A nonviolent revolution in Puerto Rico
On July 24, Puerto Rico proved the power of protest. We can never underestimate it. This was the power that changed a government — decidedly, nonviolently and permanently.
The power of the people toppled hawks in Washington and ended the Vietnam War. Latino immigrants have taken to thoroughfares to demand respect and immigration reform by the hundreds of thousands. Black Lives Matter in Ferguson has demanded dignity and raised a voice and against police killings. Women have forced a reckoning with misogynistic abusers all over the country during the Women’s March.
Now, we have seen Puerto Rico rise and force a recalibration of the status quo that oppressed those on the island. Puerto Ricans joined in united condemnation of a local government that belittled their existence, mocked their leaders, and fed a corruption train that infests so many governments worldwide. This movement claimed victory on Wednesday when the Gov. Ricardo Rosselló finally announced he would resign. This community victory fills me with hope and pride, and it energizes political accountability worldwide.
The general public will hear of other, allegedly dispositive factors like the federal subpoenas to capture the origins of the online chats that became the last straw, or of Trump’s hate of anything non-white including Puerto Ricans as a deciding factor, or of congressional threats to withhold federal disaster relief. To the outsider, the federal, that is, the colonial government forced this government transition and the resignation of Rosselló.
To be clear, Congress and Washington, D.C. control and dictate nearly everything that happens in Puerto Rico.
But not this time.
Puerto Ricans on the mainland, like me, know this was a telling moment in Puerto Rican history. Those on the island have had to live through the incompetence, greed and arrogance that fueled the fiscal crisis, the devastation of two hurricanes, the closing of schools and hospitals, and the corrupt government that pilfered disaster relief dollars. Many of them traveled hours to then march for many more hours in protest among, estimated at 500,000 to perhaps a million strong. I do know that everyday people led this uprising and defined its outcome.
This is the beginning, not the end. Puerto Rico, its island and its diaspora, is forever changed. This is the perfect time to address decolonization straight up and create a path towards a new Puerto Rico. The resignation of one governor is the culmination of this battle.
But the elimination of Puerto Rico’s colonial status will end this war — and our people will decide that too.
We have witnessed a moment of change,
Juan Cartagena is the president and general counsel at Latino Justice PRLDEF (previously known as Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund), is a New York-based national civil rights organization focused on changing discriminatory practices through advocacy and litigation.