Since July 13, Puerto Ricans on the island and in larger diaspora communities around the globe have taken to the streets to protest the content of leaked text messages between government officials. The content of the screenshots, which quickly went viral, revealed homophobic, racist and misogynistic conversations between current and former government officials mocking not only sitting women politicians but also those who lost their lives due to Hurricane Maria. The hurricane hit the island in September of 2017 — causing an upwards estimate of 8,500 deaths and leaving thousands more without electricity and basic goods to this day. The hashtag #RickyRenuncia calls for the immediate resignation of sitting Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who sent many of the offensive messages.
Tensions could not be higher as two former high-ranking Puerto Rico government officials were recently arrested and charged with conspiracy and other crimes in connection with the mishandling of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid and education funds.
In Boston, Massachusetts, Puerto Rican diaspora community members and supporters rallied outside City Hall Plaza on both July 16 and July 17 to express solidarity with protesters on the island and reaffirm the calls for Rosselló’s resignation. Among the chants and songs were messages that highlighted the documented corruption of the current government under Rosselló and the dysfunction of the Fiscal Oversight Board, known locally as “La Junta,” and its role managing the island’s economic activity under U.S. law; management that has led to the privatization of institutions and land to the frustration of many on the island.
Valeria, a local Puerto Rican community member and organizer of the July 16 action in Boston, told Liberation News:
“A lot of people had to migrate after Hurricane Maria, many had to stop studying due to the rise in tuition at the UPR [University of Puerto Rico], all because this system is impeding them. And well thanks to everything happening now, the positive side is that the people are uniting. And that’s what we want to foster here. That our people, on and off the island, that we stand united with one voice.”
On the island, the leaked messages have galvanized a wide range of support for the resignation of Governor Rosselló: from feminist collectives and pro-independence political parties to Puerto Rican celebrities such as Benito Martinez Ocasio (better known as Bad Bunny), Grammy-winning artist Ileana Cabra Joglar (artistically known as iLe), and artist Ricky Martin. Despite attempts by police to disperse the crowds with violent tactics such as tear gas, protesters on the ground have repeatedly stated that they will stay in the streets until Governor Rosselló resigns. As tensions grow, calls in the street for an end to the island’s defacto colonial status under the United States government may prove to be a more permanent and compelling solution.