L. Miguel

Puerto Rico

(April 1954)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 3 No. 8, April 1954.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Copied with thanks from Tendance Coatesy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The shooting of the five members of the American House of representatives by Puerto Rican terrorists a few weeks ago drew attention to the plight of the small American colony of Puerto Rico. The shooting was an expression of the revolt against United States imperialism, that rules over this downtrodden country.

The United States conquered Puerto Rico in 1898, and it thus became one of its direct colonies. After more than 50 years of rule, American imperialism has shown clearly what disservice it can do to the people under its iron heel.

The country is on the whole agricultural, producing in the main sugar, coffee and tobacco. The overwhelming majority of the agriculturalists are wage earners who own nothing. They live in one – and sometimes two-roomed cabins which have no beds, but only pallets, folding cots or hammocks a chair or two and a rough table. Their monotonous diet consist of rice and beans and some dried cod fish and coffee. The position is so bad that the American nutritionist N.C. Shermann, assigned to study the island’s dietary situation in 1930, could state that he had never seen any place in the world “where the profits of a rich land go into so few pockets (largely those of absentees) and the people who work for the land are not kept so poor in money, but also as inadequately fed and housed..” (J. de Castro, Geography of Hunger, 1952, p. 110). The agricultural workers do not own a cow or even a goat, but usually have a few fowls or a pig. The working day is twelve to fifteen hours a day.

Besides agricultural workers there are peasants with tiny plots. Of 53,315 farms in the country, 51,157 have an area of between ¼ and 3 cuerdas (a cuerda = 0.97 of an acre). Such midget farms are certainly not enough to make a living out of.

The large majority of the land is owned by big United States companies which own an average of 40,000 to 50,000 cuerdas. In 1931 absentee companies produced 59 per cent of all the sugar, whole sugar represented 67 per cent of the agricultural wealth of the country. Thus “they control, in sugar alone, 40 per cent of the agricultural wealth.” (B.W. and J.W. Diffie, Porto Rico: A Broken Pledge, New York 1931, p. 53)

American capital controls not only agriculture, but the rest of the economy too. The Porto Rican Telephone Company is controlled by the American International telephone and Telegraph corporation. The Porto Rico gas and Coke Company is controlled by the United Utilities and Service Corporation of the United States. The Porto Rico Power Company controls the railways and is itself controlled by the International Power company, Limited, incorporated in Canada. Electricity is supplied by United States companies. (Diffe, op. cit., p. 107)

The labour conditions of the industrial workers are shockingly bad. In 1934 it was stated that the average week’s earnings of women in the United States owned canneries was 2.58 dollars at that time less than 13/-), while the working day was up to 13 hours or even more a day. (Caroline Manning, The Employment of Women in Puerto Rico, Washington 1934, p. 25)

The picture presented is thus on the one hand a handful of American millionaires – on the other, the masses of starving Puerto Rican workers. One writer stated that “85 per cent of the population are now dependent on uncertain labour and wage conditions.” (R.J. and E.K. Van Deusen, Porto Rico, New York 1931, p. 169) Another writer said that Puerto Rico is a country “where a whole population constitutes a veritable experimental laboratory of starvation.” Hand in hand with starvation wages goes ignorance. In 1937 41.4 per cent of the population were completely illiterate. In 1951–52 the Government announced that it regretted it could not find room in its schools for 27 per cent of the children in the country.

Aggravating the bad economic conditions of the people is the trade populace of the United States, which compels them, by customs restrictions to import most of the food they require from the United States, where prices are very high. Actually 60 per cent of the food imports of Puerto Rico are from the United States. As time goes on, the conditions, instead of improving, become worse. In 1944 they were so bad that some 40 per cent of the inhabitants were registered for relief (De Castro, p. 111).

The overriding necessity for Puerto Rico is to overthrow United states control over the economy. In 1930 the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico declared:

“We condemn the regime of exploitation to which Puerto Rico is subject by great absentee interests, individual an corporate … We denounce the latitudinal and we believe … that the ownership of the land by individuals or social or corporate interests in excess of 500 acres is an evil which requires immediate remedy … We are decided partisans of the nationalisation of all public service enterprises …” (Diffe, op. cit., pp. 192–3)

The terrorist act in Washington is only one expression, probably not leading to any beneficial results, of the national and social revolt of the people of Puerto Rico against American imperialism.

Last updated on 5.8.2011