Reva Craine Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Reva Craine

N.Y. Times Lies About Puerto Rico

(October 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 40, 4 October 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The New York Times a few days ago lashed out editorially at the U.S. Governor of Puerto Rico because he had stated that the people on that island are still living at the same low level of existence that prevailed in 1898, and that unless the United States did something to alleviate these conditions, they would have to “suppress” an “angry people.”

In a report to the Chavez Committee of the Senate, which was investigating social and economic conditions, Governor Tugwell said, among other things, that Puerto Rico was no better off today than when it was first taken over by the United States from Spain in 1898. Tugwell complains that its people are kept in “humiliating suspense, by implication neither fit to govern themselves nor to become part of the United States.”

!The United States,” he wrote, “has not prepared the way for the honest settlement of this issue.” Pretty strong words, even for a New Dealer who has been kicked around and criticized both by the Puerto Ricans and at home.

The Times Gets Piously Indignant

Then along comes the newspaper that prints “all the news that’s fit to print” and lambastes Mr. Tugwell for daring to make public the scandal of American imperialist rule and ruination of the Puerto Rican population.

“Did it ever occur to Mr. Tugwell what use Axis propagandists can make of talk like this in an official report? Responsible officials are in a position to advocate reforms quietly to their superiors. As long as they hold office they need not belligerently and publicly indict the colonial policies of their own government.”

What the pious Times really means is that the report to the investigating committee should have been buried in the file morgue in some bureaucrat’s office in Washington because it revealed some very unpleasant things about the “colonial policies of our government.” Public investigating committees, congressional and senatorial committees, which, nominally at least, are supposed to be responsible to their constituents, should report back to them only if they can say flattering things about the government. If, on the other hand, harsh facts, no matter how true, are discovered, then the Times, so interested in publishing the truth, suggests that these be squelched and not publicly aired. The New York Times’ variety of democracy smacks a little too much of the totalitarianism which it so hypocritically denounces at least every other day.

An Editorial Writer on “Progress”

Not content with suggesting how to keep information from the people, the Times takes Mr. Tugwell to task for his specific statements. What does he mean by saying that the Puerto Ricans are no better off today than they were in 1898? Not true! politely insists the Times. Just look at the facts:

“The population of Puerto Rico in 1901 was 978,000; in 1940 it was 1,877,000. The rate of population growth in the island has, in other words, been even greater than that to the continental United States. An island that can support twice the population that it did in 1898 can hardly be said to be no better off.”

And the Times further points out that the imports and exports of Puerto Rico have increased tenfold during this period. How can you say that the island isn’t better off? And what about the increase in manufactures? Just to show that it isn’t thinking only of money, the Times reminds its readers that illiteracy on the island was reduced from fifty-five to thirty-one per cent, and that new housing projects have been built for the Puerto Ricans. How dare Governor Tugwell ignore all this? But here are some of the facts that the New York Times did not see fit to print, and we can readily understand why.

In 1898, when the United States took possession of the island, there began a process which has brought ruination and starvation to the Puerto Rican population. The introduction of United States currency at a devaluated rate of exchange ruined the native farmers so that almost all the land was snatched up by the United States interests. The island was converted to a one-crop country, with the result that the Puerto Ricans no longer raised their own food, but had to depend upon imports from the United States.

The 1901 tariff excluded trade with nearly all other countries so that ninety per cent of it fell to the United States. All cargo had to be carried in American ships, the most expensive in the world. This burden had to be borne by the island population.

Today four large American sugar companies control the economy of the country. They are the real masters and profit-makers.

More on Puerto Rican “Progress”

The per capital wealth of Puerto Rico is $200, as compared to $736 of our own South, the poorest section of this country.

The minimum wage law applies only to commercial and industrial workers, while the great majority of Puerto Rican workers who toil on the sugar plantations do not receive even this small “blessing.” In the sugar factories the average wage is $8.13 a week; in the coffee industry it is $2.37 a week. The income of the rural laborer is twelve cents a day to cover all his needs. How much worse could it have been in 1898 if the New York Times assures us that the Puerto Ricans are better off today?

The population has certainly increased, but because Puerto Rico has been deprived by the land-grabbing sugar interests from raising its own food, this increased population lives in a state of virtual starvation. To raise its own food again, the Puerto Ricans would have to confiscate the laage landed estates and take over the ownership of their own land. This means kicking out the large absentee American landowners.

Before the present war, 100,000 tons of shipping were required to barely keep the population alive, except for the Americans on the island and the few rich Puerto Ricans. Today the war has cut shipping down to 30,000 tons, which means that thousands upon thousands are not getting fed at all.

The Times points to the increase in population, but it “conveniently” forgets to mention that Puerto Rico has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. People die of hookworm and tuberculosis, and it is estimated that from 25 to 70 per cent of the population has malaria at all times.

Only 44 per cent of Puerto Rico’s children go to school. The others are too poor even to get to a school. Of those who attend, half attend only part of the day. teachers report back that nearly all of the children are undernourished, which is another way of saying that they are slowly starving.

Who Profits from Puerto Rico?

These are some of the facts that the New York Times would like concealed from the public. They don’t quite fit in with the theory that United States “colonialism” has greatly benefited the native populations.

Or could it be that by “improvements and benefits,” the New York Times really has in mind the four great sugar companies which in 1936 split close to nine million dollars in profits; the shipping interests, which have monopolies all of Puerto Rico’s trade at a tremendous profit; the garment manufacturers, who send down work to be done by Puerto Rico’s home workers at below-union rates, with the aim of breaking down union standards in this country? Could it be that the paid advertisements of the sugar refineries dictate the editorial policies of the New York Times?

Reva Craine Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 8 July 2015