba, marked
by the fall of Santiago.
The S. S. "Gloucester," with General Nelson A. Miles in com-
mand, ran into the harbor of Guanica on July 25th and, after
firing at a Spanish flag on a blockhouse, landed bluejackets who
occupied the town, raised a barrier, and killed four Spaniards.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
The main expeditionary force landed at Ponce next day. But
if the record is correct, there must have been nearly as many
officers as common soldiers. Besides General Miles, the original
force included Generals Wilson, Brooks, Hains, Stone, Guy
Henry, and Schwan. They, with their men, were sent by various
routes to cross the island and drive the Spanish forces into San
Juan. The plan contemplated driving the enemy outside of San
Juan into the city, thus surrounding them at one point, with the
United States Navy in the harbor. Peace interfered with the
completion of the program, as General Wilson had advanced
only as far as Aibonito when the armistice was announced on
This line was found in one of the old magazine accounts of
the expedition: "It was not quite literally true that General Miles
S. felt it necessary to issue an order forbidding American war
correspondents to go ahead of the army and receive the surrender
of towns and villages from local authorities."
Of course, this was the general attitude of the Puerto Ricans,
but the island's officials who came and went directly from Spain
were not Puerto Rican. The army officers were Spanish, not
Puerto Ricans, and so were most of the military force maintained
on the island. The civil officials were practically all Spanish be-
cause preferment and appointment tended that way. Many of
the leading businessmen, importers and exporters, bankers, in-
deed a considerable number of the professional men, were Span-
ish rather than Puerto Rican in their attitudes. These elements
regretted the passing of the Spanish regime and the readjust-
ments which this would mean. But the great mass of the people
were happy with the course of events which had changed the
sovereignty of the island. It was they who contributed the
enthusiasm of welcome to the American forces.
On landing General Miles issued the following proclamation:
"We have not come to make war upon the people of a country
which has been for several centuries oppressed but, on the con-
trary, to bring protection to you and to your properties, exalting
and imposing on you the guarantees and blessings of the liberal
institutions of our government. It is not our purpose to interfere
with existing laws and customs which are good and beneficial
to your people, provided they are in accordance with the prin-
ciples of the military administration and with those of order and
The famous war correspondent, Richard Harding Davis, com-
pared the Puerto Rican campaign with that in Cuba and pointed
out that in Puerto Rico eight cities of a total population of
100,000 were taken by United States troops with the loss of very
few men, while Santiago, Cuba, alone was won at a cost of
thousands of men killed and wounded in battle and wrecked by
fever. "An eye-witness of both campaigns," he wrote, "must feel
convinced that the great success in Puerto Rico was due, not to
climatic advantages and the cooperation of the natives, but to
good management and good generalship." How could they lose,
with seven generals and half the United States fleet, and Mr.
Davis on public relations?
The military government, under General Brooke, who was
succeeded in December, 1898 by General Guy V. Henry, pro-
ceeded at once "in true American fashion to clean house and to
substitute the fundamentals of liberty and democracy, as recog-
nized in the United States, for what remained of the outworn
sovereignty of Spain."
This included a new postal system, abolishment of the lottery,
freedom of speech and press, organization of a police force of
Puerto Ricans under American officers, new sanitary regulations
and jury trials in criminal cases. Imprisonment for political of-
fenses, with the accompaniments of chains and solitary confine-
ment, was abolished.
The war killed what little commerce the island had built up
and, as a consequence, the working population, during the first
year of occupation, was desperate. Their sufferings were multi-
plied by one of the worst hurricanes ever experienced by the
island which fell upon them August 8, 1899, and destroyed many
coffee plantations, cattle, and other property. Jibaros and farm
families by the hundreds were starving. The response of the
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
United States Congress was immediate. It voted $200,000 for
relief and established the precedent for solving Puerto Rican
In 1889 a census of the island indicated a total population of
Suffrage was limited under the military government and an
article in the Yale Review, 1903, quotes the reason given by
General Henry for such limitation:
"If the election is conducted as in the United States by those
who can read and write, only 14 percent of the people being
able to do so, it will throw the control into the hands of the
minority; if, according to Spanish law, every male citizen, twenty-
five years of age, is allowed to vote, the control will be given
to the masses who are uneducated."
Another military report of the period said that nearly 800,000
of the 960,000 population (260 to the square mile) could neither
read nor write. Most of these lived in bark huts and were, in
effect, the personal property of the landed proprietors. They
were poor beyond possibility of our understanding, and if they
were so fortunate as to have enough for the current hour, they
The report added: "In any country where more than a half of
the population is continually on the verge of starvation or are
pinched by hunger; where labor, when employed at all, is re-
munerated only to the extent of from twenty to twenty-five cents
per day; where thousands upon thousands are unable to secure
work at any rate; where only ten to fifteen percent of the in-
habitants can read and write; where the ordinary standards of
public morality are largely ignored; where half the children are
illegitimate, and finally where the functions of government have
been used to discourage, repress or prevent initiative, and the
people have no knowledge of any duty or obligation but to obey
the orders of the governing classes, it would be strange if, under
such conditions, murder was unknown and pilfering, stealing,
and plundering were uncommon. Let it be supposed that under
conditions such as are recited, a government of repression should
be suddenly relaxed and for it another substituted, which these
ignorant people have heard of as one under which freedom is
the predominating characteristic, it would be still less strange if,
when released from restraint, the tendency to lawlessness should
not greatly increase and a reign of terror should take the place
of a reign of oppression."
But in spite of the doubt expressed by the military reports as
to the wisdom of granting self-government, Congress on April 12,
1900, passed the organic law known as the orakeTrAct vhich /i~
provided for civil government in Puerto Rico.
Thereafter militaryovernment came to an end and civil gov-
ernment took its place.
Whatever the advantages of American government in the
island the cost from the beginning was terrific. When American
civil authorities took over, according to one reliable eye-witness,
the cost of administering the island trebled, with money extracted
from the already impoverished native population augmented by
the bottomless bags of the Federal Treasury. Many of the Yankee
newcomers were carpetbaggers, political and commercial oppor-
tunists who perpetuated the worst features of the Spanish regime
and colonial exploitation and they would not tolerate criticism
of their own corruption. Governors who drew an $8,000 salary
enjoyed the Fortaleza Palace as residence, had a $12,000 a year
appropriation for expenses and $75,000 more as a "contingent
fund" to be spent as they chose without accounting to anyone.
The example was aped by the ranks when lesser American offi-
cials wangled rent-free homes at public expense and purchasing
clerks in every department doubled as salesmen at substantial
profits. One Yankee, appointed Commissioner of Education, dis-
tributed so many school books of his own authorship that school
superintendents protested they had not sufficient space to stack
President Theodore Roosevelt, after a tour of Puerto Rico in
1906 (he had already foreseen the strategic military importance
of the island in 1898), said of the people: "They are loyal, glad
to be under our flag; they are making rapid progress along the
path of orderly liberty; surely we should show our appreciation,
our pride in what they have done and our pleasure in extending
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
recognition for what has thus far been done by granting them
full American citizens ip. .-
The request for(c tzenshi as in the platform of both the
Puerto Rican political parties, but despite this popular support
and President Roosevelt's recommendation Congress withheld
the satisfaction of this aspiration until th adoption of a new
organic law known as tlJones Lai~9, ia
Attitudes toward the island changed with each administration.
They changed several times within an administration. The ap-
pointed governors, therefore, frequently were incompetent, tact-
less, and lacking in any of the graces of conduct to which the
Puerto Ricans were entitled. One governor (E. Mont Reily, a
Harding appointee) made such tactical mistakes in his inaugural
address that he aroused a wave of ill feeling and negated all his
influence with the people. In his speech he made frequent and
scornful references to the flag of Puerto Rico, perhaps a matter
of small importance, but it touched the pride of the Puerto Ricans
and as a result it soon became a casus belli. Both parties, Union-
ist and Republican, joined in the petition that eventually caused
Horace M. Towner succeeded Reily and also succeeded tem-
porarily in erasing part of the black mark against American
colonial policy. At his inauguration the Governor established the
basis from which all subsequent discussions about the island's
political status have had to start. This was the statement that
Puerto Rico is permanently a part of the United States. He added
the opinion that the people of Puerto Rico could have no other
wish than to so remain. This did not mean, however, that Puerto
Rico should give up her ideals. The American system, he ex-
plained, develops a dual citizenship and a dual loyalty, that of
the state and that of the nation.
"No form of government," he said, "in free nations is or should
be permanent and final in every particular. We are changing
even the Constitution of the United States."
The attitude of the Puerto Ricans was expressed by Antonio B.
Barcel6, president of the Unionist Party, representing the ma-
jority, in a speech delivered at a banquet following the inaugu-
ration. He said that Puerto Rico was ready to enter the Union as
a state at once and would always be happy in doing so. "For we
would join the Union immediately . with the personality,
characteristics and idiosyncrasies of a people whose character
is already formed and who have, for centuries, had a civilization
perhaps older than yours. We Puerto Ricans want to be your
brethren in equality, dignity, liberty and duty.... What we do
not wish, what frequently disturbs our minds, is the thought of
having to undergo a painful, indefinite process, during which all
those characteristics will perish and which will annul our per-
sonality to such an extent that, upon the accomplishment of that
solution, if it ever be accomplished, it will not be we who share
the immense benefits to be derived therefrom, but a shapeless
hybrid, resembling us in nothing and differing from you also."
The honorable don Antonio spoke those words nearly forty
years ago. Puerto Rico has not yet become a state though it has
acquired a status that makes its people our brethren in dignity
and liberty, if not yet in equality and duty. And though a few
of their characteristics may have perished in a painful, indefinite
process, one could hardly call the Puerto Ricans a shapeless
hybrid. For which we should all be grateful.
THE SAD YEARS
Anyone returning to Puerto Rico today after an absence of
twenty years would recognize the physical landmarks though
modern highways thread every bit and barrio of the island, vast
housing developments have changed the color and texture of the
landscape, and new industrial plants squat beside every village
and town. The climate has not changed and the green hills and
the blue ocean are still there. But you would have to look hard
to find any of the sociological, economic, or political landmarks
that were so prominent twenty years ago.
Half the Puerto Ricans living today can't tell you much about
the island in those days either, because their memories don't go
back that far. (It's a young man's country, remember.) But there
are other people, older, who remember reports that were filed
but that never saw print. Editors said: "The depression's over.
It's time we talked about something else." But other stories, less
dismal, did get printed. There was, for instance, a magazine
article by Martha Gellhorn in which she described life in a San
Juan barrio bajo (slum neighborhood):
"The slums have names like The Pearl, Little Mudhole-trying
to make a joke of horror. The Pearl has a fine location; it starts
at the edge of (practically in) the sea and mounts up the steep
side of the coast. There is a good cemetery on one side and a
good bathing beach farther down, and the magnificent capitol is
The Sad Years
only five minutes' walk away. You cannot see The Pearl from
the coast road. The houses have been built of odds and ends of
wood; tottering and damp and rotted, they seem to stick to one
another. Over them all is the close hot smell of dirt-dirty bodies,
dirty walls, stale refuse, open sewers. You walk down paths in
which rain stands, and the garbage from houses. All kinds of
people live here.
"There is a woman cooking lunch in a tin can for her two
small children and her husband; they have one room facing the
deep wide hole where garbage is dumped. She carried her water
from a spigot two doors down; in most of these houses there are
not even the crudest plumbing facilities. She does washing, and
her husband will go out again, in the afternoon as in the morning,
to see what sort of job he can pick up."
'"ue Rico i the porhouse of the United States," wrote S.
Burton Heath in Harper's. "Nowhere else under the American
flag is there such a concentration of squalor, disease and chronic
starvation as exists on this island. The misery of the typical
Puerto Rican is easy to overlook because of the tropical beauty
in which he is privileged to dwell; it is condoned by some be-
cause his Caribbean neighbors in Martinique, Jamaica and the
Bahamas are even more unfortunate than he. But no sensitive
American who has seen how the fibaro exists can escape a deep
sense of shame at the failure of our administration."
In Dynamite on Our Doorstep, Wenzell Brown, on his way to
accept a teaching position in Puerto Rico shortly before 1940,
hears a fellow teacher who has been there describe the island:
"The pictures you've seen of Puerto Rico are of the scenic
spots. There's a section of San Juan that's built up, much like
any other modem city. There are a few nice hotels there, some
bathing beaches roped off so that barracuda can't get in. There
are a couple of clubs there, too, but you won't be able to join
them-not on your salary. None of you boys are going to get
jobs in San Juan-not unless you've got a lot of pull. No, you're
going to be sent to tiny towns up in the mountains or along the
coast. You'll find these towns unbelievably dirty. Most of the
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
people you meet will be diseased and poverty stricken, and
they'll hate your guts because you're an American. They'll follow
you about the streets yelling at you. They'll take you to court
every time they get a chance. They'll spread malicious gossip
about you and make life miserable for you. You won't like their
food because they serve rice and beans every meal. But you'd
better say nothing about it. You'll think their houses are dirty and
you'll squirm when you see the kids in your classroom digging
in their hair for lice and cracking them between their fingers. By
the time you've been there a couple of months, some of you
will be ready to leave for home. You'll be damn glad to leave
the island, but no matter how glad you are, the Puerto Ricans
will be a hell of a sight gladder to see you go."
Brown, already caught up in the squeeze of the Depression,
felt that conditions he would face in Puerto Rico could not be
much worse than they were in the United States. He was to
learn that his friend had not exaggerated a single detail. What he
found in Puerto Rico made the United States seem by compari-
son a prosperous paradise.
John uin_-- .6tifollowed him a year later and reported (in
"I plodded through the streets of San Juan, and I took a brief
trip or two into the countryside. What I found appalled me.
"I saw rickety squatter houses perched in garbage-drenched
mud within a few miles of the new United States naval base.
"I saw native villages steaming with filth-villages dirtier than
any I ever saw in the most squalid parts of China.
"I saw children bitten by disease and on the verge of starva-
tion, in slum dwellings-if you can call them dwellings-that
make the hovels of Calcutta look healthy by comparison.
"I saw, in short, misery, disease, squalor, filth. It would be
lamentable enough to see this anywhere. It would be shocking
enough in the remote uplands of Peru or the stinking valleys of
the Ganges. But to see it on American territory, among people
whom the United States has governed since 1898, in a region
for which our federal responsibility has been complete for 43
The Sad Years
years, is a paralyzing jolt to anyone who believes in American
standards of progress and civilization."
This was the picture one would have seen in those days. It
was bad enough. But the story one could have heard in any
statistical source was even worse.
Nearly 400,000 school children-about 56 percent of the chil-/
dren of school age-did not go to school because there were not/
enough school rooms.
There were some villages where a flat 100 percent of the/,,
population had malaria, others where three out of five had tuber-
culosis. The infant mortality rate was one of the highest in the
world, four times that of the United States. Deaths from diarrhea
were running 405 per hundred thousand of the island's popula-
The average per capital income_inl940 was $121 per year, or
less than forty cents a day. Women needle workers in a 60-to-70-
hour week earned one to three dollars.
(Meat, milk, bread, eggs, cost about twice what they cost in
mainland markets.) The staples were rice and codfish and these
were higher in Puerto Rico than they were in the neighboring
island of Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola. There was no fresh milk
fit to drink and the public water supply was not safe.
Despite these handicaps--or perhaps because of them-the
population had doubled in forty years under American control
and the increase in 1940 alone was 145,721 people.
At a press conference after a trip to Puerto Rico, Mrs. Eleanor
Roosevelt said: "It is clear when you go to Puerto Rico that the
people have been exploited." There was plenty of evidence of
that contention. The oor sugar worker because his plight was
better publicized in h-e States, was really, r off than most
Puerto Rican workers. His total income was about 3 year,
as compared to the average annual income of _121. He1ied in
a bohio, a primitive one-or-two-room hut, with his wife and five
children. Their day-in, day-out diet was one of relief cornmeal,
rice, beans and occasionally codfish. The children were under-
nourished, ill-clothed, badly educated. In fact, only 68 percent
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
of the island's inhabitants could read and write, only 28 percent
could speak English and most of that poorly. Most of the edu-
cated lived in urban areas.
A title over a story in Life in 1940 read: "Puerto Rico:
Senate investigating committee finds it an unsolvable problem."
The Senate Investigating Committee, headed by Senator Cha-
vez of New Mexico, was typical of Congressional attitudes of
the period. It spent ten days of on-the-spot study of Puerto
Rico's problems. After looking around and hearing confusing
testimony, the committee found a plethora of problems, some of
them new, most of them old: "The face of Puerto Rico has
always been dirty and its belly empty. There are few places in
the world with slimier slums, more acute poverty, or a denser
population. The uneven equation between the unlimited fertility
of the people and the limited fertility of the soil is, and has been
for some time, Puerto Rico's basic problem. Since it became a
United States possession in 1899, the population has nearly
doubled. The island cannot grow enough food even to begin to
feed itself. To alleviate this situation the United States has
poured over($350,0~T)0 into Puerto Ricoin the last ten years''
with comparatively little result." The Chavez committee pub-
licly admitted that it could find no solution.
The major factors comprising the island's problem were suc-
cinctly stated in a Washington "Committee on Puerto Rico"
report in 1940:
1. Puerto Rico is overpopulated; the population is in-
2. Puerto Rico lacks industrial resources other than
abundant labor; for primary production its people are
almost entirely dependent on agriculture.
3. Agricultural resources are strictly limited; there is
little room for expansion.
SFor WPA and a variety of relief measures that included everything
known in the States to some special adaptations to fit the peculiarities of
island climate and locale.
The Sad Years
4. Puerto Rico lies in the path of the West Indian
5. A basic crop which is adapted to these natural
conditions and meets the social needs of an overpopulated
a. yield high returns per acre,
b. require much labor per acre,
c. recuperate rapidly from hurricane damage,
d. have a reasonably stable and preferably expanding
e. be able to compete in that market.
6. The only basic crop known to grow in Puerto Rico
and to meet these requirements under present conditions
is sugar cane.
Puerto Rico reached its impasse through a variety of cir-
cumstances both geographical and historical. After a small
amount of gold had been mined out at CorozAl, the great ma-
hogany forests that had once covered the mountains had been
cut down, and many of the lesser hardwoods had been con-
sumed as charcoal, there was nothing left but the land. But
Puerto Rico is a little island and most of itsa Q840areare
upended (hilly to mountainous). The fibaro farms thirty-five
degree slopes (and even sixty), yet the arable land amounts to
only about half the total. A government bulletin says: "Of
Puerto Rico's total cultivated area of some one million acres,
only about 700,000 acres, chiefly along the coast, are ideally
suited for agriculture."
After La Fortaleza had ceased to be a way-station deposit box
for the wealth of Peru and Mexico, the population grew slowly
to a million, with the people hardening into the unhopeful mold
of colonials. Cattle, once an important industry, gave way to
sugar, tobacco, and coffee, for which the principal markets were
Spain and Europe.
With the transfer of sovereignty from Spain to the United
States, a new and bigger market was opened up for Puerto Rican
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
products. The United States tariff fence, which protected main-
land production of sugar and tobacco, was extended to include
Puerto Rico. As a result, island production of sugar and tobacco
spiraled upward. Coffee, on the other hand, unprotected by the
tariff, had to compete with the big Central and South American
producers, and hurricanes.
Sugar cane, pineapples, tobacco, and bananas have the merci-
ful quality in that they can be renewed within a year after
replanting even though the fields may have been left bare by a
hurricane. But such tree-crops as coffee, oranges, grapefruit,
coconuts and others that require years of patience, investment,
and work to bring them into bearing, when destroyed by hurri-
canes, are gone forever, or until a slow new tree growth can be
brought to maturity. This is the continuing distress factor, the
unknown risk in Puerto Rican agriculture, and it has figured im-
portantly in the history of the island.
An earthquake or a hurricane of major proportions has been
registered on the island about every twelve years through the en-
tire period of recorded history. No such catastrophe was ever
completely island-wide. In the centuries of sparser settlement and
before modern communication lines were established, the blow
might fall on an area of the north coast, with knowledge that
such a thing had occurred hardly reaching communities on the
other side of the island. Relief and recovery measures then had
to be improvised by each community for its own sufferers. One
cannot imagine today the distress that such isolation must have
The hurricane, as a West Indies phenomenon, is mercifully
limited by the season. Late summer and early fall establish the
limits and, indeed, the lively terror of the hurricane is over by
the end of September. We remember an old creole saying that
used to be current in the islands:
"June, too soon; July, stand by; August, come it must; Septem-
ber, remember; October, all over."
But even with the far-flung series of meteorological reporting
stations now maintained by the United States Weather Bureau,
there is no minimizing the terror. Only in recent years have we
The Sad Years
learned the little that can be done to prevent loss of life and
property. When hurricane warnings are issued, everyone in the
area threatened is expected to prepare for his safety. Modern con-
struction of homes and commercial buildings takes into consid-
eration the hurricane factor and perhaps the safest places during
such disasters are inside these, but orchards and fields and
primitive bohios are wide open to the elements. For these the
hour must come when the air will be filled with flying roofs,
uprooted trees, whirling cane stalks and all the debris of dead
and living things. Then lives are lost and helpless men, women,
and children are uncovered to the mercies of the hurricane.
Whoever has witnessed the awful magnificence of what the
primitive inhabitants of the West Indian islands called ou-ra-cdn
will never forget the sense of his own utter nothingness and ab-
solute helplessness. With such a factor involved in agriculture
the tenacity with which the Puerto Rican has clung to the land
is remarkable. He has persisted, through generation after gen-
eration, in replanting, in reseeding and in long years of patient
cultivation of those crops most vulnerable to hurricanes.
In 1898 anffai was the ma cash crop in Puerto Rico. Forty-
five years later a Senate report said: "In view of the fact that
coffee lost its markets and that the reduced production thereof
since 1928 has been almost totally consumed locally, coffee has
passed from the category of cash crop to take its place among
the other locally consumed commodities."
Coffee began its decline with the hurricane of 1928 and died -o
under the hurricane of 1932. "And it was buried during the
World Depression," adds a grower acquaintance of ours. The_
storms blew down the shade trees-the guabas and wild oranges rfoo p
-under which the coffee tree flourished in Puerto Rico and the
depression, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II killed,
the European market.
The fate of Puerto Rico's tod accindustry was different,
though thecendresult was the same Protected by the tariff,
tobacco production increased every year until the mid-twenties.
Though it remained for years after that the cash crop of the
mid-island section between Comerio and Caguas, it was mor-
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
tally wounded around 1920 by a number of things. First, the
tobacco growers had strike troubles; then they were hit by the
outer world's growing preference for cigarettes as against cigars
for which Puerto Rico supplied the filler. Though tobacco is still
produced on the island and so are cigars, as a major crop it is
probably beyond hope of resuscitation, for the male animal seems
to have long since lost the Victorian virility that was expressed
in a preference for high-powered stogies.
Up to 1940 the Puerto Ricans thought they had a major
employment and income source in an industry peculiarly adapted
to island standards-that of needlework farmed out to cottage
hand workers. Most of them lived in the western part of the
island around Mayagiiez or in the slums of San Juan. The gross
income from this industry was supposed to be "several million"
a year. Every Monday when the "Coamo" or the "Borinquen"
steamed through the narrow entrance to San Juan harbor, she
brought from New York the raw materials of the industry: hun-
dreds of cases of cut but unsewn handkerchiefs, doilies, table
cloths, lingerie, and other pretties. And every Thursday tourists
who had probably seen nothing of the conditions under which
the needle workers lived leaned over the rails to watch the cases
of finished goods swung into the hold for the voyage back to
Puerto Rico has always had a tradition of fine embroidery and
it was the tattered remnants of this skill that kept the needlework
industry alive. The supposed "several million," however, shriv-
eled when it got down to the individual workers. It was cut into
tiny particles by an elaborate system of sub-and-sub-subcontract-
ing. Payment for the actual work averaged 3.5 cents an hour.
Nevertheless, the 3.5 cents was something, and between some-
thing and nothing the psychological difference is vast.
Competitors in this field were Austrian and Czechoslovakian
needle workers but with the outbreak of war in Europe these
dropped out of the New York market. Puerto Rican contractors'
hopes were high, and for a time there was a kind of beggars'
boom in the shacks. But in 1940 the federal minimum wage law
was applied to Puerto Rico and overnight New York turned to
The Sad Years
contractors in the Philippines and China where there were no
fixed requirements. The minimum of 12.5 cents per hour set fo67'r
the Puerto Rican needle workers was the high wage that killed)
Maybe the loss of the business was not important in the long
run. At best needlework in Puerto Rico must inevitably have
been a fugitive industry-a matter of northern capital seeking
to cut under social standards that had been established at home.
But the families that lived on the $2.50 they got for a week's
communal sewing had to get their rice and beans somehow and
to them the loss was catastrophic.
Another economic factor that contributed to the island's woes
in those days was the unjust situation in freight rates to and
from the United States. It was the one subject on which all
islanders could be united.
Although Puerto Rico is an island, it comes under the.provi- / .
sions of the- oastwisi-shipping.law. This law limits commerce
within the United States to American ships, which means that
rates were fixed in those days by a small number of companies-
The New York & Puerto Rico Steamship Company, The Bull
Insular Line, Lykes Bros., Waterman-whose singular unanimity
about the desirability of high charges evoked the ironic interest
of more than one writer, to no avail. It cost more to ship a car
from New York to San Juan than to Caracas, Venezuela, which
is 500 miles farther away. Examples of similar import can be
multiplied: for example, it cost almost wice .as_ much to send/ f ,_
rice from Louisiana to Puert ico as it did to ship it tQ liver-
pool,~1ngland. Some San Juan newspaper publishers thought
almost any fate was too good for the steamship companies. When
El Mundo needed newsprint it chartered a freighter and brought
in a supply from Canada. Only the United States tariff kept more
things than newsprint from coming in by such methods.
With the island on the ropes economically, other pressing
problems naturally eluded solution. Puerto Rican children were
supposed to have the benefits of compulsory free education, but
only 300,000 out of 700,000 children could find seats in school
and illiteracy in the rural districts had changed little in the
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
forty-two years since the landing of General Miles. The Univer-
sity of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras had an enrollment of nearly
5,000 and one million dollars of federal money in its buildings
and upkeep. It looked on the surface like a prosperous state
university but the English department was sheltered in a wooden
barracks on the back campus and hundreds of deserving stu-
dents were handicapped by the living conditions at home.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the old Rough Rider's son, Puerto
Rico's Governor for a period, found ". . babies who were little
skeletons" and school children ". . trying to spur their brains
to action when their little bodies were underfed."
In the lower school bilingual instruction was contributing to
the chaos. Puerto Ricans had no objection to learning English,
but Tomas Blanco and other careful scholars of the day doubted
the efficacy of trying to teach Spanish-minded youngsters such
subjects as geometry, history, and economics in English on alter-
nate days. "The result of mingling the languages indiscriminately
is apt to be emotional instability, illiteracy in two languages, and
a general negativism."
Like education, health was another exasperation. At the School
of Tropical Medicine, which was supported by the Insular Gov-
ernment and Columbia University, they fed rice and beans (the
foundation of the diet of Puerto Rico) to rats. The rats grew to
half size, became rachitic and were unusually vulnerable to in-
fection. Yet, with Puerto Rican incomes what they were, the
Insular Government was powerless to act on the findings. Luckily
the sun prevented the Puerto Rican babies from going the way
of the rats so far as rickets were concerned, but still the popu-
lation needed more than rice and beans if the high local tuber-
culosis rate was ever to be cut.
And whatever progress the United States public health pro-
gram made was being blamed for much of the population in-
crease. Improvements in public sanitation and the fight against
diarrhea, tuberculosis, and malaria helped keep more babies
alive. The fact that they must subsist on a starvation diet was
The population of Puerto Rico in 1940 was classified as 33
The Sad Years
percent urban andc67 percent rurap But no matter where the
poorer Puerto Rican lived, whether it was on the fringe of a
narrow-streeted town or on a hilltop in the savagely twisted cen-
tral mountains, his fate was the inevitable bohio, the one or two-
room shack, already described, made of palm thatch or rough
boards and galvanized iron, set up on four spindly corner legs
to keep its floor out of the mud. It might have been shaded by a
stately palm or a spreading mango tree, but inside as many as
ten or a dozen men, women, and children ate and slept. There
was no kitchen and no running water. Less than half had so
much as an earthen latrine dug outside their dwellings. An
official report said there was "no provision for the disposal of
human excreta" in 51 percent of all island houses. Thus the very
soil of Puerto Rico was, in a manner of speaking, poisoned by
human offal, and since water purification was sometimes hit-or-
miss even in modernized San Juan, the place was a paradise for
all manner of intestinal parasites.
The urban worker was likely to have one bed, a crude table,
and a couple of rickety chairs. He was more fortunate than his
country cousin who had to sleep in a hammock or on a flimsy cot,
or more probably on the floor, and to sit on a salvaged wooden
box or gasoline tin or a piece of log.
With an average of five persons sleeping in each room, mostly
on the floor, there was no pretense of privacy. Generations of
such crowding resulted in the virtual disappearance of sexual
morality among the poorer fibaros. They were given to a matter-
of-fact promiscuity that included casual incest which helped to
account for the excessive birth rate, a major cause of the preva-
The slums of Puerto Rico were probably no worse than the
slums in certain parts of the American mainland, but in propor-
tion to the population there were many more of them and they
were out in the open for everyone to see. Only the subtropical
Incest is a fairly widespread phenomenon throughout the poorer areas
of the world, but anyone reading the Puerto Rican press today will find
that increasingly the daughters are objecting and often are causing their
fathers to be hailed before court. The adjective "casual" is not now justified
as will be shown later.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
sun, which shines at least 360 days in the year, and the trade
winds, which blow steadily from the northeast, kept places like
La Perla from becoming pestholes that might infect the entire
island. As it was, infection was always endemic.
With disease and hunger stalking the jibaro and the city slum
dweller, Puerto Rico's favorite sport was clutching at straws of
hope. The New Deal tossed up several straws in its various
relief agencies, from WPA to the Puerto Rican Reconstruction
Administration. This latter organization, with a fund of $40,000,-
000, was to help eliminate the evils of colonialism and to reshape
island society. But the $350 million poured into the island in ten
years only relieved the situation-it did not resolve it.
Puerto Rico has never been able to raise enough food to feed
its population. Even back in the days when there were only a
million people on the island any talk of self-support through sub-
sistence farming was, obviously, pure poppycock. By 1940, when
the population was nearly two million, such talk made less sense
than ever. Just to feed those two millions adequately, disregard-
ing any of their other needs, would have required five million
acres of the vitamin-deficient island soil. (The Agricultural Ex-
periment Station at Mayagiiez found that it would take two and
one-half acres of Puerto Rican land to support an individual
subsistence farmer-one acre would give him the calories but
not the vitamins and necessary minerals.) With two million
mouths to feed, and with only one million arable acres avail-
able, it was obvious that 1,600,000 individuals would be con-
demned to starvation if the island were not able to sell manufac-
tures or services or to import yield-increasing fertilizer for cash
crops. (Emigration was a theoretical solution, but the outside
world has never made it easy for emigrees, and the economy of
the United States had not yet reached the point when Puerto
Rican labor would be in demand.)
The island possessed no important natural resources on which
to base industries which could earn the money to pay for what
had to be imported. So there was neither sufficient food nor
money with which to buy it.
The Sad Years
The only asset of the island, aside from climate and scenery,
was its ability to produce sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, citrus
fruits, and minor crops, and by 1940 there was no good export
market for any of these except sugar and rum, products of the
cane. (Grapefruit, once promising, was hit by competition from
Texas; and once an attempt was made to put Puerto Rican
bananas into New York but a flood of suddenly cheaper bananas
from Central America broke the back of the effort.) An acre of
cane in those days would pay for five times as much food as the
same acre would produce if it were planted to subsistence crops.
Therefore most of the best land was given over to cane andqn5
than 70 percent of the island's income from exports was derived
-----.---***--^---";*'' -----""-------1.-- ... .1... ... .------'---- ;--- .,--- .... ......... --7_-- ------------------------------- ------------
fronsuga and its products-which meant that the fibaro's rice
(from Louisiana and Texas), his bacalao (codfish, from New-
foundland) and his machetes (from Hartford, Connecticut) were
bought with sugar money.
During the first twenty-five years under United States tariff
protection, the Puerto Rican sugar industry underwent a spec-
tacular expansion. By 1925, output was nearly ten times as large
as in 1900 although the sugar acreage had only been doubled.
Mainland capital was instrumental in improving cultivating
methods, introducing higher-yielding sugar cane varieties, and
generally modernizing production. The greatly increased produc-
tivity of the sugar industry enabled Puerto Rico to pay for
larger imports of food and manufactures. But when sugar prices
broke sharply during the depression years, the structural weak-
ness of the Puerto Rican economy became obvious.
The Sugar Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1934,
helped ease unemployment in the sugar industry by providing a
United States guarantee to buy stipulated amounts at prices
higher than those in world markets. However, the Act, providing
for annual quotas, tended to discourage further expansion in the
industry; productive capacity was held down to meet quota limi-
So the sugar problem became part of a quota problem that was
perennial in Washington where it was a lobby fight that involved
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
the cane sugar producers in Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii,
Puerto Rico and Louisiana and the beet sugar Coloradoans, with
odds in favor of the last.
Puerto Ricans didn't object very strenuously when the United
States Congress took uneconomic care of Colorado beet Senators
or Louisiana cane Senators, although they were sometimes rueful
about it. Nor did they become vocal when the Big Five of Hawaii
got their share of the overall quota figure. They did begin to
grouse, however, when the fat acres of Cuba and the growers of
Manuel Quezon's independence-minded Philippine common-
wealth were cut in on the United States market with a liberality
that seemed directed not only against Puerto Rico's Big Four-
the Central Aguirre, the Fajardo Sugar Company, the South
Puerto Rico Sugar Company of Guanica, and Eastern Sugar-
but also against the colonos (small independent cane farmers)
and small farmers who owned 60 percent of the local sugar land.
Inasmuch as Puerto Rico never asked to be annexed by the
United States, there would seem to have been justice to the com-
Justice or not, it remained a fact that the fifty or more Puerto
Rican sugar centrales (factories) had to limp along at half capa-
The overproduction of both babies and sugar made the future
look grim but the Puerto Ricans felt they could find solutions to
these problems if only the question of their political status were
settled one way or the other.
We recall a luncheon we had one day with a fellow newsman
under the gaudy murals of San Juan's old Escambron Beach
Club. He later helped reorganize the island's Chamber of Com-
merce so his conversation even then was hibiscus-colored when
he talked of the island's future.
"It should be the forty-ninth state," he said. "Puerto Rico has
such a tremendous potential that, given statehood, it would
become one of the most important in the Union."
But later, driving out to the University at Rio Piedras, we
passed the malodorous jungle of squatters' shacks thrown to-
gether on the swampy flats of the Cano de Martin Pefia and his
The Sad Years
face fell. "We're still in a terrible mess, though," he said. "Con-
ditions couldn't be much worse."
Surely the squatters, hounded by chronic dysentery and mal-
nutrition, agreed with him. For that matter, this was the one
point of unanimity among all Puerto Ricans, from the rich sugar
planters who used to toss spoonfuls of sugar to the floor in
restaurants and murmur "for the industry" to the fibaro tipping a
jug of canita (moonshine); from the colono watching the weigh-
ing scales at the refinery to the emaciated needleworker in El
One could not remain very long on the island in those days
without realizing that all the complaints were true. But Puerto
Rico has always had beauties and graces beyond the stock tourist
items of the old Morro fortifications and the Fortaleza palace and
the palm-fringed half-moon beaches. When a shipmate of Colum-
bus on his second westward voyage in 1493 described the island
he said: "All of these islands are very handsome and of very
good earth, but this one seemed to everybody the best." Making
allowances for 400 years of erosion and soil depletion, the remark
is still more or less applicable. If there are fewer people per
square mile in neighboring Santo Domingo, this is because
scourges keep the death rate high and the birth rate low-and,
mayhap, a dictator in office. The average 6Prto ~ .ic standard
of living was deplorable, but it was as good or better than the
average Jamaican's. An American rum chemist who had lived
in both places told us he'd "rather be a Puerto Rican jibaro than
a Jamaican laborer any day in the week."
Puerto Ricans, despite their lot, have always been essentially
happy and hospitable by temperament. They also have a sense
of humor. Once, in the central cordillera, where the old Spanish
military roads even today skirt dizzy gorges, our driver, blithely
ignoring our heart action and pointing (frequently with both
hands) to the little crosses beside the road, explained with a
chuckle that they marked the spots where Pedro or Chepi or
Luisito plunged over, "Que Idstima." He referred to the gorges as
"garages" and talked about a Negro friend of his from Virgin
Gorda who was a British "object." Poverty peered from every
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
thatched or corrugated-tin-roofed bohio in the hills, yet the
pineapple and cane fields were incredibly lovely, the coffee trees
with their ripe red berries made highlights in the dappled shade,
and the roads were lined with the beautiful flamboydn, the
ubiquitous hibiscus, the copper-barked almacingo, and with the
llagrumo, which is green by day and silver by night (its large
leaves turn over in the dark).
In the few good hotels the food was uninspired-rice with
gandules (pigeon peas) made a gastronomic oasis of a meal at
Ponce's Hotel Melia on that trip-but the jibaro got (by hook or
crook) an occasional worthy offset to his rice and yucca when
he feasted on young goat or lech6n asado (roast pig). Puerto
Rican coffee, if it was properly prepared, made the Brazilian
blends in favor in the United States taste like dishwater, but most
islanders (then and now) killed it with five or six heaping tea-
spoonfuls of sugar to the cup, a habit which probably originated
with the planters' desire to help the industry.
The richest man in Puerto Rico in those days wa. 4o Manue
on6iiisales unlettered ga ego from Spain who grew prosperous
enough on cattle and sugar to be called the richest man in
Puerto Rico. He owned approximately 1/35th of all the land in
the island. He was worth $30,000,000. The per capital wealth of
Puerto Rico was less than $200.
The rich Puerto Ricans are unlike many rich continental
Americans in that they don't become timid under the weight
of their wealth. (If a man ceases to be a forthright individual
in Puerto Rico he is contemptuously dismissed as Juan Batata,
or John Potato.)
The poor Puerto Ricans are unlike most poor continental
Americans in that they are poorer. And still they place certain
values on the dignity of the individual that are unknown by
These were the opposite poles which the social-minded Puerto
Ricans and one or two continental liberals would have pulled to-
gether to help end exploitation and solve the island's socio-
Thus, in the wide perspective of hindsight we know that the
The Sad Years
island'(tg oleslial94 derived from two cardinal facts that
would prove refractory under any type of administration. The
first of these was (and is) the island's tremendous(ove~popula-(7')
tion which was 544 persons per square mile (672 today). The
second refractory fact was the chronically tsad state of sugar in
a world that had not yet solved the problem of distribution of
its surpluses, or even the largess of its agricultural areas.
Unfortunately, neither the Puerto Ricans nor their American
patrons were able to approach the problem by any method but
political. Only a few visionaries in the Thirties and early Forties
dreamed the situation could be changed by a purely economic
For some forty years the tempestuous individualisms of Yankee
and Spanish had tangled with the passive individualism of the
Puerto Rican mixture, and the result had not been happy for any-
one. The United States had not sufficiently outgrown its own
colonial status to become in turn a colonizing nation. Thus its
policy toward Puerto Rico fluctuated with every change of ad-
ministration. When a Harding was president, a dubious political
hack was appointed Governor. When the New Deal was in full
flush of domestic experimentalism, the governor might or might
not have been good (i.e., Mr. Roosevelt's Gore was a blunderer;
Major General Winship, innocuous; Tugwell, conscientious).
Meanwhile alphabetical agencies burgeoned and relief funds
created a spotty illusion of progress.
In between the spots were vast fields of poverty, filth, and
discontent, and a lot of concern about the future.
Puerto Ricans became citizens of the U. S. in 1917. But did
this mean that Puerto Rico could aspire to statehood? Was it
possible for a United States territory to achieve a kind of do-
minion status? Would freedom and independence be possible for
a small island in the middle of a strategic military area? The
future had always been a big question mark hovering like a
tropical hurricane over the island, but in 1940 there was a new
question in the mind of everyone: What of the promises, pros-
pects, and proposals the new Popular Party leaders were shouting
about? What of their slogan "Pan, Tierra y Libertad" (Bread,
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
Land and Liberty)? More important, what kind of cooperation
could the Populares expect from the head of the Division of
Territories and Island Possessions in the Department of the
Interior? The unhappy vacillations of one incumbent (Ernest
Gruening) had taught the Puerto Ricans caution if not distrust.
All islanders wanted to have their status and their relationship
to Washington given stability and continuity. The wobbly policy
of the U. S. was offensive to the dignidad that has always been
such an integral part of Spanish character. It contributed only
confusion and further degradation to the illiterate jibaro. And the
landed upper classes that had once considered themselves first-
rate Spaniards were beginning to feel like third-class Americans.
There was a lot of talk about defense and military installations
in those days, and the amount of money the United States spent
on the island was enormous. But it and the relief spending of the
preceding ten years had made little change in the local economy.
In fact, with wartime restrictions on shipping it was even worse.
While millions of young men were fighting to clean up the
Axis and to create a better post-war world, the cesspool of Puerto
Rico continued to fester in our backyard. One writer of the
period asked: "If Americans cannot straighten out the relatively
small mess of this small island, how can they expect to bring
order out of chaos in the rest of the big world?"
A rustic philosopher, a hillbilly neighbor of ours, once advised
the safest course in any situation was "If in doubt, do nothing, "
and perhaps that should have been the mandate for U. S. colonial
policy where Puerto Rico was concerned. But there were several
problems peculiarly indigenous to this island and Americans are
not conditioned to let any problem within their ken lie idle or
solve itself, especially any unusual one. "Find a better way or
make one," has been a characteristic maxim of Americans since
Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, the lack of basic ground-work,
primary knowledge of colonial administration, made solutions
difficult if at all attainable. There was no mainland precedent to
go by that was remotely related to the situation in Puerto Rico.
A State Department wit once declared that the only solution
for the U. S.-Puerto Rican problem was "divorce with full ali-
The Sad Years
money That was typical of Washington thinking twenty years
ago. No one seemed to remember that the original wedding, fol-
lowing the war with Spain, had been of the shotgun variety, with
Uncle Sam holding the gun. This, though cause for present cha-
grin, was imperialism in its simplest form.
The territorial growth of the United States has been marked
by two related characteristics. First, there was the growth by
acquisition, step by step, of contiguous mainland territory. The
Louisiana purchase, the Gadsden purchase, land from coast to
coast as it was acquired, became an integral part of the United
States. Their sparsely settled acres and their empty spaces
presented no serious problem of assimilation of alien cultures but
invited migration from the growing population of the older states.
(Indians offered no problem that could not be solved with cav-
alry and civilian infiltration.) They soon became in effect and by
law territories of the United States with promise of statehood
when populations warranted it.
Imperialism was the characteristic of the other acquisitions:
when the United States acquired territories through war or by
purchase, that were already settled by people whose culture,
politics, and language were different, and whose prospects of
assimilation into the statehood seemed dubious. Even when the
people of these territories were given a measure of self-govern-
ment, they still had no voice in shaping federal policy or choice
in their own status.
The Communists have made us self-conscious about our im-
perialism, and some conscience may be involved when we con-
sider our original intentions. We undertook our experiments in
colonialism from a variety of motives-economic, strategic, and
benevolent. President McKinley declared that it was his desire
"to put the conscience of the American people into the islands
of the sea." And the first Commissioner of Education for Puerto
Rico, though pompous in other things, was sincerely benevolent:
"These people do not suffer from the lack of civilization," he said
in one of his first reports on the island. "They suffer from the
kind of civilization they have endured." The good professor's
mistake, of course, was in confusing civilization with culture and
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
attempting to erase both by substituting United States educa-
tional patterns. Nevertheless, our basic attitude was generosity,
and therein lay the fault.
We Americans have long been noted for our generosity on two
counts: money and advice. We have handed out both on the
slightest provocation. We liked to give advice on colonial policy,
but we have always been in a vulnerable position when we did,
for we had no settled policy toward our own territories. Ameri-
cans as a whole have shown a profound lack of interest in their
territorial possessions. If the political agitation of our wards was
brought with sufficient force to our attention we readily offered
them independence. If they complained loudly enough we gave
them money for relief, and we did fairly well on education des-
pite a vast waste of funds and effort. But what we denied them
was patient, continuous attention and guidance, a consistent,
predictable political and economic policy, and a sense of respon-
Our record was probably worst in Puerto Rico. There our
thoughtless and sporadic generosity and liberal impulses, aimed
with good intentions, did not produce a steady growth of political
aptitude and economic independence. Those of us who saw the
problem with some objectivity were not sufficiently vocal per-
haps, or our voices were mere whispers in a wilderness of smug
indifference. Puerto Rico's problem was more difficult, its situa-
tion more extreme, than anyone realized. Its only enduring
remedy would have been the methodical execution over a long
period of years of a policy of constructive investment of United
States funds in health, education, and productive facilities in
agriculture and industry. (And encouragement of local participa-
It was blatantly evident that political independence was as
impractical as economic independence was impossible. Statehood
was simply unthinkable from our standpoint. The Puerto Ricans,
therefore, were faced withCwo alt6-erativesg either they acted
our money and hoped for an intelligent expenditure of it, or they/
accepted independence and committed social ana economic )
The Sad Years
Our failure to apply an intelligent remedy resulted in our
embarrassment over imperialism. Our experiments in colonialism
were undertaken without any previous experience in colony ad-
ministration. Even the term was never officially used. We were
barely beyond the colonial stage ourselves so the only status we
could wish on others never went beyond benevolence, certainly
hardly as far as exploitation. Our greatest sin was ignorance and
whatever mistakes we made must be recorded under that head.
Puerto Rico's (last-from the mainland) United States ap-
pointed Governor, Rexford Guy Tugwell, asked Congress for a
$15,000,000 relief appropriation but Congress, which didn't ap-
prove of Tugwell or his methods, refused. His administration was
under constant fire from both Houses. Tugwell's supporters
claimed such attacks were "politics" meant to embarrass the
So the Senate investigating committees, like Mr. Tugwell and
a long line of well-intentioned reformers before him, brought
back no panacea to cure Puerto Rico's many ills. They called
them "unsolvable problems."
As Senator Chavez said: "There isonly one commodity of
which there is an abundance, and this is gorv-erf ent employes."
The insular government alone had nearly 9 I00 2esoye, while / '/
parallel with the Puerto Rican government and duplicating
many of its regular functions was an octopus-like limb of the
United States Federal Government which had spread itself into
everything from finance to finding criminals.
The man who was impaled at the top of this fantastic network
of interlocking agencies was Governor Tugwell. As ranking repre-
sentative of the United States in San Juan, he was the key politi-
cal figure in the island whether he liked it or not. There were
few moments when Tugwell liked it. He was accused of trying
to live aloof in the cool tranquility of the palace-like Fortaleza.
(His wife sponsored and supported hundreds of milk stations
for starving children.) Puerto Rico's dilemma was Tugwell's
Tugwell was under constant attack by members of Congress
in Washington. They wanted to remove him from office, shorten
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
his term, cut off his funds. Most violent opposition to Tugwell H,
was centered in RBolivar Paegn, the Puerto wRiesLnBednt CQm- .'v"
missioner in Washington, who represented the big sugar interests. I
Asked once to name Puerto Rico's most pressing problem, he
purpled and shouted: "Tugwell!"
Nevertheless, a majority of Puerto Ricans w heartily
favor of what Tugwell stood for. Why not? He was working with
Mufioz, the Bread, Land, Liberty leader. But in the more con-
servative circles in Washington, there were constant plots to curb
Tugwell or even to legislate him out of office.
One reason was his record as an experimenter along what,
for the times, were unorthodox lines. Another was his manner,
which ordinarily was affable, suave, and sincere but which could
and often did turn to a schoolmasterish superciliousness that
many found highly offensive. His friends attributed it to his
But there was an even more damning mark against him. In a
report explaining the land redistribution program, he said: "It
has obvious implications for the South." His enemies contended
that his radical experiments in Puerto Rico would eventually be
transferred to the American South. So, behind the bitterness in
Washington, was the worry among Southerners (and perhaps
others) that the whole nation might be upset by an attempt to
limit land holdings in Puerto Rico.
Briefly, this is what had been done under Tugwell's adminis-
tration in cooperation with Luis Mufioz Marin's Popular Party:
creation of Power, Transportation and Communications Authori-
ties which were acquiring and operating many of the island's
utilities; establishment of a government "development" bank;
government control of some imports. Under way through the
courts was an effort by the insular government to expropriate cor- p
porate land holdings of more than 500 acres and redistribute
them among small farmers on a profit-sharing basis, all under
the terms of the Foraker Organic Act passed by Congress in 1900.
And, significantly, a birth control measure was enacted by the
insular legislature in 1937 despite the fact that Puerto Rico was
then ninety-five percent Roman Catholic (it has dropped to
The Sad Years
about eighty-five percent today) and despite the opposition of
But, in the end, even the idealistic Tugwell had to admit that
Puerto Rico and some of his reforms were incompatible. Even
the best economic theory needs an economic base to make it
work and Puerto Rico had none twenty years ago.
Then Puerto Rico set out to create from that environment a
favorable business climate, a new economic base. It did and
therein lies the secret of its success.
Looking backward today, many people believe that Puerto
Rico could have started its industrial effort a quarter of a century
earlier, if it had shown initiative. True, it was locked in the iron
grip of a one-crop economy, and in many ways abused by absen-
tee owners, but there remains a lingering suspicion in many
minds that no small part of Puerto Rico's difficulty was its own
inertia, its own lack of hope and vision. Puerto Ricans did not
get their present hope and vision as a sudden miraculous change
from inertia. These came only after many trials and errors.
The first five years gave them a lot of experience, but not
much else in the way of factories and employment. That period
was not wasted, however, for they learned three things that
even today still work in Puerto Rico's favor and in favor of the
industrialists who locate in the island.
First, the island government planned, built and operated sev-
eral large scale, heavy
Rican standards. They thereby proved to themselves and to the
world that they could make other things besides sugar and
Secondly, they learned the lesson of the 'ultiier efft'
This means simply that they decided to use their limited funds
as a catalyst for industrial expansion, rather than commit them
directly to industrial investment.
Third, and perhaps most important, they learned the value of
the prudent utilization of the a we as a means of creat-
ing the necessary incentives for private initiative. Puerto Rico's
tax exemption act is the keystone of its economic development
program. Just as the power to tax is the power to destroy, the
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
power not to tax-when properly directed and safeguarded-can
become the power to create. How they direct that taxing power
to encourage investment and how they use government resources
to attract private capital will be explained later.
If there has been anything dogmatic in this approach from
the beginning, it has been Puerto Rico's determination to be
non-doctrinaire, to roll with the punches. In punching back
against poverty, they are inclined to use whichever fist is more
effective, without worrying whether it's left or right.
The first five years of the developmentprogram, from 1942 P
jto 1947, were unquestionably socialistic. The government oper-
ated some basic industries. It had no choice. Private initiative
had to be shown that industry was feasible in Puerto Rico.
Rather quickly, though, government capital and government
know-how reached their practical limits. At that point, they
shifted gears. They began developing another kind of program,
designed to attract private investment. Its foundation was tax
exemption and the use of government capital not to run industry
but tostimulate private industrial development.
Results speak more eloquently than words: During the years
1942 to 1947-19 factories'were started under the economic
development program. In the next five years, with government
acting as a catalyst to attraef private enterprise, the number of
factories increased by -9and employment in them jumped from
1,800 for the first five-year period to 14,800 for the second.
As Puerto Rico gained experience, industrialists became more
confident of island willingness to give financial aid and other
assistance without onerous ties or conditions. From 1952 to 195,
the number of factonriesncreased by36 nd employment in-
creased to 36,400. In the fiscal year 1958-1959 alone '111>new
factories opened and a record 151 new industries were "pro-
moted;" that is, contracts and agreements were signed by repre-
sentatives of island government and industry.
In 1947, the government had invested $11,000,000 in industrial
plants and equipment, while private interests had put up only
$2,000,000. Twelve years later, the multiplier effect of the new
policy became evident. While government investment went up
to $45,000,000 the private sector had invested $425,000,000. In
The Sad Years
other words, twelve years of operation, using the incentive and
promotional approach instead of depending mainly on direct
government investment, multiplied investment about 210 fold,
with only a fourfold increase in government investment. This is
one lesson Puerto Rico can teach underdeveloped countries now
seeking to better the standard of living of their people.
Although we said that tax exemption is the keystone of
Puerto Rico's development program, tax exemption by itself is
not the decisive factor. When businessmen look at Puerto Rico
as a site for a plant, their primary concern, and certainly their
long-range concern, is not on profits without taxes, but on profits
Tax exemption is the all-important triggering device which
assures a corporation of an unfettered chance to get started.
After that, profits before taxes still have to be much higher in
Puerto Rico-sometimes two to three times higher-than in
continental United States to induce investment and attract an
increasing flow of risk capital. )
Puertoic`anileaders sayy they haven't found this too high a
price to pay for its accelerated rate of development. Profitable
firms on the island average 19% on sales and about 40% net
return on investment and, despite tax exemption, government
revenues have continued to increase substantially.
Puerto Rico has been criticized for permitting these high
returns on investment. Such rates have been linked to "colonial
exploitation." Often, the criticism comes from countries out-
stripped by the Puerto Rican development. Puerto Ricans be-
lieve, with U. S. banker Eugene Black, that given a sound
structure of business law, "profits are not a measure of a man's
morality, but of his efficiency." Moreover, Puerto Ricans know
that high profits exist in Puerto Rico in order to eradicate the
poverty of the people and not, as in colonial regimes, because
This is revolutionary thinking, and not revolution as the world
has come to know the term. And as thinking is a human process
and prerogative, perhaps we should now consider the human
elements that produced the Puerto Rican renaissance.
LUIS MUNOZ MARIN
Luis Mufioz Marin has been the subject of a considerable
volume of printed matter. Indeed, no man in the Western
Hemisphere, with the possible exception of the President of the
United States, has been so fully covered by the press, the radio,
and the authors of books. The Latin American press, especially,
has devoted a lot of space to Mufioz because, for one thing, he
is an American they can understand, and because he has always
been a sort of liaison between our two cultures. As for the rest
of the world, wherever there are people whose problems are in
any way related to those of the Puerto Ricans, there, also, has
Mufioz' name figured prominently in the press.
Over the past twenty years anyone could have clipped and
collected, in any language, a sizable box of Mufioz Miscellanea.
And one should assume that a digest of all this material would
provide a pretty clear picture of the man, for here would be his
own thoughts expressed in some detail, plus a wide range of
character studies by observers intimate and familiar with the
subject-but that is not so. No really definitive piece has ever
been written about Luis Mufioz Marin. Even an essence dis-
tilled from all the things said about the man, and from his own
words, gives at best only a sketchy profile. One has only to meet
the man and talk to him to realize this fact.
Mufioz is no spellbinder. He is no silver-tongued orator. But
the intensity of his feelings, the sincerity of his voice, and the
Luis Mufioz Marin
authority of his deep knowledge are obvious in every word he
speaks. He is no ascetic, no fanatic with an itch for power and
yet it is easy to understand how he could win friends and in-
fluence so many people. There is a certainf2rtiifes about him
that makes him the common denominator for every man regard-
less of race, sex, religion, or income bracket.
To the masses he is no messiah for the simple reason that he
is essentially one of them, a man like any one of themselves,
subject to the same idiosyncrasies of nature, the same evils of the
flesh. No one calls him El Patr6n, never The Boss, rarely The
Chief. The Governor, which he is, or briefly Mufioz, or, to a few
intimates, don Luis or El Vate (The Bard), is all you will hear.
This is more significant than it may sound to democratic-
minded Anglo-Saxon Americans. You would have to be born and
raised in Latin America to understand that this is not a common
thing among our southern neighbors where there is more caste
than conscience and more respect for dictators. This democratic
characteristic is probably the most "American" thing about Mufioz
and he seems to have come by it naturally.
Whereas the average man may have something to do with
the arrangement of his own destiny, it is popularly believed
that Destiny created Mufioz Marin. There are too many coinci-
dental factors and manipulations of Fate to deny it.
Luis Mui Marnhthe architect of Puerto Rico's "Operation
Bootstrap," wasbr in San uan, Puerto Rico, February 18,
89.)the only child of Amalia Marin de Mufioz and Luis Mufioz
Rivera.` e family home was in the small mountain town of
Barranquitas'ut the Mufioz family was in the capital in Feb-
ruary to celebrate an important political event. It was the climax
of a lifetime devoted to Puerto Rican freedom, for Mufioz
Rivera had just been made rimie Ministei under a new autono-
mous government. From the day when he was barely nine years
old and the revolutionary Grito de Lares came ringing through
the mountain valleys to Barranquitas and fired his imagination,
to this final victory over the cortes of Spain, te elder Mufioz
had by his devotion become the George Washington of Puerto
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
Comparatively less is known about dofia Amalia, Luis' mother,
because the woman's place in Spanish colonial culture, as in
Spain, was always subordinate to the man. But Spaniards and
their descendants have a subtle way of publicly honoring
mothers just the same. They do it in the name. Thus, Luis ,
Mufioz adds mrin,_whch is his mother's maiden name, just as
his father before him added Rivera, Luis' paternal grandmother's
maiden name. Married women retain their maiden names and ,
simy add' "de" lof and the husband's name. This is a more
convenient system than it would appear at first, for it helps to
quickly identify one in a restricted society where family names
and intermarriage must recur. And, as we said, the mother loses
none of her identity as she does in other societies. The rule,
however, is not absolute and it is breaking down in the Puerto
Rican social structure as one may surmise upon reading any
edition of San Juan's El Mundo.
A pretty good case could be made for Spanish social customs
as against woman's place in modem Anglo-American societies,
but that would take another book. May it suffice here to suggest
that while young Luis' early interest in poetry and the arts was
probably inherited from his father, his more sturdy qualities and
the tenacity of will exhibited in his political life were derived
from his mother. We say this because his father, if one can
believe history, never hesitated to sacrifice comfort and financial
security on the altar of his ideals. The family was never wealthy
in a society where upper class generally was synonymous with
Luis was barely five months old when United States blue-
jackets and troops under General Nelson A. Miles landed at
Guanica, twenty miles west of Ponce, and the general issued his
historic "guarantees and blessings" proclamation. One can only
surmise what the feelings were in the Mufioz household.
For years Mufioz Rivera had fought for greater autonomy from
Spain. He had suffered all the indignities an autocratic govern-
ment could impose on him and it was not until the latter days of
1897 that Spain was persuaded to grant to her lone remaining
loyal colony of Puerto Rico a measure of autonomy.
Luis Mufioz Marin
While it was never actually in operation and while the plan
contained provisions under which a strong executive might be
made to nullify its more liberal provisions, it was a distinct
victory for liberalism. It has often been referred to by island
leaders as marking the progress already attained before the ad-
vent of American control. The law was known as "The Charter
of Autonomy." Under it, Luis Mufioz Rivera became "secretary
of Grace, Justice and Government," a sort of Prime Minister.
The charter was approved November 25th, 1897, and the first
election had been held under its provisions when war with the
United States was declared.
Thus, for Mufioz Rivera, the big question must have been
whether Puerto Rico would have more or less freedom under
United States rule.
It was soon evident that the autonomy charter was a measure
more liberal in form at least than that embodied in the first civil
government established under American rule.
For a little less than two years the island remained under
military rule. This military government, naturally, was an auto-
cracy, but an autocracy limited by American ideals of liberty and
democracy and purely benevolent in character. No department
of government was neglected during the probationary period to
prepare the people for the responsibilities which they were
shortly to assume under the act providing civil government.
This, called theAForaker Act, as approved April 12, 1OTQO)
The existence of(civernnment>in Puerto Rico was proclaimed
by the President, July 25, 19 1, and free trade to and from the
United States was established beginning with this date. But
though the economy of the island had some prospect of im-
proving under this set-up, it did little for the dignity of the
individual Puerto Rican.
So Mufioz Rivera learned English at the age of forty-five, went
to Washington as the island's first Resident Commissioner, and
spent fifteen more years in obtaining from the United States
Congress the right to an elected legislature. They called it the
This was not quite what Mufioz Rivera was aiming at in the
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
early days of American occupation. As a leader representing the
Unionist Party, he objected to any provision for collective citi-
zenship since the ultimate ideal of the party was independence
in association with the United States. "A period of years, perhaps
ten, perhaps twenty, perhaps more," he said. "What we want is
a lapse of time during which we can demonstrate to the United
States that we are perfectly fitted to exercise that power."
It is obvious from the record that Mufioz Rivera had in mind
some political status quite similar to the present Commonwealth
with, perhaps, a little more autonomy. For at the Miramar Con-
vention of the Unionist Party, held on the island in October,
.1915, he persuaded his party to drop from its platform and leave
to an indefinite future the question of Puerto Rican independ-
SWhat Mufioz Rivera eventually got for Puerto Rico was the
new bill of rights, named for the chairman of the Committee on
Insular Affairs, Mr. William A. Jones. It became law March 2,
1917, and by it Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory
of the United States. The bill also conferred citizenship- on
Puerto Ricans collectively.
Mufioz Rivera's only,_*-iwas a sad-eyed, black-mopped ro-
mantic with a genius for prose poetry. He got most of his school-
ing in Washington, attending Georgetown Preparatory School
and ending with a year of law in Georgetown University, and
several years in the school political hard knocks. He joined
the Socialist Party, though his father sternly opposed this step.
He campaigned for La Follette in 1924.
His literary career was more rewarding. He contributed articles
to the Baltimore Sun and various national magazines while still
a student. He moved to New York City when his father died and
worked as a free-lance writer and translator. He contributed to
popular magazines of the day and translated Walt Whitman,
Edwin Markham, and Carl Sandberg into Spanish. In 1917, he
published two books, Borrones and Madre Haraposa. He edited
La Revista de las Indias, a magazine devoted to Latin American
culture and striving for Pan American unity, a goal towards
which he has constantly worked. Mostly, though, he was just an-
Luis Muiloz Marin
other bohemian writer in(Greenwich Village and Manhattan,
where he spent several years "sometimes eating and sometimes
When we asked him where he got the bootstrapp ? he
answered: "After the bartenders uniohad their convention in
Puerto Rico several years ago, they ran a story in their magazine
about our rejuvenation program and said we were lifting our-
selves by our own bootstraps. It was a good label for what we are
trying to do so we adopted it. I made a speech at that convention
and they gave me a gold, lifetime membership card in the union.
In the presentation I was told it entitled me to free drinks in
any bar in Manhattan. Boy! There was a time in New York
when I could have made good use of that."
During that dark period in his life he claims to have lived in
New York on 30 cents' worth of chopped raw hamburger and
onions a day. "When I knew I could do that," he says, "I felt I
was a free man."
He was one of the Lost Generation, the angry young men of
the Twenties, a Socialist, and though we have heard many say
they knew him in those days, we doubt whether he had any
really close friends. He was not moody, though some so inter-
preted his prolonged periods of introspection. He was not the
heavy drinker several writers have said he was, but as he grew
older he filled out into the general shape of a large bear, with
similar appetites and capacities. He grew a scraggly mustache
which made him look less Latin American than a Manhattan
bohemian and he had an unruly cowlick which he never did
bother to train properly. He had the eyes of a whipped spaniel
and his teeth even then were ugly and probably the reason why
he seldom smiled. He told a Life photographer recently: "I used
to have bad teeth so I got out of the habit of smiling." He once
admitted a mortal fear of dentists which may have accounted for
the condition of his teeth and years of excruciating pain. "I re-
member how my mother used to take her teeth out when she
wanted to," he said, recalling his mother's plate. "And I used
to wonder, why couldn't that be hereditary?"
That was a reference he rarely makes today. Even his most
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
intimate friends seldom hear him speak of his parents. He never
refers to his father as such, always speaking of him impersonally
as "Mufioz Rivera." This reluctance to trade on the family name
has been handed on to his own children. Readers of-Th~-illiii.
STimes,' Puerto Rico's weekly English-language newspaper, are
not always aware that its publisher, Luis Mufioz Lee, is the
Luis Mufioz Marin returned to the island in 1926 at the age
of twenty-eight and his life has been devoted to Puerto Rico
ever since. He gave up official socialism which leaned as far right
as left in Puerto Rico, became a member of the New Liberal
Party and managed to eke out a meager living as publisher of
La Democracia, a daily newspaper.
From the beginning, he championed the cause of the great
mass of Puerto Rican workers with a dedication and selfless devo-
tion that verged on the fanatic, were it not that all he did
seemed somehow couched in logic. Once, when leaders of his
father's old, more conservative political party were feeling his
punches, they prompted Mufioz Rivera's widow, dofia Amalia,
to tell her son she was in failing health and her life was being
shortened by his failure to espouse his father's political beliefs.
"I love you very much, mamita," he answered, "but, after all,
you are only one. The jibaros are thousands."
Despite his fervor and enthusiasm he was an ordinary party
worker with no more influence than the average youngster in
the Liberal ranks. From this point on, though, it is pretty obvious
from the record that Destiny or Fate or some correlation of
opportunities conspired to give orientation to his every move.
He had no influence until thb hurricanes of1i992~-ij.swept
Puerto Rico with unparalleled physical devastation, and the Wall
Street crash brought on an economic fade-out to all that was left.
The Depression and the New Deal in Washington put in office
men who, if not old bohemian buddies, were at least sympathetic
to the liberal Luis. His timing from here on was perfect. He ran
for the Pui ican Senate in 193 nd was elected. He knew
the ropes in Washington and he had entree to the Brain Trust
Luis Mufioz Marin
that surrounded the President. He wangled an audience with
President Roosevelt which, though probably of no moment,
made headlines in San Juan. He did not object when it was
breezed around that he and the President were "like that."
The Puerto Rican people build portentous moments out of
nothing. Mufioz Marin had been to the White House, which was
something. Since he encouraged no one to believe the something
was less than it appeared, there was every reason to suspect it
was more than it looked. Thus encouraged, the suspicions grew
to awesome proportions. And when the New Deal millions
started pouring out for relief, Puerto Rico got a big bucketful.
Meanwhile, the island was saddled with another inept Gover-
nor. Mufioz Marin, using his newspaper as a mouthpiece, wrote
a headline: "Governor Gore is aRiia- And he proceeded to
document his charge. He made another trip to Washington and
soon afterwards Governor Gore wa*emo-i oe The island was
flabbergasted. It has remained so ever since.
But before Mufioz or anyone else could make headway on
any program, ways had to be found of surmounting three great
obstacles: (1) the stranglehold of sugar, (2) the natural poverty '
of land and people, and (3) a runaway population growth.
These have long been the three curses of the Caribbean, but
in Puerto Rico they had combined to produce an explosive situ-
ation which could mean riots and bloodshed, could intensify
nationalistic passions and bring on a dictatorship.
Mufioz elected to attack the sugar barons first since the ruin
strewn by the hurricane had called island-wide attention to the
pitiful situation of agriculture. He hung his fight on the 500-
acre law and started lawsuits to break up the big holdings.
This was an unpopular approach for the Liberals, since the
party was largely supported by sugar interests, so Mufioz was
kicked out of the party. He spent a year or so out of power and
people said he was "finished." But he wasn't finished-not by
Discussing those days, he said he felt as though he were living
on a great frontier. "The world I inhabited was bounded on all
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
sides by a necktie. Any necktie. There are only two kinds of
people-those who wear neckties and those who don't. The
physical presence of the necktie itself is not the decisive fact
but what used to disturb me was when someone started to wear
a necktie, he forgot that people without neckties exist."
His frontier of the necktie was a parable, typical of his
thinking then and now, for he combined the selflessness and
idealism of a Gandhi in those days with a love of food, drink,
and ironical commentary that would have done credit to Anatole
France. Substitute the words "freedom, food, clothing, homes,
and work" for the word "necktie" and the meaning of what he
says is clear. The word "shoes" would be almost as applicable,
except that the necktie embodies a dignity which Puerto Ricans
treasure above all else, but which was virtually unattainable
under colonial (Spanish or American) government.
The parables of Mufioz Marin created a social revolution. They
enabled an otherwise-scoffed-at dreamer to build a political
party which wrote the island's laws for three years without itself
having enough votes to pass a bill through the Legislature.
"When we came to vote on the [land and social reform] bills
we let the people know what we were voting for. We made it
plain that any failure to pass would be blamed on the opposition.
We generally wangled enough help from the splinter parties to
get the bills passed."
He showed his people the way out of a feudalism which
existed like a grotesque museum piece in the midst of the
machine age and on the very doorstep of the most highly de-
veloped industrial nation of the world.
The political party he built up frotnothing but an idea had
no name at first. A group called 'The 23" et at the Treasure
Island Hotel in the mountains south o San Juan in July ,)
and founded what later came to be known as Munioz' Pop
"Our model was the party of F. D. R. We believed in equality
for everyone. When we held a caucus our foes laughed at it
as 'Boys' Week,' but then the people put us in power."
Luis Mufioz Marin
America's cockeyed colonial policy had one beneficial result
where Puerto Rico was concerned. It all but ruined the island's
economy, but it matured the Puerto Ricans politically. Also it
bound all the fighting factions who hated each other very dearly
into one blood brotherhood with one burning purpose; namely,
to call for a showdown and decide once and forever whether
Puerto Rico had the means for self-improvement.
Mufioz did some spectacular campaigning in those early days.
He recalls with a chuckle that he made 30,000 speeches in fifty
days-with 200 cheap phonograph records which he had made
and sent into the villages with instructions that each was to be
played ten times daily. He put loud speakers on oxcarts and
mule-backs. He traveled on the same transportation and by car
and by foot. He visited nearly every community on the island.
He had long since been frozen out of La Democracia so he went
out-himself-and sold advertising for a newspaper he called
El Batey (the stoop and frontyard of a fibaro shack, the family
or neighborhood gathering place), and got $175 per issue,
enough to finance a four-page sheet that carried his message.
"We ran the circulation from nothing to 100,000 copies and
that was a lot for Puerto Rico."
During his campaign Mufioz & Co. wrote out twenty-two
"bills" (typical were the land reform bills with which Mufioz
hoped to break up the large cane-land empire) complete to
the last comma, and every candidate standing with him was
made to promise publicly that if elected he would do everything
in his power to get the bills into law.
Once he delivered a flowery discourse on the beauties of
Puerto Rico to a group of fibaros. When the applause had died
down Mufioz rebuked them, saying he had merely been repeat-
ing the empty phrases of the phony politicians. "Distrust all
politicians," he said, "even me."
Traditionally, the peasants had sold their votes for a few
dollars or a small credit at a sugar plantation store. Political
bosses often paid peasants not to vote at all, sometimes locking
them in stockades to make sure they kept their bargain.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
"Two dollars will buy a lot of beans and rice for your starving
family," he told them, "but do you want the two dollars or do
you want justice? You can't have both." All he asked, he said,
was that they give his program a try. If they didn't like it they
could vote him out at the next election.
He said to the people: "We must get democracy working here
even if we lose." And the people remember today how, over and
over again, in every corer of the island, by every effort he could
muster, he told the ignorant fibaros that they must at least learn
to say Yes or No, that they must learn to know what those simple
words meant in a democratic country, that they must not meekly
accept $2 for votes that could get them more in justice.
When the votes were counted, the jibaros decided for justice.
Mufioz, however, did not want the jibaros who voted for him to
regard him as a leader to be followed through thick and thin.
"If you don't feel a difference in your lives in the next four
years," he told his followers, "I want you to throw us out of
office." Recalling those years to us he exulted: "In each succeed-
ing election our majority increased. If we turn out to be crooks,
we've at least taught the Puerto Rican people how to kick us
out. We've brought an understanding of democracy to this
island at last."
The passage of the Puerto Rico land law, designed to break
up the big sugar estates, was Mufioz' first big achievement. The
Organic Act of 1917, going back to i resolution passed in 19o0,
contained what is known as the'500-Acre Lawi' which provides
that no corporation may hold more than 500 acres of land. Most
of the sugar properties were very much larger than 500 acres,
and the law was never enforced. No blueprint for action had
been drawn until Mufioz joined forces with Tugwell.
Rexford G. Tugwell first got interested in Puerto Rico back in
1934, when, with Mufioz, he set up the commission which
drafted a plan to redistribute some 200,000 corporately held acres
of Puerto Rico's 300,000 acres of sugar-cane land in tracts of
500 acres or less. Then Tugwell fell from Roosevelt's favor and
relapsed into political obscurity-from which Secretary Harold
Luis Mufioz Marin
Ickes rescued him by sending him back to Puerto Rico to study
land use again in 1941.
Mufioz Marmn engineered Dr. Tugwell's election as chancellor
of the University of Puerto Rico, upped the chancellor's salary
from $7,500 to $15,000. Later (that same year-1941), when the
incumbent governor resigned, Roosevelt appointed Chancellor
Tugwell to fill the vacancy. Once more in favor with the Presi-
dent, Dr. Tugwell returned to help Mufioz Marin get those lands
Mufioz fought the land bill through to the United States
Supreme Court, which validated the limitation of estates to 500
acres, as the early law provided. But land and wealth redis-
tribution never works out quite as it is planned-as Russia
and Mexico and a few other countries have found out, and Cuba
and China and others have yet to learn.
No objective observer could have quarreled with Mufioz' de-
sire to protect the fibaro from exploitation. But in appraising the
situation from today's perspective, there are other sides to be
The big sugar companies were efficient operators. They could
have been more efficient if they had not chosen to spread em-
ployment by utilizing a maximum of manpower and a minimum
of machinery. They could have made greater profits, and paid
higher wages, by replacing human muscle and ox-power with
modern labor-saving devices. That would have benefited the
workers who retained jobs, but it would have added thousands to
the army of 300,000 who were totally unemployed.
The companies could have paid higher wages anyway, and
probably should have, but they were paying almost twice as
much by the hour and by the year as any comparable type of
employer. Even on the basis of six months' employment, zafra
(cane harvest) workers were earning $270 a year while tobacco
and coffee workers put in twice as much time and earned around
The old-guard conservatives did not like Mufioz, nor do they
yet, and they lose no opportunity to tell how Mufioz' campaign
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
-"an acre and a horse for every fibaro"-finally petered out.
The fibaros ate their horses and leased their acres back to the
sugar corporations or let them revert to jungle.*
When this gossip was repeated to the Governor he said: "At
least we tried to do something for them when no one else would.
And the plan was not entirely a failure. Everyone learned some-
thing about a problem we knew nothing about before."
Perhaps the land problem would have continued to have
more prominence had it not been eclipsed by another, more
worldly significant island development. This was a concept which
Mufioz had had in mind as far back as 1928. By 1940, it was
beginning to take shape as perhaps the best solution to the
second and third of the great obstacles he had to hurdle. The
natural poverty of the land and people and the island's runaway
population growth might be turned into an asset, a resource for
renaissance if enough industries could be induced to move to the
Puerto Rico's problems were all extreme, but they were all
socio-economic problems and as such they were essentially hu-
man problems, subject to improvements through human effort
and ingenuity. Once the Puerto Ricans realized that their basic
natural resource was the human potential the only need was a
blueprint for action. This Luis Mufioz Marin provided.
Says politician Mufioz: "What the hell, we had to try it." Says
Mufioz the poet: "We had to raise two crops; first, personal
liberty; second, beans. We had to put our shoulders to that job."
SMarco Rigau, former executive assistant to the Governor and long-time
intimate of Muiioz, comments: "Depending on geography, there is nothing
really wrong with the wide practice of eating horse meat, but Puerto
Ricans have never been known to do it. What did happen was that they
sold their horses in order to buy food and they did eat their cows."
THE WAY FORWARD
"If taxes are burdensome ... if the high cost of production
takes too big a bite out of profits ...."
That is the way the sales pitch begins. If you are a manufac-
turer or a financier interested in industry then you may already
have heard it. Puerto Ricans are broadcasting it throughout the
world today and people are listening. "It may pay you to investi-
gate Puerto Rico for expanding your plant," they say, "or for
establishing an entirely independent operation. Good times or
bad . recession or boom . Puerto Rico may very likely be
your answer to higher profits."
Puerto Rico'( Economic Development Administration'paints a
pretty picture of the island as a haven for industry and anyone
who has felt the tightening twin screws of high taxes and higher
production costs will cock an ear.
Puerto Rico, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a "tax-:
ayer's paradise It offers tax advantages you can't get any-\
where else in the world. And because Puerto Rico wants new
industries-to provide jobs for its people-it offers other im-
portant incentives to bring you there.
Tax advantages, planned incentives, Puerto Rico's labor pool,
and natural advantages-added together they're rponsibe for
bringing over 00 new or expanded United States manufacturing
opeatigonto Puerto Rico. Their experience. Net return oni ses?
Twice as high as in the United States.
Puerto Rico: A Success Story
Although Puerto Rico is American in its citizenship, currency,
Federal courts, postal service, and armed forces, it has no vote
in Congress. Therefore, neither corporate nor personal Federal
income taxes apply nor have ever applied in Puerto Rico. Puerto
Rico has its own fiscal system.
Manufacturers of most products are eligible for exemption
rom nearly all local taxes. Under Puerto Rico's Industrial In-
'entives Act, manufacturing concerns that qualify are granted
a xexeiiptions from corporate incoift` a for their first ten /-/fc
ears-of -peration; from ronal incometax on dividends or 7,y
distribution of partnership profits to persons with residence in
Puerto Rico out of earnings of tax exempt business, accrued
during its first seven years of operation; from ropertyta-e)for5.y
five to ten years and fromjia other mp n r ten years.,
Manufacturers are allowed excise tax exemptiog on raw ma-
terials, manufacturing equipment, and machinery ,uses irtop -)
How would Puerto Rico's corporate tax exemption affect your
profits? Assume your net profit after United States Corporate
Income Tax is $17,500. Your net profit in Puerto Rico would be
$25,000. Or, if your operation is in the million-dollar class, and
your net profit after United States Corporate Income Tax is
$485,000, your net profit in Puerto Rico would be $1,000,000.
Your gain in Puerto Rico would be $7,500 or 43 percent on the
smaller operation; but on the larger deal it would be $514,500
or 106 percent.
How would the dividend tax exemption (if you were en-
titled to it) affect your income in Puerto Rico? If your dividend
income is $5,000 and assuming all income is from dividends,
your dividend income after United States tax, if you are single,
would be: $4,187. As a resident of Puerto Rico your dividend
income would be: $5,000. Your gain, then, would be $813 or 19
percent. If you are living on such an income, your savings in
Puerto Rico would pay your rent.
The percentage, of course, goes up in the higher brackets.
For instance, if your dividend income were $50,000, your bal-
ance after United States tax would be $26,302. As a resident of