Things That Matter

Elizabeth Warren Has Sided With Protesters In Puerto Rico As Pressure Mounts For The Governor To Resign

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.

Read: Tens Of Thousands Of Puerto Ricans, Including Bad Bunny And Ricky Martin, Call For The Resignation Of Gov. Rosselló At Massive Old San Juan Protest

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

Puerto Rico’s famed Arecibo telescope collapsed in December after years of neglect and damage from earthquakes and hurricanes. But the island is looking to the future with the hope that the U.S. territory could become a major hub for space exploration as a potential space port.

Puerto Rico seeks to be a hub for international space travel.

Puerto Rico may best be known for its tourist packed beaches and its bankrupt finances, but as the island continues to recover from the economic disasters in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s looking to the future.

And to many officials on the island, the future is in space exploration. The Caribbean island has put out a request for information, or RFI, seeking companies interested in turning a sleepy airport at the base of the El Yunque National Rainforest into a space port.

The island’s location between North and South America and close to the Equator gives it “viable trajectories to a large range of desirable low earth orbit launch inclinations,” Puerto Rico’s Port Authority said in a notice posted Friday.

The potential base could be a major boost to the Puerto Rican economy.

The site is currently a small airport that already houses an 11,000 feet runway and offers flights to various points in the territory. But with the existing infrastructure, officials state it could easily be converted into a space port.

If the site does generate interest, it would be a major boost to Puerto Rico’s small but vibrant aerospace sector. Honeywell Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace all have manufacturing plants on the island.

Puerto Rico would also join a growing number of U.S. states and jurisdictions that are vying for pieces of the commercial launch business, which is expected to become a trillion-dollar market over the next decade.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Joel A. Pizá Batiz, believes that “The aerospace industry is one of the economic sectors that is experiencing the most rapid growth. In fact, in the midst of the pandemic it was one of the few sectors that did not receive much impact,” he explained.

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