Puerto Rico Enters Uncharted Territory


Facing mass civil unrest and a growing protest movement, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló is expected to resign today. El Nuevo Día first reported the news late Tuesday night. Rosselló has faced nearly two weeks of demonstrations—each one larger than the last—demanding he step down, following a massive leak revealing sexist, homophobic and violent text messages exchanged between the governor and government officials, in which he mocked victims of Hurricane Maria and joked about shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. We speak with Democracy Now! co-host Juan González on the significance of Rosselló’s resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, before we move on to the climate crisis that is enveloping the globe today, we are watching events unfold in Puerto Rico, where it looks like the governor, Ricardo Rosselló, is about to resign.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, El Nuevo Día is reporting that maybe as soon as by noon today there will be an official announcement. And if so, this is going to be a stunning and unprecedented turn of events in Puerto Rico.

People have to understand, Puerto Rico has a long history. It’s 500 years of governance in Puerto Rico. There have been—during that period of time of 500 years, there have been 286 governors of the island of Puerto Rico. Most of them, about 147, were under Spanish rule. And then there was a period of direct American control of the island, when the president appointed about 27 governors. And it’s only been in the past 60 years or so that there’s actually been elected governors by the people themselves, and there have only been 12 elected governors of Puerto Rico since the commonwealth of Puerto Rico was created, in—it will be, actually, 67 years ago tomorrow. July 25th is the anniversary of the founding of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. So, in all those 286 governors, never has a governor been forced to resign by a popular protest. So this is really unprecedented in the entire history of Puerto Rico, going back to Ponce de León, who was the first governor of Puerto Rico back in 1508.

So, the power of the Puerto Rican people to be able to force this governor to resign as a result of the scandalous chat messages that were uncovered a couple of weeks ago is really going to put the island in a very difficult situation. I mean, on the one hand, all these young people, a whole generation of young people now, have a new sense of power, of the power that people can have to affect governance. But the problem becomes now: What happens next? Even the succession issue is going to be tough, because the woman who’s going to come in as interim governor is not—doesn’t have a whole lot of experience. Neither did Ricky Rosselló, which is one of the real stories here, that this was actually a very incompetent and inexperienced person from the beginning, with a certain arrogance in the way he dealt with his own population.

But history is replete with examples of popular uprisings that got rid of a corrupt or dictatorial government, but the people ended up with worse situations. Can we forget Tahrir Square in 2011 and the overthrow of Mubarak after several weeks of protest by the people? Or go back a little further to the Philippines in 1986 and the overthrow of Marcos by popular protest, or even further back to 1979 in Iran and the overthrow of the shah. In each of those cases, people thought their country was going to change dramatically, and ended up, in some cases, in worse situations than before.

So, there’s going to be a real test now among the leaders and the activists of Puerto Rico. Can they unite? Can they come up with a political force, a leadership that is really accountable to the Puerto Rican people? And that’s going to be the big test in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to follow this. I encourage people to check out our broadcast yesterday. We spent the entire hour interviewing the head of the Center for Independent Journalism, which is the independent journalistic group that released these explosive exchanges between the governor and his staff, with emails that disparage the victims of Hurricane Maria, which I think clearly was the most explosive part of that whole chain.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, without a doubt, yes.

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