The Ruta Del Progreso is a collaborative visual project by Puerto Rican artists Christopher Gregory, Natalia Lasalle Morillo, and Erika P. Rodriguez. It visually traces the Panoramic Route on the island as allegory to evaluate what role “progress” has played on the island. This imposed notion of the American Dream became central to the identity and political culture of the island in the post-war period. This body of work questions whether this intended progress actually came to the isolated areas the Panoramic route cuts through, and what this progress means in a place that is neither master of its destiny or an equal part of the union.
Energized by the creation of the island’s constitution in 1952 and the influx of U.S. investment, the first democratically elected governor of Puerto Rico Luís Muñoz Marín sought to modernize the country through building infrastructure and social programs. The Panoramic Route, the brainchild of Marín, was intended to provide a way for locals and tourists to connect to the island’s traditional heartland. The Panoramic Route is a 269 Kilometer path from coast to coast through the mountainous center of Puerto Rico. The construction was estimated at a cost of 4 million dollars but upon its completion in 1975 it cost taxpayers 20 million dollars.
Simultaneously, to fuel the American industry taking greater hold on the island in the 1950s, Marín incentivized farmers to work in factories. The Land Bureau bought the farmers land as they migrated from the countryside to cities and gave them access to new federal welfare programs. This resulted in massive displacement from the rural areas, which is where the Panoramic Route is located.
In the years after it was completed, the Panoramic Route faded into obscurity. Much like the communities it winds through, it is a stark symbol of the failed industrialization of the island. Today, the largely unkept and pot-holed road is marked only by old signs. Some of the signs bear Munoz Marin’s name, others simply contain an illustration of mountains.