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Thousands of Puerto Ricans have taken to the streets of the island’s capital in order to protest the government’s corruption and offensive comments made by their leader. Concrete barricades, tear gas, and brute force have been used by police in attempts to dispel crowds, with no avail. Despite angered citizens pushing for denouncement, Governor Ricardo Rossello has refused to step down and listen to these protests. Without the same congressional representation the U.S. receives, Puerto Rico is in the midst of a debt crisis, extreme corruption, recession, and the task of rebuilding from devastating hurricanes.
These protests have gained global attention, inspiring U.S. politicians to get involved as well. Many have taken to social media using the #RickyRenuncia (“Resign Ricky”) hashtag, which was made in support of the protest movement. U.S. politicians, predominantly from the Democratic party, have voiced their support of the protests and the movement. This political involvement has taken major steps towards improving Puerto Rican-American relations as President Trump has continuously brushed the island nation to the side. Trump’s ignorance of the country’s state along with his negligence in aiding post-Hurricane Maria has damaged Puerto Rican opinion on our government and has fostered distrust with the U.S.
The text messages that began these protests were released by The Center for Investigative Journalism, and as hundreds of pages of exposing text chats were made public, citizens agreed that that was the final straw. Rossello and 12 other male administration members made crude comments regarding journalists, politicians, women, disabled people and the victims of Hurricane Maria, an extremely sensitive subject to struggling Puerto Ricans. Hurricane Maria affected over 35,000 people, and still poses structural and developmental problems to those on the island. Puerto Rico is of a predominantly lower income economic status, and thousands have struggled to rebuild after the Category 5 hurricane, which is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island.
According to the Washington Post, Rossello apologized for his “inappropriate” messages in a public address earlier this month. Rosello issued a public statement stating, “We will make changes…I’ve made the determination that I have to keep my promise and continue to work to do the job that the public has trusted me to do.” His statements have fallen on deaf ears as protests continue to run through the country. Puerto Ricans are unwilling to accept anything but political action from this point forward.
Announced earlier today via Facebook Live stream, Rossello informed viewers that he will not be running for reelection in the year 2020. Although this does not guarantee him resigning from governorship, I believe this statement shows that he is feeling the pressure that these protests are meant to incite. These protests have shown that they will stop at nothing to get him out of office. His announcement came before what is expected to be the largest protest march yet. Scheduled for Monday morning, protestors will take to a major highway in San Juan. The demonstration is expected to shut down not just the highway and a nearby shopping mall, but wide areas of the capital.
Looking forward, it is my hope that as the pressure mounts, Rossello and the Puerto Rican government make political changes away from corruption and into a more just system that benefits citizens directly. These protests are rocking the small island in ways that it is not able to handle. The turmoil has worried business owners, politicians, and citizens alike in fear of damaging business and their tourism industry. Creating these waves through Puerto Rico will demonstrate to Rossello that they will not stop until he resigns, and the longer this continues the more damage will be brought to the country.