The Great Depression in Puerto Rico was marked by interconnected infrastructural, environmental, and socioeconomic crises caused by the global economic contraction and two devastating natural disasters, the San Felipe and San Ciprián hurricanes of 1928 and 1932. After 1935, all relief and recovery programs were coordinated by the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA), a locally run federal agency of the Second New Deal. Between 1935 and 1943, Puerto Rican engineers and workers constructed seven major hydroelectric projects in the Cordillera Central to generate inexpensive electric power while also providing adequate flood relief, year-round irrigation for the dry southern coast, and abundant reserves of clean drinking water. As with other PRRA projects, all property, constructions, and lands of the rural electrification program were transferred to the local government, which established the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority to administer the water and electric resources of the island. Modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority, this public corporation helped Puerto Rico recover from the 1928 and 1932 hurricanes, improved long-term public health, and broke the power of private utility companies that had controlled water and electric resources for decades. At the same time, however, the hydro-electrification projects exposed the complex relationship between rural life and economic modernization in Puerto Rico and influenced the beginning of a new “reformed” colonialism based on permanent political ties between Puerto Rico and the United States. The PRRA created space for increased local autonomy on the island by strengthening its colonial association with the United States.

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