For the last 12 days in Puerto Rico, thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, have been taking to the streets demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardó Roselló and making #RickyRenuncia (Ricky resign) into a viral movement. He has held on to power until now.
But what the world needs to know is that this has never been just about Ricky, or #TelegramGate (also known as #RickyLeaks). At its root, this movement is about the oldest colony in the world saying “enough is enough.”
The direct trigger was the nearly 900-page chat group leak published by the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, which contained sexist, homophobic, classist, misogynistic and violent comments. It also contained evidence of deep-seated corruption in our government.
But perhaps the most hurtful trigger was the revelation that Rosselló and his all-male chat group, including some of his close associates, made fun of the dead of Hurricane María. This is where we drew the line.
Those watching us from the continental United States may be wondering if the corruption and insensitivity of one politician merits between 500,000 and a million people on the island participating in the national strike, aka #ParoNacional, on July 22, as well as thousands more in solidarity from the diaspora, across the U.S. and across the world.
The answer is yes: because Puerto Ricans have woken up.
To understand the #RickyRenuncia movement, and to understand what Puerto Rico needs next, you have to understand how Puerto Rico got to this point — long before #TelegramGate, and even before Hurricane María. This movement is tied to more than a century of U.S. colonial rule.
One of the most pervasive chants heard at these peaceful protests has been “¡Ricky renuncia y llévate la junta!” In English, this means: Resign Ricky, and take the junta with you. The junta is the undemocratic Financial Oversight and Management Board established by the PROMESA law to deal with the island’s debt crisis.
It was signed into law by President Obama in 2016, and it has imposed severe austerity measures that have affected all Puerto Ricans. It has put in place strong neoliberal practices, which intensified after Hurricane María, that have led to the closing of thousands of public schools across the island and are threatening the survival of the University of Puerto Rico. The junta, and the disaster capitalism that it endorses, also must go.
In fact, the #RickyRenuncia movement has been bubbling underneath the surface for a very long time.
If you want to feel the pulse of the Puerto Rican people, to see how their reactions foreshadowed the #RickyRenuncia movement, listen to the voices of the Puerto Rican people. You’ll realize that most were deeply disappointed with Roselló’s response to the hurricane, noting a significant disconnect between people’s daily struggle for survival (lack of food and water) and the comfortable conditions (including the luxury of air conditioning) that government officials enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.
If you really listen, you’ll see that contrary to the rhetoric coming from the White House, Puerto Ricans did not sit around waiting for the local or federal government to help them after the hurricane hit. Even though everyone was in dire need, people mobilized quickly and organized “community brigades” to bring relief to those most affected. Puerto Ricans have been working on the island’s reconstruction since Day One.
If you really listen, you’ll learn that as a result of the hurricane, and the inadequate responses of both the local and federal governments, Puerto Ricans on the island felt that they were literally saved by the diaspora. As renowned intellectual and author Mayra Santos Febres puts it, “sin la diáspora nosotros nos hubiésemos muerto” (we would have died without the diaspora). Think about that. Puerto Ricans were saved by Puerto Ricans, and this continues to be the case as the White House withholds funds that were earmarked for the island’s recovery and reconstruction.
If you really listen, you’ll be surprised to learn that many people on the island didn’t realize the degree of poverty that existed in Puerto Rico prior to Hurricane María. It wasn’t until the metaphorical “green blanket” was lifted as a result of the hurricane, which defoliated almost the entire island, that this became evident to most.
Hurricane María’s latest strike has been to unveil the corruption of our government, and #RickyRenuncia is proof of that.
If you really listen to Puerto Rico now, you’ll hear that we’re demanding much more than Roselló’s resignation. We also want PROMESA to be revoked, the junta to be dissolved and the 1920 Jones Act to be repealed. Additionally, we want the debt to be audited, the public schools to be reopened, the corrupt politicians to be held accountable and justice to be restored in Puerto Rico.
Hurricane María may have taken everything, but gave us a deep sense of dignity and an unquenchable thirst for justice. Our struggle doesn’t end, but rather begins, with Rossello’s imminent resignation.
Marisel Moreno is Rev. John A. O'Brien associate professor at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches U.S. Latina/o literature in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Moreno is the author of “Family Matters: Puerto Rican Women Authors on the Island and the Mainland” and is co-creator of the engaged digital project Listening to Puerto Rico and has published numerous academic articles.