“I’ve been thinking for a long time, what’s the best way I can serve Puerto Rico … I’m going to do so by becoming the next governor,” she said.
Cruz, who was sporting a t-shirt that read “¡Sin Miedo!” — which is Spanish for “without fear” — began her address by discussing her great-grandfather, who worked as an agricultural laborer, and how the legacy of slavery still impacts Puerto Rico today.
“We have to break away from the chains that tie us down in order to have a promising future and break our cycle of poverty,” Cruz, speaking on Emancipation Day, a Puerto Rican holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery on the island on March 22, 1873, said.
In Puerto Rico, the political party system is linked to the island’s political status. Those who support statehood, like sitting Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, are part of the New Progressive Party, more commonly known by the Spanish acronym PNP. People who want Puerto Rico to remain a US territory side with the Popular Democratic Party, or PPD, the party that Cruz is running in. Finally, those who want the island’s independence from the US often support the Puerto Rican Independence Party, or PIP.
After the Category 4 hurricane ravaged the island on September 20, 2017, Cruz, not Gov. Rosselló, became the face of the island, wading through flood water to help those devastated by the storm and publicly feuding with the president. When announcing her candidacy, she reminded the crowd that Gov. Rosselló’s administration “was unable to count deaths after Hurricane Maria” and “stood by Trump when he threw paper towels at people [in Puerto Rico].”
Cruz also took the opportunity to voice her position on other pressing matters on the island, like repealing the Jones Act, which prevents foreign ships from embarking on the island and thus raises the cost of imported goods, eliminating the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board and calling for an audit of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion public debt.
“The reality is that we still live in an island that fights for food, liberty and land,” she said, referring to the PPD’s Spanish slogan “Pan, libertad y tierra.” “We’re building a new movement within the Popular Democratic Party.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) voiced her support for people in Puerto Rico, who have been protesting for nearly a week against corruption in the island’s government and calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
“I stand with Puerto Ricans who are taking to the streets this week to protest government corruption & Governor @RicardoRossello’s deeply offensive comments,” the senator said. “His actions are hurtful & undermine the public trust. He must answer to the Puerto Rican people.”
Protests in the US territory are still happening, with thousands of Puerto Ricans beginning to demonstrate on Saturday after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published a damaging 889-page group chat between Rosselló and some members of his administration. The messages show Puerto Rican leaders making expletive-laden homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic comments about political rivals, celebrities and the people they represent as well as joking about the victims of Hurricane María and revealing how the administration attempted to cover up its inadequate response after the devastating storm.
The chat, which has been dubbed #TelegramGate, was the catalyst for the massive protests exploding on the archipelago and in diasporic communities across the US and world, but the people’s grievances go well beyond the governor’s foul language. Last week, the FBI arrested six people, including former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Angela Avila-Marrero, on 32 counts of fraud and related charges. The scandal came to no surprise to the people, who have long been accusing the local government of stealing funds and calling for the removal of the unelected fiscal control board.
Additionally, the archipelago is still recovering from the category 4 hurricane, which claimed 4,645 lives, a number both the governor and President Trump long denied, compounded a $123 billion debt and humanitarian crises, displaced tens of thousands, forced hundreds of thousands more to flee, deepened impoverishment on an island where already nearly half of the population lived under the poverty line and gave rise to the contested privatization of public services.
Despite the many attacks against the Puerto Rican people, including verbal jabs from President Trump, an overwhelming majority of the 2020 contenders have been mum. Warren, a senator in Massachusetts, which has the fifth-largest population of Puerto Ricans in the country, behind New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, has supported the island in the past as well. In Congress, she was one of the leading voices to challenge Trump on his recovery efforts in the territory and called for more attention and respect to be given to the more than 3 million US citizens, albeit second-class, who inhabit the Caribbean island.
Since Wednesday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has also spoken out in support of the Puerto Rican people.
“Hawaii and Puerto Rico share many of the same experiences and stories. I stand with Puerto Ricans demanding change, who have had enough of government corruption, and who deserve a government of, by, and FOR the people,” Gabbard, who is also campaigning for the Democratic nomination, wrote Thursday in a post on Instagram. “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. #RickyRenuncia”
Her remarks come as protesters in the state of Hawaii, a former US territory, fight to stop the construction of a $1.4 billion telescope on land sacred to Native Hawaiians.
While tens of thousands of protesters, including celebrities like Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin, Residente, La India, Benicio Del Toro, Daddy Yankee, Anuel, Farruko and more, and a small number of elected officials have urged Gov. Rosselló to step down, he has refused to resign. Apologizing for his “improper act,” he has insisted that he has not done anything illegal and believes he can restore confidence in his people.
In Puerto Rico, the people are not convinced, neither in their leadership on the island nor the federal government. While those living on the island cannot vote in the presidential election, they can cast their votes in the primaries. And they, and their family in the diaspora, which outnumbers those on the island and can vote in the general election, are taking note of those candidates who continue to ignore their plight.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans shouted “Ricky, renuncia!” as they marched through the streets of Old San Juan in its fifth and largest protest calling for the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
Early in the demonstration, Puerto Rican stars like Bad Bunny, Residente, Ricky Martin, PJ Sin Suela and more gathered in front of the Capitolio, where they held large Puerto Rican flags and signs that read “los enterraron sin saber que somos semillas,” and encouraged a roaring crowd to not abandon their fight. As the artists stood atop a white truck in the midst of protestors, activist Tito Kayak, who famously placed the Puerto Rican flag on the Statue of Liberty’s crown in 2000 in protest of the US’ presence in Vieques, scaled the flagpole in an attempt to remove the American flag. The crowd erupted in cheers, chanting “Tito, Tito,” showing that the protest in the US territory extends beyond the people’s grievances with their local government.
Bad Bunny took to the streets of Puerto Rico with his fellow Americans to protest a governor they want out of office.
Protests erupted on Saturday after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of a private Telegram chat between the governor and some of his officials. The messages included profanity-laced homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic comments about female politicians, celebrities and protestors and hard-hearted jokes about the victims of Hurricane María. For the people of Puerto Rico, who were just rocked by a money-laundering scheme by its education and health leaders and endured repeated neglect and abuse by both its local and federal governments following the devastating hurricane, the chats symbolized the final straw.
As darkness fell on Wednesday, some of the celebrities spoke out.
“This government has to begin respecting the people. We can’t stop protesting,” Residente, born René Pérez Joglar, said. Later, Puerto Rican singer iLe, Residente’s younger sister, sang the original, revolutionary version of La Borinqueña, with demonstrators, holding their flags and fists in the air, joining her in song, belting, “Vámonos, borinqueños, vámonos ya, que nos espera ansiosa, ansiosa la libertad.”
By la Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, tension sparked in the mostly-peaceful protest in the late hours of the night. Demonstrators, some throwing bottles of water and fireworks, busted through a barricade. Police fired tear gas, dispersing the massive crowd and angering local residents who allege officers discharged on empty streets where elders and youth in their homes struggled to breathe as a result of the smoke.
Other areas of the old city looked like a war zone, with officers chasing and shooting rubber bullets at protestors, trash bags blazing on cobblestone streets and the windows of graffiti-laden establishments shattering.
According to authorities, at least seven protesters were arrested during the protests and four police officers were injured. There is also an investigation into an officer who forcefully grabbed a demonstrator alleging she was trying to jump over a barrier, though footage of the incident later revealed she was not.
Motorcycles also thundered through the city early Thursday morning, as a protest caravan of thousands of motorcyclists, led by El Rey Charlie and reggaetoneros Brytiago, Noriel, and Ñengo Flow, traveled from Trujilo Alto to Old San Juan in a journey that captivated the island.
People on the island are relentless in demanding that their voices be heard.
“We won’t stop. The oppression is over. The repression is over. Ricky, resign or we will take you out because the people put you there and we are ready to remove you. We want you out,” El Rey Charlie, a beloved motorist on the island, told Puerto Rican network WAPA-TV.
Outside of San Juan, groups around the island also took to the streets. In the States, the diaspora and their allies similarly demonstrated in Orlando, New York, Miami, Boston, Cleveland, San Antonio and more, while international actions occurred in the Dominican Republic and Spain as well.
Despite the massive uprising, Rosselló has contended that he would not resign. The governor, who previously apologized for his “improper act,” said that he believes he could win over the people of Puerto Rico.
“I recognize the challenge that I have before me because of the recent controversies, but I firmly believe that it is possible to restore confidence and that we will be able, after this painful process, to achieve reconciliation,” he said in Spanish. “I have the commitment, stronger than ever, to carry out the public policy.”
The governor is desperately trying to get people to forget about the unacceptable and offensive conversations he was involved.
As Rosselló insists he would not step down, the president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Carlos Méndez Núñez, has already appointed three lawyers to investigate the contents of the leaked chats to determine whether an impeachment process can begin.
Additionally, Puerto Rico’s non-voting delegate to Congress Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, who is a member of the governor’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, has called for a meeting among her PNP colleagues.
There is no shortage of corruption that people want to get rid of right now.
“There must be an urgent meeting of the directory of @pnp_pr to discuss everything that is happening,” González-Colón said on Twitter.
President Donald Trump also took the opportunity to lambast the embattled governor as well as criticize the island, including the mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz, for corruption.
President Trump weighed in on the matter and used it to attack an island still recovering from the hurricane and the mayor of San Juan.
He continued: “This is more than twice the amount given to Texas & Florida combined. I know the people of Puerto Rico well, and they are great. But much of their leadership is corrupt, & robbing the U.S. Government blind!”
But for many protesters, the marches aren’t just about sending a message of indignation to Rosselló, but rather to all corrupt politicians on the archipelago as well as the colonial federal government. Protest posters illustrate Rosselló with Trump’s hair to compare the two abhorred leaders, while vandalism on concrete walls screams for the resignation of the governor, the fiscal control board and the island’s colonial ties to the U.S.
Today and tomorrow, the people say, the uprising continues, with demonstrations planned across Puerto Rico and its diaspora in the US and worldwide.