Protests flare up in Puerto Rico: Hundreds of thousands flood streets

19 July 2019 — Counter Currents

Hundreds of thousands have marched in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory since 1898, for the fifth consecutive day on Thursday. They are calling for the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló, governor of the financial crisis shattered and billions of dollars debt burdened island territory. Protestors cleared of the streets Thursday morning after clashing with police all night.

Police sprayed tear gas on protesters during an intense standoff in front of the governor’s mansion on Wednesday night.

On the last several days also, police fired tear gas at protesters in the capital.

Protestors marched to the governor’s official residence, known locally as La Fortaleza. When they reached the governor’s mansion, they met a barricade of police in riot gear blocking the street, but continued chanting against Rosselló for hours.

Similar demonstrations took place in U.S. mainland cities including Miami and Orlando, Florida.

Labor movement and unions have called for another protest on today (Friday).

Protesters are demanding the governor Rosselló’s resign after text messages between Rosselló and his team were leaked on Saturday.

Rosselló has refused to step down. He also defended the actions of police and accused protestors of unleashing tear gas and setting fires during demonstrations Monday night.

The people protesting say they have had enough of corruption on the island.

They have also criticized the recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Two former top government officials from Rosselló’s administration were among a group arrested last week and charged with conspiracy and fraud involving millions of dollars in federal funding.

Large crowds gathered in San Juan for the past five days chanting, “Ricky, resign!”

Labor movement and unions

Representatives from the labor movement and unions are calling for another protest on Friday.

The representatives, speaking at a news conference in front of the governor’s official residence, also called for a national “cacerolazo” — a protest with people banging pots and pans — at 8 p.m. so everyone around the island can participate.

Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of local labor union UTIER, said they also want the Puerto Rican government to declare a state of emergency.

“Aside from asking for the governor to resign, we demand the government to declare a state of emergency over the male chauvinist (machista) violence in Puerto Rico, we want to abolish the PROMESA law, pause the bankruptcy process taking place in a federal court during this crisis, and annul the bonus accords negotiated by the Junta until the debt is audited,” Jaramillo said.

The text message scandal

The text messages, obtained by Puerto Rico’s Centre for Investigative Journalism, span some 900 pages. The messages were from a group chat between the governor and 11 top aides and cabinet members were sent in December 2018 and January 2019.

The messages include jokes about Hurricane Maria victims along with sexist and homophobic comments.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed when the hurricane hit the island in 2017. However, a Harvard estimate puts the toll at more than 4,600.

In one conversation, Christian Sobrino, then chief fiscal officer of Puerto Rico says he is “salivating to shoot” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

Ms Cruz has criticized the governor in the past.

Rosselló replies: “You’d be doing me a grand favor.”

Another message from Sobrino described singer Ricky Martin as a “male chauvinist” before referencing his sexuality.

The response

Rosselló has apologized for the messages and said he respected the right to protest peacefully.

He has also vowed to provide greater transparency and accountability to his government.

Sobrino and Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin resigned following the leak.

Rosselló promised to push for the island to become a state during his election campaign in 2016.

It is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. Rosselló has faced criticism for the handling of the recovery efforts.

A statement from White House spokesperson Judd Deere said that the events “prove the president’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization and corruption have been valid”.

Major figures have come out in support of the protesters.

Ricky Martin led a protest to the governor’s house on Wednesday.

The singer said in a video on Twitter: “They mocked our dead, they mocked women, they mocked the LGBT community, they made fun of people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity. It’s enough. This cannot be.”

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has shared images of the protests in Puerto Rico and attended a demonstration in New York.

Reggaeton artist Bad Bunny has stopped his European tour to return to Puerto Rico and protest. He praised the “bravery” of people on the island.

Everyone born in Puerto Rico, an island, is a U.S. citizen and holds a U.S. passport. However, they cannot vote in the U.S. presidential elections unless they are registered to vote in one of the 50 U.S. states.

Puerto Rico leadership is “corrupt” and “robbing the U.S. Government blind”: Trump

U.S. President Trump tweeted saying “a lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico.”

This came after protestors clashed with police Wednesday night.

Trump continued: “The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance.”

Trump also tweeted about the money given to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria –– saying it was “squandered away or wasted” and that “much of their leadership is corrupt, & robbing the U.S. Government blind!”

San Juan mayor calls on people to protest

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is urging people to join demonstrations.

Yulín Cruz shot back at Trump, saying, “This is not about you; this is about the dignity of the Puerto Rican people.” She continued: “I also understand you cannot condemn corrupt, misogynistic, homophobic, and abusive behavior. After all, if you did, you would be passing judgement on yourself.”

Her statement said:

“President Trump you never got it; and you never will. This is not about you; this is about the dignity of the Puerto Rican people.

“So Mr. President, here is a simple lesson on DIGNITY, something you Sir, know nothing about: what is happening in Puerto Rico is that a people united by a profound sense of dignity are on the streets protesting corruption and a misogynist, homophobic, two-faced governor. A governor, who in a chat, admits to withholding aid for Maria victims in order to have perfect timing to create FAKE NEWS and make himself look good.

“I’m proud of my people and understand they’re an example to all people living under a regime of arrogance, divisiveness, insults, corruption and self aggrandizement.

“More than 100k took to the streets to exercise their right to defend our right to live in a sensible, just and peaceful society. Some people acted inappropriately and a willing governor – one who favors repression over expression – took the bait. But a few will not divert, nor distort, the hopes and unequivocal message of the many: Governor Rosselló of Puerto Rico must resign or be impeached.

“Mr. TRUMP, I understand you are unwilling and unable to understand DIGNITY when it hits you straight on. I also understand you cannot condemn corrupt, misogynistic, homophobic, and abusive behavior. After all, if you did, you would be passing judgement on yourself.

“I am a proud Latina and a proud Puerto Rican. Know this: WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED.”

Puerto Ricans in mainland stand with protesters

Puerto Ricans in mainland expressed solidarity with the protesters in Puerto Rico.

Students from Puerto Rico in U.S. universities joined protests to call for the ouster of Rosselló.

They chanted: “We love our island. We love our people. So from Madison, we are with you!”

The Puerto Ricans in the continental U.S. are organizing protests.

Among these organizations are Latinos en Marcha, Voices del Barrio and a local newspaper Periodico el Maestro.

Earlier on Wednesday, Puerto Rico’s Justice Department issued summonses for everyone involved in the private chat group with Rosselló.

A few from the leaked messages

Rosselló referred to Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Puerto Rico-born former speaker of the New York City Council, using the Spanish word for “whore.”

The governor wrote that he was upset Mark-Viverito had criticized Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, for backing statehood for Puerto Rico.

“Our people should come out and defend Tom and beat up that whore,” Rosselló wrote.

Mark-Viverito traveled to the island to join protesters in their calls for the governor to resign.

“A person who uses that language against a woman, whether a public figure or not, should not govern Puerto Rico …this type of behavior is completely unacceptable,” she wrote on Twitter.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is frequent critic of the governor.

In the chat, Christian Sobrino Vega – who was Puerto Rico’s chief fiscal officer at the time, and Roselló’s representative on the federal board responsible for managing Puerto Rico’s financial crisis – expressed frustration with Yulín Cruz.

“I am salivating to shoot her,” he wrote.

“You’d be doing me a grand favor,” the governor responded, according to the leaked chats.

At one point, the governor writes that Yulín Cruz must be “off her meds” by deciding to run against him.

“Either that, or she’s a tremendous HP,” he said, using the Spanish acronym for “son/daughter of a bitch.”

Yulín Cruz belongs to the opposition Popular Democratic Party and is running for governor.

Sobrino Vega and Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin, who also participated in the chats, have both resigned.

In the chats, Sobrino Vega made vulgar references to Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin’s sexuality.

“Nothing says patriarchal oppression like Ricky Martin,” he wrote.

“Ricky Martin is such a male chauvinist that he f—- men because women don’t measure up. Pure patriarchy.”

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