Why Congress sent a committee to Puerto Rico in 1943

Why Congress sent a committee to Puerto Rico in 1943

After the U.S. entry into World War II, the seas in the North Caribbean around the American territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands became a naval battleground. German U-boats disrupted shipping to the islands, causing severe food shortages to the local population. 

In response, both houses of Congress sent committees to Puerto Rico to investigate the situation. The Senate committee focused on social and economic conditions and steered away from political considerations, principally the administration of Gov. Rexford Tugwell, a Roosevelt appointee. 

I synopsize this history from a historical essay on the U.S. House of Representatives history archive website. Here is what is written about the Congressional committee that arrived five months later.

Led by Democrat Representative C. Jasper Bell of Missouri, the panel dissected the island’s political culture, especially Governor Tugwell’s leadership, often excluding from its consideration the wartime food shortage. According to Tugwell, the House subcommittee had “prejudged the entire situation” and was conducting hearings to expose graft and corruption rather than exploring the underlying economic problems.

Over seven days of hearings in Puerto Rico, the subcommittee took testimony from political officials and business leaders about all aspects of the problem. Indeed, some of testimony focuses on accusations of corruption involving the administration of shipping regulations. 

That is where we will get into the Carioca Rum part of the story in the next post.