Puerto Ricans Vigilant As Governor Surrenders

Advocates say ousting of island’s leader is only the beginning

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló in the resignation video he posted to Facebook.
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Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló finally caved in to days of protests on July 24 when he announced he would resign on August 2, but people on the island are remaining steadfast in their calls for wider change in the US territory.

Rosselló announced his resignation through a recorded video posted on Facebook late Wednesday evening, saying he would step down in nine days. Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, who is also a controversial figure due in part to her close ties to Rosselló, is slated to take over as governor.

The shakeup follows demonstrations across the island and in many US cities that emerged after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism leaked details of homophobic and sexist chats between the governor and his top aides. In the chats, officials called former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito a “whore,” said out gay celebrity singer Ricky Martin “fucks men because women don’t measure up,” and threatened to “shoot up” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, among other shocking statements.

The governor and other top government officials were already under fire before the chats were revealed due to ongoing corruption problems on the island stemming from the handling of hurricane relief and the fallout from a financial crisis that has plunged the island into debt.

Following the governor’s late-night announcement, protestors vowed to continue pressuring the government until the ongoing problems plaguing the island are alleviated.

“We are joyful and happy, but we are still fighting and there is still more work to do,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, an out gay senior advisor to Cruz who previously worked under Mark-Viverito in the New York City Council. “There is so much corruption and so much discrimination. This is only the beginning.”

Demonstrators in New York’s Union Square on July 18 agreed with that outlook. Puerto Rico native Samy Nemir-Olivares noted at that rally that, among numerous other changes necessary for a prosperous Puerto Rico, other corrupt government officials need to step down even after the governor exits.

Serrano said the homophobic and sexist language used in the texts proved to be the two most significant components that fueled the surge in protests on the island. That was on display in recent days when Martin was among these seen waving a large Rainbow Flag during protests. The momentum gained in those demonstrations has shown that a vision of hope is reverberating throughout the territory.

“We are in the middle of the fight for our lives and the atmosphere is one of hope,” said Serrano, who also is the executive director of an LGBTQ-based nonprofit organization called Puerto Rico Para Tod@s. “This is a peaceful revolution. We finally had enough. We saw ourselves in the mirror and we found that we can do anything that we put our lives and our hearts into.”

Still, prompting the governor to agree to step down proved to be a difficult endeavor. He remained defiant even as protestors maintained relentless opposition and gathered en masse in streets across the island. But the surge of demonstrations for days on end reflected the enormity of the multiple crises facing the Puerto Rican people.

As Vázquez prepares to take over, protestors have already started to target her. Crowds at rallies have booed when her name has come up and folks have spread a social media hash tag — #WandaRenuncia — calling on her to step down before she takes office. Not only had she forged ties with the current governor, who is from the same party as she, but last November faced an ethics probe for allegedly meddling in a case of a person charged with stealing government material at her daughter’s home. She was ultimately cleared in that case.

In the meantime, many Puerto Ricans are not satisfied with waiting until August 2 to see the governor depart office.

“He needs to go immediately,” Serrano said. “People are fed up with him.”

Updated 10:55 am, July 26, 2019
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