Hegemony, land reform, and social space in Puerto Rico: Parcelas, a land distribution program for landless workers, 1940s--1960s

Date of Completion

January 2002


Anthropology, Cultural




The anthropological literature on agrarian issues in Latin America has in recent years turned to the analysis of state formation, hegemony, and subaltern politics. This dissertation builds upon that literature by examining how landless workers shaped hegemonic relations within parcelas, a particular social organization of space in Puerto Rico. Under Title V of the Land Law of 1941, the government of Puerto Rico established the land distribution program for workers who lived within landowners' properties and were subjected to a form of servitude. Scholars have examined that program only to explain the electoral support of landless workers for the Popular Democratic Party, and as a part of populism or New Deal policy. I argue that parcelas served as an instrument by which the state and subalterns constructed and produced a particular form of spatial organization that contributed to establishing and maintaining the hegemony of a new ruling group in Puerto Rico. ^ Using ethnography and archival sources, I focus on these issues by investigating the origins, establishment, and development of the community known as Parcelas Gándaras in the municipality of Cidra. I analyze the factors that influenced the creation of the land distribution program and the elaboration of a political project of agrarian reform. My discussion includes the role of government agencies in implementing community development and how residents shaped, opposed, and accepted this program. My purpose is to analyze the role of community formation in the processes of hegemony. I argue that subalterns perceived and acted upon land reform as liberating. Resistance and struggle are parts of these processes of hegemony, but subalterns struggle and resist under the veil of acceptance and compliance with the state presence. ^ The importance of the study of the land distribution program lies in revealing the social relations of power and wealth, the role of subalterns in shaping government policies, and the interventionist role of the government in the lives of subalterns. Using hegemony, land reform, and urban space in the study of a community in Puerto Rico will facilitate a more comprehensive analysis of colonial and Latin American contexts. ^