The power of the Puerto Rico protests

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By Vic Santos

The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, resigned on July 24th. This event comes after an historic, nearly two weeks long series of protests, demonstrations, and rebellion by the people of Puerto Rico. Over one third of the population of the island is estimated to have been present by the end of the action culminating in the resignation of the governor. These people—righteously angry over not just a series of offensive text messages by the former governor of Puerto Rico, but over a century of neglect, oppression, and violence under US occupation—stood outside of La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, in unison, chanting antique songs of rebellion from old Bomba and Plena, hitting pots and pans in what came to be known as caserolazos, writing proletarian messages of revolution on the walls of business buildings and other markers of the economic imperial presence of the United States on the island. 

There were stand offs against the police, during one of which an unidentified revolutionary reminded the Puerto Rican officers that they were defending the very law that holds their people in bondage. This must have inspired at least one police officer to act in the interest of the people, because one police weapons bunker was reportedly raided and robbed of large amounts of weaponry and ammunition, with graffiti written on the wall: “Ricky Renuncia o Plomo!” —resign, or die. 

With the resignation of the governor, one wonders if this means a halt in the momentum of the people’s movement in Puerto Rico. However, this seems not to be the case, as many Puerto Rican activists at home and on the mainland are filled with an energy that even the oldest living generations of Puerto Ricans cannot recall having seen before. There is still work to be done. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration was (and any following administration, for that matter, will be) a puppet government at the mercy of the Fiscal Control Board. This Control Board is composed of seven unelected officials, who oversee the economic activities of the island. Of the seven, at least six do not live in Puerto Rico. These unelected sovereigns have, since their creation, enacted a multitude of austerity measures on the island, including the closure of many public schools, cut funding for assistance programs, delayed infrastructure for certain impoverished areas of the island, and allowed for tax cuts to foreign investors to develop projects on the island. Puerto Rican businesses get no such tax cuts.

The result of the Fiscal Control Board, ultimately, is the deaths of the estimated 3000+ people who lost their lives in the Hurricane Maria. Ricardo Rosselló may have made fun of the victims in his text messages, but the Fiscal Control Board killed them. The Control Board, or Junta as it’s called in Puerto Rico, is an undemocratic dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in action in Puerto Rico, and it seems that the next round of protests on the island will focus on this issue. But people living stateside should focus on it too. The Junta is the same as the Fiscal Control Board of 1970s New York City, which left the Bronx on fire and introduced the advent of the crack and AIDS epidemics on the city by the early 1980s. These sorts of fascistic, undemocratic institutions aren’t just reserved for America’s Colony, but have been deployed all over the whole of the United States and caused the same sort of destruction that we see now in Puerto Rico. 

The lesson that should be learned in watching this event unfold in Puerto Rico is that there is strength in unity of purpose. 

What has happened in Puerto Rico is nothing short of a working class victory, and may very well be the first in a series of victories that lead to the ultimate independence of the island after a long 500 years of unrelenting and violent colonialism. This is a moment, now, where the old adage that Puerto Ricans simply cannot take care of their own island is falling apart at the seams. The time is fast approaching when the idea of an independent Puerto Rico is not a far-off, pie-in-the-Sky idea but a reality that all the world must recognize. Should this be realized, it would mean one of the first colonies in America, and the longest continuous colony at least in the Western Hemisphere, will finally see it’s autonomy and independence. If this movement by the people has taught us anything, it is that where the people united are concerned, there shall be no force strong enough to stop them. 

Vic Santos is a Puerto Rican artist, scholar, and freelance writer. They hold a bachelor‘s degree in international studies and another in anthropology. They are currently pursuing a Master‘s in Latin American and Caribbean studies, and their work focuses especially on issues of the African diaspora in the region and on the political economic situation of Puerto Rico. 

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