New Internationalist

Puerto Rico

February 1984

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Puerto Rico

Map of Puerto Rico

Leader: Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo

Economy: GNP is US $3,470 per person per year (1980)

Main exports: are scientific and medical instruments, pharmaceutical products, petroleum and petroleum products.

Rate of inflation: 7.8% (1982) Unemployment: over 20%

People: 3.2 million/town dwellers 50% (1980)

Health: Infant mortality is 18.5 (1978) per 1,000 live births.

Federal food aid is available to the poorest of the population

Pure water is supplied throughout the island.

Culture Religion: Predominantly Catholic. Ethnic groups: People mainly of Spanish descent with some African influence.

Languages: Officially and predominantly Spanish but English is also widely spoken and taught in schools.

Previous colonizing powers: Spain until 1898, then the USA.

Sources: World Business Reports: Puerto Rico, 1983 Arthur Young International, Puerto Rico: Critical choices for the 1980’s, Abecor Country Reports: Puerto Rico 1980, United Nations Statistical Yearbook 1978.

IN Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, among the dilapidated colonial-style buildings and cobbled streets, the United States Government is represented in plush Federal Buildings. From here the island is controlled as a ‘non-incorporated territory which belongs to but is not part of the United States’. Living under US law, Puerto Ricans enjoy unrestricted and duty-free trade with the mainland, common citizenship, currency, postal and other services, fiscal autonomy and freedom from the US federal taxes.

The Puerto Ricans have never had control over their own country. A one-time outpost of Spanish colonialism, the island was invaded by the United States in 1898, eight months after Madrid had guaranteed it home rule. Initially, the US government took a laissez-faire approach to the island’s economy, allowing several big corporations to concentrate on producing sugar. However, when the bottomfell out of the sugar market earlier this century the big corporations withdrew leaving Puerto Rico with nothing. Faced with appalling poverty the

US government moved to implement a programme of economic development known as ‘Operation Bootstrap’. Through tax and other incentives hundreds of light industries were attracted to Puerto Rico. Industrial development turned the island from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest in Latin America. Today, however, the early days of optimism are over. Per capita income is still only half that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the US.

At present, Puerto Ricans have no vote in US federal elections. This could be changed if Puerto Rico was to incorporate into the US as the 51st State. It is the major political issue on the island, the two largest political parties campaigning either for incorporation or for retention of autonomy. A minority, including the several armed nationalist groups, advocate full independence from the US.

Reminders of the US military presence are unavoidable around Puerto Rico. Several military bases are maintained on the island, including a massive naval complex. On the offshore island of the Vieques, resistance among locals to the militarization is strong.

On Puerto Rico imported and indigenous cultures coexist in an uneasy relationship. Dependence on the ‘American way-of-life’ has infiltrated deep. Along wide US-style highways, hamburger joints advertise themselves between the shacks and hovels; on the streets one can as easily be greeted by ‘Hey man, how’s it going?’ as by ‘Go home, gringo’; in homes, American TV is watched on colour sets. Yet Puerto Ricans are still proud of their own jibaro culture and of their Spanish language. It is a conflict that can be heard throughout the island, played out every day on local radio, where native salsa music and modern disco compete in a constant cacophany of rhythm.

Gerry Tissier

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About 60% of the population live below the official poverty line.
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Most of the country’s staple food is imported. Highly dependent on US investment.
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‘Male dominance within the family. About 35% of adult women sterilized.
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[image, unknown] Geared to US politics.
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Now stands at 90%.
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Associations, unions and political parties allowed by Constitution.

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Has risen from 45 years in 1940 to 71 years today.

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