Recently, Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) announced that he is resigning effective August 2. The announcement came after truly massive street protests, which reached a crescendo on Monday July 23, when half a million people (in a country of only 3.2 million inhabitants) filled the streets of San Juan and other Puerto Rican towns and cities demanding the governor’s resignation.
The immediate cause of the upsurge was the revelation, on July 13, of a series of text messages in which Rosselló and a group of his cronies, officials and political allies made sexist and homophobic comments about their political opponents, joked about killing San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and mocked people who died in Hurricane María. The “Chatgate” revelations came on top of the indictment of several officials for corruption, including possible theft of hurricane relief money. But the roots of the ensuing protests go much deeper.
Most gratifying is the sheer scale of the people’s mobilization in San Juan, in other cities and towns around Puerto Rico, and in the Puerto Rican diaspora worldwide. Women, trade unions, youth and students rose up and said “no!” This is the harbinger of more victories to come, for “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido”—“the people united will never be defeated!”
It is also clear that the working class and people of Puerto Rico do not see the resignation of governor Rosseló as the end of the struggle, but more like the beginning of a new and more advanced stage. For behind Rosseló and his clique stands imperialism, which, for more than a hundred years, has subjected Puerto Rico to its exploitative, abusive and undemocratic rule.
Laws made in Washington at the behest of U.S. and transnational corporations have resulted in the undermining and looting of the island nation’s economy. Protests against U.S. control have been met with violent repression, but the Puerto Rican people have always fought back.
In the 1970’s a large protest movement forced the U.S. Navy to withdraw from Culebra Island, east of the Puerto Rican mainland. Similarly, in the 1990s and early 2000’s the people of Puerto Rico mounted an epic struggle to end the U.S. military’s use of the island of Vieques as a bombing range. No sooner was that struggle victorious than a follow up struggle was mounted to clean up the environmental damage the military had caused. The struggle of Puerto Rican labor to prevent the privatization of the island’s telephone services has also reached an epic scale.
In recent years, Puerto Rico has been saddled with the “Fiscal Control Board” established by the U.S. Congress’s 2016 PROMESA act. The Fiscal Control Board is an unelected body imposed on the Puerto Rican people by Congress, a body in which Puerto Rico has no voting representation. The Fiscal Control Board represents the interests of finance capital, and its purpose is to “solve” Puerto Rico’s massive debt problem on the backs of ordinary working-class Puerto Ricans, by means of the standard neoliberal policies of austerity and privatization. From the start, the Puerto Rican people have been fighting against the Fiscal Control Board, to defend their public services against disastrous cuts and privatization schemes. The Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico, along with other public service workers’ unions, has played an outstanding role in that struggle.
So when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September of 2017 devastating the island’s essential physical and human infrastructure and causing thousands of deaths, and when neither the right wing government in San Juan nor the one in Washington DC proved equal to the task of providing emergency aid, Puerto Rican labor and other grassroots organizations rose to the challenge.
The massive reaction to the corruption allegations against governor Rosselló’s administration, followed immediately by the release of the insulting, misogynistic and homophobic comments by Rosselló and his cronies, are simply more evidence of the fighting spirit of the Puerto Rican workers and their unions, and of the whole Puerto Rican nation.
The Communist Party USA is confident that this fighting spirit will overcome Puerto Rico’s current difficulties, and put an end to the unjust colonial regime to which the nation has been subjected for more than a century.
The Communist Party USA salutes the women, workers, and youth of Puerto Rico, all in their unique ways contributed mightily to the success of the massive peoples uprising.