By Wandy Felicita Ortiz and Emily Drooby
With their fists raised, their flags waving and through chants of “Ricky Renuncia” or “Ricky Resign,” Puerto Ricans took to Union Square Park to speak out against the island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló on July 18.
Known to the locals as “Ricky,” many hold him responsible for the humanitarian and financial fallout the island has endured since Hurricane Maria made landfall in 2017. Post-Maria, citizens of the U.S. commonwealth feel abandoned by their local and national political leaders. Now, they say he must he step down from his position due to endangering the island.
For protestor Power Malu, the history and pain of Puerto Rico runs in his blood- his parents from the island towns of Santurce and Camuy.
For years Malu has been a member of civil rights groups like Brooklyn’s El Grito de Sunset Park or “The Scream of Sunset Park.”
“Hundreds of schools closed down under the guise of saving money, and we find out that the Secretary of Education was stealing this money. So you see all of this corruption going on, and the crisis that’s happening, it’s partly due to this incompentant Governor of Puerto Rico,” Malu said.
On July 10, the FBI arrested two former agency directors in Rosselló’s administration who between 2017 – 2019 allegedly committed $15.5 million worth of fraud using federal funds.
Later that week on July 13, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism unearthed 800 pages worth of correspondence written by Rosselló in a private chat.
Within the chat he directed profanities towards the board that oversees the territory’s finances and mocked the 4,645 lives lost following the hurricane. Additionally he defamed fellow Puerto Rican and former New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and fantasized about the death of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, his political rival in this year’s gubernatorial elections.
Malu said that the grassroots movement has grown not because the issues the island faces are new, but because the people responsible for them have now been exposed, saying “talking behind closed doors, showing their true colors, on how they feel about us. We’ve been on the streets protesting these things and what do they do? They laugh at us.”
“It’s obvious now to us, in writing, what’s going on,” said Zaira Rivera from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, who has been living in the U.S. for ten years now. She came to the protest with her family back home in mind.
In a statement White House spokesman Judd Deere said, “The unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization and corruption have been valid.”
Stacey Martinez from the Bronx came to the protest with her son who is preparing to enter college. She hopes that by seeing the Puerto Rican community come together, both her son and politicians at the White House can learn an important lesson.
“Puerto Rico is suffering. We are more than musicians and dancers. We’re scholars. We’re doctors. We are people that have changed this country,” Martinez said through tears.
“We pay taxes. We’re citizens. My father’s a disabled veteran. We fought for this country. I’m here so that my son knows: this is who we are,” she added.
Following the release of his chat comments Rosselló returned to the island early from vacation to denounce his own behavior, and promised to ride out the rest of his time in office despite calls for him to step down.
Though Catholic, he made his first apologies at a Protestant church in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Carlos Rivera who was at the protest in New York, said the governor’s apology in his hometown of Carolina was nothing but a show.
“I think that it was completely a publicity stunt, and that definitely infuriated me. Especially the use of God and religion in order to create sympathy. And I think if you’re a real Christian, Jesus said, ‘do not let the left hand know what the right hand does.’ And he did it in public, and that was incendiary,” he said.
While hundreds protested in Manhattan, over 100,000 marched on Old San Juan late into the night, with sister marches being held around the world as far the Netherlands.