National Geographic : 1983 Apr
acre, compared to $300 with hand picking." Such creative farming holds promise for other crops too. But in the west, near the coastal town of Aguadilla, a once powerful arm of Puerto Rico's agriculture is wither ing. Under a searing sun a dozen men stripped to the waist were hacking 12-foot high sugarcane with long machetes. Greasy tar from the cane stalks, burned earlier to eliminate dead leaves, smeared the cutters from head to foot. "This is the worst job I've ever had," said Jose Rivera. His eyes glittered like a coal miner's in his smudged face. Why not try something else, I suggested. "I've looked," he said with a sigh. "I've filled out all the applications, but no one an swers. Unemployment is nearly 40 percent in this area, and I've got five kids, so I'll keep cutting cane." Cane cutters start at $3.35 an hour, the federal minimum wage, and there is a long waiting list for jobs in this part of the island. But sugarcane, once the backbone of Puerto stretch of the northwest coast bathed in sea mist invites a peaceful interlude.