July 22, 2019
Thousands of protesters calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló have brought Puerto Rico almost to a standstill. Public outrage was prompted by his texts mocking victims of the devastating 2017 hurricane, Maria.
Protesters were joined by a number of high-profile Puerto Rican celebrities, including Latin pop singer Ricky Martin and rapper René Pérez Joglar, also known by his stage name ‘Residente.’ Many businesses, including the Plaza Las Américas mall in San Juan, closed throughout the day in anticipation of the demonstration.
A major expressway –Highway 18– was completely blocked by protesters.
Some held signs and banners directly calling on Rosselló to resign.
The leader of the US territory has been embroiled in controversy following a leak of hundreds of communications in which he made a series of offensive remarks. The leaks amount to almost 900 pages of messages sent to current and former aides and officials. They contain sexist, homophobic and often profanity-laced comments as well as crude and flippant remarks about subjects like death following Hurricane Maria.
In addition to causing great offense, a member of the Puerto Rican legislature has identified 18 cases of potential crimes and introduced a resolution to begin impeachment proceedings against Rosselló. Both island and federal authorities have also launched investigations into possible corruption or conflicts of interest stemming from information contained in the texts.
On Sunday, Rossello said that he would not resign, but will step down as leader of the New Progressive party, the major pro-Puerto Rican statehood party, and would not seek re-election in the upcoming 2020 gubernatorial vote. However, many figures from across the political spectrum – and both on the island and from the US mainland – are calling for nothing short of his resignation, arguing that his position is untenable in light of the leaks.
The Caribbean island nation is still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The natural disaster caused billions of dollars in damage, destroyed about 80% of the country’s crop value and left several thousand residents dead. In the months following the storm, over 100,000 Puerto Ricans fled the island for the US mainland. Earlier that year, Puerto Rico became the first US territory to become bankrupt in what has been described as the “biggest government financial collapse in United States history.”
The US government’s response to the crisis was controversial. The Senate initially voted 90-10 to approve a multi-billion dollar aid relief program, but Democrats expressed concern that the spending didn’t go far enough.
Congress eventually allocated just over $40 billion to the relief effort, which came from various sources including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Trump made a number of controversial remarks about both this amount and the response of local politicians. He falsely claimed that $92 billion had been spent on the recovery effort, describing the amount as “squandered and wasted and stolen.” He also made a number of disparaging remarks about elected officials in Puerto Rico, describing the governor as “terrible” and the mayor of San Juan as a “horror show.” He also frequently boasted about his own purported role in the recovery effort, describing himself as “the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.”
Below: Carmen Yulin Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico responds to Trump’s failure to provide sufficient aid, and racist comments on disaster.
This latest controversy might lead to a further need to prop up the troubled island. If Rosselló goes, a new administration will have to take its place. If he stays, his government will turn into a lame duck until the next gubernatorial elections, which are over a year away. Either way, as a US territory for which Washington has ultimate responsibility, the burden will fall on the federal government to help ensure good governance.
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PUERTO RICO’S DEMAND FOR INDEPENDENCE MORE ALIVE THAN EVER
Interview with Puerto Rican patriot Oscar López Rivera
Author: Nuria Barbosa León | email@example.com
March 13, 2019 16:03:36
At the 4th International Conference for the Balance of the World, Oscar López Rivera called for Latin American unity to build support for Puerto Rico’s independence struggle. Photo: Ariel Cecilio Lemus Alvarez
PUERTO RICO —Puerto Rico’s demand for independence was reaffirmed by the patriot Oscar López Rivera recently, insisting that this is the inalterable demand of the island’s people.
In statements to Granma International, he noted that the only path forward for his homeland is independence, and an end to the U.S. protectorate.
He cited, as another other important issue in the struggle, the elimination of Puerto Rico’s exorbitant foreign debt, which according to Wall Street has reached 73 billion dollars, and for which the island’s people bear no responsibility, he said.
López Rivera recalled that the Caribbean nation does not have its own public treasury to pay this debt, since all income generated goes straight to the United States, given its status as the reigning colonial power.
Puerto Rico cannot appeal to any international financial institution or declare bankruptcy as any state of the union could, because it is not part of U.S. continental territory and is prohibited from applying for financial bail-out programs, given its condition as a Free Associated State.
He explained that to resolve the issue, in 2016 the White House named a Financial Oversight Board, with powers greater than those of the governor, charged with the task of developing social cutback plans to guarantee payment to creditors.
López Rivera explained that economic measures taken since then have cut the budget for programs benefitting the population, and accentuate dependence on the United States.
This situation, he said, is leading many Puerto Ricans to fight for the island’s definitive independence, or emigrate to the mainland, a pattern that continues to increase. Moreover, the nation has been unable to recover from the disaster created in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, he added.
“Today we are confronting this criminal, vengeful debt imposed by credit agencies backed by the United States. Related to this issue, the government imposed on us the Financial Oversight Board, which is determining how to implement an austerity plan, one that threatens the present and future of Puerto Rico, in ways we can’t even imagine,” he stated.
The issue will be addressed in the United Nations General Assembly, he said, and the demand for the homeland’s independence and the right to self-determination will be raised, on the basis of the fact that, in 1952, when the United States imposed the Free Associated State, information was manipulated and distorted to serve its neocolonial goals.
“We advocate unity among left political forces, to put our differences aside and work to achieve our definitive independence, which has become a necessity,” López Rivera stressed.
As a young man he was recruited by the U.S. Army and obliged to participate in the Vietnam War.
Returning to the U.S. city of Chicago, where his family had settled in the 1970s, he joined the struggle in defense of the rights of Puerto Ricans, becoming an outstanding community organizer, demanding better living conditions for the population.
In 1976, he joined the underground movement in favor of Puerto Rican independence as a member of the National Liberation Armed Forces (FALN), and was imprisoned in 1981, following his arrest by the FBI and conviction for alleged seditious conspiracy.
At the time of his capture, he sought classification as a prisoner of war, in accordance with Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Convention that recognizes this condition in cases of persons detained during armed conflicts and struggles against colonial oppression.
This demand was ignored by the U.S. government, which sentenced him to 55 years in prison. Subsequently, they fabricated an escape attempt and the sentence was extended to 70 years, 12 of which he spent in solitary confinement.
Oscar López served a total of 36 years of hard prison. On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama granted him a pardon and his release occurred on May 17 of the same year.
He recently traveled to Cuba to attend the 4th International Conference for the Balance of the World in Havana, which was held at the end of January.
For this Puerto Rican patriot, returning to Cuba was a great honor. “I feel super excited to be here. This forum can illuminate us regarding the necessary unity and put divisions aside. I am one of those who have confidence that a better and more just world is possible. We fight to achieve the goal of prosperity for all human beings, because not only does Puerto Rico suffer, but the entire planet. We suffer the punishment imposed by the imperialist U.S. ogre.”
He said that maintaining the continuity and legacy of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro is important. “We need youth to continue that legacy, because it represents the future of society. To continue the example of Fidel Castro, who assumed it from José Martí,” he concluded.