After weeks of mass demonstrations touched off by the publication of a trove of leaked chats and evidence of mass corruption by Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism, Ricardo Rossello has done what he swore he would not: resigned.
Rossello's departure was preceded by so many other high-profile resignations that the governor pro-tem will be Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, as the secretary of state position is currently vacant. For the next 17 months, Puerto Rico's government will be "virtually symbolic," and "largely ceremonial," in the words of University of Puerto Rico economist Juan Lara.
Puerto Rico has been battered by a series of catastrophes, all stemming from its colonial past: first there were the Wall Street banks that arranged to flog off incredible quantities of state-issued bonds, pocketing hundreds of millions in fees. Then there was Congress's unwillingness to support Puerto Rico through the inevitable insolvency, as they would have done for a majority-white, majority-wealthy US state.
Then came the official federal overthrow of Puerto Rico's government and its replacement with appointed finance-sector managers who oversaw a reign of austerity that saw cuts to schools, hospitals, pensions and infrastructure, leaving the island terribly vulnerable to any kind of shock — including Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which flattened the island and tore through the weakened, brittle infrastructure like wet kleenex. The island was plunged into powerless darkness for months, while the racist president of the USA literally threw paper towels at them while belittling the country's few principled leaders.
Then came the mercenary occupation, and the ghastly lies about the death-toll, the sweetheart deals for politically connected Trumpland cronies, the coverups, and even Mark Zuckerberg laughing his way through a VR tour of the ravaged island, even as ethnic-cleansing corporate titans moved in to refashion the island as a bolt-hole for the super-rich with a captive workforce of groveling untermenschen to clean their toilets and rub their backs.
Then Trump took away the pennies for relief that had been earmarked for the American citizens of Puerto Rico and used them to fund his racist concentration camps, and defunded the agency that would measure the harms from his looting.
People can only be pushed so far. After the disasters, radical groups moved to the forefront, providing the relief that neither the local nor the national government would supply.
It's these same radical groups that took the lead after the Rossello leaks, feminists and socialists, who formed the vanguard of a mass-movement supported both by Puerto Ricans on the island and the vast Puerto Rican diaspora on the mainland, refusing to let Rossello spin his way out of his career-ending corruption and callousness.
Now, their efforts have paid off. The judge overseeing Puerto Rico's bankruptcy case has suspended the proceedings until after the next election, saying that the case could cause "chaos that I'm trying to tamp down."
I think the chaos is coming, though: Puerto Ricans did not fill the sweltering streets, day after day, merely to remove Rossello: they want something better. They want the recognition and dignity that is their legal and moral right as American citizens. They want climate justice and decolonization. They want reparations for more than a century of looting. They want it all.
While Rossello has clashed with the panel over the budget, such conflicts only underscored Puerto Ricans' feelings of powerlessness and contempt for politicians whose profligacy drove the territory into ruin.
The official currently in line to succeed Rossello — Vazquez, a member of Rossello's New Progressive Party — has herself been enmeshed with old institutions for decades. She started as a lawyer for the Housing Department. As justice secretary, she modernized the department, reorganized the litigation division and was an advocate for sexual-assault victims, according to the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
But in 2018, Vazquez faced an ethics investigation over whether she improperly intervened in a case involving a robbery at her daughter and son-in-law's home. She temporarily stepped down, only to be restored after a court found there was no cause for her arrest.
She's clashed with the opposition and key members of her own party, including Majority Leader Thomas Rivera Schatz, who has demanded her resignation.
"Vazquez and Rossello are cut from the same cloth," Representative Manuel Natal, an independent, said Wednesday. "Resigning is not going to end this crisis or calm the people in the streets. If anything, it's going to intensify it."
Puerto Rico Governor's Resignation Shakes Bankrupt Island [Michael Deibert, Michelle Kaske, and Amanda Albright/Bloomberg]
(via Naked Capitalism)
BREAKING: It is official. @ricardorossello will resign effective August 2. Protesters light fireworks, erupt in euphoric cheer. Here is the moment they find out their cries, fraught as they are, have been heard. That Ricky has resigned. #rickyrenuncia #PuertoRico pic.twitter.com/y3FYBidOGa
— Nick Brown (@NickPBrown) July 25, 2019
(Image: @NickPBrown (excerpt))