On July 24th, millennial protestors took to the streets of Puerto Rico, demanding that governor Ricardo Roselló resign from office. Conflict reached a boiling point when a group chat involving Roselló and eleven other officials was leaked to the public. Messages detailing homophobia, misogyny, and mismanagement surfaced. Some texts even mocked the victims of Hurricane Maria, salting the wounds that the tragedy left behind. Over 500,000 protestors stood outside Roselló’s home for twelve days after the leak. Students, activists, and artists rallied behind the cause; when the governor’s resignation hit Facebook, celebration swept the streets. Fireworks, dancing, waving flags—the victory was in the hands of the people.
Despite their success, protestors know that Roselló is not the only issue they have to face. Stepping into his place is Wanda Vázquez, the head of the Department of Justice, who already faces criticism for past scandals. Seconds after her ascent to office was announced, the crowds were calling out against her. The hashtag #WandaRenuncia (Wanda Resign) started trending on Twitter. Sources claim that she failed to prosecute members of her own party, protecting Roselló throughout his scandal-ridden term. The poison is deep in the roots of the government, and the people want it purged—but that instability could leave an unwanted opening for the U.S. government to take hold.
Activists also cry for the eradication of “la junta,” or the Fiscal Oversight Management Board. Created by the U.S. to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt, it’s making dangerous cuts in crucial areas such as education and healthcare. The public forced twelve elected officials out of office, but that couldn’t erase a decades-long history of U.S. intervention. The board has expressed plans to expand its control during this period of instability, which is a direct violation of Puerto Rico’s rights. If “la junta” tries to infringe on the territory’s self-governance, July 24th’s protest will only be the beginning. Over a century of abuse will not stand. The young people leading the cause have made it clear: they aren’t afraid to fight for more. Many Democratic candidates have pledged to reform the board; Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke have all announced plans to revise or dissolve America’s presence in Puerto Rico.
The actions Puerto Rico has taken show that an active core of resistance makes more of a difference than idle masses. So many countries with corrupt governments—the U.S. included—are content to sit by while a small group of activists works for change. Puerto Rico proves that a consolidated, combined effort to remove corruption from office is hugely impactful when it’s in the hands of the public. Protestors plan to sustain their efforts even after Roselló’s resignation; in just two weeks, they managed to achieve goals that draw a stark contrast with efforts to impeach Donald Trump. Though it was a historic feat, the future is still uncertain.
The 2020 election could help Puerto Rican democracy take a new shape, but the United States has to hold itself accountable and rise to the challenge. Issues concerning government autonomy and economic downturn must be addressed at all costs. In the years following Hurricane Maria, the federal government gave only 1/3 of the $40 billion in aid Puerto Rico needed. Entire cities are still in disrepair, power outages are all too common, and school closings are widespread. With twelve new Cabinet seats available, it is a pivotal but vulnerable time for the territory. Puerto Rico will continue to fight against institutionalized corruption—but it needs all the support it can get.