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Reviewed by:
  • Ismael García Colón
Manuel Valdés Pizzini, Michael González Cruz, and José Eduardo Martínez Reyes. 2011. La transformación del paisaje puertorriqueño y la disciplina del Cuerpo Civil de Conservación, 1933–1942. San Juan: Centro de Investigaciones Sociales, Universidad de Puerto Rico. 335 pp. ISBN: 1-932992-08-1.

Social science research in Puerto Rico often values macro-historical analysis. Some scholars go as far as arguing that case studies of a particular government program are just limited contributions to a vast body of literature. In La transformación del paisaje puertorriqueño y la disciplina del Cuerpo Civil de Conservación, 1933–1942, Manuel Valdés Pizzini, Michael González Cruz, and José Martínez Reyes prove that the field of Puerto Rican history is still open to new theoretical analyses and a myriad of subjects previously ignored by historians. Using sociological and anthropological lenses and influenced by Foucauldian approaches, this study focuses on how the Conservation Civilian Corps (CCC) worked as technologies of power aimed at disciplining citizens and forests during the years of the Great Depression. Its premise is that landscape is not only a product of social transformations, but also a tool to discipline people. The authors explain how the CCC, a New Deal program, was another one of the colonial regime’s strategies to modernize the rural population. In Puerto Rico, forests as state-sponsored recreational spaces emerged largely by the work done by the CCC. The authors’ use of life histories, ethnographies, archaeological surveys, and historical documents offer readers several perspectives to understand how the forests, CCC labor camps, and social actors involved were part of ideas of conservation and historical processes during the 1930s.

The introduction and Chapter 1 explore the origin of the program, the literature on the subject, and the theoretical approaches used to analyze the program. The ideology of the wilderness as a space untouched by industrial and urban development was important to the CCC’s designs of public forests. The CCC worked to preserve wilderness and make it available for consumption by citizens. Government officials attempted to incorporate local culture and the recreational expectations of visitors into their designs. These ideas led the CCC to create an infrastructure which included roads, paths, kiosks, pools, parking, and observation towers (p. 9). It began to transform Puerto Rico’s countryside into a space of tourism for people from urban areas. [End Page 203]

The CCC emerged as part of the New Deal policies implemented as a solution for the Great Depression. President Roosevelt’s concerns about the conservation of the American wilderness and youth unemployment shaped the creation of the CCC (pp. 29–33). The CCC hired workers to build forest infrastructure as a strategy to alleviate unemployment. The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. National Parks implemented the program with funds administered by the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the Army. Resident Commissioner Santiago Iglesias Pantín lobbied in Congress for Puerto Rico to be included in the program and proposed the employment of 25,000 workers (pp. 49–50). The program initially concentrated its efforts on reforestation. Roads were built by hand without machinery. Later, the program worked in the production of commercial wood and charcoal. The CCC resettled many communities from lands acquired by the U.S. Forest Service.

Using political ecology, Chapter 2 focuses on the effects of the ideologies of wilderness conservation in the forests of El Yunque, Bosque Seco de Guánica and La Parguera. The authors explore how the ideologies of conservation and power relations shaped historical processes linked to the environment and nature. The work of the CCC increased the proletarianization of the rural population. The creation of public forests and resettling of its habitants closed the rural population’s access to important economic resources. Landless workers used the forest to cultivate food crops. Limited access to the forests also meant the loss of local knowledge about its environment.

Chapters 3 and 4 discuss the camps and the political context in which the CCC was developed in Puerto Rico. The labor camps transformed the lives of many workers. Most of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-9095
Print ISSN
0008-6533
Pages
pp. 203-206
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-12
Open Access
No
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