Coffee transformed the municipalities of the west-central region of the island into cultural centers and hotbeds of intellectual and political discussion. Such was the case in Maricao, a town located in the central mountain range, in the heart of the mountains that extend to the west-central part of Puerto Rico. During this era, it was one of the most prosperous towns on the island.
Cultivation of coffee in Maricao began around 1755. At the time, Maricao was a part of San Germán, a town located in the west of the island. By 1776, coffee had become its principal crop, along with a wide variety of fruits. As a result, many Puerto Ricans migrated to the region in search of work and better living conditions. With the increase in population, the general wealth of the zone also rose, based primarily on agriculture. By the middle of the 19th century, the number of residents and farms was sufficient to require a commissioner or representative of the mayor in each neighborhood.
At the end of the 19th century, there were 95 coffee estates and 153 coffee farms. According to the official census of 1868, the population was 6,311 residents. By 1871, it had grown to 8,507. During the last quarter of the 19th century, the increase in both population and in agricultural and commercial wealth made Maricao the most important area in the region.
In the beginning, Maricao's trade went mainly through San Germán, but the lack of adequate roads led businessmen to begin taking their produce to the bordering town of Mayagüez, whose port could be used to ship to Europe. Maricao became one of the richest coffee-producing areas internationally. Because of its quality, coffee grown in Maricao's soil won fame in many markets, including in Cuba, which was a significant buyer until after World War II.
The arrival of the 20th century brought drastic changes that markedly affected the development of the municipality. Among the most important were the hurricanes that impacted the region and the change in sovereignty that took place on the island in 1898. The outlook for the once prosperous town of Maricao changed completely. Many families had to partially or completely shut down their farms and properties or sell them to pay off accumulated debts.
Today, a considerable number of families still dedicate themselves to agriculture despite the crisis through which the coffee industry has passed. Most of the 24,233 cuerdas (23,527 acres) of the town of Maricao are dedicated to cultivating coffee, citrus and other fruits.
Adapted by PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Maricao and its Coffee Estates, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, Western Region Office, project supported by the Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: December 29, 2009.