Puerto Rico, new governor, new mass protests

This 3 August 2019 PBS TV video from the USA says about itself:

Why Puerto Rico’s new governor is already controversial

Puerto Rican officials have had to scramble to replace Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who left office Friday after scandal engulfed his administration. Rossello’s secretary of state, Pedro Pierluisi, was sworn in as the new governor — but faces criticism over his involvement with the island’s financial control board. Amna Nawaz talks to Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

New governor of Puerto Rico sworn in, but unrest continues

Puerto Rico has a new governor following recent protests. Pedro Pierluisi was sworn tonight after the controversial Ricky Rosselló resigned as promised. But the change of power brings new uncertainty.

It is unclear how long Pierluisi can stay on because the Senate has yet to approve him. The vote is Wednesday. Rosselló has appointed him as Secretary of State this week, making him automatically deputy governor. With the resignation of Rosselló, Pierluisi moved on to the governor’s post.


Senators question that construction and resent Rosselló for taking such an important decision on his own. Residents of Puerto Rico also disagree and took to the streets again. The President of the Senate says that this shows that Rosselló does not regret his actions and uses his henchmen to mock the people.

The criticism of the former governor has recently started to rise because of leaked chat messages in which he expresses himself in sexist and homophobic ways. Rosselló did not want to leave at first, but later changed his mind.

This was partly because protesters continued to fill the streets of the capital San Juan.

This 3 August 2019 Noticias Telemundo TV video from Puerto Rico shows that the people keep protesting against this new governor.

By Andrea Lobo:

Puerto Rican governor steps down as political crisis escalates

3 August 2019

On Friday, demonstrators once again filled the streets outside of Puerto Rico’s governor’s residence, called “The Fortress”, to celebrate the ouster of Governor Ricardo Rosselló and oppose the installation of his successor. One of the many signs read, “You bring corruption, the people, revolution.”

At 5 p.m, without leaving the building, surrounded by dozens of heavily armed police, Rosselló published a statement transferring the governorship to his newly nominated secretary of state, Pedro Pierluisi.

Mass demonstrations in Puerto Rico ousted a sitting governor for the first time in the US territory’s history, or for that matter, in the history of the United States. Protests grew continuously for two weeks until more than half a million out of a population of 3.2 million people marched on July 22 in downtown San Juan. Two days later, Governor Rosselló announced that he would resign on August 2 at 5 p.m.

Friday’s unprecedented transition of power was dominated by extreme nervousness within the island’s ruling establishment, fearing above all provoking an even larger social explosion.

Two hours after being named governor, with a wait-and-see approach regarding the popular response to his unconstitutional installation, Pierluisi accepted the appointment in a press conference, where he called for “unity” and declared that “we don’t want a constitutional crisis.”

Pierluisi is a puppet of the US capitalist interests responsible for the social crisis on the island. He resigned only three days ago from the main law firm representing the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), a federal agency created by the Obama administration and popularly known as the Junta, that has exerted a financial dictatorship over the island to oversee its plundering by Wall Street.

The crowd in San Juan, which continued to peacefully demonstrate into late Friday in a celebratory mood, began chanting, “Pierluisi, resign, and take the Junta with you!” One sign carried by a demonstrator read, “No to the coup by the Junta and Pierluisi.”

At the same time, the Trump administration and the parasitic financial aristocracy it speaks for have sought to exploit the crisis to escalate the attacks on living standards and impose greater austerity. On Thursday, the White House announced that it would suspend the transfer of $8 billion as part of natural disaster aid due to “political unrest and financial irregularities”. Last week, the Wall Street Journal called for the FOMB to “impose discipline” and end “handouts”.

In this context, the nomination of another political agent of Wall Street, far from providing a new political equilibrium, heralds a head-on clash between the popular movement against austerity and the FOMB and US imperialism. The aggressive response by the Trump administration constitutes a warning to the working class and youth in Puerto Rico and the US as a whole that preparations are being made to use the full force of the American state to crush an escalating social explosion.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders … tweeted Friday night: “The Puerto Rican people… showed us what ordinary people can achieve when we organize. Our job now is to make sure they get fair and responsive representation. Puerto Rico deserves democracy, not austerity.”

On Friday, the Puerto Rican House of Representatives held a hearing and vote to confirm Pierluisi as secretary of state, the office that is first in line for succession to the governorship. This rushed procedure ended with a “yes” vote at about 4 p.m., one hour before the deadline for Rosselló’s removal. But the president of the Puerto Rican Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, who also has gubernatorial aspirations, postponed that body’s hearing until next Wednesday.

Debate raged among media commentators and legislators—and undoubtedly where the final decision was made, the White House—on whether to carry out the extra-constitutional installation of Pierluisi as an interim governor, or to tap Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, the next in line for succession, who had refused until yesterday to accept the governorship.

Triggering Puerto Rico’s mass protests, the July 13 publication by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) of leaked online chats involving Rosselló and his close associates exposed not only their abject servility to Wall Street, but also the contempt toward the Puerto Rican working class of the entire ruling elite.

It tapped into a groundswell of social anger after decades of deteriorating social conditions, leading to demands not only for Rosselló’s exit, but that of the entire political establishment. The Twitter hashtag trending among Puerto Ricans on Friday was #niSchatzNiPierluisiNiWanda (neither Schatz, Pierluisi nor Wanda).

On top of jokes about dead victims from Hurricane Maria, homophobic and misogynistic insults, attacks against journalists and a statement about shooting political opponents, the leaks also revealed evidence of a vast corruption ring. In fact, CPI has focused its exposures on Elías Sánchez Sifonte, a former government representative to the FOMB and a lobbyist, whose clients include Microsoft, Walgreens and other major corporations. The leaked texts show him receiving confidential information and giving policy orders to Rosselló and his clique.

While not involved in the leaked texts, Pierluisi, if anything, is more criminal than Rosselló. In 1993, he became Secretary of Justice for one term under Rosselló’s father and then joined the law firm O’Neill & Borges LLC for 11 years. Between 2008 and 2016, he served as resident commissioner (Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the US Congress) only to return to the same law firm as an advisor to the FOMB.

As commissioner, he promoted the bill that created the FOMB while his wife, whose brother is the chairman of the junta, got rich with a business consulting vulture funds on how to profit off of Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis. The couple left Washington with 27 times the wealth they had when they arrived.

For their part, Rivera Schatz and Vázquez have both been accused of influence peddling and kickbacks for concessions.

The entire political establishment, including the local legislature as well as the federal authorities, have been exposed as entirely subordinated to the dictates of the US financial ruling elite and hostile to the social and democratic rights of Puerto Rico’s workers and oppressed.

A study by Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health estimated that 5,740 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. When President Donald Trump visited the island a month after the storm, he claimed there had been no “real catastrophe”. The hurricane had destroyed 70,000 households, left only 5 percent of the electric grid operating, only one fully functional hospital out of 69, among other damages that totaled more than $139 billion according to local authorities.

CBS News reported that, as of April, the federal government has delivered only $11.2 billion in aid to Puerto Rico.

BuzzFeed News reported in mid-October that the Rosselló government had given a green light for funeral homes to cremate at least 911 corpses piling up after the hurricane without any medical examination. Rosselló’s chief financial officer joked in one of the leaked texts, “Now that we are on the subject, don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?”

Moreover, it was Puerto Rico’s legislature, now feigning moral indignation over the leaked messages, that approved the “New Government of Puerto Rico Act” three months after Hurricane Maria, exploiting the devastation to grant Rosselló sweeping powers aimed at “consolidating” 118 government agencies into 35, while cutting $2.75 billion in annual costs to service the island’s $74 billion debt.

According to the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, up to 17,000 US troops were at one point deployed to Puerto Rico and the neighboring US Virgin Islands, after the entire federal intervention was placed under the US military’s Northern Command.

Despite the pittance of aid sent by Washington, hampered by private, for-profit deals that FEMA signed for provision of diesel, gasoline and water, the massive military deployment failed to deliver it. AFP published aerial images Tuesday of tens of thousands of expired water bottles in a vacant field a few miles from San Juan.

6 thoughts on “Puerto Rico, new governor, new mass protests

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