Riccardo Rosselló, the Governor of Puerto Rico, resigned this week after 12 days of protests and demonstrations. Puerto Ricans had already displayed dissatisfaction over the lack of government performance during Hurricanes Maria and Irma, but the tipping point was Rosselló’s chat room transcripts, which were recently published. The transcripts included hateful comments towards women, the working class, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups in Puerto Rico that were made by Rosselló and members of his small governing clique.
“What distinguishes these manifestations from previous ones, is precisely the strong absence of political figures leading these expressions. These were people organizing themselves in the face of the absence of a government that functions the way it should for the people,” said Daynali Rodriguez, an independent scholar, on GLT’s Sound Ideas. Maura Toro-Morn, the head of Latin American and Latino studies at Illinois State University and a proud puertoriceno, emphasized the prevalence of strong political figures in most movements in Puerto Rico. The two said the protests were organized entirely by the masses, without any influence from political figures.
“What I think is evident in the protest is that out of these protests, new political leaders will come to the surface to demand the kind of social change and the kinds of political decisions that are serving the people.” said Toro-Morn. One of the largest store chains in Puerto Rico, Plaza Las Americas, closed while the protests were occurring to offer support for political parties. Rodriguez and Toro-Morn said they think these protests are a large shift in common Puerto Rican political practice, and political change may be on the horizon.
Rodriguez and Morn also credited social media and freedom of the press as a huge influence on the organization of the masses.
“I think that having freedom of the press and the work that journalists are doing, both in Puerto Rico and in the United States, is very important, because they are revealing to the people. They are actually recording and documenting to the people exactly what is happening. The 800 pages of misogyny, homophobia, I think your average Puerto Rican knew that that went on. I think seeing it in writing, and seeing the disrespect and seeing how women, female leaders in the island were targeted...That's really what lit this match, and what I think would serve as a very important lesson for groups that organize,” said Morn.
Rosselló supported Puerto Rican statehood, but Morn and Rodriguez said there were no discussions on statehood during these protests. They emphasized these protests go beyond Puerto Rico’s colony status, and might present different options in the future of the status of Puerto Rico.
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