Updated: Oct 1, 2019
The summer months usually bring tourists, revenue, and beautiful weather for the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. This year, the summer was plagued by political scandals that rocked the island’s residents to their core, prompting weeks of political protests and historic change.
Although mass protests started after inappropriate messages involving then Governor, Ricardo Rosello, tensions have been building for months. It has now been almost two years since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, leaving residents months without clean water, food, or electricity. Frustrations stem from what residents feel like is neglect, with the Trump administration neglecting to provide proper aid and the islands own government neglecting to fight the administration for this.
Messages leaked on July 11th include a group chat with former Governor Rossello and his top aides taking aim at almost everyone, including the LGBTQ+ community, women, and other government officials. One message mocked Hurricane Maria victims in asking if there were more “cadavers to feed our cows.”* The messages prompted island-wide protests, as well as protests in major cities across the US and even in other countries, such as Italy. Protests aimed to get Rossello to resign the governorship under the widely used hashtag #RickyRenuncia. After the messages leaked, Rossello's top aids began resigning, including the island's secretary of state, Luis Rivera Marin. After nearly two weeks of peaceful protests outside La Fortaleza, the Governor's mansion in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he finally released a statement claiming he was “hearing the people,” but was refusing to resign.** This only forced hundreds of thousands more protesters out onto the streets, eventually causing the shutdown of a major highway along the coast.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 24, protestors and news outlets outside La Fortaleza got word that Rossello would have an announcement released at 5 pm. Press was gathered for a conference, and after hours of waiting, no announcement had been made. Rumors swirled that the governor and his family had left the mansion, others got information suggesting the governor had recorded a video before leaving. Tensions among protestors rose as military units began arriving at La Fortaleza with riot gear.*** With a heavy police presence and no news from the governor himself, protestors began preparing for the worst, another long night protesting in the warm streets in front of La Fortaleza.
Around midnight on the 24th, the governor's administration released a video announcing that Rossello would step down in one week, on Friday, August 2nd. The island and supporters around the world celebrated in the only way Puerto Rican’s can: with music, food, and flying la bandera. Even the police in riot gear seemed less tense. Within the week, Rosello had announced the appointment of Pedro Pierluisi as Secretary of State, so that Pierluisi would assume the governorship upon Rossello’s resignation. However, the islands Supreme Court ruled the appointment was unconstitutional on August 7th and Pierluisi was forced to resign the governorship. On the same day, Wanda Vasquez was sworn in as governor and has remained in the position to date.
"Rosselló and his chat messages put into words what we have been feeling as people for a long time."
Although many believe Vasquez is just as corrupt as the previous governors Rossello and Pierluisi, the island has remained without mass protests. This is just the beginning, islanders have said that the revolution has only just begun. "Rosselló and his chat messages put into words what we have been feeling as people for a long time," said Cynthia García Coll, a psychologist who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras.**** Rossello, Pierluisi, and Vasquez all belong to The New Progressive Party, which supports the statehood of Puerto Rico. This summer islanders, along with supporters across the world, showed that mass protests work, putting pressure on our elected officials work, and most importantly they showed that the government works for the people. Puerto Rican’s across the world are eager for change, and the only way this will happen is if we get out there and change it ourselves.
* Ortiz, Luis J. Valentín, and Carla Minet. “Las 889 Páginas De Telegram Entre Rosselló Nevares y Sus Allegados.” Centro De Periodismo Investigativo, 27 July 2019, <periodismoinvestigativo.com/2019/07/las-889-paginas-de-telegram-entre-rossello-nevares-y-sus-allegados/.>
** Vera, Amir. “Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Announces He Will Not Run for Reelection next Year.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 July 2019, <www.cnn.com/2019/07/21/us/puerto-rico-governor-announcement/.>
*** Via @Davidbegnaud Twitter 2019.
****Sanchez, Ray. “Why the Protests in Puerto Rico Have Been a Long Time Coming.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 July 2019, <www.cnn.com/2019/07/23/us/puerto-rico-rossello-protests-why-its-different/index.html.>
*****Santiago, Leyla, and Hollie Silverman. “Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Vows He Won't Resign amid a Political Scandal. Here's How We Got Here.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 July 2019, <www.cnn.com/2019/07/16/us/puerto-rico-protests-gassed/index.html.>