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Puerto Rico Shows How Resistance Is Done

Even with governor’s resignation, protesters demand more systemic changes

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A week after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló finally caved in to days of protests, announcing he would resign on August 2, the citizens of Puerto Rico who turned out in unprecedented numbers to protest revelations of both corruption and shocking misogyny and homophobia among his inner circle are not yet resting on their laurels.

Instead, they are keeping up pressure on the current ruling clique by demanding that Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, currently next in line to be governor, not take office on Friday.

“We’re still in the middle of the fight,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, an out gay senior advisor to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. “Right now, [Vázquez] is poised to become governor if there is no nomination for secretary of state. But the people have said she cannot be the governor. She has not been following up on investigations of corruption in the current government.”

Under the Puerto Rico Constitution, a vacancy in the governor’s office is filled by the secretary of state, and if that post is vacant the justice minister is next in line. Luis G. Rivera Marín, who had been secretary of state, was among the first casualties of the scandal that eventually engulged Rosselló, resigning his office on July 13.

The current 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.

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.

Rosselló announced his resignation through a recorded video posted on Facebook late in the evening on July 24. Even as his critics poured into the streets to celebrate, they 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,” Serrano, who prior to serving as an advisor to Cruz worked under Mark-Viverito in the New York City Council, told Gay City News last week. “There is so much corruption and so much discrimination. This is only the beginning.”

This week, Serrano elaborated on ongoing risks that demonstrators in San Juan worry about. While Vázquez has signaled she is unenthusiastic about becoming governor, she has not taken herself out of the running.

In a July 28 tweet, she wrote, “I reiterate, I have no interest in occupying the governor’s post. It is a constitutional rule. I hope the governor identifies and submits a candidate for the position of secretary of state before Aug. 2, and I have told him so.” The following day, her spokesperson said she would take the oath of office on Friday absent any change in the current line of succession.

According to Serrano, protesters worry that the power brokers surrounding the current governor are working behind the scenes either to put a new secretary of state and heir-apparent in place before Friday or expect Vázquez to take office, name a new secretary of state of that group’s choosing, and then resign.

Either way, the name most often discussed among Rosselló’s critics — and others — is Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who took over as head of the New Progressive Party (NPP) when the governor gave up the post in an early, unsuccessful effort to stanch the outcry overwhelming his administration.

“He is more homophobic and more misogynistic than the current governor,” Serrano said of Rivera Schatz. “He is a mini-Trump in some ways. He and the current governor are from same party. They have been allies in the past.”

There is no direct correlation between political parties in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, and some NPP members, like Rosselló, are aligned with the US Democratic Party, while others, like Rivera Schatz, are affiliated with the Republicans.

Serrano described the current mood in Puerto Rico as “a very tense calm,” adding, “This is a constitutional crisis, a political crisis, and a social crisis.”

Having participated in a massive protest Monday in San Juan, he said another demonstration was planned for Friday as a countdown to Rosselló’s 5 p.m. departure from office. The demonstrators have not put forward specific names of who might be acceptable to take the reins of government. People on the street, Serrano said, are pressing for “a consensus figure, not anyone related to the current controversy and someone with no history of homophobia, misogyny, and abuse of power.”

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

Last week, Serrano told Gay City News that the homophobic and sexist language used in the texts proved to be the most significant components that fueled the surge in protests that swept the governor aside. That was on display last week when Martin was among these seen waving a large Rainbow Flag during protests.

Serrano’s boss, Mayor Cruz, who identifies with the mainland Democratic Party, intends to seek the nomination of her party, the Popular Democratic Party, in next year’s governor’s race.

Updated 12:05 pm, August 1, 2019
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Reader feedback

lvb from extra-territorial says:
My question is was this person appointed by Trump, Bush or Obama as Governor or he was elected by the people?? YOu need to have a new election and the person you elect is not going to have it easy. They cannot do it by themselves and you as number one citizen must do your part to bring Puerto Rico back to its greatest. You can start by replacing your house as a circle and not as a square or rectangular building--that is why your house was destroyed and lighthouses were not. This has been proven by the Mainland University School of Architecture--Clemson University, Clemson, S.C. If by Trump --then we should not be surprised. I am asking all Puerto Rican citizens to stop behaving as they do with regard to their relationship with this great Nation and then expecting a racist like Trump to come to their rescue just as he might with a mainland state. and being obstinate about not speaking English. This has led to their being treated like second class citizens by many politicians--ever had a mainland politician come there and ask for votes--probably not. IF they want to speak Spanish at home but not in the public that is OK (but it does not helo them to become native English speakers). They are Americans and have been for more than 100 years and should be 100% speaking and writing in English as their mother tongue just as they are now doing in in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska (oh the natives there still speak and continue their native culture and preserving at home but not in public) . They are no longer the subjects of the King of Spain. We are a great diverse nation who need a common language and that language is for the United States English since we were founded by English colonists who ousted the French and Spanish either by war of by peaceful purchase. The other territories speak English why cannot Puerto Rico and still preserve its culture??? I want Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands,the Northern Marianas and American Samoa to become States with full rights and privileges there to. We are a great nation of great diversity but that is going to be hard to accomplish given the bigoted 1912 court ruling that seems to say that territories cannot become states because their people are uncivilized second class citizens and not real Americans when people insist on speaking a foreign langauge and pretending to be a foreign country. IS it not reasonable to assume with behavior like this that politicians either ignore them or treat them as second and third class citizens. Puerto Rico--clean up your act and be one of us as you are entitle to be and do. There is no excuse for any Governor or President to act like Trump or copy him. You got rid of the Governor now help us get rid of Trump and his homophobic government that allows religious extremist to try to get religion in bed with the Government and enact laws and court rulings (like the Baker anti-lgbt marriage ruling) against all minorities and others.
Aug. 2, 3:22 pm

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