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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Porto Rico

PORTO RICO (see 22.124). Important developments in the affairs of Porto Rico—political, economic, social—took place in the decade 1910-20. Politically, the organic law was first amended and later materially changed. Economically, the agriculture and commerce of the island underwent notable increase. Socially, there was progress in the betterment of living conditions, in the spread of elementary education and in the reduction of poverty and disease. The Act of Congress approved April 12 1900 (the Foraker Act), under which the island had been administered for the first decade of its existence under the American flag, was amended by the Act of Congress approved July 15 1909 (the Olmsted Act). In so far as supervised by the United States, Porto Rican affairs were placed under the jurisdiction of an executive department to be designated by the president, the War Department being subsequently designated. To prevent recurrent deadlocks over the insular budget, provision was made that if the legislature failed to pass the appropriation bill for an ensuing fiscal year, the sums authorized for the current year should be deemed to have been appropriated and might be lawfully expended. Far more thorough-going were the changes effected by the passage of the Act of Congress approved March 2 1917 (the Jones Act). By its provisions citizens of Porto Rico are deemed and held to be citizens of the United States.

Six executive departments are constituted: justice, finance, interior, education, agriculture and labor, and health. The governor, the attorney-general and the commissioner of education are appointed by the President of the United States, subject to the approval of the U.S. Senate; the heads of the remaining departments by the governor of Porto Rico subject to the approval of the insular Senate. The law-making power is vested in a legislature consisting of a senate of 19 members and a house of representatives of 39 members, all elected by manhood suffrage for a term of four years. Acts of the legislature may be vetoed by the governor; but his veto may be overridden by a two-thirds vote. The President of the United States may nevertheless interpose a final veto. Matters relating to franchises and concessions are vested in a public service commission consisting of the heads of the executive departments, the auditor, and two elected commissioners. A resident commissioner to the United States, paid by the Federal Government, is elected by popular vote for a term of four years; he represents the island in the House of Representatives, with voice but without vote, and is recognized by all departments in Washington.

The economic experience of the years 1910-20 was the increased and more profitable production of sugar, tobacco, coffee and fruits, consequent in the first instance upon duty-free access to the American market, and aided by the completion of insular projects of irrigation. The increase of exports was accompanied by larger imports, by a reversal of the island's adverse trade balance, and by an appreciable though unequal diffusion of gain among the island's population, the growers of sugar and tobacco being specially benefited. The commerce of the island trebled in the decade, the combined value of imports and exports rising from $78,705,364 in 1911, to $247,199,983 in 1920. This amazing growth was uneven. The activity of 1911-2 was followed by reaction in 1913, accented by the dislocations consequent upon the outbreak of the World War. War demand for the island's staples made itself sharply felt in 1916-7 with some arrest in 1918-9. In 1920 came sensational developments, exports rising from $79,496,040 in the preceding year to $150,811,449, and imports from $62,400,360 to $96,388,534. The factors directly responsible were the world's runaway markets in sugar and to a less absolute degree in tobacco and coffee. Sugar exports in tonnage were actually less in 1920 than in 1916 and 1917; the price per ton rising from $75.81 in 1911, to $136.77 in 1919, and to $235.88 in 1920.

The visible trade balance in favour of the island rose from a previous maximum of $27,780,417 (1916) to $54,422,915 in 1920. The great bulk of this trade, 90% in 1920, was with the United States.

There was marked improvement during the decade in the island's material equipment. New schoolhouses were erected, and additional roads and bridges constructed. Even the remoter towns of the interior had in 1920 waterworks and electric-lighting plants, made possible through loans from the insular treasury. The increase in private wealth was reflected in the erection of many attractive residences, while the development of commerce and agriculture stimulated the extension of bank and transportation facilities. The basis of the insular revenue system remained the measure put into

operation with the establishment of civil government under the American flag (the Hollander law), as modified and adapted to meet changing conditions. Ordinary expenditures for the fiscal year 1920 were $7,258,970.57, as compared with $3,685,613 in 1911. The total assessed valuation of all property for purposes of taxation in 1920 was $264,235,686, as compared with $133,817,931 in 1911.

The pop. of the island in 1920, despite appreciable emigration to the United States and Santo Domingo, was 1,299,809 (an increase of 181,797 in the decade), with a density distribution of 378.4 per square mile. In consequence of this continued growth, education and health remain grave problems. The total enrolment in all schools supported by public funds was 184,991. Of the 228,829 children of compulsory school age (8-14 years) only 61% attended school. The death-rate for 1920 was 23.33 per 1,000 inhabitants as compared with 24.97 in 1911. But in 1920, tuberculosis, malaria and uncinariasis (hookworm), together with infant mortality, still accounted for 60% of the total death-rate. The enquiries of a commission sent by the Rockefeller Foundation upon the request of the insular authorities confirmed the opinion that about 90% of the people of the island were infected with uncinariasis. “Our population is one of the densest on earth,” the insular commissioner of health, himself a distinguished Porto Rican, wrote in 1920. “More than 70% are in the country, badly housed and fed, ill in health and ignorant of the first principles of hygiene. Until the people have learned to preserve and protect their health and have more ample means to provide better houses and food so as to reduce their miseries, no positive result, no recompense for all our efforts, can be obtained.”

The governors were George R. Colton, 1909-13; Arthur Yager, 1913-21; E. M. Reily, 1921-.

(J. H. Ho.)