On July 8, 2019, the Centro De Periodismo Investigativo (Center for Investigative Journalism) published 889 pages of a Telegram group chat that included Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rossello and his inner circle. This scandal, now known as Ricky Leaks, gave detailed accounts of how the governor and his cabinet truly felt about its people.
One of the most disturbing messages to leak from what many have called homophobic and sexist texts was when the subject of a budget crisis for hiring forensic pathologists came up.
“Now that we are on the subject, don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?’” one message read.
The Telegram app messages spelled out that the current administration was withholding aid and only distributing it to places where it could benefit them personally and politically.
This was the last straw for an Island of people who felt they had suffered enough.
The fed up people of Puerto Rico took to the streets to march against a government they felt had betrayed them for far too long. Marching all the way to the front of La Fortaleza where their governor’s mansion is located to demand justice on multiple occasions.
Rossello was forced to resign by Aug. 2, 2019, after a reported 500,000 protestors in attendance demanded his resignation. Some media outlets have reported complaints saying the protest had gotten out of hand at times causing damage to local businesses and communities.
Sources who were actually at the protest, however, say that is untrue and the damage was caused by infiltrators whose only mission is to distract from the issues that have for the most part eradicated political party lines on the island. These protests are reported to be completely bipartisan.
“We’ve grown tired of the ongoing corruption,” said William Torres, 22, who attended some of those protests. “We have been mocked, deceived and constantly lied to again and again.”
Shortly after the resignation of Rossello, Wanda Vasquez, former secretary of justice, was sworn in as the new governor. She started her first days in office already under investigation by the Island’s Office of Government Ethics for ignoring clear evidence of corruption in the supplying of hurricane relief.
Before Puerto Rico could fully recover from a disastrous Category 5 Hurricane Maria, the southwestern part of Puerto Rico was struck by earthquakes on Dec. 28, 2019. The quakes continue today.
Following the storm and earthquakes, Puerto Ricans are living outside their homes, some are in tents, some in their vehicles. Most live without any real supplies because they are in the dark not knowing if their homes are structurally safe. People have lost their homes, churches, and businesses.
David Begnaud reported live on social media showing the devastation. In one live video he showed a mayor desperately seeking water for his town. With the south of the island being affected and little to no help from the government, citizens from the north arrived in hundreds of packed cars with supplies, volunteers and friendly faces.
In a turn of events, after the world watched as Puerto Ricans came together to help one another, a man named Lorenzo Delgado Torres streamed on Facebook live from a warehouse in Ponce that held what we now know was emergency supplies and aid that was being held back by the government. Some of the supplies were traced back to hurricane relief provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for victims of Hurricane Maria.
As outrage grew again, the people of Puerto Rico have started to protest and ask for the resignation of Gov. Vazquez, who has blamed the previous administration.
In her previous position as justice secretary, it was her responsibility to hold Rossello to account. As governor, she fired the emergency management director along with the heads of the Department of Housing and the Department of Family.
Rene Perez, known as Residente, is one of the most active Puerto Rican celebrities accredited with helping to organize the people. He urged not to wait until November to vote Vazquez out. She needed to go now, he said.
The hungry people suffering on the south side of Puerto Rico could not wait, Residente explained, they need representation now.
It has become increasingly clear that this is the dawn of a new era in Puerto Rico. The people will not accept what they feel has been an inadequate government that has led them wrongfully into further disparity during a time of crisis.
“After Maria, the Island’s infrastructure pretty much collapsed,” said Gilda Rodriguez, a mother of two from San Juan, Puerto Rico, in a Messenger interview with the Scribe.
“Puerto Rico pays THE HIGHEST FEMA taxes from any US State or Territory,” she explained. “Even with this, the aid from the US took weeks to arrive. The hospital ship took 3 weeks to come here. Not because we are far away but because it just wasn’t dispatched earlier.
“Meanwhile, we had no electricity. Meanwhile people died. Many people died.”
She described doctors using flashlights during surgeries. Dialysis patients died almost daily, she said, because they didn’t have access to the machines they needed.
“Suicides went up,” she continued. “Barely anyone had easy access to drinking water.”
While all of this is happening on the Island the topic of Puerto Rico has become a soccer ball thrown back and forth between Republicans and Democrats on the mainland.
With Democrats speaking out against President Donald Trump and his lack of initiative for the Island, they mock him for disgracing the people by throwing paper towels at a crowd of hurricane victims.
Republicans, tired of hearing this outcry, were quick to point out when supplies were found hidden in warehouses that the president had disbursed aid. They demanded apologies and praised him for what they consider to be his benevolent nature and for suspending the Jones Act for three whole days.
The Jones Act of 1920 has been attributed as the leading cause of Puerto Rico’s poverty and debt. Any boat that comes into Puerto Rico must be built, owned and operated by the United States of America. By prohibiting the ability for Puerto Rico to develop its own shipping industry, the United States has made it completely dependent on the mainland.
Without any competition for goods they can charge two and three times what they normally charge in the states, according to Rodriguez, the mother of two from San Juan.
“During Maria, Trump suspended the Jones Act for 3 days, (it takes 3 days for aid to actually be able to get here so it was all for show and didn’t really help at all),” she said. The decision meant Puerto Rico could technically accept aid on ships from foreign countries.
“These countries actually had to pay taxes on all the aid they brought to help!” she exclaimed. “So, in short no aid comes from any country outside the US.”
The people of Puerto Rico have proven during these very difficult times to be resourceful and strong in their ability to answer the call to action. One such story comes from a Seminole State student.
Hispanic Student Association Vice President Shantel M. Benitez-Zayas re-lived losing her home to Hurricane Maria. She spoke at the Feb. 6 Association meeting at the Sanford/Lake Mary campus.
Benitez-Zayas informed the group of diverse Latinos that her ceiling was cracked and created water damage. Instead of abandoning the home, she and her family decided to make it a drop off and pick up location for donations.
They have become one of many middlemen in the distribution of donations among the people committed to uplift themselves.
“Just because you are not there physically does not mean you cannot help,” she said. “It starts with donating, it starts with spreading the word.”
She mentioned the group chat she has with friends, family and neighbors that are still on the Island who confide in her about their experience. They tell her about what it’s like to not have food, shelter, basic necessities like blankets, medicine, or a number of things that in the blink of an eye were all taken away.
Puerto Ricans are protesting in their own way as they are known to do culturally. They are singing and dancing and pushing forward with their can-do attitude.
Rodriguez says there is a saying going around the island, “They have taken so much from us that they even took our fear.”