River Rail Puerto Rico Issue
River Rail

Colonial Waterscapes: The Water Issue in Puerto Rico

Environmental sociologist José Anazagasty-Rodríguez on the changing social circumstances of water resources on the island.

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The state of the Puerto Rican waterscape is far from promising.1 Not only is it polluted and inefficiently managed, but poor governmental responses to droughts and the effects of climate change means that Puerto Rico is increasingly vulnerable to water scarcity and rationing. To fully grasp the current state, and the issue of water in general, we need to ponder the history of the waterscape in Puerto Rico and the changing social circumstances that have influenced its making, without losing sight of the role that both capitalism and colonialism have played in this process.

Since the transformation of the Puerto Rican waterscape is intricately connected to the colonial history of Puerto Rico—first with Spain and then with the United States—I will begin by expounding the concept of environmental colonialism, propositioning it as a basic dimension of all colonial projects. Then, with the aim of elucidating that transformation, in terms of the ways in which colonialism and capitalism have configured the Puerto Rican waterscape, I will trace its historical development from 1898 to the present. This will be followed by a brief discussion of the inefficient management of water resources in the colony and an assessment of the contamination of its waters. Next, I will discuss the risks and challenges that poor responses to droughts and climate change represent for Puerto Ricans. Finally, I will mention some policy proposals for the improvement of water management in Puerto Rico and offer alternatives to recent state-led efforts to privatize its water supply system.

Environmental Colonialism

In most accounts of the origins and development of capitalism, even in those by historians and social scientists, discussions of its ties to colonialism remain marginal. Venezuelan anthropologist Fernando Coronil has argued that the birth of capitalism did not happen in Europe but in the context of the global interactions between Europe and its colonies.2 According to Coronil, capitalism, a modern phenomenon, appeared and developed as the outcome of transcontinental transactions whose global quality really started with the conquest and colonization of the Americas. However, most narratives and accounts of the colonization process not only deny these origins, but tend to focus on the colonization of people, neglecting its consequences for the environment, leaving nature out of the story. Consequently, nature is, at best, treated as the stage or material background in which the drama of colonization and resistance happens. Nature appears as something external, a positioning that reproduces the recurrent dualism between nature and society. In most accounts of colonialism, founded as they are on the “ideology of nature,”3 the environment is signified as an outward and often everlasting field, a source of raw materials sitting outside the historical trajectories of the social and the cultural.4 The ideology conceals the ways in which the restless dynamics of capitalism, also tied to colonial undercurrents, enter fully into the production of nature, straight into the ways in which humans yield environmental change.

Within the fields of the Social Sciences and Humanities, the concept of environmental colonialism remains polysemic. Some scholars of environmental colonialism define it as the export of pollutants and toxic waste to the colonies and poor countries.5 This "toxic colonialism" is not limited to the export of fixed capital—properties, equipment, technologies, factories—that produce contamination, but it also involves the export of waste itself, solid or otherwise, to poor countries.6

Others, like Robert H. Nelson define environmental colonialism in terms of the various ways in which environmentalists and environmental managers from Europe and the United States take charge of resource administration in poor countries, often producing environmental inequality formations.7 For example, the institution of natural reserves or wildlife refuges in Africa, managed by environmental managers from Europe, has displaced and impoverished the traditional stakeholders in these spaces, denying native users access to the resources necessary for their livelihood and survival.8

Environmental colonialism is also considered a basic dimension of colonization. This approach, as David Arnold explains, is based upon Alfred W. Crosby's concept of "ecological imperialism" and the traffic of plants, animals, people, and even diseases between the imperial centers and their colonies.9 Crosby exposed the ecological consequences of European colonization, including the effects of the introduction to the colonies of foreign organisms, including several viruses that sickened the natives, and even killed many of them. From this perspective, environmental colonialism is not just a kind of colonialism but a basic and inherent component of colonialism itself. As noted by sociologist John Bellamy Foster, colonialism, always tied to imperialism and capitalism, has required the transformation of the environment and ecology of the colonies throughout all its history.10 While controlling the flow of resources, colonialism also transformed the environment biophysically and materially, displacing both local environmental knowledges and the previous forms of structuring the relationship with nature. An outcome of such changes is the unequal access to natural resources and the unequal distribution of environmental burdens. The transformation afforded colonialists effective control over the flow of natural and human resources amid imperial centers and their colonies, still today. For instance, the fact that today natural resources in Puerto Rico, including water, are regulated by both federal and local laws and agencies, with the latter subordinated to the first, attests to the US colonialist grasp over the Island and its natural resources, even after the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952, which gave the colony restricted autonomy from the federal government.11

A Brief History of Water Management in Puerto Rico from 1898 to the Present

Since humans first appeared on the planet, they have been responsible for a vast share of environmental changes. In a recent study regarding the particular case of Puerto Rico, environmental archaeologist Isabel C. Rivera-Collazo has observed how anthropogenic activity has changed the environment so greatly that the natural resources that today many try to protect, preserve, conserve, or restore cannot be grasped without understanding the social contexts that shaped them throughout history.12 It was the activities of its first inhabitants, going back to the Archaic period, about 4.8 kilo-annum ago, that started those human-induced environmental changes in Puerto Rico. As shown by Rivera-Collazo, the original inhabitants introduced new plants, altering ecosystems and landscapes. People throughout the Ceramic Age (800–200 BCE) built upon the archaic transformations of the landscape, extended the clearance of forests for their settlements and for agriculture, and introduced new species to the local biodiversity.

But it was the activities brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish and American imperial and colonial ventures that contributed the most to the transformation of the island’s environment. For example, the arrival of the Spaniards produced great environmental and ecological changes, connected to the traffic of plants, animals, people and even diseases between Spain and Puerto Rico. The Spaniards introduced a wide variety of new species into the local environment such as pigs, horses, and cattle, dramatically affecting Puerto Rico’s biodiversity. Throughout the Spanish colonial era, resource extraction, settlement construction, livestock, and extensive agriculture resulted in a vast process of deforestation and in a dramatic transformation of the landscape. The Spanish colonial system generated great political and economic asymmetries in the exploitation and management of natural resources, and unequal exchange with the metropolis.

The constant circulation of biotic organisms and abiotic things or materials continued with the US colonial system, established in Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War of 1898. Since the beginning, Americans showed interest in the water resources of the colony. Various representatives of federal commissions and many US travelers surveilled, catalogued, and prospected the island’s natural resources.13 Many of these visitors exalted the natural riches of the new colony, often describing it as an Edenic garden. Some US visitors, like writer Frederick A. Ober, drew attention to the abundance of water in what they envisioned as a bountiful agricultural colony open to capitalist development. As Ober noted: “Though few of the rivers are navigable for any distance above their mouths, yet not many countries of Puerto Rico’s extent are watered by so many streams.”14

The contradictory and conflicting history of capitalist modernization and development in the colony since 1898, deeply changed both society and the environment, including the waterscape.15 Urban sprawl escalated dramatically under US dominance. Although economic activity in agriculture continued, the economic sector eventually declined in favor of industrialization, which ensued other environmental changes and problems such as air and water pollution, among others. Indeed, many of the environmental problems Puerto Rico faces today are tied to capitalist activity, development and industrialization, all of which intensified after the arrival of the Americans. Like the Spanish regime, the United States colonial system generated uneven development between Puerto Rico and the United States, producing and reproducing economic and environmental inequalities between these nations.16

It was with the US colonial regime that Puerto Rico was more forcefully integrated into the capitalist economy, which required dynamic and intense changes and development of the modern waterscape in the colony, altering the bodies of water in Puerto Rico through the channeling of rivers, the making of an irrigation system, and the building of dams. The US colonial system also brought a dramatic change in water management. It has since then been shaped by the cultural practices and meanings of capital, with its political and economic ideologies, and, of course, configured by its technology. The resulting waterscape, especially when it comes to the management of potable water and irrigation, mirrors capitalism and manifests its conflicts, while producing and reproducing the notion of water as a commodity that still predominates in the colony today. Even when a public corporation manages most of the colony’s water resources, water is still treated as a commodity.

The US colonial administration of Puerto Rico, just like any other colonial government, demanded resource colonization; that is, control over the colony’s natural resources. Also, the US colonial project, capitalist in character, required what Scottish geographer Neil Smith has described as the “formal subsumption of nature.” As Smith has stated:

With the formal subsumption of nature, capital accumulation is facilitated predominantly by a continual expansion in the conversion of extracted material into objects of production. More and more oil and wood, cotton and coal are extracted for production. Colonialism functioned as a primary strategy for, among other things, this formal subsumption of nature.17

The US colonization of Puerto Rico also entailed the formal integration of land, water, and natural resources to the circuits of US capital, ensuring appropriation and access to the colony’s natural resources. During the early 20th century in Puerto Rico, US capital circulated through nature via agricultural production, mostly in sugar production, or through land improvement projects like the building of water supply and irrigation systems.18 The pattern started by the US military administration of the colony continued with the civil government formed after the approval of the Foraker Act in 1900.19

In the first two decades of the US administration of the colony, access to electric power, potable water, gas, and communication, among other services, increased, although mostly in urban areas.20 The provision of these services was a fairly lucrative enterprise managed by relatively small private US companies with no offices in Puerto Rico. Electricity was then provided through hydroelectric systems. In 1908, the construction of the first irrigation system in southern Puerto Rico, consisting of three artificial lakes, began as a byproduct of the approbation of an irrigation law.21 The system began operations in 1914.22 The first two hydroelectric projects were developed by the Puerto Rico Railway, Light and Power Company.23 The main goal of these projects was not the generation of electricity but rather to serve irrigation purposes. Only rich farmers, those with the most productive farms, mostly owned by Americans, could pay for irrigation service. The service was simply out of reach for many local farmers, most of whom were eventually forced out of business.24

In 1915, the insular government began its own projects for the generation of electric power also mostly in function of the irrigation system, which continued after the approval of the Jones Act of Puerto Rico in 1917.25 In 1926 the agency known as the Puerto Rico Fluvial Supply Use (PRFSU) took charge of water management, mostly for the generation of electric power, irrigation of agricultural land, and the distribution of potable water. The Irrigation Service (IS) was also another important agency involved in water management. Consequently, the capacity for irrigation and electric power increased significantly in the ’20s and ’30s. In 1941, the law that created the Fluvial Supply Authority (FSA) was approved, substituting the PRFSU and IS. This new public agency held a monopoly over water and electricity, which the Puerto Rican government achieved through public investments and various laws and regulations.26

In 1945, the FSA bought the Puerto Rico Railway Light and Power Company and the Mayaguez Light Power and Ice Company. That same year the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA), the governmental agency since then responsible for water management and sanitation, was formed.27 This marked a shift from a water supply system based on small private companies to a nationally state-managed system accomplished through various regulations and investments, in an effort to support economic growth and assure social stability by providing water to all citizens. The shift was intensified by the local government after the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952 as the water management and supply system became an integral part of the corporatist colonial-state and state-led economic growth.

Since then, PRASA has remained a public corporation, except for two brief moments in recent history when attempts were made to privatize it. The first attempt occurred in the nineties when a subsidiary of the transnational company Veolia managed the agency. The Puerto Rican government ended the contract in 2002 after it was discovered that the company had $6.2 million in fines plus many administrative and operational deficiencies. The same year it was announced that Suez would manage the utility, which the corporation did for only 18 months. The company would manage the agency for 10 years, part of the conditions of a $4 billion deal. After the 18 months it demanded an additional $93 million, arguing that the water system was bigger than previously indicated.

The government did not agree and then took over the corporation again. These efforts coincided with the spread of the neoliberal hegemony worldwide, entailing both deregulation of the economy and the decline of state-led economic growth in favor of the private sector. Currently, the efforts to privatize PRASA have been revived due to the severe economic and fiscal crisis and austerity measures affecting Puerto Rico. The Fiscal Control Board, imposed by the US Congress, also supports the privatization of public corporations like PRASA.28 The passing of Hurricane María in September 2017, devastated Puerto Rico leaving PRASA and its water infrastructure in very bad shape. In that context, the privatization of the public corporation is increasingly appealing to many politicians and policymakers, and even many Puerto Rican citizens. Besides budgetary difficulties, PRASA also faces the problems of water pollution and its inefficient system of water management, to which I now turn to.

The Wasted and Tainted Waters

In the Caribbean, Puerto Rico has the most water resources, but it is also one of the places where the management and utilization of water is most wasteful and inefficient. The mismanagement and inefficient use of water resources by PRASA, residents, and corporations is a major concern among scientists and environmentalists on the island. PRASA itself is a major offender. More than 50 percent, with some reporting around 65 percent, of the water taken by PRASA from various sources is lost because of damaged pipes, leakages, and the illegal consumption of water by its clients.29 Besides the outdated infrastructure, the sedimentation of water bodies and artificial lakes, deforestation, urban expansion, failure to observe water conservation, and the increasing demand for water, limits the effective use of this needed resource.

In Puerto Rico, another major problem is the contamination of water.30 Among the sources of contamination are the waste produced by the production of pharmaceutical drugs, cattle raising, the disproportionate use of fertilizers, runoff of used water from urban areas (that often carries industrial waste), and non or partially treated waters. The excessive extraction of water from aquifers is also harmful as it enables and boosts saline intrusion in these aquifers, which is detrimental to underground waters. But, it is industrial activity, mostly in the pharmaceuticals sector, together with agriculture and the construction industry, which causes most water contamination. Hence, as previously mentioned, water pollution is closely tied to the colony’s intricate history of modernization, industrialization, and economic development. Water pollution affects not only potable water but also many rivers, lakes, and beaches.

Finally, US military activity in the colony has played a significant role in the contamination of water, besides causing damage to the environment and human health. A notable case is the pollution resulting from military activities in the former Vieques Naval Training Range and the Naval Ammunition Support Detachment, stationed in Vieques, an island-municipality located in the northeast of Puerto Rico. Violating federal environmental regulations, the United States naval forces released toxic residues in the waters of Vieques, including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and cyanide. Military activity in Vieques have been connected to the high incidence of cancer there. The inhabitants of the small island also suffer high rates of congenital defects, asthma, skin diseases, and other respiratory diseases.31

Water Shortages, Droughts and Climate Change

Recently, thousands of Puerto Ricans have been affected by a severe drought and the subsequent water rationing measures.32 Droughts are natural hazards defined as prolonged periods of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water. But water scarcity, with uneven effects across class, race, and gender lines, is a complex process that cannot be reduced to low rainfall alone. Their causes are often more social than natural and are tied to the power structure and access to resources, to political and economic factors that makes some parts of the population more vulnerable to droughts than others.

The effects of Hurricane María on artificial reservoirs and lakes, as well as the mismanagement of PRASA's water resources and services have also increased Puerto Rico's vulnerability to droughts. For instance, failure to deal effectively with sedimentation limits the quantity of water in dams and reserves, and consequently there is less water available to face shortages due to low rainfall. Water pollution also affects the quantity of potable and clean water that could be used to mitigate low precipitation. Water conservation measures could increase or keep stable the supply of water available during periods of low rainfall, but the lack of decisive conservation policies is reproducing the vulnerability to lack of rain, and the ability to ease its effects. The loss of water due to leakages and an inadequate infrastructure also limits the quantity of water available to face droughts and avoid water shortages.

Understanding the origin of water shortages requires a thorough analysis of a population’s vulnerability to low rainfall. Vulnerability refers in this case to the ability of a population or group to anticipate, manage, resist, and recover from the impact of a drought. Now, Puerto Ricans, some more than others, depending on class, gender, and racial differences, among others, are vulnerable to a drought affecting the country, and will be facing possible water rationing measures in the following months. The recent drought has been tied to low rainfall, the effects of Hurricane María on dams and artificial lakes, and the mismanagement of water resources.

Climate change, which already affects the hydrological cycle, is one of the reasons Puerto Rico and its Caribbean neighbors are recently facing droughts. Climate change promises drier and longer droughts in the future. Water availability is expected to decrease, while lack of planning will increase Puerto Rico's vulnerability to droughts as, according to a recent report published by the Center for Investigative Journalism, Puerto Rico's government has not yet developed a strategic plan to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects.33

Climate change affects the waterscape and the water supply system in other ways as well. One of these effects is a rise in sea levels, which is already affecting Puerto Rican shores and communities located there. Another consequence is the increase in the intensity of cyclones or hurricanes, which is tied to the increasing sea temperatures and coastal erosion. Another outcome of climate change is an increase in sea and air surface temperature, which intensifies the whitening of reefs and corals, and is connected to the intensification of storms and hurricanes. Climate change could also mean dramatic changes in rainfall patterns, which would affect water supplies.34 Also, climate change could affect water quality. Rising water temperature in lakes and other bodies of water means lower levels of dissolved oxygen in water. An increase in precipitation means flooding and runoff could carry pollutants into waterways, including sediments, nitrogen, pathogens, and pesticides, among others.

Apart from the environmental consequences, the social costs for Puerto Ricans would be devastating, including a higher vulnerability to hurricanes and coastal flooding, an increase of risks from disease and water scarcity, as well as economic losses due to climate change: impacts of tourism and agricultural assets.

Against the Unquenchable Corporate Thirst

As I have been discussing, the water question in Puerto Rico is directly connected to the colonial question. In the long run, decolonizing the waterscape, and undoing environmental colonialism, requires the undoing of colonialism itself in Puerto Rico, its decolonization. The anti-colonial or decolonial project has to be a socio-ecological project. Yet, and even within the confines of the colonial system some reforms, however limited and colonial, are possible. From this viewpoint, the worrisome situation of water management in Puerto Rico is considerably connected to the lack of a basic well-thought and ecologically-sound strategy or policy to effectively manage water resources while keeping the water infrastructure in good shape.35 Although barely any efforts have been made to institute such needed policies, some environmental scientists have offered recommendations. For instance, tropical geomorphologist Frederick N. Scatena argues that well-thought water planning in Puerto Rico faces various challenges: increasing the efficiency of the water system through better infrastructure, one that will reduce the loss of water; accomplishing the effective management of water demand to mitigate the effects of droughts and avoid water scarcity and rationing; reducing the rate of sedimentation that limits the amount of water in dams; and improving the treatment of used waters.36

Beyond managing the demand of water, I would insist on the implementation of water conservation programs to both use the liquid efficiently and decrease unnecessary water usage. Water planning should also consider ways to use this resource in ecologically-sound ways to reduce water pollution and environmental damages. These policies should include efforts to decontaminate, conserve, and restore rivers, lakes, and other water bodies. Moreover, policies should endorse water recycling, the reuse of treated wastewater for various purposes such as agricultural irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing, and replenishing groundwater. It should also consider ways to stimulate and facilitate the collecting and storage of rainwater, namely rain harvesting, which includes rooftop harvesting at the household level. It could also stimulate the creation of rain gardens, like those constructed in Ponce, to help control pollutants carried by rainwater runoff.37

I would also recommend that the government encourage and support more community or rural aqueducts while strengthening the 247 already operating in Puerto Rico’s remote and rural areas and that are administered by small community groups. These communities should be empowered by bolstering their autonomy, self-sufficiency, and their ability to run sustainable aqueducts. This could, in the long run, reduce costs to PREPA, improve the quality of services, and expand citizens’ participation in decision-making processes on water services. Supporting community aqueducts could also decrease these communities’ dependence on PREPA’s services while decreasing their vulnerability to natural hazards such as droughts and hurricanes. Beyond community aqueducts, other modalities could be explored, including co-managed aqueducts that join communities, PRASA, non-governmental organizations, and various private businesses in water management efforts.

The current budgetary difficulties the Puerto Rican government is facing due to a grave economic and fiscal crisis, limits the ability of the government and PRASA to institute the proposed policies. Pressured by the Commonwealth government and the Fiscal Control Board, PRASA is moving towards privatization once again. Driven by the revitalized hegemonic conception of water as a commodity, the recent forceful push towards privatization constitutes a sort of dispossession.38 One of the ways capital expands in the neoliberal age is by absorbing or integrating more and more resources, people, activities, and lands, including those publicly managed, to the circuits of capital. This is what geographer David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession,” the subsumption of public goods through privatization, financialization, and redistributive policies of the state.39 To counter the dispossession of water, we need to reaffirm and protect the communities’ right to water—the right of every Puerto Rican to clean and safe water. That, of course, requires keeping the flows of water from quenching the all-consuming and monopolizing corporate thirst through privatization.

Decision making regarding water should be radically democratic and dependent upon public trust, meaning that mechanisms need to exist so that citizens can effectively hold the government accountable for its actions regarding water management. For that, we need to institute what environmental activist Vandana Shiva calls a living and thriving democracy, not the dying and watered-down democracy ruling the colony today.40 Such democratization must engage citizens, communities, and non-governmental organizations, including environmental organizations that are already working independently or with the government to conserve and decontaminate water bodies such as wetlands, swamps, lagoons, and beaches. For example, the Comité Caborrojeños Pro-Salud y Ambiente is restoring the Cartagena lagoon in Cabo Rojo. Groups around the Martín Peña Channel in San Juan are restoring and conserving the channel, often monitoring the quality of the water. The Comité pro Desarrollo Maunabo conserves and restores the Punta Tuna Wetland in Maunabo, the organization Corredor del Yaguazo from Cataño conserves and restores Las Cucharillas Wetland, and the Secret Lagoon, while Programa de Educación Comunal de Entrega y Servicio (P.E.C.E.S.) protects and conserves water bodies in the Natural Reserve of Humacao.41

Puerto Rico’s experience with the government’s past efforts to privatize PRASA has been costly to both the government and its citizens. Perhaps, alternatives to privatization, rarely considered in Puerto Rico, should be explored. Community-run water services or services provided by non-governmental and nonprofit organizations, like the above-mentioned groups, and water cooperatives, also known as water user associations, represent yet another alternative to the privatization of the water system. These cooperatives and associations exist all around the world, including the United States, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Bolivia, and Chile, which could serve as models to be implemented in Puerto Rico.42 PRASA itself could be turned into a workers’ cooperative, an alternative that would be most likely rejected by the government and not even considered by the workers themselves. Alternatively, a cooperative of workers could work with the commonwealth government to co-manage water resources and services. Water cooperatives could vary in size and might provide services at various geographical scales, from the community and municipal levels to the entirety of Puerto Rico. Even the existing community aqueducts could be managed following a water cooperative model.

To conclude, I want to reiterate the call to consider alternatives to privatization and for the democratization of water management and policy-making, by quoting the Water Manifesto of Riccardo Petrella:

As the fundamental and irreplaceable ‘source of life’ for the ecosystem, water is a vital good, which belongs to all the inhabitants of the Earth in common. None of them, individually or as a group, can be allowed the right to make it private property.43

According to Petrella: “The integrated and sustainable management of water belongs to the sphere of democracy. It goes beyond the skills and the know-how of technicians, engineers, and bankers.” From this perspective, all of us have a crucial role to play in the public sphere, through individual and collective actions, in safeguarding everybody’s access to clean and sustainable water.

  1. Erik Swyngedouw, “Modernity and Hybridity: Nature, Regeneracionismo, and the Production of the Spanish Waterspace, 1890-1930,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 89, no. 3 (1999): 443-465. I used the concept of waterscape in the sense provided by Erik Swyngedouw. He focuses on the way water flows in time and space, and in the social construction and cultural representations of water, time, and space. Swyngedouw uses the term waterscape to show that water has a fluidity that makes it somewhat different from other types of natural resources. Furthermore, he argues that water cannot be fully captured by natural laws alone nor can it be defined entirely as part of a social process. Water is best captured by both. Water is constantly flowing through physical geographies, through the physical surface, but also through the social, cultural, or symbolic landscapes.
  2. Fernando Coronil, “Naturaleza del poscolonialismo: del eurocentrismo and globocentrismo,” in La colonialidad del saber edited by Edgardo Lander, 87-111. Buenos Aires: CLACSO. In the same book, scholars such as Aníbal Quijano, Enrique Dussel and Walter D. Mignolo also argue that capitalism and colonialism institute each other.
  3. Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, [1984] 2008). The ideology of nature refers to a systematic scheme of distorted ideas about nature held by classes or groups to serve their interests. For Neil Smith, the representation of nature as external to society is ideological, and so is the romantic representation of nature as universal.
  4. Derek Gregory, “(Post)Colonialism and the Production of Nature” in Social Nature: Theory, Practice and Politics, edited by Noel Castree and Bruce Braun, 84-111. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001).
  5. José Anazagasty-Rodríguez, “Juan Mari Brás y el Colonialismo Ambiental,” 80 Grados, April 6, 2018, web, https://www.80grados.net/juan-mari-bras-y-el-colonialismo-ambiental. In the seventies, Puerto Rican nationalist Juan Mari Brás argued that the transfer of U.S. petrochemical and pharmaceutical factories to Puerto Rico constituted an example of environmental colonialism.
  6. Nicole Ramírez, “Toxic Colonialism: Nuclear Materials in the Pacific Islands,” Compass: The Gallatin Research Journal, Spring 2018 accessed March 1, 2019, https://wp.nyu.edu/compass/2018/04/24/toxic-colonialism-nuclear-materials-in-the-pacific-islands/
  7. David N. Pellow, “Environmental Inequality Formation,” American Behavioral Scientist, 43, no. 4, (January 2000): 581-601. An environmental inequality formation refers to the connection between environmental quality and social hierarchies, to the unequal access to natural resources along class, gender, and racial lines, as well as to the unequal distribution of environmental burdens or environmental injustices.
  8. Robert H. Nelson, “Environmental Colonialism: ‘Saving’ Africa from Africans,” The Independent Review, 8, no. 1, (Summer 2003): 65-86.
  9. Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); David Arnold, La naturaleza como problema histórico: El medio, la cultura y la expansión de Europa. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000. Originally published as The Problem of Nature: Environment, Culture and European Expansion (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).
  10. John B. Foster, The Vulnerable Planet: A Short Economic History of the Environment (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999).
  11. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a governing document comprised of various articles specifying the organization of the government and the functions served by its institutions. It includes a bill of rights. But, since Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, a non-incorporated territory or a colony, that constitution is ultimately bound to stick to the U.S. Constitution and to Federal legislation. Although the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico provided Puerto Ricans with an autonomous government vis-à-vis the U.S. government, that autonomy is restricted. The sovereignty still lies within the Federal government.
  12. Isabel C. Rivera-Collazo, “Por el camino verde: Long-term tropical socioecosystem dynamics and the Anthropocene as seen from Puerto Rico” The Holocene, 25, no. 10, (October 2015): 1604-1611.
  13. José Anazagasty-Rodríguez, “Narrativas y sondeo del capitalismo-estadounidense sobre los recursos naturales de Puerto Rico, 1898-1917,” Memorias, 11, no. 26, (May-August 2015).
  14. Frederick A. Ober, Puerto Rico and its Resources. (San Juan: Ediciones Puerto, [1899] 2005), 12.
  15. Deborah Berman-Santana, Kicking off the Bootstraps: Environment, Development, and Community Power in Puerto Rico (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1996); Julio A. Muriente Pérez, Ambiente y desarrollo en el Puerto Rico contemporáneo (Rio Piedras: Publicaciones Gaviota, 2007). Although most attention has been given to the land, the environmental changes entwined with the modernization and economic development have received some attention.
  16. Uneven development, a product of the dynamics of the capitalist economy, denotes a stratified global economy or the unequal distribution of people, resources, and wealth that is evident at the global, regional, national, and urban scales. For Juan Mari Brás, writing of events in the ’70s, such inequality tied to uneven development, was manifested in the moving to Puerto Rico of the polluting production processes of many American industries that federal pollution laws did not allow in the metropolis. For him, such was the case, for example, of Sun Oil, located in the town of Yabucoa, in eastern Puerto Rico, where oil of low quality was processed, which was not allowed in many U.S. states.
  17. Neil Smith, “Nature as Accumulation Strategy,” in “Coming to Terms with Nature” ed. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, special issue, Socialist Register (London: The Merlin Press) 43 (2007): 16-36.
  18. César J. Ayala and Rafael Bernabe, Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898 (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Pedro A. Cabán, Constructing a Colonial People: Puerto Rico and the United States, 1898-1932 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999).
  19. The Foraker Act, officially called the Organic Act of 1900, established a limited civilian government in Puerto Rico while also instituting Puerto Rican citizenship and putting in effect all federal laws in the colony. It was limited in the sense that only a portion of that government was constituted by elected members. Most officials were appointed by the President of the United States.
  20. Mario R. Cancel and Héctor R. Feliciano Ramos, Puerto Rico: su transformación en el tiempo: una interpretación socio-cultural de la historia de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico: Editorial Cordillera, 2008).
  21. Edwin Irizarry Mora, Fuentes Energéticas: Luchas comunitarias y medioambiente en Puerto Rico (San Juan: La Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2012).
  22. Ayala and Bernabe, Puerto Rico
  23. Irizarry Mora, Fuentes Energéticas
  24. Ayala and Bernabe, Puerto Rico
  25. Irizarry Mora, Fuentes Energéticas. The Jones Act of Puerto Rico, also known as the Jones Law of Puerto Rico, the Jones-Shafroth Act and the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act of 1917 suspended the Foraker Act and granted the U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans. It also created the Senate of Puerto Rico, with a house of representatives, authorized the election of a Resident Commissioner, and instituted a bill of rights in the colony. It also exempted Puerto Rican bonds from federal, state and local taxes.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. The Fiscal Control Board, an unelected body formed by seven members appointed by the President of the United States, was instituted by the United State Congress to oversee the colony’s debt restructuring. It was the product of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) approved in 2016, a law designed to oversee the colony’s public debt and speed up measures for approving various projects to tackle Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
  29. Muriente Pérez, Ambiente y desarrollo.
  30. “Los mayores problemas del agua en Puerto Rico,” El Nuevo Día, February 20, 2014. https://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/losmayoresproblemasdelaguaenpuertorico-1715534/; Frederick N. Scatena, “Agua,” in Atlas Ambiental de Puerto Rico ed. Tania del Mar López and Nancy Villanueva Colón (San Juan: Editorial Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2006), 101-110. For more on water pollution and use, see Muriente Pérez, Ambiente y desarrollo.
  31. Déborah Berman-Santana and John Lindsay-Poland, “Puerto Rico Update,” Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean (San Francisco, CA) No. 32 (Spring 2001).
  32. “Puerto Rico implements water rationing measures amid drought,” CBS News, February 11, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/puerto-rico-implements-water-rationing-measures-amid-drought-today-2019-02-11/
  33. Emmanuel Estrada López and Maricelis Rivera Santos, “Puerto Rico está lejos de un plan para enfrentar el cambio climático,” Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, last modified April 17, 2018: http://periodismoinvestigativo.com/2018/04/puerto-rico-esta-lejos-de-tener-un-plan-para-enfrentar-el-cambio-climatico/
  34. Stacy-ann Robinson, “Adapting to climate change at the national level in Caribbean small island developing states,” Island Studies Journal, 13, no.1 (May 2018): 79-100.
  35. Muriente Pérez, Ambiente y desarrollo.
  36. Scatena, “Agua”.
  37. Gerardo E. Alvarado León, “Jardines de lluvia para el barrio Playa en Ponce,” El Nuevo Día, December 23, 2018, https://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/jardinesdelluviaparaelbarrioplayaenponce-2467168/
  38. Erik Swyngedouw, “Dispossessing H2O: The Contested Terrain of Water Privatization,” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 16, no. 1, (March 2005): 81-98. For more on water privatization as a form of accumulation by dispossession.
  39. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  40. Vandana Shiva, Las Nuevas Guerras de la Globalización, (Madrid. Editorial Popular, 2007).
  41. Gustavo García López, Carmen M. Concepción, and Alejandro Torres Abreu, eds., Ambiente y democracia, (San Juan: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2018).
  42. Vesa Arvonen, Samuel N. Kibocha, Tapio S. Katko, and Pekka Pietilä, “Features of Water Cooperatives: A Comparative study of Finland and Kenya,” Public Works Management and Policy, 22, no. 4 (October 2017): 1-22.
  43. Riccardo Petrella, “El Manifiesto de Agua,” Foro por una nueva gobernanza mundial, accessed March 29, 2019: http://www2.world-governance.org/article111.html?lang=es


José Anazagasty-Rodríguez

José Anazagasty-Rodríguez is a Professor in the Sociology program of the Department of Social Sciences of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. He is currently the Acting Interim Associate Director of that Department. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. He holds a master’s degree in Sociology and a doctorate in American Studies, both from Washington State University. He is a specialist in environmental sociology, American Studies and social theory. He has conducted research and published on the U.S. imperialist rhetoric on Puerto Rico and the capitalist production of nature in Puerto Rico. He is co-editor, with Mario R. Cancel, of the books We the People: La representación americana de los puertorriqueños 1898–1926 (2008) and Porto Rico: Hecho en Estados Unidos (2011).


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