On the night of July 24, Puerto Ricans who had been protesting for hours in San Juan began to chant a victorious “Olé Olé Olé” as they celebrated Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation — a victory for the people, and won by the people. Ricardo Rosselló announced via Facebook Live that he would resign from his position as governor of Puerto Rico as of August 2. It is a remarkable change for a governor who just days prior had insisted he would never resign. The tenacity and unity of the Puerto Rican people — in the face of considerable repression — made him eat his words.
The Puerto Rican people’s massive struggle exposed not only Rosselló but increasingly called into question the Puerto Rican political establishment as a whole, and the colonial dynamic on which its authority rests. It is no wonder why so many in that establishment, including his own party, abandoned him. But the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Having tossed out Rosselló, the people will not simply go home, but now turn towards the undemocratic junta — banks that control the the island’s finances and budget — and ultimately the question of Puerto Rican independence comes the forefront as well. This victory comes just before the 67th anniversary of the day Puerto Rico became a “free associated state” of the United States.
One protestor told the Washington Post, “We are the generation that does not give up, and we will keep on moving forward, and we will remove all the corrupt that think they cannot be removed. This is simply the beginning of a new era.”
Just days ago over half a million people flooded the streets of Las Americas Expressway in San Juan in a national strike demanding Ricardo Rossello’s resignation. The national strike which was called on July 19 came after Rosselló had issued a statement via Facebook live on Sunday where he resigned from his position as President of his political party, and announced that he would not seek reelection (while refusing to resign as governor). He declared he would confront the impeachment process started by the Legislative Assembly.
Clearly, Rosselló was hoping these promises would end the protests, but he just enraged them further. The hypocrisy of Rosselló’s words promising “truth” and “responsibility” mirror the farce that has been his governorship. The Puerto Rican people have had enough.
Laura Rodriguez a teacher from Caguas attending the national strike told the LA Times, “He has disrespected us,” she said. “But the pueblo — the people he has abandoned — we will keep packing the streets until he’s gone.”
In their recently released song “Afilando los Cuchillos” (Sharpening the Knives)- rappers Bad Bunny and Residente capture the outrage and anger of the Puerto Rican people and their willingness to fight back against injustice. The song’s chorus describes the Puerto Rican people as sharp knives ready to cut the weed from the soil, vowing to never let anyone take advantage of what is theirs. And indeed, since July 14, united under the hashtag #RickyRenuncia, people old and young have poured into the streets of San Juan with their placards, drums and flags, chanting while being tear gassed and shot at with rubber bullets by the police, to demand that Rosselló resign from office. Celebrities, like Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny and Residente have all joined the protests using their international fame to ask for Rosselló’s resignation and to call people to the streets.
The mass protests were ignited by Rossello’s refusal to resign after the Center for Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico released 900 pages of a Telegram chat Rosselló had with other government functionaries where they made misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic remarks and conspired against other politicians.
Rosselló and his cronies went so far as to wish death upon San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and threaten to give House Representative Manuel Natal a public lesson for his criticisms against the government. They made fun of the thousands of people that died due to Hurricane Maria. When asked about the forensics budget the governor replied, “And now that we are on that subject do we have any extra bodies to feed our crows?”
But the leaked information was just the tipping point for the Puerto Rican people who had long been disillusioned and outraged by the mismanagement of the local government.
Immediately following Maria the local and federal government failed to provide aid to the people. To this day Donald Trump will say that the death toll of Maria was 64 and it took Rosselló a year to admit that the death toll wasb higher 64 and elevate it from 64 to 2,975.
Their improper assessment of the death toll led to more deaths, lack of aid and adequate resources for the Puerto Rican people. Almost two years after Maria, Puerto Rico is still struggling to get back on its feet, the economic crisis has worsened, crime rates have increased and thousands have left the island.
The incompetence of Rosselló and La Junta-the U.S. appointed fiscal board- have only escalated since Maria. Corruption scandals have plagued the local government. In June Julia Keleher, the former education secretary who closed down 400 schools because Puerto Rico did not have enough money, and Ángela Ávila Marrero, the former executive director of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, and four other government officials were indicted for redirecting about $15.5 million in federal contracts to politically connected consultants.
A federal investigation has been launched into Unidos por Puerto Rico, the non-profit created by Beatriz Rosselló to manage donations from Hurricane Maria after Rossello was accused of asking accounting firm BDO to change reports regarding missing freights with donations because it made his wife look bad.
Rosselló denied all fraud accusations and in a statement following all the arrests said, “The agenda of this Government does not stop, despite those who have incorrectly decided to treason the trust of the People.” But ultimately it was Rosselló who was found to have committed treason against the trust of the people — they proved that in the streets. For that reason the people of Puerto Rico, in the mainland and in the diaspora, drove him out.