The United States Could Learn From Puerto Rico

Artists such as Residente, Bad Bunny and Ricky Martin (who is pictured), attended the manifestations and were very outspoken during the protests.

Ursula Muñoz Schaefer/Assistant Opinion Director

When Puerto Ricans took to the streets last month demanding for Governor Ricardo Roselló to step down, it was a movement unlike anything I’d ever seen in my 15 years of living on the island.

For two weeks, over 500,000 protestors were livid over the barrage of scandals that brought the island to international attention. It all culminated on July 24, 2019, when Roselló announced his resignation.

In the blink of an eye, Puerto Rico became a leading example for other Latin American territories that are being torn apart by dictatorships. Oddly enough, the scandal is also something the United States can learn from—especially following Trump’s newest word flub of the week.

On July 11, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of conversations from a derogatory group chat that was managed by Roselló. In the chat, the Governor and his associates joked about perpetrating violence against female politicians, made homophobic comments about Puerto Rican celebrities and political figures and, perhaps most audaciously, made light of the Hurricane Maria casualties. They also talked about setting up a troll network to go after people they don’t like online, with an emphasis on attacking prominent reporters covering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Protests in Puerto Rico were ongoing in July. Photo by Gilberto Santiago.

The document was leaked a day after the FBI arrested two public officials for fraud involving over $15 million in federal funding.

Puerto Ricans weren’t angry about the crassness of Roselló and his colleagues’ comments per sé, but about this administration’s well-known corruption and indifference towards its people.

The jokes Roselló made in the chat about the accumulation of corpses during Hurricane Maria reflect his mismanagement of relief effort money. Here’s a reminder that over 3,000 people died due to his inept leadership during Maria’s aftermath, and he lied about the death toll for almost a year, saying it was only at 64.

As for the sexist language made by Roselló and his colleagues, their apathy towards women would help explain why he refused to sign an executive order for a national plan to end gender violence in 2018. What followed were three days of manifestations, which was a consistent theme during Roselló’s time in office.

During the two weeks of protests in July, everyone was already livid over the government’s corruption. The callousness demonstrated in the chat was simply the last straw.

In the United States, we’ve come to give our politicians a free pass after free pass. Because our president remains such a toxic figure, we’ve normalized his behavior and stopped short of holding him accountable for his words and actions.

His most “rational” apologists have attempted to qualify his racist, sexist and misogynist statements over and over again, and their arguments always end up being the same thing: either his overtly bigoted language wasn’t really bigoted, or it was but it’s not grounds for impeachment, and therefore not grounds for anger.

In a free country, words can’t get anyone thrown out of office, but they do reflect each harmful policy measure, each obstruction effort and each violation of human rights from a corrupt administration. People have a right to take them to heart; freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily mean freedom from the consequences.

Puerto Rico is the last colony left in the world—a territory of the United States that’s been getting the raw end of the deal for over a century. But right now, it represents the best of what U.S. citizens can accomplish when we dare to demand more from our leaders and how our leaders should react when we do so.

It’s time the American people stopped letting themselves be taken for fools and learned something from the territories they choose to ignore.

Featured photo courtesy of Gilberto Santiago.



The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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