The history of Puerto Rico shows that during the 1950s, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, for its Spanish acronym) government bet on socio-economic development based on modernization and industrialization. The results of this process, while they did lead to economic change, accentuated consumerism and the modern U.S. model of entities growing larger.

Governmental authorities imagined a model of production of goods for export and an increase in consumption by the population. They first promoted a project of limited economic autonomy and, between 1944 and 1946, they sought foreign investment with the objective of producing exports for the U.S. market. Operation Bootstrap (called Operación Manos a la Obra in Spanish), as it was known, was supported by state economic incentives for industrialization on the island.
In 1952, another change took place, the Operation Commonwealth (called Operación Estado Libre Asociado in Spanish). These two projects had drastic consequences for the Puerto Rican people. This raised the need for socio-political balance. The disruptions that came with industrial development, the increased consumption of goods, the political aspirations conditioned on the relationship with the United States and the spiritual and cultural growth had to be harmonized. To the PPD government, it was time to bring serenity to a people affected by rapid changes. Operation Serenity was created as a balancing element to give the people tools for individual and collective cultural development. The proposal sought to alleviate the consequences of the political and economic policies that were considered negative or politically inconvenient.

Luis Muñoz Marín conceived this project as way to try to achieve serenity among a people in the process of unprecedented socio-economic and political development. Spreading the program became a priority for his administration. So much so that at the beginning of 1960, the party made the goals of Operation Serenity part of the search for a higher motive, which was to create a kind of civilization that was socio-economically industrialized and also capable of valuing its own culture and that of other nations.

Operation Serenity was a central theme of the times. It was an attempt to increase institutional support for culture at the end of the 1950s and during the two following decades. The Division of Community Education (known as DIVEDCO in Spanish), founded by Law 372 of May 14, 1949, and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, by Law 89 of June 21, 1955, were the institutional pillars that made possible the effort to bring serenity to a Puerto Rican public in the middle of economic development.

DIVEDCO´s main objective was to teach adult citizens in small neighborhood groups, including in urban areas, through the media. It focused on basic popular education. A series of films was produced on topics such as hygiene, education, cultural roots, literacy campaigns and democracy on the island. DIVEDCO relied on the participation of a wide variety of Puerto Rican artists and intellectuals who led the development of the cultural policy at the time. This effort has been considered one of the most original examples of popular education by a state in the Caribbean and Latin America.

To date, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture has served as the official instrument of conservation, support and dissemination of Puerto Rican cultural work. Other pieces, however, have become part of the picture. The Puerto Rico Communications Authority, created in 1942, played a particularly valuable role. Public radio, a vital communications medium for a mostly rural country, should also be mentioned. It helped spread the government message. WIPR-Radio broadcast news, music, comedies, drama, and other varied programming. Listening to the radio meant participating in the culture. The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company also participated with initiatives such as the Casals Festival of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music. The extension to other municipalities of the free schools of music, legislated in 1946, and the declaration of the Education Decade in 1960 were additional efforts.

In conclusion, Operation Serenity launched the activities of an unfinished project: to bring balance and stabilize the political and economic course set by the government.


Author: Martín Cruz Santos
Published: November 11, 2015.

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