June 26, 2008

Yes! Yes! God, Yes! What I've been thinking forever but in better wording

I happened across this moments ago on El Nuevo Día and I really have no choice but to post the entire thing. A most likely shoddy English translation follows, along with my comments.


26-Junio-2008 | Ángel Collado Scharwz -Fundación Voz del Centro
Un país agrícola sin agricultura

En la década del cuarenta, el último gobernador extranjero en Puerto Rico, Rexford G. Tugwell, exclamó con asombro: “Imagínense, la comida es importada. Han perdido el arte del trópico. Nadie bajo ese sol, con buen terreno y con cuarenta pulgadas de lluvia, debe pasar hambre”. Puerto Rico goza del escenario perfecto para ser autosuficiente en lo que respecta a su capacidad terrestre y marina de satisfacer las necesidades alimentarias de sus ciudadanos.

Hace muchos años la agricultura desempeñó un rol protagónico en nuestra sociedad y nuestra economía. En 1935, el secretario del Interior, Harold Ickes responsabilizó a los Estados Unidos de destruir nuestra agricultura: “Puerto Rico… ha sido víctima de una economía de 'laissez faire' que ha originado el crecimiento rápido de grandes corporaciones azucareras absentistas, las que han acaparado mucha tierra que antes pertenecía a pequeños agricultores independientes, quienes, en consecuencia, se han visto reducidos prácticamente a la servidumbre económica. Si bien es cierto que la inclusión de Puerto Rico dentro de nuestras barreras arancelarias ha sido sumamente beneficiosa para los accionistas de esas corporaciones, los beneficios no han pasado a manos de la masa de puertorriqueños. Éstos, por el contrario, han visto que las tierras en las que antes sembraban cultivos de subsistencia, se han dedicado a la producción de azúcar, mientras ellos han sido empujados gradualmente a importar todos sus alimentos básicos, pagando por éstos los altos precios producidos por el arancel. Hoy día hay más miseria e indigencia y mucho más desempleo en Puerto Rico que en cualquier época previa de su historia”.

Años después, la situación empeoró con la operación Manos a la Obra, la cuál continuó debilitando a la industria agrícola. Se asignó prioridad al programa de industrialización basado en inversiones extranjeras. Se buscaba resultados inmediatos, aunque fuesen temporeros. El propio Teodoro Moscoso me comentó en sus últimos años de vida sobre el grave error que fue abandonar la agricultura.

Es lamentable que hoy día el único alimento cultivado en nuestra tierra que supera el renglón de las plantas ornamentales sean los plátanos. La venta de estas plantas es cuatro veces mayor que la venta de los mangós.

Más lamentable aún es que los mangós cosechados en la Isla sean desplazados por guineos de Costa Rica y piñas de la República Dominicana en los barcos que llevan los productos a Europa. Recientemente se reseñó en la prensa que los barcos llegaban sin cupo para nuestros furgones de mangós. Esta industria produce 700 empleos y genera $18 millones anuales. Pero las leyes de cabotaje federales, al obligarnos a utilizar los transportes marítimos estadounidenses considerados los más costosos e ineficaces, no sólo perjudican la exportación de nuestra producción agrícola: también aumentan el costo de los alimentos que importamos

La calidad de nuestros productos agrícolas es insuperable. Tres ejemplos de reconocimiento internacional son la piña, la cual es considerada por los expertos como superior a la de Hawai; el café, el cual se ofrece en restaurantes de alta cocina en Europa como un delicatessen; y el mangó, el cual recibe en Europa una aceptación formidable. Experimentos como la siembra de arroz en la década del setenta fueron abandonados ante la incapacidad de los gobiernos de turno para incentivar a empresarios locales.Debemos ver a Israel como nuestro principal modelo de desarrollo agrícola. Han conseguido cultivar en el desierto. Satisfacen toda la demanda alimentaria de sus ciudadanos, más exportan su producto agrícola a Europa. Sin embargo, su economía no se limita a la agricultura: ésta complementa una moderna industria de alta tecnología.En Israel, la agricultura representa un 2% del producto bruto mientras que en Puerto Rico es menos de 1%. Israel tiene el doble de la población de Puerto Rico pero cuatro veces el número de empleados en la industria manufacturera.

Israel, al igual que otras colonias antiguas, ha alcanzado estos éxitos económicos desde una plataforma soberana.

En Puerto Rico, aunque el escenario actual permite mejoras a la industria agrícola, el status político limita su desarrollo y potencial. Las leyes de cabotaje federales y la falta de poder para negociar tratados internacionales constituyen una camisa de fuerza para este desarrollo.

El otro aspecto importante es la mano de obra, la cual es muy limitada, pues es mucho más cómodo depender del mantengo federal. Lo irónico de la situación es que tampoco tenemos el poder para importar mano de obra que cultive nuestras tierras.

26-Junio-2008 | Ángel Collado Scharwz -Fundación Voz del Centro
An Agricultural Country without Agriculture

In the 40's, the last foreign governor in Puerto Rico, Rexford G. Tugwell, exclaimed with astonishment: "Imagine, the food is imported. They've lost the art of the tropic. No one under this sun, with good terrain and 40 inches of rain, should suffer hunger". Puerto Rico enjoys the perfect scenario to be self-sufficient in respect to its terrestrial and marine capacity to satisfy the gastronomical needs of its citizens.

Many years ago agriculture occupied a lead roll in our society and our economy. In 1935, the secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes blamed the United States for destroying our agriculture: "Puerto Rico... has been victim of a 'laissez faire' economy that has given rise to rapid growth of huge sugar corporations run by absentee business owners, which have seized great quantities of land that belonged to small independent farmers before, who, in consequence, have practically been reduced to economic servitude. If it's true that the inclusion of Puerto Rico in our national boundaries has been extremely beneficial for the shareholders of these corporations, the benefits have not been passed down to the hands of the Puerto Rican masses. They, on the contrary, have seen that the lands in which before they planted subsistence crops have been dedicated to sugar production, while they have been gradually pushed to import all of their basic food, paying for these the high prices produced by customs. Today there is more misery and poverty, and much more unemployment, in Puerto Rico than in any other previous era in its history."

Years later, the situation worsened with the Manos a la Obra operation ("Operation Bootstrap", the nickname for it--and not translation per se--commonly used), which continued debilitating the agricultural industry. It assigned priority to the industrialization program based on foreign investments. It sought out immediate results, even if they were temporary. Teodoro Moscoso himself (the man for whom the large and famous bridge in San Juan, with the Puerto Rican and American flags in pairs, is named) commented to me in the last years of his life on the grave error that was abandoning agriculture.

It's regrettable that the only food cultivated in our land that exceeds ornamental plants in count is the plantain. The sale of these plants is four times greater than the same of mangos.

Even more regrettable is that the mangos harvested in the Island are displaced by bananas from Costa Rica and pinapples from the Dominican Republic in the ships that carry the products to Europe. Recently it was reviewed in the press that the ships arrived without space for our tons of mangos. This industry produces 700 employees and generates $18 million annually. But the federal coastal shipping laws, by obliging us to use the American maritime transportation considered the most costly and ineffective, not only damage the export of our agricultural production; they also increase the cost of the food we import.

The quality of our agricultural products is unsurpassable. Three examples of international recognition include the pineapple, which is considered by experts to be superior to that of Hawaii; coffee, which is offered in gourmet restaurants in Europe as a delicacy; and the mango, which has had formidable levels of success in Europe. Experiments like the planting of rice in the 70's were abandoned thanks to the incapacity of the governments to provide incentives to local businesses.

We should look to Israel as our lead model for agricultural development. They've figured out how to grow food in the desert. They satisfy all the demand of their citizens, plus they export their agricultural products to Europe. Nevertheless, their economy is not limited to agriculture; it compliments a modern industry with advanced technology.

In Israel, agriculture represents 2% of the gross product while in Puerto Rico it's less than 1%. Israel has double the population of Puerto Rico but four times the number of employees in the manufacturing industry.

Israel, like other old colonies, has reached these economic successes from a superb platform.

In Puerto Rico, although the current scenario permits improvements to the agricultural industry, the political status limits its development and potential. The federal coastal trade laws and the lack of power to negotiate international treaties are a straight jacket for this development.

The other aspect is labor, which is very limited, seeing as it's much more comfortable depending on federal welfare. The irony here is that we don't have the power to import labor to cultivate our lands, either.


Did I ever mention how much I love La voz del centro? I do. I think I have over 100 of their podcasts on my iPod, all interviewing fantastic people about fantastic topics. Thank you, Mr. Collado Schwarz!

Anyways, I want to reiterate the message in this article: Puerto Rico, you can do it!

I sincerely believe that one of the most empowering things Puerto Rico could do for itself to shake the chain of dependence it is now living is to turn to its own resources. Food is a huge part of this. As we are asked in the beginning of this article, why is a tropical island with the ideal natural conditions, practically mistakeable for Eden itself at times, importing food? It can't be that processed, old, preservative-loaded Kraft cheese packages are tastier than fresh (and free) avocado from the backyard.

I think Collado Schwarz doesn't quite show the truly devasting effects the American corporations intially had on Puerto Rico. While he does touch on it, it is one of those big deals, a monumental and decisive moment in history that even today still dictates what you find in each grocery store today. Having done my own minimal research on that period, I can promise that the period from the American invasion through the 30's was one of the most tragic moments Puerto Rico lived, only following slavery and the explosive results of the initial Spanish arrival.

Industry changed overnight from coffee (and tobacco to a certain extent) to sugar (Puerto Rican coffee was too strong for American tastes). The conversion from peso to dollar was very poorly managed, seeing as most merchants just changed the currency symbol and not the number next to it, in essence increasing prices by up to 40%, particularly in markets for the poorer sectors of the population. The owners of small farms, due to the change in industry and rising prices, soon had to sell their land and become migrant farmers. The land was bought up by the aforementioned absentee businessmen, who sped up Puerto Rico's path to monoculture with giant sugar cane plantations, all while making the island poorer by funneling the money into the United States rather than Puerto Rico. Within a short time period of this, 75% of all food was imported (practically all from the United States), and rural families, often previous land-owners, spent a whopping 94% of their income on food. Coupled with skyrocketing unemployment and an education that insisted on English even though both the students and the teachers didn't speak the language, opportunities to improve quality of life were few.

I don't really think I need to even say that many of the protests at the time were met with official censorship and state-sponsored violence. It should be obvious.

Now obviously things have improved in Puerto Rico, but looking back in history, we can also see that many haven't. Old habits and impracticalities are about to reach their centennial. It's just sad to see these idiocies that have obviously been harmful survive long past their expiration date.

The blame falls both ways. For one, Puerto Ricans earn some for complacency and an undeserved satisfaction with things how they are. Puerto Rico should be constantly striving for improvement... and no, I don't mean new SUV or widescreen improvement, but a better life for everyone regardless of what they can buy. This can only come about through breaking the chain of dependence. No, I am not calling for the independence movement to suddenly take over the country (although if that's what Puerto Rico wants, so be it). I am talking about a Puerto Rico that concerns itself with Puerto Rico over the United States. Less imports. In regards to this article, I think that the biggest step that Puerto Rico could take would be limiting imports, or, even better, putting tariffs on them (even though it would never be allowed by the U.S. government), and then pumping the money made from tariffs or not wasted on jacked-up import costs into agriculture. Puerto Rico can sustain itself. With the rising costs of both food and gas, hopefully soon it will realize the value of that message.

An equal part of the blame, however, also lands on the United States. The only surviving pretext for the current status is that corporations make a killing importing all that food and other consumer goods. They completely manipulate the market, making it nearly impossible for Puerto Ricans to compete. Do we really continue mantaining colonialism just to make the extra buck?

I am not necessarily against capitalism... it'd be a bit hypocritical, seeing as it's a part of my daily life and the lives of others. I don't want to say that Puerto Ricans don't have a right to want the same things I want, frivolous though they may be. But when the process for acquiring it becomes harmful and inescapable, I think we must find a solution. Clearly colonialism and capitalism are a deadly combination. How many years would it take to resolve this... if an effort is ever made?

4 comments:

Minerva said...

Yes, food in Puerto Rico, particularly vegetables, is very expensive and uninspiring. No variety, anemic, imported. Yet I would not recommend tariffs as a solution. There are Puerto Rican landowners, and they could have grown vegetables = they have space and ideal conditions for that, they acknowledge that food in PR is expensive, they teach me how to eat breadfruit and name and all the other tubers, they use smaller plots to raise chickens, larger - and more steeply slopes - to raise cattle, their gardens are full of ornamentals... but they don't plant, grow and harvest any veggies -- perhaps because they don't EAT them. So education on the superior taste of fresh vegetables and their health benefits over processed rice and all these high starch tubers could possibly do more for PR. As it is, unavailability of fresh vegetables - and extremely high prices of the imported ones is one of the three main factors that made me decide not to settle there permanently.

Speaking Boricua said...

Well, you had land, you should have been growing them! Hehe.

People do eat vegetables to a certain extent (I've tried most of them eating with families, anyways)... but there is this self esteem issue where American = better. I think, though, that the point of the article in regards to history, and my comments afterward, is that history has had a huge impact on how Puerto Ricans eat, mostly a negative one.

It's also worth mentioning that the high-starch tubers are a part of the natural vegetation of Puerto Rico. That's what the Taíno were eating before the Spaniards, anyways. In such a humid, tropical environment, tubers are just about the only vegetables that don't rot quickly (fruit there, however, has been spared of this curse). The problem is that with economic prosperity (or whatever you would call it) eating is, of course, a privilege and not a luxury. Too much of anything... well, you know. When you didn't have much money to spend on food, the calories in rice/beans/chicken, tuber vegetables, and fried food (a big part of the diet) went a long way. Now, they go too far.

I don't know if you've maintained interest so far but there is a Latin American diet pyramid here:
http://www.oldwayspt.org/latin_pyramid.html

Petra H said...

Very interesting article!! I was just discussing with a Spanish friend in Barcelona on Sunday about the Puerto Rican diet and the lack of agriculture on such a green island... And fish - why is bacalao and salmon two of the most common fish types served in restaurants (and at home), I am still amazed that fish is not a bigger part of the PR cuisine.

East2West said...

While I do agree that it is rather sad that many Boricuas do not wish to trabajar la tierra, as the article mentioned, it was a double edged sword that has lead us to where we are.

Historically speaking, the roots of said dilemma can be traced back to the colonial era. Vast portions of land came to be used for growing cash crops. Importing and exporting of said goods became the hallmark of our economy. Once we ceased being a colony (sort of), we came to be trapped within that very same system. Seeking out potential buyers of the surplus of goods produced etc. But given the fact that former colonies were also in the market, it was cheaper to purchase from these countries. Hence since we had no market for certain crops, we began to phase them out. These are all fruits of colonization. We really do not know much about the Pre Columbian economy of the Taino (We don't even know if that is what we called ourselves. My understanding is that the Spaniards first encountered The NiTaino, and thus inferred that we were Taino from the term.), so we can never know for sure how we managed before The Encounter Era.

Secondly as Speaking Boricua stated, tubers and other such crops have been part of our diet since pre Columbian times. Taking that into consideration, said crops are not as unhealthy as people think they might be. Most people tend to forget that nutritional/dietary norms are not universal per se. For instance, alcohol is not easily processed by many First Nations (Native Americans) as alcohol is not part of the traditional diet of said people. The same could be said of the introduction of food items such as pork,cattle,fowl,rice etc. to the diet of the Taino. When encountered, the Taino were said to have been of ideal form and health so it would hold true that they had adapted to the use of said items. The same would be true of their descendants, the people of Puerto Rico.

Some of the indigenous (First Nation) crops of the islands of The Caribbean are as follows:

Maize, Peppers(Aji),Pineapples,
Jagua,Mamey,Beans(various forms),Acerola,Soursop,Yuca,Yautia,Batata (various forms),Allspice(not really a crop,per se),Passion Fruit,Tobacco,Advocado,Papaya,Jobo,Bija (Achoite/Annatto) etc.

Other food items possibly traded with other neighbouring groups (namely the Maya):

Chocolate,Tomato,Pepper (Bell Peppers,etc.),Potatoes(various forms),Culantro,Turkey, etc.

Other food items:

Crabs,Sea Turtle,Manatee,Iguana,
Jutia (Not that I've ever eaten it, but I find it rather absurd when people eeewww... at this, but have no problem scarfing down Rabbit),Parrot(The aforementioned also goes for parrot meat, when people also consume Peafowl and Swan.),Shark,Red Snapper (Chillo) etc.

Some indigenous beverages:

Mabi, Various refrescos (sliced fruit and water beverages made with various Island fruits, namely Pineapple,Jagua etc.)

But I digress. Although I should add that the health benefits of the items mentioned above are many. And I have not included food items coming from Africa, such as Pigeon Peas, Guinea Hen, True Yam,etc.

As to the issue of salads, I would say it is rather relative in terms of a culture. Salads made of raw greens namely the common Lettuce and Tomato salad are non existent, because raw greens are not part of the indigenous diet. Yet there are other means in which these green items are consumed in Puerto Rico and surrounding Islands. This would be by means of Sofrito. A salad whose contents would be akin to a Tabouleh Salad if consumed raw, minus the couscous, lemon and parsley with the addition of Bell Peppers, Onion, Garlic and other green herbs and spices. Many people fail to realize the many health benefits of the ingredients within Sofrito. Fresh Sofrito is WAY better than the processed forms sold in Super Markets. Oddly enough, the poster Minerva failed to mention the fact that non Indigenous or Naturalized fruits and vegetables are expensive. Items like Plantains,Mangos,etc. are extremely cheap.

As to Petra H's comment, it depends where on the Island you live, as to the staples of ones diet. For instance, while Bacalao (Salt Cod) is eaten in my home, Red Snapper (Chillo) and Shark are more common staples in my home when it comes to seafood along with Shrimp.

Interestingly enough, Bacalao was transported in salt for means of preserving the flesh, not necessarily for the sake of consuming salt fish. It would seem that this taste of necessity, soon became a taste of luxury where the salted form came to be preferred over the fresh form.

Just my 2 cents.

BTW, I am Puerto Rican, just in case anyone was wondering.