The problems for Ricky Rosselló began much earlier than last week's leaks of vulgar and misogynistic one thousand-page chats he held with his closest collaborators. Before that, Puerto Ricans found out that Rosselló's administration, which began in 2017 under the New Progressive Party, is under FBI investigation for corruption.
The text messages show the Governor and his closest allies talking about public figures and officers in a misogynistic tone and with bad taste jokes. Former Secretary of Finance, for example, joked about 2017 Hurricane María's victims. "Don't we have some dead bodies to feed the crows?", the officer wrote.
The messages reveal, as well, that Rosselló and his team tried to manipulate the press and public opinion to restrain the population's protests. The administration used professional online trolls to attack activists and journalists that oppose his government. It was also revealed an attempt to manipulate the conclusions to which the Financial Oversight and Management Board reached. The Board found mismanagement in the aid funds after Hurricane María.
On top of this, the island has faced an unfavorable economic situation for over twenty years, when the US government, back then under President Clinton, began to withdraw several fiscal incentives. With the passing of the years and other administrations, Puerto Rico has been left with a deficit close to 70 billion dollars, and a poverty index of around 40%. In 2015, Puerto Rico, for the first time, suspended debt payments, and by 2017, the year of Rosselló's arrival, the territory declared bankruptcy.
LPO spoke to Wilma Reverón, lawyer and activist, Co-Chair of the Hostonian National Independence Movement, and leader of the Junte de Mujeres M-18 , a group formed by some of the most influential female politicians in Puerto Rico, such as San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, and María de Lourdes Santiago, Vice President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.
What is going on in Puerto Rico, and how much of it had to do with the Governor's chats?
The chats are barely the tip of the iceberg. This Governor represents the worst, most immoral, lacking values in politics, not only in Puerto Rico but in the entire world. He has shown that not only is he an elitist who despises poor people, Puerto Ricans and sees women as sexual objects. He marginalizes those with a different sexual orientation; journalists who oppose his world view; the opposition. And he is involved in corruption schemes that benefit his friends.
How important are these demonstrations?
The people of Puerto Rico has massively taken to the streets. The Monday 22nd demonstration was larger than the one from the 17th. Over half a million people. For Monday, we are expecting between six hundred thousand and a million people.
Who participated in these protests? We have seen people like Ricky Martin, Residente, Bad Bunny and more from the pop music world demanding the Governor's resignation.
That's what is important. The demonstrations come in all forms and shapes. People from all walks of life. Women; yesterday cyclists flooded the Walled City. Bikers. By sea, hundreds of kayaks reached the Governor's residence. There is not one part of society that is not represented. It has been spontaneous, from the people. Without any interference from the corrupt political parties. And young people are leading the protests. Imagine 750 thousand people with no violence, who clean up afterward. It has been a display of discipline and political maturity.
What's next after Rosselló's resignation?
Elections happen every four years, the same day as the US Presidential election. The next one is in 2020. When there is no available governor, by means of resignation or impeachment, or death, the next in line is the Secretary of State, but he has already quit. The law states that the next in line should be Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, who is also a part of the problem. Almost every member of the cabinet is resigning.
How has Rosselló's response been?
He first quit to seek reelection and to the leadership of the New Progressive Party. His father, Pedro Rosselló, who was also Governor (1993-2001), did so too. There are rumors of arrests, even against Rosselló and the First Lady. Today, the people are gathering in front of the Fortress because since last night the rumor was strong on his resignation.
How do you see the situation after he steps down?
The Junte de Mujeres has reflected on what is going to happen next. He is the tip of the iceberg; a small portion of the corruption eating up Puerto Rico's government. We have to keep the fight going to heal Puerto Rico's administration, and that in 2020, the people can vote for other options, removed from the corrupted political parties.
Is there someone in the cabinet who can take charge from here to the elections? It will be a year and a half until the next governor takes office.
No one is clean in this cabinet. No one can satisfy what the people want. We do not know if the Secretary of Justice is going to stay. The Constitution must be followed unless the people call for a revolution and a constitutional assembly is summoned.
It has been clear that both Donald Trump and the Democrats have tried to use politically the crisis on the island.
Of course. First of all, there is still a paternalist/imperialist sentiment, from both parties regarding Puerto Rico. For example, Congressman Raul Grijalva stepped up to request the Governor's resignation. We think that his expression should have been that the people of Puerto Rico have to be heard, otherwise he is just usurping Puerto Rico's sovereignty. Democrats do not seem to understand that they have a colony and they are the empire. They make the mistake of dictating what happens in Puerto Rico, I am sure with the best of intentions.
What about Trump?
You already know about Trump's massive despise for everyone that is not a part of his white constituency. Just so you get the picture, you know what he has said about Mexico, and he has said that the worst Mexicans are Puerto Ricans. For him, we are all Mexicans. We are honored to be called Mexicans, I am Honduran, I am Ecuadorian. We are a large homeland. It is an acknowledgment of our Caribbean and Latin identity. But he uses this scandal to cut the funds to the island. If they have sovereignty over Puerto Rico, they also have to assume the responsibilities and debts, but they don't want to assume them. Trump lies when he says that he has sent more funds to Puerto Rico than to Texas and Florida. It's a lie. He is using this matter to keep his constituency engaged. We know that he is reaching for conservatives, xenophobes, by saying that he is protecting US money when he denies the funds for reconstruction.
Are you surprised that many Puerto Ricans in states like Florida support Trump? The same with numerous Venezuelans and Cubans.
No, I'm not surprised because they are fully indoctrinated by the mass media. They do not have a critical sense of how US politics has treated Puerto Rico. Many of these people answer to what oligarchies represent in their countries. A mentality that prefers to submit to the US rather than acting as sovereign countries. They have no interest in looking into poverty and inequality in their countries of origin.
How does immigration from the island to the US work?
The most recent flow that has gone to Florida is more inclined towards conservative, pro-annexation ideas. And over there, they are slamming doors to their faces. Even though they support Trump, he has said that he will not allow Puerto Rico to become a state. Same as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. We do not understand what they do not understand. They keep having this fantasy instead of looking for a solution to the colonial issue, so we can look for help in other places, besides the Federal Government.
How are Democrats faring to get the Puerto Rican vote in 2020?
Democrats have this problem: a liberal vision of the world -one that they bought from the pro-annexation side- that Puerto Rico's problem is one of inequality regarding the Civil Rights of US citizens who are in a US territory. They do not see it for what it is: a self-determination issue from a community who have the right to nationality and sovereignty. Since politicians are bound to their quest for funds for election and reelection, they have tied themselves with Puerto Rico's colonialist parties, like the New Progressive Party and the Democratic Popular Party, so they depend on Puerto Rico to collect those funds. These two parties are helping them to raise funds here. There has been a sale of support from Democrats to back up Puerto Rico's statehood, which is less and less unlikely. Democrats fall for the US citizens Civil Rights game, and it is an educational problem in the US Congress. We have tried to change this narrative inside the Puerto Rican community in the US. But just like it is here, it is a divided community. It is still hit by poverty and inequality. Being nationals does not mean that they are more successful than the rest of the Latino community in the US.
Is there any Presidential candidate that, in your opinion, might better serve Puerto Rico's needs?
There is ignorance regarding Puerto Rico's needs. Both parties are disconnected. I have not been able to identify anyone, but perhaps the closest is Bernie Sanders. However, he has bought into the Civil Rights vision. But at least in his economic program, he cares more for the poor in the US. He seems to be the most interested, and he was the first to visit Puerto Rico after María.
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