The Political Scandal that has led to the resignation of the governor joins the complex relationship with the US and the financial crisis.
When Miguel Figueroa was 24 years old he left Puerto Rico vowing not to return. More than half a million people have done the same in the last decade, reducing the population of the island to 3.1 million. The anemic census says goodbye to a diaspora that is strong in the United States, where 5.5 million Puerto Ricans live. The American citizenship enjoyed by the population for being an Associated Free State (ELA) of the United States – a statute between autonomy and dependency – has served as an escape valve for the economic crisis suffered by the island since the end of the years ninety.
The exodus, the economic crisis, natural disasters, ineffective governments and a tense relationship with the United States have set the pace for an island formatted to rise. A political scandal was missing to create a perfect storm of exhaustion that has taken the population for two weeks to the street until it achieved, last Wednesday, the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.
Figueroa, who was overcome by nostalgia returned in 2015 after 12 years in the US, was one of the thousands who took to the streets.
The peaceful revolution against Rosselló was the response to the leak of a group chat that he had with his closest advisors in which they mocked the victims of Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in 2017, of women, of homosexuals, and of practically all Puerto Ricans. It was the drop that broke the glass on an island so punished. In addition to the insults, the talks exposed bad government practices. The society felt that they were not only laughing at them but also robbing them. “I am sure that the island will never be the same again. The protests have changed us forever,” says Luis Vásquez, a 26-year-old designer, who does not know anyone who has not participated in this rebellion. Only his grandmother, who clarified that if he had the necessary health, he would have left.
Vásquez, like others, wants to continue on the street to avoid taking over the job named the substitute appointed by Rosselló, the secretary of Justice, Wanda Vázquez, also dotted with suspicions of corruption.
Of the malaise by the political scandal hangs the one that periodically generates the relation with the superpower. It happened on October 2017, when US President Donald Trump visited the agonizing city of San Juan for five hours after the passage of Hurricane Maria. It was not yet known that the total death toll would be 3,057 or that the suicide rate would increase by 20% over the previous year, according to the Administration of Mental Health and Addiction Control Services. It was known that the Government of the island had declared bankruptcy and that, in a non-binding referendum just a few months earlier, 97% of the voters had chosen the option of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st State of the United States. , pulverizing the options of becoming independent or continuing as an ELA. The Republican-only referred to the first issue in his visit: “We have spent a lot of money in Puerto Rico.” He promised help while throwing rolls of toilet paper to those affected by the hurricane.
Former Governor Aníbal Acevedo (2005-2009), of the Popular Democratic Party, defends a serious dialogue with the US to “review the political and economic relationship between the two”, coupled with a reform of the local democratic model, which would require a constitutional change.
“The economic and fiscal crisis is a shared responsibility of Puerto Rico and the United States. We have failed, I include myself, but from 1997 onwards all decisions of the US Congress on Puerto Rico have been negative,” says Acevedo, referring to the year in that it was decided to gradually eliminate the main fiscal incentives for US companies in Puerto Rico to stimulate capital investment and attract manufacturing industries. “They had given us that model,” he claims and criticizes that the governors were not given tools against the crisis.
At the time the Puerto Rican debt amounted to 70,000 million dollars [about 62,900 million euros] in 2016, the US passed the Promise law to offer a path to restructuring through a Fiscal Control Board (JCF) to oversee the financial chaos.
“I compare them a bit with Star Wars. You don’t see them, they don’t show their faces and they are controlling our lives. It’s part of the magical surrealism of this island,” says Miguel Figueroa. During the protests, the JCF has been questioned by the protesters for not having noticed the bad practices that are attributed to the Administration of the island, when people’s expectations were also to stop corruption. “The JCF has not realized that this awakening of the people is going to turn against them. The fact that they are a part heists does not release them from the pressures on the street,” warns former Governor Acevedo.
Back to the street
“It is very rare that the federal government [of the United States] did not say a single word, they did not send the Army, nothing happened … Seeing Trump’s way of proceeding, I think he wants to justify the withdrawal of funds. to Puerto Rico and give more power to the JCF under the pretext that ‘obviously we do not know how to govern,’ fears, in turn, the writer Mayra Santos Febres.
The organizer of the Festival of the Word, the most important literary meeting of the island, attributes the outstanding role of the artistic world in these protests, with the participation of artists such as Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny, to an action that had been cooking for years to attend to the cultural needs that the Government did not cover. “That work of NGOs and social networks gave people the tools to organize.”
The writer believes that part of the solution to the current crisis involves including citizen action groups in governance. If this does not happen, he predicts: “People will go to their homes, they will be there for a little while and they will return to the street.”