Carlos Buitrago Ortiz continues in this book his studies on the Pietri family as coffee-growers in southwestern Puerto Rico before 1898. In a previous volume, Los orígenes históricos de la sociedad precapitalista en Puerto Rico (Río Piedras, 1976), he mixed historical research with anthropological views, under a certain Weberian influence. The book here reviewed changes the perspective to a Marxist one, with particular emphasis on the class struggle.

Basing his work on archival materials from Spain and Puerto Rico, Buitrago intends to describe the island’s agrarian evolution as it pertains to coffee-growing. Instead, he describes the Pietri-Maríani family’s evolving domination of a substantial part of coffee production in the Yauco area.

The author’s most substantial contributions have to do with the description of the interrelationships between the mountainous and coastal areas concerning production and distribution; the means through which the family was able to increase its landholdings; and family members’ roles as merchant-hacendados. The treatment of state agrarian policies is fragmentary and fails to take into account many previous works on the subject. The clash between the family and officialdom is based on very scant evidence. Buitrago seems to have done inadequate readings on the 1887 compontes—a short era of violent persecution of anti-Spanish criollos as well as of many peasants. The political cleavages between Spaniards and criollos at that time are simply a myth to the author, masking the struggle for the means of production. A subject of many sociological and ideological ramifications in Puerto Rican history is thus fitted into a rigid Marxist scheme.

In writing about the general agrarian situation of the island before 1898, it is advisable not to generalize on the basis of one specific experience. The 1899 census showed that there was then in Puerto Rico great division of property; fully 93 percent of the farms were occupied by their owners while in Cuba the corresponding figure was 43.5 percent. Furthermore, people of color owned 9 percent of these lands and had rented up to 31 percent. To observers and census-gatherers, Puerto Rico was still a land of farmers where absenteeism or great latifundia had not fully taken over. While commercialization of agriculture was evident and there was a trend toward land concentration, the extent of subsistence farming seems to have been remarkable. In this sense, Puerto Rico was different from several Latin American countries. Studies on the hacienda system are needed and should be placed within a wider context, but they have to be related to the peculiar social and economic experience of the island.