Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 24 June 1946


Herb Mason

Sugar Imperialism Drags
Puerto Rico to Poverty


From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 25, 24 June 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


No revolution has broken out in Puerto Rico as in other long exploited colonies under imperialist domination but conditions there for the native population are as miserable as could possibly exist!

The Caribbean island won from Spain in the War of 1898, has been milked dry by four big U.S. sugar companies. As the possibilities for expansion of the sugar industry have become more limited, the amount of re investment has diminished and for many years now the profits sweated out of the home population have been invested in other parts of the world where the rate of profit is higher. Thus the three largest absentee companies in Puerto Rico left only one-fourth of their profits of $81,000,000 in the 1920-1935 period. This imperialist greed has resulted in the following state of affairs, as stated in the preamble to the Land Law of 1941:

“The sugar latifundia has spread its tentacles within the vast area of its dominions, to the operation of commercial and industrial establishments, and of grocery and general stores; has limited the circulation of money; has caused the annihilation of communal life in many of the urban centers; has made it impossible for thou sands of human beings to be the owners of even the lot where their homes are situated, all to the consequent unbalancing of the economic structure of the Island and to the grave endangering of the peace, the tranquility, the dignity, and the economic and social freedom of the people of Puerto Rico.”

Capitalist relations have brought to Puerto Rico all of the miseries but none of the benefits which the bourgeois and industrial revolutions have brought in their wake to the advanced industrial countries. An excessively high death-rate and a permanent army of unemployed have been the rewards for the Puerto Ricans for generations of hard toil and deprivations of every conceivable type. Are these conditions inevitable? Yes, so long as imperialism, the necessary result of capitalist relations, is a force in this world. Cheap labor, against which American workmen have battled for decades, is the chief characteristic of this Island’s economy. The statistics are indisputable.

The Standard of Living

The island has 3,435 square miles, on which 2,000,000 have to live. If the United States had the same population density it would contain about one and a half billion persons, or more than half of the total population of the world. Most of the land is less than fair for farming. Industries supplied employment for only 102,286 persons in 1939, but the majority of them were in seasonal or sporadic occupations.

Family income averaged $341 per year in 1942–43. The WPA relief standard for Puerto Rico in the same year was $642; the Insular Minimum Wage Board standard was $1,237. Small wonder that there is an annual per capita milk consumption of only 31 quarts. A diet of rice and beans, rags for clothing, a “HOOVERVILLE” shack for a house and a short life span are the lot of the vast majority of Puerto Ricans. For eight major dis eases the death rate per 100,000 population of Puerto Rico ranges from 9% to 300% higher than deaths from the same causes in the United States. Such are the gory details of imperialist exploitation by the ruling class of the U.S. It is on the backs of these and similarly exploited peoples that the relatively high standard of living in America is maintained.

Self-Determination for Puerto Rico

Today the Puerto Ricans are demanding with ever louder voice the right to self-determination. So far they have been treated as an “unincorporated territory,” which in effect means they are under the political, economic, and social domination of the U.S. All civil liberties in Puerto Rico are directly dependent on Congressional action, and not on the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. So elementary a right, as speaking their own language in school is denied them. The working class of the U.S. must give every support to the demands of the Puerto Rican masses for self-determination.

Whatever their choice, statehood in the Union, complete independence, or dominion status, we must force the U.S. government to accede to their will and remunerate the, peoples of Puerto Rico for what has been stolen from them. The economy of the Island has been so disoriented by the large American sugar companies that only by integration into the American economy on an equal status will it be possible to reorganize the economy and raise the standard of living to at least that of our own. We must give our utmost support to their legitimate demands.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 24 January 2019