Two weeks ago, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published one of the most consequential investigative stories in the island's history: a trove of leaked private Telegram chats between Governor Ricardo Rossello and his most senior advisors and officials, in which the group use crude, homophobic and misogynist labels to mock and degrade opposition figures, Puerto Rican celebrities, and the people of Puerto Rico as they struggled with the aftermath of hurricanes Maria and Irma, left to swelter and die by a local and national government that had abandoned them.
Since then, Puerto Rico has been roiled by mass demonstrations, initially calling for Rossello's resignation, but now for deep, structural reforms to an island whose long history has been one of colonial occupation, oppression, and looting.
The protests have been led by feminists and queer activists, supported by the likes of Ricky Martin, a beloved, gay Puerto Rican pop star who was targeted for homophobic slurs in the leaks. As they've gained strength, the protests have drawn out more and more people from all walks of life -- with the vanguard still made up by political radicals who will not accept cosmetic compromises.
The Puerto Rican government has responded with riot squads and violent suppression, in a spectacular miscalculation that has only brought out more people. To make things worse, the police appear to have manufactured a casus belli by setting off fireworks behind their lines, a fraud so transparent that it has robbed them of any credibility they had left.
There's no sign that the protests are losing steam. Instead, they're gaining momentum, thanks in part to a second blockbuster from the Center for Investigative Journalism, detailing a high-stakes web of corruption with millions in looted public funds and bribes that goes straight to the top.
A small, densely populated island with a shameful colonial past up in arms demanding self-rule and an end to autocracy and corruption? If it's not Hong Kong, it must be Puerto Rico.
The demonstrations have, as is typical, been almost entirely peaceful, with throngs of people singing and dancing to impromptu invocations of pleneros (the folkloric, storytelling genre of plena has been an ineluctable presence for years at Puerto Rico protests) and generally hanging out on streets. But the ugly specter of aggressive police violence, featuring the long-loathed fuerza de choque (riot squad), became visible on both Monday and Wednesday nights.
On both nights it appeared that the police were the ones who initiated the violence, which involved massive and inordinate use of tear gas (some of it apparently manufactured by Safariland, the same company owned by controversial Whitney Museum board member Warren Kanders) and the firing of rubber bullets. The flashpoint of the violence was on Cristo Street near La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, a block that had been festooned with a display of hanging umbrellas, a kind of art installation intended to attract tourists that was eventually removed by police following Monday’s violence.
Video evidence suggests that at about 8:30 pm Monday, the police fired rubber bullets at a woman who was trying to stop protestors from throwing things at the police. This incident was quickly followed by the launching of tear gas that left such a strong stench on the streets that local residents complained. On Wednesday, after thousands of demonstrators had gathered at La Fortaleza, another round of tear gas was set off at around 11:30 pm after some tension at the barricades that involved demonstrators throwing plastic bottles at police.
Police announced that the assembly was no longer legal, and after a few tense minutes, according to videos, a volley of fireworks began to explode on the police side. While there seemed to be some objects thrown from the crowd into the rows of the riot squad, the majority of the explosions occurred several yards back. ACLU Puerto Rico president William Ramírez, who has long been involved in investigating incidents involving the police, said if those fireworks were thrown from the crowd, “it must have been someone who plays for the Yankees to have an arm like that.”
Why Half a Million Puerto Ricans Are Protesting in the Streets [Ed Morales/The Nation]
Wow. Puerto Rico.— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 22, 2019
You don’t get this perspective from the ground.
They are Loud.
(Thumbnail: @DavidBegnaud, excerpt)
(via Naked Capitalism)