Rox. native active in protests shares perspective
In the months leading up to Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation, David Ortiz had helped plan and participated in numerous rallies protesting the New Progressive Party’s handling of the disaster relief aid the island received in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
But little prepared him for the human tidal wave that swept down Highway 52 in San Juan July 22.
“The on-ramp to the highway was packed,” he said. “It was shoulder-to-shoulder. I knew right away it was definitely the biggest march in the history of Puerto Rico. We were making history.”
As it turned, the July 22 demonstration was the decisive moment that brought Rosselló down. Although faced with a corruption investigation that saw two of his cabinet members arrested and the leak of more than 800 pages of texts between administration officials that mocked those killed during Hurricane Maria and denigrated women, gays and blacks, Rosselló had tenaciously clung to power, vowing to serve out the last year of his term in office.
But with images broadcast around the world of a highway full of angry voters, including members of his own party, and a mob of angry demonstrators outside La Fortileza — the governor’s residence in San Juan — Rosselló folded. His resignation announcement touched off another round of jubilant demonstrations and calls for his successor, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez, who herself is facing corruption investigations, to step aside.
who grew up in Roxbury and moved to Puerto Rico to head the El Puente
Latino Climate Action Network, said resentment toward Rosselló’s
government had been growing in the wake of Hurricane Maria and what many
regard as a series of botched post-hurricane reconstruction efforts.
education secretary, Julia Keleher, came under fire for closing schools
and opening the island’s first charter school before she was arrested
and charged with illegally steering contracts to people connected to her
administration. Keleher and other Rosselló administration officials
channeled a total of $63 million in contracts to the accounting firm BDO
Puerto Rico, headed by a former official in Rosselló’s party, Alberto
Velázquez Piñol, who was indicted on corruption charges along with
multi-million-dollar contracts that went to attorneys and consultants
with ties to Rosselló’s inner circle grated nerves in Puerto Rico, where
the median household income is just $15,000 a year and many homes are
still without the roofs they lost during the hurricane.
Maria, people have seen the island deteriorate,” Ortiz told the Banner.
“Our island is so fragile right now. To know that people are still
willing to steal when the people have so little is really hurtful.”
addition to Rosselló administration officials, demonstrators directed
their ire at the Financial Oversight and Management Board, which has
been managing the island’s debt since its members were appointed by the
Obama administration in 2016. Many on the island refer to the board as
La Junta and fear it will seek to enlarge its powers in the current
the runup to the July 22 demonstration, Reggaeton star Residente and
singer iLe, both of the group Calle 13, and Reggaeton star Bad Bunny
released a song, “Afilando los Cuchillos” (sharpening the knives), a
takedown of Rosselló and his administration that became an anthem of the
resistance and decried Rosselló’s apparent callous attitude toward the
Puerto Rican people.
“Your apologies are drowned with rain water/In houses that still don’t have a roof,” Residente raps.
Calle 13 members and Bad Bunny, along with singer Ricky Martin, who was
targeted in Rosselló’s homophobic chat group messages, all turned out
for the protest, spurring the demonstrators on.
was really inspiring,” Ortiz said. “Having the artists be a part of it
made people feel they had something they could get behind. It created an
atmosphere that was festive. It demonstrated that artists have a lot of
influence, that art can make a strong impact in our communities.”
than anything, Ortiz says, it was the disclosure of the Rosselló
administration’s chat group messages that got people into the streets.
Once there, demonstrators chanted, “Ricky renuncia y llevate la junta”
(Ricky, leave and get rid of the fiscal board). In another chant, the
demonstrators sang, “Donde esta Ricky? No esta aqui. Ricky esta
vendiendo lo que queda del país” (Where is Ricky? Ricky isn’t here.
Ricky is selling what remains of our country).
protestors in Puerto Rico say they’ll continue to keep pressure on the
government until the remnants of Rosselló’s government are gone.
think it’s a moment to clean the slate and have a government that
really responds to the needs of the people,” Puerto Rican-based
political commentator Osvaldo Carlo told Al Jazeera News last week.