Local Puerto Ricans join calls for island governor to quit

Massachusetts residents part of wave of protest over chats, corruption

MASSACHUSETTS PUERTO RICANS are joining the groundswell of calls for the island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign following the release of private chats showing him and other top government officials mocking Hurricane Maria victims, joking about shooting the female mayor of San Juan, and disparaging gay people and women with homophobic and misogynistic slurs.

This leaked chats, which were first reported earlier this month, are the final straw for many Puerto Ricans worldwide, including millions that live on the mainland US, who have grown increasingly angry over the island’s economic crisis and mismanagement of the recovery from Hurricane Maria, which hit in 2017.

After almost a week of protests, including at least five demonstrations in Massachusetts, Rosselló announced he won’t run for re-election in 2020.

Jose Hernandez, who helped organize protests at Villa Victoria, a heavily Puerto Rican housing development in Boston’s South End, said that’s not good enough.

“Stating that he will not run for re-election is obvious since he doesn’t have the support,” said Hernandez, who was born and raised in Massachusetts but has lots family on the island. “Our people in Puerto Rico are angry, they feel betrayed, and we are all united on the island and throughout the diaspora.”

On Saturday, dozens of Boston area residents with family in Puerto Rico protested in almost 100-degree weather over their concerns at the local Caribbean festival.

The street protests have been joined by calls for Rosselló’s resignation from prominent Puerto Ricans, including Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and celebrities like Residente, Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Cora wrote on his Instagram account, “It’s even worse for me today as I see, read, and watch everything going on back home, knowing that throughout all of this, those that had or have control were elected by our people.”

In Holyoke, 200 demonstrators gathered Friday in an effort organized by nonprofit community group Nueva Esparanza.

Mayor Alex Morse voiced his support of the protesters in a Facebook post and later at the rally, saying, “Holyoke is home to the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans anywhere outside of the island, so naturally when big events occur there, their effects ripple throughout our city.” Morse condemned the leaked chat messages involving the governor making “derogatory comments towards his constituents.”

Massachusetts is home to more than 320,000 Puerto Ricans, a figure that does not include the influx of displaced persons in 2017 following Hurricane Maria. The storm devastated the island, causing more than $100 billion of damage and killing 4,600 people.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said that the governor “must answer to the Puerto Rican people,” but has stopped short of demanding his resignation. Three other presidential candidates, including former Obama-era housing secretary Julián Castro, have demanded he step down immediately.

Tempers were already high after more than a year of financial mismanagement of Hurricane Maria funds and federal monies. In early July, the FBI arrested the island’s former secretary of education and five others for allegedly misusing $15.5 million in federal money by redirecting it to politically connected companies and contractors.

Rosselló offered a less than inspiring defense of his actions defense last week. “I have not committed any illegal acts, I only committed improper acts,” he said.

Not everyone agrees with that. The president of the territory’s House of Representatives has created a special committee to consider whether Rosselló committed impeachable offenses.

Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin dismissed Rosselló’s comments welcoming the inquiry, but waving off calls to resign. “This is adding more fuel to the fire,” she said.

Valentin is one of three Holyoke councilors with Puerto Rican background and she has made many trips to the island to help with recovery following the hurricane.

Valentin spent two weeks trying to contact her 82-year-old father following the storm, and lamented the disaster that followed in rehabilitating the island. “There’s corruption we’re not seeing,” she said. “It becomes a question of how people were able to receive resources.”

On Monday evening, hundreds of thousands of residents plan to protest in San Juan to mirror a similar rally last Wednesday evening, when over 500,000 people flooded the city’s streets.

In Massachusetts, protests are planned in Holyoke, Boston, and other communities.

Damien Díaz arrived in Springfield three years ago after Rosselló’s administration’s filed for bankruptcy and stopped paying many contractors. Diaz, who was then a security worker, would go up to a month without a paycheck.

Saying relief funds were supposed to help with the electric, water, public health and education systems, Diaz is supporting the protests from afar and concerned about how the misuse of funds impacted his hometown and family in Corozal, a town in central Puerto Rico.

He said flying over the island one can see rooftops that were never replaced.

Diaz says he’s heartened by the protests, which he believes will continue until the governor resigns. “Older people who never raised a hand against the government out of fear and retaliation are out there,” he added, saying that a new generation of young Puerto Ricans have led the protests, encouraging their elders to join in.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.