Congress has done it again! Wait… no, they haven’t done sh*t… again. That’s right, they’re most likely going to miss another deadline on Puerto Rico’s dire economic crisis, which will only make a sh*t situation, even sh*ttier.
May 1 is the latest deadline for Congress to pass legislation to help the U.S. commonwealth with their mounting debt. A vote was supposed to take place last week, but the bill is still being drafted and Congress, which the Republicans control, was missing committee votes.
“I’m not sure that on May 2 Armageddon takes place, but clearly I think it will illustrate that there is a significant problem,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said to the Associated Press. “There are still some people out there saying there’s not a problem… No, there is a problem, they will default on some portion.”
On May 1st, Puerto Rico is due to pay $422 million worth of general obligation bonds. On July 1, they’re due to pay another $780 million. That’s a lot of money for a small country of 3.5 million residents where jobs and investments have been forced out by the new U.S. tax policies. There’s high rate of unemployment and schools are even closing.
“Puerto Rico is a crisis and [Congress] not responding,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) told the Associated Press.
Read more about Puerto Rico’s economic situation here
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.
Over the last week, Puerto Rico has been hit with multiple political scandals that have motivated thousands of people on the island and in the diaspora to protest. Puerto Ricans are calling for the resignation of its governor, its fiscal control board and, for a growing sum, its colonial ties to the United States. A lot of the unrest stems from recent private messages released that showed the governor using offensive language against women, the LGBTQ+ community, and Hurricane Maria Victims.
Puerto Rico is being rocked with a growing political scandal.
On Wednesday, the FBI arrested former Education Secretary Julia Keleher, former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Angela Avila-Marrero, businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velazquez-Piñol, and education contractors Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters, on 32 counts of fraud and related charges.
The streets were filled with people demanding that the governor resign facing corruptions and damning messages leaked to the public.
The corruption scheme, which ushered federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors, involves $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019. Of that, 13 million was spent by the Department of Education during Keleher’s time as secretary. During her two-year term, Keleher, an Italian-American educational leader from Philadelphia, was criticized by the people of Puerto Rico for closing down hundreds of schools and implementing the island’s first charter school. The additional $2.5 million was spent by the insurance administration when Avila was the director.
The governor was caught in a chat using grotesque homophobic and sexist language.
Just days later, on Saturday, the island experienced another political blow: Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s private Telegram chat. The secret messages, between him and several of his aides, included profanity-laced, and at times misogynistic, homophobic and violent, comments and memes about several high-profile women politicians, celebrities, the press and even the victims of Hurricane María.
Puerto Rico-born former New York city council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is one person the governor attacked.
“All of my solidarity with my friend @CarmenYulinCruz for the unacceptable attacks by @ricardorossello,” Mark-Viverito tweeted. “The women are not ‘b*tches’ nor ‘sons of b*tches,’ we are fighting, courageous, and dignified human beings who contribute to society. Stop the machismo!”
In one chat, Rosselló calls Mark-Viverito a “puta” for criticizing DNC Chair Tom Perez, who was siding with statehood Democrats like Rosselló, who is the leader of the Statehood party in Puerto Rico. In another, the governor’s former chief financial officer Christian Sobrino said of San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who is running for Puerto Rico governor in the 2020 elections, that he was “dying to shoot her up.” Rosselló replied: “You’d be doing me a big favor.”
Mark-Viverito, who now heads the Latino Victory Project, released a statement in response to the governor’s violent sexism.
“The governor’s machismo was exposed,” she said in Spanish. “When a male chauvinist wants to belittle a woman, he uses words like “whore” to belittle, dehumanize and degrade her. A person who uses that language against a woman, whether a public figure or not, should not govern Puerto Rico.”
The conversations also included transphobic remarks about transgender and gender nonconforming protestors and homophobic comments about Ricky Martin.
“It is shameful and unacceptable and it isn’t resolved with an apology,” Martin tweeted. “This is not the government we need. This is not the Puerto Rico that our grandparents and parents built and even less [the Puerto Rico] we want to leave to our children.”
One associate wrote, “Nothing says patriarchal oppression like Ricky Martin. He is such a male chauvinist that he f–ks men because women don’t measure up. Pure patriarchy.”
Probably the most stomach-churning exchange in the leaked chat was Sobrino joking about the backlog of dead bodies after the devastating 2017 storm.
“Now that we are on the subject, don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows? Clearly, they need attention,” he wrote, likely referencing journalists and the administration’s critics, who long questioned Rosselló’s assertion that the hurricane claimed only 64 lives. A Harvard study later put the death toll at 4,645.
The impropriety, which has been nicknamed #TelegramGate, has been likened to the Watergate scandal, which rocked President Nixon’s administration in the 1970s and ultimately led to his resignation.
“For Puerto Ricans, this has been basically our Watergate,” Caribbean scholar Yarimar Bonilla, who writes about post-Hurricane Maria recovery, told CBS News. “The government is distracted thinking about its image, worrying about how they’re being represented in the press instead of attending to matters of the recovery.”
While two members of Rosselló’s cabinet have offered their resignations, the people are similarly calling on Rosselló to step down.
For several days, thousands of protestors have taken over the streets of Old San Juan, packing the cobblestone lane in front of La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, demanding that he immediately give up his seat. On Monday, the mostly-peaceful action turned violent when police officers tear-gassed crowds, injuring dozens and arresting five protestors. The streets were ablaze, but the people, enlivened, stayed chanting that they were not afraid.
They’re not alone. Celebrities like Ricky Martin, Residente, Kany Garcia, Jon Z and more have taken to social media calling on the governor to resign. Meanwhile, rapper PJ Sin Suela released a heated track called PUTA, referencing Rosselló’s misogynistic comments, about political corruption on the island, and Bad Bunny announced on Instagram that he would be leaving Europe, where he is touring, to fly to Puerto Rico and march with the people on Wednesday.
Bad Bunny posted a video as a call to action for all Puerto Ricans to march and demonstrate.
Across the U.S., Puerto Ricans of the diaspora have also united, with protests in New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, and more scheduled for Tuesday in Miami and Orlando, where a majority of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane María found refuge.
Despite the massive calls, on Tuesday morning, Rosselló, who has apologized for his “improper acts” and attended an Evangelical church where pastors prayed over him, insisted that he would not resign.
“I have not committed an illegal act and I have not committed an act of corruption,” he said during a press conference. “I committed some improper acts and I asked forgiveness for that.”
The governor also noted that the prime reason he would not resign is that he “was elected by the people” — despite many of those Puerto Ricans now begging for his removal.