MAY 2, 1957
NEW YORK—I was happy to read the other day the successful, 10-year report from Puerto Rico, under "Operation Bootstrap," guided by Governor Luis Munoz Marin and chief administrator of the Economic Development Administration, Teodoro Moscoso.
On my first visit to Puerto Rico in the early '30s I saw all the difficulties and evils of an economy based on sugar and the manufacture of a small amount of rum. Some embroidery also was done—very often on cheap material, both in small sweat shops and in homes. This last-named work, done by women, often was essential to carry over the months of unemployment that were the lot of the sugar workers.
Little by little, however, as improvement in the political administration under Governor Munoz Marin took place, there also has been a change in the social conditions of the people because of the economic changes in the island. This was brought about essentially by provisions made for certain exemptions from taxes for firms in the United States that wanted to expand their facilities and could use the island for this expansion.
Buildings were offered at long-term, low-rent bargains, and labor-training programs were initiated for the workers. In the past 10 years 517 new plants have been started and employment has risen from 1,800 in 1947 to more than 30,000 this year. In addition to small manufacturers of such items as wearing apparel, artificial flowers and novelties, soon to come into the fold were companies in such fields as electronics, electrical equipment, machinery, plastics, metal work and chemicals.
The administrators of the E.D.A. wisely rejected those firms that were simply trying to find a spot where they could manufacture with cheaper labor than they could find in the U.S. Only those firms that genuinely wanted to expand and would pay good hourly wages were accepted.
The resultant increase in the workers' pay roll naturally has increased the well-being of the island. This has meant a lessening of U.S. spending to keep the economy of the island going.
Puerto Rico is standing on its own feet and the people there are happier and better able to live than they ever have been. The day may soon come when the people who remain on the island will be better off than those who come to work in the U.S. And even if the increasing population on the island moves some to seek their livelihood in the States, the chances are that they will be better equipped to earn a living here.
I wonder if some of the successful planning in Puerto Rico could be passed along to the Virgin Islands, where the people have not progressed at nearly the same pace.