Congressman Vito Marcantonio thought that Gov. Muñoz Marín’s “Operation Bootstrap” was a corrupt political scam. He called it “Operation Booby Trap.”
The Caribe Hilton Hotel was a perfect example of this booby trap.
Under the guise of “economic aid” to Puerto Rico, a theft in broad daylight was engineered by Gov. Muñoz Marín. Through the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) Muñoz Marín built the 300-room hotel at a cost of $7 million, ($68 million in 2015 dollars) and then handed the entire resort – the building, casino and swimming pools – to Conrad Hilton on a 20-year lease.
One year after the hotel opened, in 1950, the people of Puerto Rico were still waiting for Muñoz Marín to disclose the terms of that lease.
Everything used in the hotel, including the furniture, was purchased and flown in from the US. Nearly every management employee was from the US. Even the sugar came from the US.
PRIDCO paid half of the hotel’s advertising costs ($150,000 in 1950) but all the hotel profits (except a slush fund for the politicians) were repatriated to the Hilton International Corp., back in the US. Nothing was re-invested in the island.
Puerto Ricans have a phrase for this: “Monda la china pa’quel otro la chupe.” Peel the orange so that someone else can suck it.
This glaring abuse of Puerto Rican land, taxes and labor was repeated throughout the entire island and called “Operation Bootstrap.”
The following flier, and hundreds more like it, were sent to thousands of companies throughout the US. They offered a “100% tax exemption” for ten years, and promised that “the Commonwealth will leave no stone unturned to help you get started. It will build a factory for you. It will help you secure financing. It will even screen job applicants for you – and then train them to operate your machines.”
By 1965 over one thousand “Bootstrap” factories dotted the island, lured by cheap labor and ten-year corporate tax exemptions. Unfortunately, when the tax exemptions expired, and when Playtex and Schick found cheaper labor in Asia, the factories all disappeared – and in the end, rather than providing a real economic base and self-sustaining growth, Operation Bootstrap produced only more dependency on the US and more unemployment in Puerto Rico.
Gov. Muñoz Marín and Samuel R. Quiñones, the President of the Puerto Rican Senate, received enormous “campaign contributions” from these 1,000-plus “Bootstrap” businesses. These were paid from the lobbyists’ Political Action Committee (PAC) accounts, and the Casino Hilton’s casino tables.
But that is a subject for another editorial, soon to come.