(TMU) — Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan has been awash in protests for well over a week now, and crowds are showing no sign of thinning out as the capital city rings with the persistent demand that Governor Ricardo Rosselló immediately resign. And, as of Tuesday night, it looks like Rosselló’s resignation is imminent.
The protests are fast shaping up to become the biggest mass demonstrations in the modern history of the U.S. colony, with over 3 million Puerto Ricans nearly unanimous in their assertion of dignity versus the insults piled upon them by the governor.
However, the governor’s refusal to step down immediately has merely fanned the flames of popular rage—a rage that has long been dormant in Boricua (Puerto Rican) society, and could grow to engulf the island in potentially revolutionary fervor in the weeks to come if he doesn’t follow through.
Here are five reasons why Puerto Rico’s mass protests absolutely cannot be fucked with.
1. The Governor Has Offended Everyone With His Tweets
The protests were mainly galvanized by a spectacular, nearly 900-page leak known as “RickyLeaks” containing text messages between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his private circle that were sent in December 2018 and January 2019. The leaks were filled with vulgar, homophobic and misogynistic messages about other politicians, media members, celebrities, and a range of other Puerto Ricans. While some of the leaked chats read like drunken rambling, many of the messages have touched the sore nerves of various segments of the Puerto Rican population.
In one message, Rosselló calls Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Puerto Rico-born former speaker of the New York City Council, a “whore.”
In another exchange, government critic and popular San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz also comes under harsh fire from Christian Sobrino Vega, then Puerto Rico’s chief fiscal officer, who says, “I am salivating to shoot her.” The governor responds: “You’d be doing me a grand favor.”
In other messages, the governor claims that the San Juan mayor is either “off her meds” for deciding to run against him, “or she’s a tremendous HP,”—the Spanish acronym for hijueputa, or “son/daughter of a bitch.”
Openly gay “King of Latin Pop” Ricky Martin is also derided by Sobrino Vega as “such a male chauvinist that he fucks men because women don’t measure up. Pure patriarchy.”
Absolutely extraordinary. Sending love and solidarity to Puerto Rican revolutionaries who are showing the world how it's done. This is about #RickyRenuncia but also the anti-democratic Junta, the odious debt and the right to sovereignty on every front! https://t.co/LDxRwJNkWM
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) July 22, 2019
Most offensively, the former chief finance officer mocks the horrifying death toll following 2017’s monstrous Hurricane Maria during an exchange about the budget for forensic pathologists. In a hideous display of gallows humor, Sobrino Vega jokes about killing government critics:
“Now that we are on the subject, don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows? Clearly they need attention.”
The messages only rubbed further salt in the wound of Puerto Ricans, who have long been sour toward Rosselló’s corruption-riddled administration, which allegedly saw upwards of $15 million funneled toward consultants connected to top officials in the governor’s palace.
To put these messages in perspective, imagine if hundreds of pages of chat messages between President Trump and his officials revealed him spouting extreme vulgarities—beyond his typical Twitter feed—against women, ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and victims of natural disasters in the U.S.
2. The Rage Is Deeper Than Anyone Can Imagine, and Has a Very Long History
The history of the Puerto Rican people’s rage goes far beyond the recent “RickyLeaks” scandal, and beyond even Hurricane Maria. In fact, Boricua resistance extends as far back as 1492, when Christopher Columbus first encountered the indigenous Taíno population of the Caribbean island. Within about 50 years, colonizers had largely wiped the Taíno people out.
Puerto Rico, a nation of around 3.4 million which has the status of a “U.S. territory,” has been a U.S. colony since 1898, when Washington forced Spain to cede the island as a condition to end the Spanish-American War. And while the U.S. Congress granted U.S. citizenship to the Puerto Rican people in 1917 and commonwealth status since 1952, the country doesn’t even enjoy statehood or national independence. However, despite its second-class status as a “territory,” the country was forced to provide a steady supply of cannon fodder to U.S. wars under Washington’s strict draft laws.
In more recent years, the country has suffered under the yoke of foreign debt and harsh economic conditions driving people away from the island. The unemployment rate is at around 9 percent, over 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s population lives in poverty, and the government has enforced harsh austerity measures that have provoked large-scale protests on various occasions.
3. Puerto Rico Has Been Willing to Fight, Violently, to Secure Its Rights
The people of Puerto Rico have long fought for national sovereignty and independence, often violently, and have faced no shortage of repression from U.S. authorities.
Militant segments of the Puerto Rican nationalist movement have included such groups as the Ejercito Popular Boricua—Macheteros (Puerto Rican Popular Army – Machete Wielders), who carried out bank robberies and a string of attacks on U.S. military personnel and local police in the 1970s and ‘80s, and its predecessor, the underground Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (Armed Forces of National Liberation), which carried out terrorist bombings and expropriations across the U.S. during around the same period.
With the slow pace of hurricane recovery exacerbating the lingering mental health crisis of the island’s residents, anger at the local government, and fury toward the federal government adding to the island’s deep troubles—including over $70 billion in debt—the people of Puerto Rico have clearly had enough, and many are beginning to demand radical changes beyond the cry of “Ricky Renuncia,” or “Ricky Resign.”
One clear sign that the militant history of the Boricua people remains alive on the island came in the form of a police station robbery last week in the town of Guayama, when a savvy team of burglars managed to force open a storage room and take 30 pistols, 18 rifles, and 4,000 rounds of ammunition. According to Police Commissioner Henry Escalera Rivera, a message threatening the governor was also scrawled on a wall near the looted storage room.
The incident was a sharp reminder that some Puerto Ricans are willing to go beyond peaceful mobilizations to achieve their goals—a number that may grow given the governor’s refusal to step down.
4. Some of Latin America’s Biggest Pop Stars Back the Movement
El Comandante Ricky Martin en la rebelión puertoriqueña
Anyone who has ever visited Latin America, and especially the Caribbean, has no doubt been exposed to a steady playlist of popular music—and that list has surely included hits by such artists as reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny, hip hop artist Residente of the group Calle 13, and Ricky Martin, who dominated U.S. pop charts in the late 90s with his mega-hit Livin’ La Vida Loca.
The three Puerto Rican mega-stars, along with other artists, have played a major role in the latest protests in a way that goes far beyond the typical social media support one expects from artists. Indeed, the three have become the public face of the growing movement.
Martin, who was targeted in homophobic messages by the governor, is frequently seen at the lead of protests waving the LGBTQ Pride flag. Meanwhile, Bad Bunny himself has sworn to take a temporary break from his fast-rising music career, saying on Instagram last Friday:
“I am pausing my career … After [my concerts] my agenda was to fly back to Miami. But I’m canceling everything. I’m pausing my career because I don’t have the heart or mind to do music […] I’m going to Puerto Rico. I’m not going to turn my back on you. We have to continue taking the streets.”
Bad Bunny and Residente also released a blistering hip hop track titled “Afilando los cuchillos” (Sharpening the Knives) which makes clear, in explicit terms, their rage against the governor.
Their forceful message has helped to raise international awareness and solidarity for the Puerto Rican people’s struggle, with crowds at Bad Bunny’s concerts as far away as Spain chanting in support of the protester’s demands, while international media meticulously reports Residente’s social media posts.
5. Donald Trump Doesn’t Care About Puerto Rican People
A lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico. The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, and the United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief, much….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2019
Let’s face it: while Donald Trump may incredulously claim that he’s “the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico,” he’s far from popular on the island.
Indeed, many Boricua residents are unlikely to be swayed by his personal hatred of Governor Rosselló, whom he has described as a “terrible governor,” given his frequent spats with key opposition figure and San Juan Mayor Yulín Cruz since Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
And while Trump’s complaints about billions in aid to the island has been tempered by the rightful claim that it ended up “in the hands of incompetent people and very corrupt people,” his wild exaggerations of $92 billion in “squandered” aid—versus the actual $14 billion delivered and $42.5 billion held up in Washington gridlock—jar with the miserable reality of those living in the neglected U.S. colony, and depict a miserly head of state who begrudges offering any aid to the suffering people of Puerto Rico.
So we can bet that if anything, the U.S. president’s tweets will simply pour rocket fuel on the incendiary passions of Boricuas from all walks of life.
Tune-in to the Mind Unleashed on Facebook Wednesday, July 24th at 6:00 pm EST for a live interview with protesters on the ground in San Juan.