For an island that has been oppressed under colonial rule for over 400 years (taken by force by Spain in Columbus’s second voyage in 1493, then ceded to the US in 1898 as spoils of the Spanish-American war) you would think that we — Puerto Ricans — would be a feisty, voracious bunch just waiting for the opportunity to revolt against the system.
However, even though you might see us parading the streets of New York proudly once a year, or screaming like a ban of lunatics when supporting our athletes during international competition, we have, for the most part, been a pretty submissive group when it comes to politics.
We are proud. We are passionate. But politically speaking, we’ve never really been aligned.
After receiving an unprecedented storm of federal indictments over alleged corruption activities being executed by his closest advisors — including the heads of our Education and Healthcare agencies — combined with the with leaked messages of a private group chat, which demonstrated attempts to deliberately manipulate public opinion, insult women, obese people, the LGBT community, and most shockingly, mock the deceased caused by Hurricane María, our Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, found his job hanging by a thread.
Never in my brief thirty-one years living on the island had I witnessed such a dramatic turn of events. In less than a week, Mr. Rosselló went from being the favorite to be reelected as Governor of Puerto Rico to becoming the first democratically elected Governor in our history to resign, thanks to the mounting public pressure, from daily in-person protests in the tens of thousands, to the round the clock trending social media campaign #RickyRenuncia.
Looking back, we might have to thank him one day. Because every day that went by that he refused to step down from power, he made Puerto Ricans come together like never before. As part of the ongoing protests, I met working-class professionals to entrepreneurs, to retirees, to university students from all different backgrounds and social classes ready to see some real change take place.
Protests were sparked thanks in large part to our artistic community, led by Residente, Bad Bunny, PJ Sin Suela, Ricky Martin, comedian Jorge Pabón, as well as journalist Jay Fonseca, among others. They powered a movement that spread across cities (including in New York, Washington D.C. and Florida) and galvanized a nation that had historically been politically divided.
Why is this so important?
Puerto Rico’s democracy is younger than people realize. Our very first publicly elected government official, Luis Muñoz Marín, came in 1948. You probably have grandparents that are older than Puerto Rico’s democracy! Since then, Puerto Ricans have remained divided mainly centered on Puerto Rico’s complex relationship with the United States.
Only two political parties have exchanged power in the years since: Muñoz Marín’s party, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) — Puerto Rico’s current status as a US Territory — and the New Progressive Party (PNP) — pro-statehood advocates and Mr. Rossello’s current party.
While the two main parties have campaigned for decades on solving an issue that is mainly beyond their control — only the US Congress can change Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US — these so-called leaders have been directly responsible for actively mismanaging Puerto Rico’s fiscal position, contributing to Puerto Rico’s mounting public debt ballooning to over $70+ billion ($140+ Billion when counting pension funds).
Rumors of unethical behavior and corruption have run been rampant for decades, by both political parties, yet we — THE PEOPLE — have stood dormant. Perhaps driven by the wounds of a previous generation that when protested, were persecuted, beaten and silenced by the local government with Federal assistance.
Perhaps due in part by the scars left by “Ley De La Mordaza”, more popularly known as the “Gag Law”, executed for nine years by Luis Muñoz Marín himself at the helm, which made it a illegal to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, sing a patriotic tune, speak or write of independence, or even hold any assembly in favor of Puerto Rican independence. In other words, anyone that went against the government during that time could pay the ultimate price.
Whatever the case may be, since those dark days, we had behaved mostly like a patient with Stockholm syndrome. We had remained quiet, while those who had taken advantage of us, who had violated our trust and whose failures to enact policies that could vastly improve our education system and spur the island’s economic development had been able to roam free with little to no consequence.
They behaved like Gods, feeling untouchable and unchallenged.
I can’t even fault them for it. How would you feel if you realized that no matter what you do, what public funds you steal, what illegal kick-backs you earn lobbying illegally for government contracts, or how much you could degrade or sexually harass coworkers you still wouldn’t be held accountable for your actions?
I guess I would feel like a God as well.
But as one of our most famous musicians of the moment, Bad Bunny, says, “esos tiempos se acabaron” (those days are gone). We set our political differences aside to focus on what’s important — demanding more accountability from our public leaders… and we won. In this digital era, where social media can be used to communicate faster, keep politicians honest, and organize civic protest quicker than ever, we just showed what the power of true democracy looks like.
Our generation, the ones who grew up with the internet, who’ve survived the most catastrophic hurricane to ever hit US Soil, who’ve had to move from the island thanks to a 13+ year-long economic depression, aren’t afraid anymore.
It’s a new time. A nation “con dientes de leche” (baby teeth) is finally showing its teeth. By coming together, leveraging technology and growing cultural influence, we are now showing that we — THE PEOPLE — will no longer tolerate corruption.
Our nation — Puerto Rico — deserves better.
Now, with Ricardo Rosello’s historic resignation, as well as almost his entire cabinet, we can finally say it proudly,
Checkmate. ¡Ricky te boté!
About the Author:
Raúl A. Palacios is a Certified Public Accountant, Columnist for El Nuevo Día (Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper) & Host of the Video Series La Maestría. Besides practicing his profession to solve financial headaches, he’s also driven to create inspiring and educational content with the goal of empowering his audience to improve personally and professionally, while actively contributing to Puerto Rico’s upcoming renaissance.
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