Overview 1511 to 1898
This chapter is a comprehensive overview of the historical
evolution of the sugar industry in Puerto Rico from its beginnings
until the end of Spain's colonial rule. It offers an account of the development
of the industry, its ups as well as its downs. Furthermore it presents
a clear picture of the island's economic transition; the unfolding of the
labor force, and the changes that are experienced throughout this period.
I-At the beginning Gold was King
1-The arrival of Spain.-
The Spanish first set foot on Puerto Rico, San Juan Bautista, as Colón named the island, in 1493. By the time they decided to conquer and colonize the island they had already had experience in the business, the colonization of Española. Although at the beginning colonization was surrounded by an aura of adventure and personal achievement, the reality was that this was an economic enterprise. Therefore the first concern of the invaders was to find an immediate source of profits. To fulfill this end the Spanish started their first colonial enterprise in the island in gold mining. From 1511 to 1521 the gold enterprise was very profitable. This was not only the first economic enterprise of the island but it also started the development of the labor force. On one hand it introduced the Taíno population to mining labor, on the other it would later introduce African slavery to the island. How profitable was gold?
Gold Profits in Pesos
source: Scarano. p.171
Scarano assessed that in the years between 1514 and 1521 the Spaniards made between $100,000 to $200,000 pesos annually in gold. But it was not to be a lasting venture. From 1521 on the extraction of gold began to decline. Spanish blame the cycle on the decreased productivity of the labor force.By this time the Taíno population was declining. The truth is that besides maltreatment and malnutrition, the chicken pox outbreak of 1519 exterminated about 1/3 of the indigenous population the island. (see Scarano. p.157.)
"Since 1520 the experience of neighboring Española made clear the coming crisis ...the demographic catastrophe, that practically eliminated the Taíno population and the descending production of gold pointed to the lapse of the mining efforts...agriculture was the obvious alternative for the island."
Puerto Rico reflected the fate of Española. The gold industry had suffered the same luck and the colonizers began to diversify their economic efforts in Española. Sugar became the primary aim. Sugar had become very popular in Europe around this time and its popularity came to promote the colonial experiment in the Caribbean. Sugar prices were on the rise in Europe. Therefore the prospects of a sugar industry in the Caribbean colonies appeared promising and profitable, and profit was the name of the game. But unlike gold which required almost no investment, the production of sugar proved to be the opposite. Producing sugar was an complex process:
"...Clearing, and preparing the land, the rooting of the sugar stocks, the cutting, the carrying, the cooking, the preparation, the packing, the warehousing and shipping..."The production of the sugar had to be well financed, only wealthy and connected individuals would be able to do it. Also the Spanish crown would be heavily involved in the financing of the new industry. This was due largely to the fact that unlike gold that depended on the free labor of the Taínos, the sugar industry would become dependent on African slave labor which was very expensive. Historian Francisco Scarano concluded that between 1519 to 1530 the slave population in Puerto Rico surpassed 500, the number allowed by Spanish law. (see Scarano. p.192.)
In the 1520s Puerto Rico made its first attempt at the sugar business. Even though this first experiment failed after a short time it was not only because of production or profits but the lack of investment and force labor. (see Picó. p.59) Puerto Rico had to compete with Española for the sugar market. One sugar mill in Santo Domingo was capable of producing close to 70% of all 11 sugar mills in Puerto Rico. By 1527 Española had 19 ingenios and 6 trapiches (sugar mills that used horses or ox), Puerto Rico, 60 years later, had only 11 ingenios and trapiches.
"The informants, in 1582, justified the modest production based on the need for labor: 'we could have 50,000 arrobas (25 pounds) and more if every sugar mill had at least one hundred blacks...' nevertheless, the data reflects that Puerto Rican production had already hit the limit of its first bonanza apogee."By the end of the 16th century the low production of the island coupled with a reduction of the island's population made it unprofitable to produce sugar. For nearly a century sugar was the chief source of income for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Sugar Exported to Seville
Between 1568 to 1594 and 1650 to 1670
1568 22,220* 1650 333*
1569 11370* 1651 534*
1570 8,010* 1652 230*
1571 8,520* 1654 308*
1594 9,105* 1670 132*
Besides the competition from Santo Domingo there were other reasons, mainly the attacks of Carib Indians and the expansion of new plantations in Brazil, the Canaries and Sicily which added to the difficulties.
"...there were frauds in loans and grants and some recipients failed to honor their payments...losing mills and slaves to royal officers. Labor shortages were serious; the crown did not send as many slaves as requested and smuggled slaves were too expensive".All of these ingredients finally brought the Puerto Rican sugar industry down. For eleven years from 1651 to 1662 no official Spanish ship anchored in Puerto Rico. The sugar industry was kept in an agonizing state through a new market: smuggling. As for the Spanish the question was again profits; for the inhabitants, survival. They turned their attention to the provisional substitute of sugar: Jengibre (Ginger)
In reality sugar production never stopped. But as an export crop to Spain it almost ceased. Now its primary market was in the smuggling arena: "...Local goods such as sugar...were traded for slaves...smuggling was punished, but nothing curbed the illicit trade." Due to the illegal nature of the trade exact figures on the profitability or to the contrary are not available. By 1640 out of 11 sugar mills (trapiches) established by 1582 only 7 remained in operation. (see Silvestrini. p.p. 128-129. & Picó. p.p. 61-62) Thus one can arrive at the conclusion that although the sugar industry declined, the smuggling business kept over 50% of the establishments in production Together with ginger and tobacco sugar remained among the three chief products of the island.
The future of sugar would peak once again in later years. After the return of the Bourbon House to power in Spain things would change for the Puerto Rican economy. Things started to change when Charles III arrived in power:
"The fight against the dislocation of trade was a major consideration of the new reformist attitude particularly with regards to the sensitive Antilles areas where the island settlements were exposed to contact with one of the richest commercial regions anywhere in the world."Charles III, probably following the English experiment in India, authorized the institutionalization of a commercial trading company in Puerto Rico: La Compañía de Barcelona. This company was founded with the idea of re-starting agricultural exports in Puerto Rico.
Needless to say it failed without producing any benefits
for the island's economy and without impacting on sugar production. As
a matter of fact the few company ships that reached the island were involved
in the smuggling business. (see Scarano p.p. 301-302 & Morales Carrion.
p. 44) Be that as it may this experiment would mark the beginning of change
for the island. Since smuggling was responsible for sugar's survival in
the later years is only fair that I examine the matter in more detail.
Smuggling had become the Spanish crown's biggest problem, which had become
a prevailing part of the Puerto Rican economy.
The Spanish crown send a special envoy to study the problem. Alejandro O'Reilly. El Visitador, only confirmed that which was already known: smuggling had taking a firm hold of the Puerto Rican economy changing not only the economic reality of the island but also its politics. (see Picó p. 96.) Pico writes: "All the islands' governors from 1650 to 1700 were accused of taking part in the illegal commerce."
Charles III followed O'Reilly's advice to the letter.
He instituted two specific reforms that would revitalize Puerto Rico's
agriculture, and sugar production in particular. These reforms were: 1.
Free trade; and 2. Reforms to the slave trade. Later in 1765 Charles III
liberalized the trade policy even more allowing the island to trade with
the other countries of the Antilles. The reform that made the most direct
impact in the revival of the sugar industry was the opening of the slave
trade. (see Scarano. p. 314.) "The slave population in the island grew
greatly from 11,250 in 1780 to 18,053 in 1795 and 21,952 in 1880."
Slave Population, Selected Years, 1765 to 1873
The large influx of slaves, if only for a time, revived the culture of sugar in Puerto Rico. New sugar mills appeared during the period between 1765 to 1791. Also at this time a new and more efficient way of producing sugar was instituted: Ingenios (sugar mills). Instead of each individual mill grinding its cane ingenios were built to which hacendados could take their crops saving a lot of money in the process. This marked a production increase for a time.
But all those changes were not enough, sugar would have to wait some fifty years to ascend to the throne. Silvestrini, Morales Carrión, Picó and Scarano have documented the variety of reasons why the attempt to revive the sugar industry failed. They stressed the shortness of capital investment and technological backwardness. New technology had elevated sugar production to a new level. On one side the new challenges introduced were made necessary by the European technology that had started the extraction of sugar from beet. This would lower demands and prices for sugar. On the other side the newest technology also allowed not only for the increase of sugar production but its quality too:
"The new steam machine and chemical secrets that in happy consortium multiplied the European production in every way...skeptics among ourselves, we remained stagnant in the middle of universal progress."While the sugar industry dried up a new flourish, coffee, would become the spinal cord of Puerto Rico's economy. The cultivation of coffee started in 1736 but only as a complementary crop. "As a norm coffee was cultivated together with other crops, like plantains and bananas, that offered the protection that the coffee plant needed, and with other subsistence crops..."
Distribution of Land for the Cultivation of Sugar,
Coffee and other Export Crops 1830, 1862 and 1899.
Source: James L. Dietz. Historia Económica de Puerto Rico. P.37
From the last decades of the 18th century to the first two decades of the 19th coffee reigned in Puerto Rico. But by the 1820s sugar initiated its rise and began to displace coffee from the throne. Hence beginning what Scarano has call "The Sugar Renaissance" or Second Cycle. This time sugar made progress in two plains; at the industrial one with the introduction of some modern technology and in agriculture with the redistribution and rearrangement of land possession. (see Scarano. p. 397) . Before the arrival of O'Reilly the land was disproportionally distributed in favor of live stock owners. Blanca Silvestrini points out that out of all the usable lands only 18% was used for agricultural purposes. (see Silvestrini. pp. 192-193)
The question is: What happened to revive the sugar
industry? The beginning started with the Bourbon's reforms. After returning
to the throne Fernando VII decided to expand on his father's reforms. In
the island both Penínsulares (Spaniards) and Criollos (Creole) were
dissatisfied with the slow growth of the economy. They asked Fernando VII
for more and substantive reforms. The King's answer was immediate. In August
of 1815 he proclaim La Real Cédula de Gracia. Among the most important
reforms contained in La Real Cédula were: the opening of trade with
more nations; it allowed for the immigration of peoples from friendly nations,
giving a new incentive: it allowed for the import of new machinery and
utensils with low taxes; and it allowed the islanders to bring in more
slaves. Following the conclusions of many Puerto Rican historians the real
benefit of the Real Cédula it was that it opened the doors, in a
permanent way, to the economic advance of Puerto Rico. The following table
shows the growth in exports value after the implementation of La Real Cédula
Value of Puerto Rico's Commerce, 1814 to 1883
Source: James L. Dietz. Historia Economica de Puerto Rico. p.35.
This would specially propel sugar back to the throne. After three hundred years of rising and falling sugar had finally arrived. For the first time in over half a century sugar exports surpassed those of coffee threefold.
The redistribution of land also changed the face of sugar production centers. A study by a colonial official in 1830 concluded that out of the 85,076 cuerdas (acres) of cultivated land 14% was devoted to sugar cane, 13% to coffee and tobacco, and the rest for minor subsistence crops.(see Dietz. p.80) Sugar extraction was organized around mills for the specific purpose of sugar extraction. Now the fact that more land was available for sugar planting, haciendas became the core of production.
The haciendas were more viable, economically, because only 1/4 to 1/2 of the land was devoted to the sugar crop, the rest was used to produce other minor crops. This gave the hacendados additional income. How big was the upsurge of sugar production? In this respect Scarano wrote:
"-Puerto Rico - became, by the middle of the 19th century, one of the major producers and exporters of sugar: in concrete the second in the Caribbean behind Cuba and one of ten in the world."Although sugar became the chief sector of the Puerto Rican economy it was pestered by one big problem. The sugar industry now demanded more modernization and such was very expensive. The machinery needed for the manufacturing of refined sugar or azucar blanca was rare in the island. The sugar produced in Puerto Rico was the type known as azucar moscaba (brown sugar) an impure brownish mixture of lower quality. Thus its price was much lower. Only 15% of the Puerto Rican haciendas possessed steam mills or haciendas de vapor. But most of them were in the other two categories ox mills or haciendas de bueyes , wind mills or haciendas de viento. Had Puerto Rico possessed the necessary technology it would have been on a level with its closest competitors during this period.
Sugar had controlled the Puerto Rican economy for
over half a century. After the second half of the 19th century the sugar
industry began to slow down. This was particularly obvious in the last
three decades of the century. Coffee, once again, set out to take the reins
of the Puerto Rican economy. As table 6 will show, by the end of the 19th
century coffee was firmly in control.
Sugar & Coffee Exports Value
as a Percentage of Total Exports
Years Selected from 1871 to 1896
Source: James L. Dietz. Historia Economica de Puerto Rico. p. 44
At the same time that sugar exports were on the decline, the dependency on the US for the sugar trade increased. To have a clear idea of the situation let us read what Andrés Viñas wrote on this matter:
"Our most important crop, sugar, had not had a real increase and it could be said that this industry is, at least stagnant: in 1847 104,178,232 pounds were exported in 1853 only 110,605,859, what gave us in a six year period a net growth of only 6,437,627."...the trade has been reduced to "cabotage", a form of smuggling, with the neighboring island of Saint Thomas ...with the exception of the United States...the Mercantile Scales published by me in 1851, corresponding to the previous year, showed that the United States exported from Puerto Rico 47%, close to half of the Puerto Rican production."The Puerto Rican economy became subordinate to the US market. After the slave war in Saint Domingue Haitien (Haití) The US lost its most important trading partner in the region. With Haití out of the picture the US had to find a replacement. Since they already had business with Puerto Rico it was the logical choice. The sugar industry had not just fallen by accident. Signs of problems to come were obvious. The slow down in investments and the technological underdevelopment were the two most outstanding omens. At the same time it was also obvious that Spain could do nothing to change the situation. Together with Cuba, Puerto Rico were orphans, its mother land could not be an economic buffer for its colonies. Both islands produced more than Spain could afford to buy.
No one problem brought the sugar industry down. It was a variety of incidents that one by one so debilitated the industry until it was rendered mortally wounded. One of the major reasons has been already mentioned, the lack of capital vis a vis the need for modern technology. During this agonizing (1850s-1890s) time of the need the hacendados thought of a new system known as centrales, (sugar mills) this was supposed to help the industry in two ways: reduce the need for capital to modernize and labor for production. The centrales system was set up in order to save money. One big modern sugar mill would do the grinding and refining for a number of small mills. This would in turn save time, labor, and money.
Sometimes in the analysis of economic matters the human factor gets lost. And the human factor played an important hand in the growth of the sugar industry and its demise as I explained before La Real Cédula de Gracia of 1815 was not only aimed at economic growth but at population growth too. While the new immigrants that came to Puerto Rico were for the most part wealthy, so it was natural that they came to control a large part of the capital. This fact became lethal. The capital began to fly out of the country. Foreigners, after making huge fortunes would retire back to their home lands taking their fortunes with them. The problem was not only that capital went out of the country, but the need for a monetary institution to invest in the sugar industry or banks also disappeared. In 1836 the Colonial Bank of London opened a branch in the island but it failed. Later attempts produced banks which limited their businesses to savings but not lending such as La Caja de Ahorros de San Juan in 1866. But there was fierce opposition from local and peninsular businesses. There was a powerful reason for this, if there were banks in the island that would mean the end to a lucrative business: usury. This business was only handled by penínsulares, and other foreigners.(see Dietz. pp.46-47.) So there was the dilemma that capital flew with the foreigners and there was nothing to fill the void. By the end of 1870 regardless of the objections banks and other financial institutions started to open in Puerto Rico.(see Ibid. p. 47.) And although capital for the sugar producers became available the damage was already done.
Other factors which finally closed the circle of defeat for the future of his Majesty sugar were:
-the drought of the 1840s which destroyed many haciendas.
-the cholera epidemic of 1855-56 that killed more than 5,500 slaves.
-the falling prices of sugar (1850s) in the world market.
-sugar cane virus of 1860.
-the chicken pox epidemic of 1860 that killed thousands of slaves
-the abolition of slavery in 1873.
The last one appeared to be the one that landed the final punch. The abolition of slavery left the hacendados in an ambiguous situation.(The figures on table 3 will corroborate the fact that the slave population decreased during those years.) On one side they lost many of their experienced workers, on the other it meant that paid labor, especially expert workers, would strip the hacendados of much needed capital. After the depression of the 1880s sugar stabilized but never recovered. By the time Spain left the island King Sugar had been dethroned once again by coffee. Now the hills of Puerto Rico were on the top of the economy. By 1899 the patterns of land tenure, distribution, and cultivation had also changed. At the end of the century 41% of the cultivable land was assigned to coffee while only 15% cultivated sugar.
II-Spain, Gold, Sugar and Labor-Growing Pains
1.The Taínos: Spain's Work Horse.
It became clear from the start that the invaders from Spain did not have labor as part of their future activities. Any hard labor to be done would fall on the Taíno's backs. The expensive enterprise of discovery and colonization had to render benefits. And at the moment that they discovered gold the organization of the labor force became priority one. They only had to look as far as the natives. Who were they? Why were they so easily oppressed? In order to continue this account introducing the Taínos as a people is indispensable. After all it was their land. And after all, by all accounts, the Taínos were peaceful people. (see Silvestrini.p.p.58-60. Scarano. p.p. 142-145.)
In passages of letters written by Colón, he wrote what in Silvestrini' opinion, explains the reasons why the Spanish would see in this noble people future slaves:
"The first physical and psychological picture of the indigenous is revealed to us by Colon: '...their color is that of the people from the canaries nor black nor white ...they have to be good servants with good disposition, I see that are able to say everything that was said to them...' ..."You can already see in his words, the possibility that the Taíno could be a good worker."The Spanish knew that there was gold in the island because the natives wore some as ornaments. But when they found the source their destiny was sealed. They found fluvial gold. In Borinquén (Taíno for Puerto Rico) the Spanish would establish the labor model, a model of forced labor of which they have had some experience already. Such as in La Espanola.
The Spanish Crown wanted a return on the money invested in the discovery enterprise. Therefore they had to find a way to extract Boriquén wealth. Hence, Taínos would be the real wealth for the invaders. Slavery was the first form of organized labor established by the colonizers, but the Spanish crown refused the idea in part, allowing only to be enslaved those that rebelled or revolted against the regime. Not withstanding this preclusion the taking as slaves of the natives became a standard practice. At the beginning the Almirante(Admiral), Colón, distributed natives to the colonizers. But nobody specified what kind of labor the Taínos were supposed to do. The first distributions or repartimientos set up an organization of labor without rules or regulations.
In 1503 the Spanish crown legalized or sanctioned said repartimientos. Although the crown allowed for the natives to work in the mines at the same time it was supposed to provide protection for their well-being and even payment for their labor. Needless to say none were observed. The hard labor of the mines, the poor nutrition, racial mixtures, and diseases brought by the Spaniards decimated the Taíno population. Frank Moya Pons estimated that 90% of mortalities happened in the first 15 years. And what about the pay received by the Taínos: combs, shirts, cheap shoes, pañuelos, (handkerchiefs) and other junk? (see Scarano.p.147-149,175-178)
Although there is no specific evidence or documentation of an organized effort on the part of the natives, historian Fernando Picó points out by the spring of 1511 the Taínos were ready to explode. Picó asserted that the Taínos stared to prepare themselves to revolt in the spring of 1511.To this end they celebrated many reunions or areytos. Finally they attacked many small Spanish forts killing over 200 Spaniards before being subdued by Ponce De Leon. But the Spaniard's triumph did not mean the end of the insurgency (see Picó. p.p.46-47).
Scarano tracked the beginning of Taíno resistance to the Spanish back to 1508:
"There were two types of resistance: passive and active. The acts of passive resistance included escaping to remote places in the island or neighboring islands and work slowdown. The acts of active resistance took the road of armed resistance."2-A New Actor Enters the Scene -African Slaves Vis a Vis Forced Labor
The rapid demise of the Taíno population forced the Spanish to add a new element to the labor force: African slaves. The first African slaves began to arrive in Puerto Rico at the beginning of the 16th century. Immediately they took the place of the Taínos in the extraction of gold. They were also utilized for other labor related activities such as sirvientes (domestic labor) in the trapiches, and other agricultural chores. In his book, Economic History of Puerto Rico, James L. Dietz outlines the three chief uses of slaves: sirvientes, los de tala (field slaves), and los jornaleros (dayworkers). Here is how Dietz describes the tasks performed by each category:
"The responsibilities of the domestic slave was to keep the house of the master, including the children. The field slaves took care of the heinous work: planting, weeding, cutting the sugar cane, run the trapiche, etc.... the third category of slaves, the jornaleros, is particularly interesting. They were slaves "rented" temporarily and their "salaries" were paid directly to their masters"The growth of the slave population is shown in table three. But although the slave population grew continuously the biggest concentration of slaves took place in and around the sugar regions. This is what Dietz reports, "In 1928, in the three biggest sugar provinces-Mayaguez, Ponce, and Guayama- the slave population represented 21.1%, 21.5%, and 29.8% of the respective population. In the same regions between 1812 and 1828, the slave population grew 288%, 202%, and 623%, four to six time faster than the free population." (for more on slave population, legal and illegal, see Morales Carrión .pp32-33).
From the very beginning the Spanish feared that this new race would possibly start alzamientos (rebellions). One group cited in particular the Jelofes. Also from the beginning they started the practice of running away or cimarronaje. Unlike the Taínos, the African slaves did not hesitate in showing their disagreement with the brutal treatment they received from their Spanish Masters. Cimarronaje (running away) was a common way of resistance for African slaves . But the fears of the Spaniards were fully realized after the triumph of the Haitian Revolution in 1804. The Haitian Revolution stirred up the whole Caribbean to the point that in 1848 Juan Prim the governor of Puerto Rico declared the hideous decree El Bando Contra la Raza Africana (The Law Against the African Race).
This decree provided for extreme and brutal punishment to any African or descendent. Any suspicion of resistance was met by sheer force. (Scarano.p.415-416.-Silvestrini.p.249,266.ss) Unlike the Taínos the slaves had the ability to organize, conspire and sabotage:
"... a disgruntled slave ... would deliberately put on purpose any tool between the gears of a sugar mill causing the waste of valuable time during the grinding season..."The island saw many slave insurrections against the forced and brutal labor system. Among the most remarkable were:
1.The 1821 rebellion in Bayamón where over 1500 slaves participated.Silvestrini wrote:
2.The 1841 Isabella Rebellion .
" From the last decade of the 18th century through to the middle of the 19th century around twenty or more slave revolts took place in the island.. one of the most noticeable conspiracy in Puerto Rico occurred in 1841 in Ponce. This rebellion not only responded to the need for freedom, but to the relation of the economic problems that affected the sugar industry and the slavery system..."All of the manifestations of the slaves to forced labor had a direct effect on free labor. Once again Puerto Rico was short of workers. The problem was that the Jíbaros (peasants) would not work for the low wages paid by the hacendados. The Governor of Puerto Rico, Juan de la Pezuela, passed a law to force the Jíbaros into the wage labor market. This became known as El Régimen de la Libreta. Each person between 16 to 60 years old had to carry a notebook where their work activities would be recorded. (for further information see the following Fernando Picó. .pp. 172-175, Scarano pp. 416-419, Morales Carrión p.105-106, Dietz. pp. 59-67.)
The climax took place in 1868, when a group of Puerto Ricans from every walk of life revolted in Lares. This was the first organized insurgency movement aimed at gaining independence for Puerto Rico. El Grito de Lares, as this movement is historically known, was indeed the greatest insurgent movement against not only the political situation but the social and economic situation of the people. In her book, El Grito de Lares, Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim shows that while the leaders of the insurgency were for the most part small coffee-growers, sugar-cane workers played an important role in the revolutionary movement. In an analysis of the trades, professions and occupation of those members of the movement arrested showed that 70% of them were jíbaros, wage laborers and slaves. (see Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim. .p.78)
By the end of the century few labor organizations had appeared in Puerto Rico. But all of them were centered in the cities and united urban workers. Organizations of Socorro Mutuo (Common Help) and Cooperativas (Co-ops) appeared the late 1870s. But for the most part these organizations provided a place to fraternize. Later these organizations provided the starting point for educating the workers. By 1887 some of these groups organized strikes to the point that the government outlawed claims or organized demands for better wages or labor conditions.(see Desafío y Solidaridad. Gervasio L. García & Quintero García. pp.18-20 and Dietz. p.94) The year of 1896 witnessed the arrival of the person responsible, in the opinion of many historians, of co-ordinating and instituting the first labor organization in Puerto Rico. His name was Santiago Iglesias Pantín, a Spanish carpenter who came from Cuba.
Iglesias became an instant enemy of the colonial government. In 1898 Iglesias was incarcerated, suspected of organizing strikes. But by this time the agrarian workers had still not yet begun to organize.
The first two centuries of Spanish domination were
years of slow economic growth. The Spanish crown had one distinguishable
goal at the beginning of the colonial enterprise: the extraction of gold.
The beginnings of the sugar industry in Puerto Rico can not be seen as
economic development but an attempt to populate the island to keep it from
becoming deserted and as a profitable unit of the Crown. Two things changed
this pattern: LaReal Cédula de Gracias of 1815 and the independance
movements in South and Central America. The first established the bases
of a pre-capitalist society in Puerto Rico with the granting of private
ownership of the land. The second meant the loss of the most wealthy regions
of the Spanish crown, therefore Puerto Rico became more important to the
Spanish economy. Nevertheless the changes only transformed the lives of
the peninsulares and the small creolle elite. Life for the majority of
islanders, los jíbaros and the rest of the population, things hardly
changed. The economic practices put in place by Spain, which enslaved Puerto
Rico and forced it to depend upon a monoculture system where sugar and
coffee took turns in sustaining the survival of the country. At the end
Spain's incapacity to watch over, and take care of, the island's economic,
social and political needs forced her to relinquish her last bastion in
the New World.