An important New Deal program that shaped the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States
“Burrows’s pioneering and engaging study of the PRRA’s Engineering Division makes important contributions to understandings of the New Deal as imperial reform and of its relationship to Puerto Rican populism. An essential read for students and scholars of US empire, Puerto Rico, the New Deal, and histories of public works.”—Anne S. Macpherson, author of From Colony to Nation: Women Activists and the Gendering of Politics in Belize, 1912–1982
This book explores the history and impact of the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA), the most important New Deal agency to operate in Puerto Rico and the largest created for any United States territory. Geoff Burrows demonstrates how the PRRA improved living conditions across the island in the wake of destructive hurricanes and the Great Depression, while at the same time resulting in a reformed, strengthened, and lasting colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the US.
Using previously untapped archival sources and a wide range of primary and secondary texts, Burrows follows the agency from its founding by President Roosevelt in 1935 to its ending in 1955, situating its public works program in both Puerto Rican and New Deal contexts. The PRRA built the Caribbean’s first modern cement plant; implemented widespread rural electrification through the building of seven hydroelectric dams; constructed hurricane-proof houses, schools, and hospitals; and improved transportation and communication across the island. Puerto Rican engineers, planners, and officials took a leading role in these initiatives, which provided them social mobility and transformed the island’s economy from agricultural to industrial.
The first institutional history and critical examination of the agency, The Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration engages questions about the New Deal’s global reach. It investigates how New Deal agendas refashioned US colonialism in Puerto Rico and indirectly contributed to the island’s current debt crisis and response to recent natural disasters such as Hurricane María.
Geoff G. Burrows is a historian of Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States.