Notes on the Geography of The Eastern United States: Puerto Rico
In the footsteps of imperial Britain, the U.S. early in the 20th century took up "the white man's burden" of improving Puerto Rico. Diverse programs were implemented over the next 30 years, but they focused on agricultural modernization and ignored what proved to be the real path of economic development, which began after World War II with industrial and tourism investments. The pictures here are from 1989.
Apart from a narrow coastal plain, Puerto Rico is mountainous. Among the portfolio of actions undertaken by the American government was the proclamation of the Caribbean National Forest, intended to supply sustainable timber and water resources. There aren't many signs of this vintage left elsewhere in the national-forest system.
Another key undertaking: a twisting, narrow, but well-built mountain road, still typical of the roads in the island's interior.
This is the agricultural research station at Mayaguez, at the western end of the island. It was pioneered by Seamon Knapp, the same man who beat the cotton boll weevil in the American South.
For a long time, the island's economy rested on sugarcane. That industry has gone into terminal decline, but there are plenty of relics, like this veranda-wrapped farm building.
For a time, an agrarian civilization flourished, supporting urban institutions like this school in Mayaguez.
International financial institutions arrived.
Civic pride ran high.
Out in the countryside, sugarcane plantations required irrigation ditches, although the collapse of the industry has left the water running to waste.
Mills were built.
These are the stacks of a ruined sugar mill near Guanica, where American troops landed during the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rican rum is made nowadays with imported sugar. Don't tell anybody.
The old irrigation systems are still on the ground, but the water runs to the sea.
A good view of the coastal plain and central mountains, as well as of an old canefield and loading crane.
Bits of cane continue to be harvested.
They're transported with equipment that one would think had disappeared from the United States.
A corrective picture: some operators do use modern equipment.
Back in Mayaguez, a lot of old buildings survive.
Many need maintenance but have splendid detailing.
Around the roots of the older society, a new one has arisen, many of its structures and institutions indistinguishable from those on the mainland.
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