Building consent: The Popular Democratic Party and colonial politics in Puerto Rico, 1932--1948

Date of Completion

January 2000


History, Latin American|Political Science, General




A familiar feature of analyses about mass politics in Latin America between the 1930s and 1950s is an emphasis on manipulation and social control of leaders over their constituencies. This dissertation addresses mass politics from a different angle by focusing less on the unidirectional actions of leaders and the passivity of their followers and more on the interactive process between agents that informed the rise of political consent. The author understands the politics of consent as both open support for socioeconomic improvement and as an agreement between multiple social and political groups about the need for change. To understand how consent produced a situation most beneficial for political leaders but effectively shaped by followers, this dissertation focuses on the interaction between American authorities, the “Partido Popular Democrático” (PPD), and the multiple supporters of the party that informed colonial politics in Puerto Rico between 1932 and 1948. ^ The author examines how the PPD in conjunction with U.S. officials effected a coalition of disparate sectors such as urban workers, rural laborers, the unemployed, religious groups, women, communists, independentists, technocrats, and dissidents from other political parties. By defining consent as a common aspiration for change that did not preclude different courses of action and perceptions, this dissertation focuses on the rise of broad support for the PPD without denying the capacity of agents to make claims of their own and to shape the outcome of events. The emergence of consent entailed a process through which many sectors of Puerto Rican society overcame their exclusion from political debate and constituted themselves as a viable political force. Moreover, consent not only informed a broad coalition of interests in favor of U.S. policies of reform but also enabled PPD leaders to become the main representatives of the island's mass movement. By examining the culture-bound experiences of PPD leaders and followers, this dissertation sheds light on the haphazard process of responsiveness, dialog, dispute and contestation that informed the political bond among certain agents as well as the displacement of others. ^