Editor’s Note: EVM Staff Writer Harold Ford is vacationing in Puerto Rico but, as a true journalist, couldn’t resist reporting on what was happening there as Governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned. In an email, Ford wrote, “The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was in an uproarious celebration last night. It was in a state of revolt prior to that…While many eyes in the States are focused on a corrupt leader that the citizens can’t get rid of, Puerto Rico demonstrated to us how you do it.” Here is his report.
By Harold C. Ford
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” …Lord Acton, 1887
The House was sent a report that could lead to impeachment proceedings against the elected head of government. Misogynistic, homophobic, and otherwise unsavory behaviors have been associated with the chief executive and those who surround him. High ranking officials have left the administration due to scandal.
Washington D.C.? No. Puerto Rico. The state of affairs described in the preceding paragraph existed as my wife, Lorretta Davis, and I arrived in Puerto Rico Saturday, July 22. On that day, an estimated 100,000 persons jammed the streets in San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico, demanding the resignation of their governor, Ricardo Rosselló.
Yesterday, July 24, Rosselló, Puerto Rico’s governor since 2017, announced in a video message released just before midnight that he would be stepping down. His said his resignation would become effective Aug. 2, which will make him the first governor to resign in the modern history of this U.S. territory.
Ricochet of rebellion:
It was apparent early on during our annual visit to Carolina, a suburb of Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan, that the pressure on Rosselló to step aside was enormous. Newspaper headlines and nonstop television coverage by Telemundo, Univision, and local channel NotiCentro/WAPA documented the daily drip of scandal, diminishing support, and protest that was rapidly becoming a torrent.
Monday , July 22, at 8 p.m., during our third evening in Carolina, a residential/tourist community some 12 miles from the governor’s residence in La Fortaleza, Old San Juan, the air was thick with resistance to Rosselló’s rule, literally. The sound of banging pots and pans ricocheted off the buildings and into the streets.
The 8 p.m. cacophony of clanging pots and pans became even more pronounced the next evening, July 23. The banner headline of The San Juan Daily Star on that day screamed “LOUD AND CLEAR: Puerto Ricans Want Rosselló Out.”
A majority of the 78 elected mayors in the Puerto Rico Mayors Association had just called for Rosselló’s resignation. They joined similar calls made earlier by the Catholic Puerto Rican Bishops’ Conference and many Puerto Rican celebrities including singer Ricky Martin, actor Rosie Perez, and playwright Lin Manuel Miranda.
I said to my wife upon reading the political tealeaves, “Something very important is going to happen politically before we go home.”
Another one bites the dust:
“Another One Bites The Dust” proclaimed The San Juan Daily Star on Wednesday morning, July 24. “La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Ricardo Llerandi Cruz resigned Tuesday from all of his positions in the Rosselló administration, citing threats made to him and his family.” Cruz was but the latest of several members of the Rosselló administration to resign.
It was also reported that impeachment and prosecution of Rosselló was possible, according to a panel of jurists appointed by Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives. The panel concluded “the House could file five articles of impeachment against the governor for criminal offenses involving malfeasance and embezzlement, illicit use of public employment and services, and neglecting his duties as governor.”
At midnight that night, I was awakened from a sound sleep by the nightly symphony of pots and pans. They were augmented this time by the blaring of auto horns, exploding fireworks, and the shouts of citizens. The noise this time signaled a massive celebration across the Isla Del Encanto (Island of Enchantment), a nickname for Puerto Rico found emblazoned on all of its license plates. Rosselló had just announced his resignation.
The duties of governor will presumably fall to Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez. However, Vázques’s record is already coming under much greater scrutiny in a highly charged political atmosphere.
Critical role for Fourth Estate in a popular resignation:
By nearly all measures, Rosselló’s resignation was a popular one. His administration had steadily lost support for a number of reasons: its inability to reinvigorate Puerto Rico’s economy; its inability to significantly make progress in retiring the commonwealth’s debt that approached $73 billion; its unwillingness to stand up to the perceived disrespect of Puerto Rico by the Trump administration in Washington D.C.; and an ineffective response to the massive devastation wrought by Hurricane María in September 2017, which I reported on for East Village Magazine when I was in Puerto Rico with the UM – Flint jazz combo.
But the deciding blow came in the aftermath of the release of over 800 pages of Telegram chats among Rosselló and members of his inner circle that included vulgar, insensitive comments against women, disabled people, and those who suffered from María, including the dead.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, popular mayor of San Juan, and singer Ricky Martin, were among those targeted in the hundreds of pages of electronic chats released by the Center for Investigative Journalism. Cruz was called a “bitch” while Martin’s homosexual identity was the object of derisive comments.
The day after the resignation I decided to go out to see what people had to say. My anonymous, unscientific, person-on-the-street survey of 10 Puerto Ricans revealed that nine of the respondents supported his stepping down. They included:
- a tourist hotel employee, male, 29;
- a cab driver, male, 45;
- a business owner, female, 68;
- a retired pharmaceutical inspector, female, 67;
- a grocery store employee, female, 19;
- an airport employee, male, 56;
- another airport employee, male, 27;
- a second grocery store employee, male, 36;
- a cook, male 21.
Though not asked for commentary, the female business owner remarked, “He started like a good boy, but now he’s dirt.” The male grocery store employee said, “I’m really disappointed in the government. There’s a lot of corruption.”
The sole supporter of Rosselló was a male construction worker, 39.
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford is in Puerto Rico now but presumably still can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ricardo Rosselló, source is Wkipedia
Puerto Rico flag, source is Wikiipedia
Flags of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, source is welcome.topuertorico.org