The conditions of life of the people of this community in 1948, when the study was initiated’, were of extreme poverty. Houses were usually palm-leaf shacks with earthen floors and little, if any furniture. Income was very low and hunger and disease were a normal feature of the community life. Many of the young people of the community began to migrate to the United States at that time.
In 1958, we returned to lake a second measure of social change in the community. At the time of this second study the material conditions of the community had changed beyond recognition. In place of the old palm-leaf, earthen-floored shacks of ten years ago we found comfortable little cement houses painted in bright colours, with open front porches. Electricity and running water had been installed in most of these houses, paved streets had been constructed in front of them and in every place we went we could hear the blare or radio announcements coming from the houses.
Yet when we commented on the beauty of the houses an old friend answered: “the Government gave us these little houses to the poor, so that when a hurricane comes we are not blown out into the sea.” The accent was on passive dependency, on a paternalistic, providential government from which they got benevolent gifts, not on the fulfilment of political commitments based on the right of everyone to a decent life. Shortly afterwards, a jeep with a loud speaker entered the community with a message reminding the people that the mayor had “given” them electric lights, roads and water. It said that after the Santa Clara hurricane he had given – as if from his own pocket – handout of surplus food to the people of the community.
This pattern of political bribery gave continuity lo the paternalistic pattern of the old hacienda system. In general, jobs in the land reform programme were given on the basis of loyalty to the party, or on the basis of personal obligation to the “leaders”, not so much on the basis of the competence of the applicant. Indeed, the pattern of political patronage permeated all the relation· ships in which government services were received by members of the community: ambulance transportation of the sick, hospital care; placement of a child in a milk station, a school, a school lunchroom; award of a scholarship or of an old age pension; grant of unemployment benefits, or of a job in the co-operative proportional-profit farm; even a parole from jail and reduction from sentence; these were all part of the scheme which has, in the event, corrupted the relations between the Administration and the people, turned rights into bribes and called for ingratiation to match patronage.
Soon after our arrival we began to hear that no profits had been re· distributed by the land authority for many years and that the proportional-profit farms were being operated at a loss. There were references to the inefficiency of employees hired to please political “godfathers”, and to the waste that went with unskilled management. There were rumours about ‘kickbacks’ taken by employees at the management level. Yet, in our opinion, the root of the evil was not known to the members of the community because they were personally involved in it. It was to be found in the attitudes of passive dependency and even aggressive apathy toward a providential government which they expect to give them things for which they have not worked. These attitudes were reinforced, opportunistically and at all levels of the political administrative hierarchy, by the representatives of the Puerto Rican welfare “Commonwealth”.
The plight of the youth of the community was still more acute. These youngsters, whom we have called “the second generation” in our study, had been given an anticipatory socialization for a style of leisured life in which everything would come to them from the providential government with little or no effort on their own part. Hence they altogether refused to work in the sugar cane fields. Yet they dropped out of school at an early stage in spite of the many forms of assistance they could receive from the government: food, clothes, transportation, tuition, and even out-of-pocket expenditure for those who showed some promise. The alternative left to them was migration to the United States, from which they intermittently returned with a feeling of despair.
It was not surprising that the rate of broken homes among the younger generation was very high and, often, abandoned children of these unstable union – bad to be cared for by the older generation.
The life of the community was marked by intense conflicts and stresses which at times expressed themselves in violent ways. The people seemed to find relief from the interpersonal strains in a spiritualism which has become the most prevalent religion, especially among the older folk.
There has been in this community a great improvement in the condition of life in the economic sense, but no apparent improvement in the sphere of value orientations which regulate relationships between people. The widely advertised transformation of Puerto Rico had undoubtedly brought to this community a real material prosperity. Signs of this could be observed in the beauty and durability of the homes which were almost all of concrete, with the comforts of two bedrooms, a dining room and modest-style furniture to match. The coming of electricity brought lights, radios, television sets and refrigerators; and most homes availed themselves of these. The income levels of the community seemed also to have improved over those of 1949, although we have no direct evidence of this.
Given all the visible material advantages of the present, what could then account for the cultural and moral impoverishment of the community? The easy answer is that under conditions of penury and hardship, the constant concern with subsistence makes for individual purposelessness and confusion in the frames of reference for interpersonal relationships. This “culture of poverty” explanation seems on the whole very unsatisfactory, at least in regard to the particular community investigated.
It would seem more adequate to attempt an explanation in terms of an existential collapse, like that presented by the Puerto Rican novelist, Cesar Andreu Iglesias. In his novel, El Oerrumbe (the Landslide), Iglesias describes the breakdown of social interaction in a mountain community. There has been a landslide type of social erosion of the concepts that help to define the identity of Individuals and their traditional obligations and rights while no substitute models of behaviour have been offered – except those which accord political capital to opportunistic politicians or those which have been acquired by migrants in the slums of large cities in the United States. The “man” with his petulant “coolness” is one of these latter, as is the “popular” girl who seeks an escape from her feeling of emptiness through sexual intercourse; so too is the drug addict and’ the half-Spanish, half-English, sublingual individuals aped after the Mexican Pachuco. Meanwhile, the model of the plaza, the compadre relationships, the chanted rosary, the Three Kings celebration, the patron saint festivals, the folk songs on local history and local biographies, the sacred folk philosophy and so on have all been thrown out as something for “coarse peasants” (jibaros brutos) and is substituted by rock and roll music and other spurious items of mass culture.
In some important ways the Agrarian Reform community which we studied is characteristic of Puerto Rican society as a whole. For Puerto Rico now stands in a new provincial relationship to the American metropolis – a relationship which involves the incorporation of the province into the welfare state mechanisms of the metropolis and whose participation is largely confined to receiving charitable handouts. In so far as there remains initiative and cultural vitality in the province, they are a feature of the Government and the bureaucracy and not of the population in general.
The ideology which underlies the Commonwealth Welfare Slate is comprised of charity, paternalistic concern and political bribery on the one hand, and mendicancy, ingratiation and resignation on the other. This has been the outcome of the decisions of 1948 in which year, under the pressures of the Truman administration and threats of McCarthyism, Puerto Rico abandoned “Operation Bootstrap”, sold the publicly-owned enterprises and made room for American plants with the incentives of tax exemptions and cheap labour.
From the metropolitan point of view, Puerto Rico has probably been the experimental ground for testing the possibilities of expanding the welfare state to encompass the economies of other countries in a sort of super-international welfare state, the dynamic and the initiative to remain in the central metropolis. If the trends in Puerto Rico are illustrative of what will develop under the banner of such an international arrangement, then other Caribbean countries which have already been adopting Puerto Rican techniques of economic development may wish to make a searching reappraisal.