How Puerto Rico went from being an economic miracle to becoming the territory with the highest public debt in the history of the United States

At the age of six, Helga Serrano left her wooden house, without a kitchen or refrigerator, to move to one of the first urbanizations built in San Juan.

The 1950s were just beginning and Puerto Rico was experiencing an economic upswing that was projected by some media at the time as an economic miracle.

At that time, the 77-year-old journalist lived “with the minimum” in a rural town in the southeast of the territory, right next to a river. His family cooked on a charcoal stove. Under the same roof his parents, grandparents and sister slept.

With the move, they looked for the new opportunities offered by the capital.

“My story and that of my sister is the story of Puerto Rico, of the people who came out of poverty, from little education and managed to study at the university,” he told BBC Mundo in a phone call.

Serrano moved into a new space that, although also humble, represented a “transformation” on a par with that of the rest of the island.

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“Mami took a machinist course and worked as a clerk in the army, and daddy as a policeman in San Juan. They went to live in the first urbanization, Puerto Nuevo. It was about 4,000 houses, tiny, made of cement, one next to the another. Cheap. So many people moved there, even mom’s cousins ​​with their families, “he added.

Her story, as she herself said, is repeated in thousands of Puerto Ricans, who from the middle of the 20th century experienced a improvement in their living conditions.

Contrary to what is happening today, when Puerto Rico is suffering an economic recession after a legal battle of almost five years that ended with the green light of justice for the restructuring of a huge public debt ($US73,000 million), at that time was in full development.

The process of industrialization of Puerto Rico, which impacted people like Serrano, who after facing poverty managed to enter the university and achieved a better standard of living, began in the 1940s.

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Rexford Tugwell, a governor appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, pushed for the creation of local businesses, subsidized by the state.

In a matter of a few years, factories for glass, cardboard, cement and other products were erected in the territory, which began to displace the agricultural economy.