Somos más, y no tenemos miedo!
Updated August 8 to reflect nullification of Pierluisi’s oath of office.
After more than a week of constant protests the Puerto Rican people finally forced Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign on the night of July 24. The announcement came after hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans protested, closing down every exit on the main highway and halting the country in protest. “Ricky” appeared on Fox News shortly there after explaining that he would not be stepping down because he wanted to “finish what he had started.” He was asked who in his country supported him and could not answer. This was apparent when walking the streets of San Juan. Every street corner, every sign, every store front had the demand of the people: “Ricky Renuncia!”
The island is in the midst of a devastating 13-year recession that has seen hundreds of thousands leave Puerto Rico for the mainland. The government declared bankruptcy in 2017. Although President Trump claims the number is way less, 4,645 people as a result of Hurricane Maria died and hundreds of thousands continue to suffer from lack of basic necessities, including shelter. The damage from the hurricane is estimated between $90 and $120 billion. The U.S. government’s unelected Fiscal Oversight Board – derisively referred to as “La Junta” – has continued the relentless cuts, privatizations of energy, schools, and telecoms and austerity driving living standards to the dirt for millions. The statistics are shocking: more than 44% of workers and young people live in poverty.
Since the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, the island’s emergency money became the target of profiteering, mismanagement, and corruption. “Debt-relief” measures meant schools being sold off and the money being pocketed by crooked officials. At one protest a school girl held a sign that said “Violence is closing my school.”
The leaked text message between Rosello and other officials that sparked the protests showed with shocking callousness the true nature of the elite. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In hundreds of incriminating text messages they joked about murdering San Juan Mayor Carmen Yúlin Cruz, made homophobic comments and jokes about dead bodies piling up after the hurricane Maria. They made it very clear that they will not stop until he steps down.
On Monday July 22, after the big “Parón,” the governor resigned from his party’s presidency and said that he would not be running for reelection but that was not enough. They wanted him out! The author along with other Socialist Alternative members were in San Juan to participate and report.
There were plans for the entire week of action, including a Thursday march down “the Gold Mile,” the financial district of San Juan and the headquarters of the island’s main bank, Banco Popular, whose president is on La Junta, the financial advisory board of Puerto Rico. One of the demands of the movement has become to get rid of this unelected body, therefore a march down this street would send an important message. Another day of mass protest was set for the following Saturday to block the largest shopping mall of the island. A member of the Fonalleda family – another section of the elite which owns the mall – wrote a letter to Ricky asking him to listen to the people and resign. The truck drivers union also said if he didn’t step down by that Monday they would be striking. A strike of truck drivers would basically stop all commerce on the entire island. And in the meantime, every day at the Fortaleza – the governor’s mansion – there were constant protests threatening to escalate even further.
Undoubtedly, all this pressure and the threat of further escalation with big economic repercussions has forced the governor to finally concede to the demands of the movement and resign. This was a victory of the Puerto Rican people!
The scale of protests, the amount of solidarity and unity displayed by ordinary people of Puerto Rico during this struggle were something historic. There was complete understanding by people of all ages on the island that the only way to get rid of Ricky, was to stay in the streets. Unions, students, clergy, and the LGBTQ community worked and coordinated together to continue actions across the country everyday. There was no violence from the people. There was no arguing about actions. There was not even a pause in chants that lasted more than 30 seconds.
“Ricky Renuncia, Y Lleva La Junta!”
But what next? After Ricky stepped down, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez was next in line to become the new governor and although she was not a participant in the infamous “chat,” she was disliked by Puerto Ricans almost as much as Ricky. The protests continued and Wanda stated she would not be taking the position.
On August 2, Pedro Pierluisi, was sworn in as the new governor of Puerto Rico. A student activist from the University of Puerto Rico told us, “He is an extreme right-wing capitalist that represents the private sector. He sucks.” To make matters worse, before taking office he was an attorney working to represent La Junta, the very financial board that the people of the island were chanting for Ricky to take with him when he resigned. La Junta is an undemocratic, unelected body that has colonial control and supervision over the economy of Puerto Rico. It implements extreme cuts and austerity that has kept the island impoverished for years in the name of repaying an unjust debt. La Junta must go!
Protests continued demanding a real change in the regime of corruption and elitism that has been governing the island for years. This forced the Senate and Supreme Court of Puerto Rico to nullify Pierliusi’s oath as governor on August 9, the result of which was that Wanda Vazquez became governor in his place. But Puerto Ricans aren’t satisfied and more protests occurred the very same day calling for her ouster too and demanding that the people and not internal party negotiations decide the new governor. Given the high level of public disillusionment with the political system it seems likely that protests will continue.
The people of Puerto Rico have shown that mass action can and will take down corrupt politicians. But as we have seen this can simply lead to even more corrupt politicians taking their place. It is time for the workers and youth of the island to challenge the colonial regime, the financial oligarchy, and dictatorship of big business over people’s lives. Already mass popular assemblies have been announced across the island to debate what are the next steps the movement needs to take to challenge the rotten regime that Rossello presided over.
Wall Street capitalists are willing to impoverish the country to fill their pockets as they do across the globe. Workers in the U.S. must stand with our Puerto Rican sisters and brothers to fight against colonialism and austerity which ultimately means to fight against capitalism.
The incredible mass struggle has shown the way to challenge any new attacks by big business and the Trump administration in Puerto Rico and across the mainland U.S. The ideas of socialism, struggle and solidarity are re-awakening across North and Central America. In the U.S., the ideas of socialism are being debated among a new generation as a result of the campaign on Bernie Sanders and the new workers’ strikes and struggles. These are the forces that workers and young people on the island can look to as allies to continue the struggle against La Junta and for a democratic and socialist Puerto Rico as part of a socialist federation of North America.
- Organize mass solidarity protests on the mainland to support our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico!
- Abolish La Junta (the Fiscal Oversight Board). Cancel the debt. Decolonialize Puerto Rico!
- Full relief funding to rebuild homes, infrastructure, and restore services devastated by Hurricane Maria across the island.
- Reverse all the cuts; reopen schools. End privatization – return telecommunications and electric power to public ownership.
- Immediate elections; clear out the whole establishment; for workers’ candidates, completely independent of all corporate interests, to end corruption and fight for a clear program that defends the needs of working people and the poor, not the banks and big business – for a socialist and democratic Puerto Rico.