jaimemontilla.com
About
 
Growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico my father was a photography enthusiast.  He built a dark room in our house and watching him develop black and white pictures using an Omega enlarger instilled in me an interest in photography at a young age.  Soon my brothers and I were spending hours in the dark room developing our own black and white pictures.  This interest in photography continued into my High School years when I joined the school photography club and was soon taking pictures of all sports and other activities for the school's monthly bulletin.  Now at retirement age, that interest in photography has again surfaced.  Years have passed and technology has changed.  Film photograpy and dark rooms have been replaced by digital photography and software, but the picture taking techniques learned years ago are still valid today.

Our idea when creating this webpage was to document in pictures old structures of what once were important industries which are no more.  The initial industry documented was the sugar industry.  Why sugar?  Well, during my youth in the 1950's, as the 7th largest producer of sugar in the world, sugar was everything in Puerto Rico.  As mentioned above, I spent my youth in Ponce where Central Fortuna  and Central Mercedita , the largest locally owned sugar mill, were located.  The adjacent towns of Juana Diaz to the east and Guayanilla to the West were the site of four additional sugar mills: Rufina San Francisco Cortada and  Boca Chica .

Every family in Ponce had in one way or another ties with the sugar industry, everybody had a friend whose family was directly involved in the industry.   The neighborhood of El Vigía where I grew up is at the top of a hill overlooking the town of Ponce, it was there where families directly related to Central Mercedita , Central Rufina and Central Cortada called home.  Members of my family on both sides were directly related to the sugar industry as well.  On my mother side, my 3rd Great Grandfather Antonio Francisco Negroni Mattei was the owner of Hacienda Florida and Hacienda San Colombano , my Grandfather Juan Antonio Negroni Antonmattei worked at the Guanica Centrale and my cousin Asunción Negroni Albelda was married to Arturo Lluveras the owner of Central San Francisco .   My Great Grandfather Emilio Montilla Valdespino appears in the Catalogue of the Spanish Section of the 1889 Universal Expo in Paris as a producer of muscovado sugar from San Juan, Emilio was at the time owner of the 316 cuerdas Hacienda Santa Cruz in Bayamón.  My 2nd Great Grandfather Juan Francisco Watlington del Toro was at one time owner of Hacienda Buena Vista in Arecibo.

Additionally, as a result of research done for this project, I have found that a lot of the information available on the internet and the history of the sugar industry on the island is incorrect or incomplete or has been distorted, especially the reason for its demise. Government policies implemented to fight and eliminate the four US sugar corporations on the island, not only succeeded in their closure but in doing so caused the closure of more than thirty locally owned sugar factories as well.  Part of the reason for this fight was stopping the repatriation of profits generated by the four US corporations, without acknowledging that this same practice existed for many years during the Spanish colonial times probably to a greater extent.

After all is said and done, Operation Bootstrap,  as the program established to convert the island's economy from an agricultural one to an industrial one was known, succeded in transforming a primarily agricultural economy that was the engine behind the island's economy for over 100 years to an industrial economy that lasted approximately 30 years and is today practically non existent. Today the island has no important agricultural or industrial economic sectors and its economy has transformed to a service based economy predominantly centered on tourism.