Mass Upheaval in Puerto Rico

Hundreds of Thousands Take to the Streets, Defy Police, Demand Governor Rosselló MUST GO!



Update: On Wednesday, July 24, after weeks of determined and massive protests demanding his resignation, Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced that he would step down on August 2. Rosselló had said a few days earlier that he would not seek reelection next year—but the people in their tens of thousands would not accept this and continued to demand in the streets that he get out immediately.

We’ve had too many humiliations. It’s everything, everything. We saw how they did that in the chat, and it was just the last straw. He can say he’s sorry, but we’re not asking him to apologize. We’re asking for him to leave.

Natasha Curtin, an 18-year-old woman who, with her mother, was attending her first demonstration. (Miami Herald, July 17, 2019)

On Wednesday, July 17, people protested at the governor’s mansion in Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan, to demand that Governor Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló resign immediately. Daily protests began seven days earlier with no more than 100 people. On Wednesday, there were tens of thousands, among the largest protests in Puerto Rican history. More protests are scheduled, including a massive march on Monday, July 22, the deadline given by protesters for Rosselló to leave.

Police have responded viciously. On Monday, July 15, riot cops attacked a demonstration of thousands with tear gas and pepper gas; demonstrators repeatedly regrouped and continued their protest at the mansion. That night, police commissioner Henry Escalera defended the cops and ominously threatened that “We are ready to defend this democracy to the last drop of blood.”

The repression and threats only drew broader sections of people into the fray. As tear gas blanketed Old San Juan (including residential areas with many families and elderly people), restaurateurs and bar owners opened their doors to demonstrators, and residents ran garden hoses out so people could wash the gas off. An older woman who had traveled from a small town 40 miles away insisted to a group of cops that they not “abuse the young people. The youth are doing the work of those who cannot be here, like older people, like people who cannot walk all the way here.” (Miami Herald, July 17)

By Wednesday, people from around the country, as well as Puerto Ricans in the U.S., were streaming into the capital to join the protest. Major celebrities like Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny marched. Residente (of Calle 13) called on Rosselló to “go to hell.” El Rey Charlie, a popular figure among motorcycle enthusiasts, went into working class districts of San Juan and organized a caravan numbering at least a thousand people, finally arriving at the protest after midnight. El Rey Charlie had told local radio that “We won’t rest until Ricky leaves power. We can’t demand his resignation from the sofa or on social media.” (USA Today, July 18, 2019)

Under a scorching late-afternoon sun, tens of thousands set off from the legislature building and marched through San Juan. And when the sun went down, thousands remained, courageously confronting a wall of riot police and barriers outside the governor’s mansion. As their numbers grew, so did tensions. According to many accounts, the crowd burst through the police lines separating them from the mansion, and cops responded with volleys of tear gas, pepper gas, rubber bullets and perhaps flash grenades. A reporter from Democracy Now! said that a cop aimed a tear gas grenade launcher directly at his chest, and other journalists were injured by rubber bullets. The crowd stampeded under the onslaught, with police chasing them, but then regrouped and continued to protest defiantly deep into the morning hours.

Behind the Anger of the Puerto Rican People

The immediate spark for the current upsurge was the release of nearly 900 pages of “chats” between Rosselló and his inner circle, and recent indictments of top figures in the Puerto Rican government for siphoning off funds designated for hurricane relief, and for funneling government contracts to their cronies.

But this happened in the context of tremendous suffering that has been endured by the Puerto Rican people for over a decade.

Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S., and the “government of Puerto Rico” is in fact the colonial government which serves U.S. imperialist robbery and domination of the island, providing a façade of “self-government” while deceiving and repressing the population. (See Puerto Rico: 120 Years of Imperialist Exploitation and Oppression at U.S. domination led to a crippling debt crisis and deep recession that has lasted for more than 10 years, spreading poverty and causing the decay and near collapse of infrastructure like roads, schools and the electrical grid. (See PROMESA: Imperialist Vultures Descend on Puerto Rico at

All this in turn rendered the island highly vulnerable to further devastation when hurricanes Irma and Maria struck in 2017. Then the U.S.—which has sucked billions of dollars in wealth from Puerto Rico—outright refused to provide any meaningful aid in the wake of these disasters. Instead, Trump went to Puerto Rico, hobnobbed chummily with Rosselló, and tossed paper towels—and insults—at the Puerto Rican people. Thousands died unnecessarily, and hundreds of thousands suffered greatly as a result, and Puerto Rico still has not recovered.

It was in this context that the “chats” were so infuriating. Rosselló and his pals (the “brothers,” as they referred to themselves) spoke with utter disdain for the people of Puerto Rico, even making jokes about the dead bodies that piled up in morgues during the storm. Their “jokes” dripped with contempt for women and gay people, referring to women who were political leaders as “whores,” and “daughters of bitches,” and mocking Ricky Martin and others for being gay. In one exchange, an aide joked about shooting the female mayor of San Juan who has been sharply critical of Trump and Rosselló; Rosselló responded, “You’d be doing me a grand favor.”

What all of this made crystal clear is that the Rosselló government is not merely “incompetent,” or “doing a bad job”—it is hostile to the interests of the masses of people. And it is that revelation that has shattered any legitimacy his government had, and made Rosselló the lightning rod for the deep anger at the whole oppressed situation of the Puerto Rican people.

This fury could be seen in the many signs people carried with the names of their loved ones who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, or simply the number “4,645”—the death toll estimated by a Harvard University study. As a hospital administrator said, “We were without electricity for six months. There was no food in the supermarkets. There was nothing.... He [Rosselló] was a puppet of the president [Trump]. (The Guardian, July 18)

Another woman spoke to how the ongoing crisis had made it impossible for people to carve out a decent life in their homeland, causing hundreds of thousands to move abroad: “The graduating class of the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez in 2015, that class, 90 percent has had to leave. They’ve stolen everything from us.”(Miami Herald, July 17) Yet another said, “My kids’ classrooms have mold in them ... There’s just so much outrage that’s been building over time.” (The Guardian, July 17)

It is important to state that this righteous rejection of Rosselló’s regime—while important—is not the same as understanding that his disregard for the masses is actually built in to the character of the Puerto Rican government as a colonial apparatus, and that having a government that really serves the interests of the people of Puerto Rico and of humanity as a whole requires a revolution and a whole new political and economic system.

What Next?

At this point the situation remains volatile and unpredictable. Rosselló’s New Progressive Party (NPP) controls both houses of the legislature and the Supreme Court. Rosselló is insisting that he will not step down. And one thing that apparently came out in the “chats” is that Rosselló has been working to curry ties with and remove “restraints” on the police.

But the protests have continued to grow, and as a reporter for Democracy Now! emphasized, “the protesters ... just want to make clear that they’re not going to leave Old San Juan, and they’re not going to leave protesting from the governor’s mansion until he resigns.” [our emphasis] This is fueling calls for Rosselló to step down even from some within the NPP.

Meanwhile, Trump—whose massive corruption makes Rosselló’s clique look like small-time thieves—is trying to take advantage of the protests to blame the U.S.’s genocidal abandonment of Puerto Rico on the U.S. lackey-on-the-scene, Ricky Rosselló. Trump tweeted that the U.S. Congress “foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief, much of which was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again.” ($92 billion was needed! FEMA figures show that Congress appropriated $42 billion, and about $14 billion was delivered—less than a sixth of what Puerto Rico needed.)

The struggle of the Puerto Rican people should be supported—and learned from—by people throughout the U.S.

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

Two months after the Hurricane Maria, over 750,000 homes and businesses were still totally without power, and the failure of a main line knocked out power temporarily for 80 percent of the population.

Support protests in the U.S.:

Orlando, Florida

“We want our island to know we're there for them. A lot of us are still helping our family members [in Puerto Rico]. They're still struggling to survive.... We are one blood, one voice here.”

Protesters Nilda Torres and Rafael Castro, in Tampa, Florida, July 19

Over a century of U.S. domination and destruction of Puerto Rico has driven wave after wave of people to leave their homeland and try to make a decent life in U.S. cities. Hundreds of thousands have come after the U.S. failure to aid reconstruction after hurricanes Irma and Maria. Today, the five million Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. feel deeply connected to their home country—and share the outrage of their people over Governor Ricky Rosselló’s contempt for women, LGBTQ people, and the people as a whole. Across the U.S., they have joined in solidarity protests.

July 16: One hundred mostly young people in Chicago and several hundred in Miami protested, with one sign reading (in Spanish): “We are not requesting your resignation, we are demanding your dismissal.” July 17: More than 100 gathered in New York City’s Union Square, including actor/director/writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father, chanting and singing with the crowd. July 18 : More than100 gathered in a driving rain at Rosselló’s Orlando office. One woman said Rosselló would “rather dehumanize women than listen to them.” July 19: Hundreds rallied in the Tampa Bay Area. And in Philadelphia, 150 rallied downtown, with protesters declaring: “This is a worldwide demonstration of unity that tells Rosselló and the Trump administration that no one [messes] with Puerto Rico.”


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