The insistence of the Puerto Ricans taking to the streets for more than two weeks as part of a national strike has succeeded in acchieving its objective. It was part of a strategy to maintain pressure upon now ex-governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to force him to resign, which was finally acchieved today.
The protesters, that marched with signs and banners that read “Ricky, leave already” and “No corrupt cowards”, cut off the main motorway in the city of San Juan, the Americas Express, until the governor finally announced he would be resigning through a video uploaded to Facebook. The music began and people began to dance to the beat of reggaeton shortly after.
The crisis began after a series of private messages from the application Telegram from a chat between Rosselló and his ministers including homophobic, mysoginistic and profane comments were leaked to the press. In one of the comments, Rosselló even mocks the victims of hurricane Maria that devastated the island only two years ago.
Puerto Rico is experiencing one of its most difficult moments, after a decade of recession that led the island to declare bankruptcy, with a public debt of 123.000 million dollars. The unemployment rate is almost 10%, which is more than double the US average of 4%, meanwhile 40% of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line.
The arrival of hurricane Maria to the island two years back worsened significantly the situation and produced more deaths than 9/11, and thousands of Puerto Ricans to this very day still don’t have access to electricity, transportation and infraestructure.
That’s why Puerto Ricans are saying no to a governor who has failed them multiple times. He was unable to improve the situation on the island after the most devastating natural desaster of this century, instead joking about the victims and about those trying to help.
What do the controversial messages say?
The messages leaked to the public exchanged between Rosselló and his advisors and ministers include homophobic, sexist comments directed towards public figures and politicians from the island. The leak, known as “RickyLeaks” has infuriated an entire island tired of his bad management of the crises of the past.
When Vega asked about the budget for pathologists, the governor responded with a joke about the victims of hurricane Maria
He referred to Melissa Mark-Viverito, ex-president of the Council of New York as a b****, due to an argument between her and Democrat Tom Perez who supported statehood for Puerto Rico to which she disagreed. “Our people should take to the streets and defend Tom and beat that b**** up” the message read.
With reference to the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín, the Financial Director of the island, Christian Sobrino Vega wrote “I’m gagging to shoot her”, to which the governor responded “you’d be doing me a massive favour”.
When Vega asked about the budget for pathologists, the governor responded with a joke about the victims of hurricane Maria, referring to the corpses in the morgue after the natural disaster. “Now that we’re on the subject, don’t we already have some corpses to feed our ravens?” he wrote in the chat. “They clearly need attention” describing government critics.
And it doesn't stop there. Homophobic messages directed towards singer Ricky Martin were also send by Vega in the group and exposed to the public. “Nothing says patriarchal oppression like Ricky Martin”. “Ricky Martin is so sexist that he f**** men because women aren’t up to his standards. He’s pure patriarchy”.
Martin is among various public figures that travelled to the island in the past week to support the mobilizations, alongside the likes of Calle 13 singer, Rene Perez.
A history of bad governance
It’s not the first time Puerto Ricans feel disappointed with the governance of Rosselló, in fact many believe the messages were merely the straw that broke the camel’s back of a government that has been characterised by poor management since it came into power in 2017.
Rosselló has been recently implicated in a huge corruption scandal since Julia Keleher, ex-Secretary of Education, and Ángela Ávila-Marrero, ex-Health Secretary, were detained last month
Rosselló has been recently implicated in a huge corruption scandal since Julia Keleher, ex-Secretary of Education, and Ángela Ávila-Marrero, ex-Health Secretary, were detained last month along with a handful of public construction workers and one businessman. They are all accused of handing over public contracts of a value of around 15.5 million to friends and family that were uncapable of carrying out the jobs effectively.
Ávila-Marrero and Keleher both had high ranking positions in Rosselló’s government and draw attention to the incompetence of his financial management, particularly during an acute financial crisis such as that which Puerto Rico is currently experiencing.
The bad governance of the Rosselló administration during and after hurricane Maria has also attracted strong criticism from Puerto Ricans both in and outside the island.
There was very little transparency in the recognition of how many victims there were, and Rosselló was challenged by a report published by the University of Harvard that showed there were 70 times more mortal victims that the government recognised, in other words there were around 4645 deaths, not just 64 as the governor stated. Two years later, many Puerto Ricans still don’t have access to water or electricity and Rosselló has been held to blame.
This pacific political movement has become the biggest of Puerto Rican history and has shown the power of citizens in mobilizing to provoke change in the island that continues to have inferior status to other states in the US. “Ricky we’re throwing you away” sung the victorious people of Puerto Rico as they danced in the streets.
For the time being, Wanda Vázquez will take over the situation, and although there is still a lot of work to be done, Puerto Ricans have realised that they now have the power to change their destinies and the direction of their homeland.