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Accepted Paper:

What is an island?: empire, petroleum, and environmental activism in Puerto Rico  
Dante LaRiccia (Yale)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the political contest over "environmental colonialism," the petrochemical industry, and political dependence that emerged around a controversial petroleum "superport" proposal in Puerto Rico in 1974.

Paper long abstract:

By the early 1970s, the petrochemical industry had already reshaped Puerto Rico's environment. "What is an island?" the magazine "Claridad" asked. "An island is a portion of cement surrounded on all sides by contaminated water. Puerto Rico is an island," it responded. In 1974, the tensions between economic and environmental priorities heightened around a controversial petroleum "superport" proposed for Puerto Rico's southern shore. Advanced by local politicians, mainland corporate concerns, and the US federal government, the superport sparked a mass movement in Puerto Rico to oppose its creation. Protestors reevaluated the environmental track-record of existing petrochemical industries and opposed the superport on ecological grounds. At the same time, opponents developed a critical analytic framework to describe the uneven distribution of environmental costs onto colonial territories by mainland petroleum companies. Anti-colonial nationalists in particular wielded charges of "environmental colonialism" to challenge the ongoing transformation of Puerto Rican landscapes by the expanding petroleum industry.

This paper explores the convergence of anti-colonial nationalism and environmental activism catalyzed by the Puerto Rican superport complex. It examines how histories of environmental degradation and colonial subordination informed a mass movement against the superport during the mid-1970s. At the same time, it considers how the Puerto Rican example fits into a larger historiography on environmentalism and environmental justice that has paid only scant attention to environmental movements across the archipelagic geography of US overseas empire.

Panel Ene07
The Petroleum Century and the Transformation of Global Landscapes
  Session 2 Thursday 22 August, 2024, -