For Puerto Ricans, Protests Are About More Than Getting the Governor to Resign

Thousands of protestors took to Puerto Rico’s streets on July 22, calling for the governor to resign after transcripts of a private chat exchange went public earlier this month. But Puerto Ricans say that the feelings behind the protests have been building for much longer than that.

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the Expreso Las Américas highway in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 22 to demand the resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló.

Waving Puerto Rican flags, the mass pushed through sweltering heat and rain to the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan.

Jeremías Torres, 21, a surgical technician from Bayamón, a municipality in northern Puerto Rico, painted the flag in black and white on his chest. He says this rendition of the flag, stripped of its signature red, white and blue, is known as the “grief flag” of Puerto Rico. Some also view it as a symbol of resistance.

“Puerto Rico is in mourning right now and was in mourning for a long time after Hurricane Maria,” says Torres. “It is to carry the message that Puerto Rico is still wounded.”

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Earlier this month, the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, a Puerto Rican investigative journalism organization, released nearly 900 pages of Telegram messaging app chats sent between Rosselló and 11 of his government advisers and friends. The transcripts contained remarks described by many Puerto Ricans as homophobic and sexist as well as jokes about deaths attributed to Hurricane María. Some say the messages suggest corruption among government officials.

The response to the release of the transcripts was swift, with Puerto Ricans on and off the island calling for Rosselló to step down.

The slogans “Ricky Renuncia,” or “Ricky, Resign,” ignited across social media platforms in response, spurring protests in cities including San Juan, Barcelona and New York City.

Monday’s protest in San Juan is reported to be one of the largest to occur in Puerto Rico, with some comparing it to the protest nearly two decades ago calling for an end to United States military training on the Puerto Rican municipality of Vieques.

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But those who gathered came for reasons beyond calling for the end of Rosselló’s governance.

“The reason we went was to be able to express the art and history of Puerto Rico,” says Torres. “It was a performance, a presentation of characters that are the history of Puerto Rico.”

But Torres also expressed concern over the government’s mismanagement of funds, which he says has prompted the closure of schools in Puerto Rico.

Approximately a quarter of public schools in Puerto Rico have closed since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, according to a 2019 report from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York.

Keysha García, 23, donned a feather headdress as a homage to Puerto Rico’s Taíno community. Torres says the “taína” represents a “fighting woman.”

“Keysha comes out in representation of the women of Puerto Rico who today fight against violence and chauvinism,” he says.

On her chest, García painted the number 4,645 – the number of deaths attributed to Hurricane Maria according to estimates from a 2018 Harvard University study.

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Talmary Soto, 28, carried a painted doll with thick eyebrows and a dirty diaper that she said represents Rosselló.

On the doll’s arms, she, too, wrote the number 4,645.

Rosselló announced his resignation on Wednesday, July 24 through a Facebook video. He is thefirst democratically elected governorto resign.

Wanda Vázquez, the secretary of justice, will assume command on August 2 at 5 p.m., when Rosselló’s resignation goes into effect. The secretary of state, who had originally been next in line, resigned last week.

Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish. Ishbel Cora Rodríguez, GPJ, translated some interviews from Spanish.

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