“Renuncia Ricky”: A sign of an emerging era in Puerto Rico?
It was a hot month in July. Slightly more than a million people – close to a third of Puerto Rico’s population – took to the streets and forced the resignation last July 24 of their colonial governor, Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló Nevárez. “The Puerto Rican summer” became a viral media phenomenon. The event has been depicted as the birth of a new Puerto Rico, a millennial youth-led rebellion and a massive rejection of colonial party politics.” While such depictions may or may not endure and although it took place in a U.S. colonial territory, the process that sparked such an unprecedented event must be kept closely in mind because it may contain lessons of direct relevance to the lives of most working people here in the continental USA.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was a private chat room conversation between Rosselló Nevárez and his close associates in government, leaked by a disgruntled government official. The chat was peppered with insulting remarks about well-known public figures as well as about impoverished workers and marginalized groups. It also shed light on corruption and conspiracies among private investors, publicists and leading government managers.
Ángel M. Agosto, a veteran Puerto Rican political journalist, writer and organizer, compared Renuncia Ricky uprising to massive protests in the early 1970s in which he took part. “Popular uprisings always have a previous history that precedes it. These apparently spontaneous rebellions can lead to great political transformations or they can end up forgotten,” Agosto warned.
Agosto describes the Renuncia Ricky movement as an outburst of indignation, a collective scream of moral outrage in an already exposed news landscape of thievery and corruption within key government agencies such as the education and treasury departments and ongoing harsh budget cuts in education, health services and workers’ pensions imposed by a financial control board created by the Federal Congress in Washington.
“These types of movements were foreseeable,” according to Agosto. “The capitalist system breeds its own gravediggers” he said. In Puerto Rico, as in the continental USA, the potential gravediggers of the ruling political and economic system as we know it are the previous generations’ children and grandchildren, who are now being excluded from getting jobs, condemned to precarious, low-paying part-time work and forced to become indebted wage slaves, while automation eliminates jobs on a mass scale, leaving space for a very small group of specialized workers.
Following the Renuncia Ricky uprising, people’s assemblies are mushrooming in cities and towns across Puerto Rico. More people are challenging the current political party system and are demanding new kinds of economic and social participation to get rid of the corrupt political elites and the exploitative colonial capitalist system that nurtures them. As Agosto suggests, only deepening levels of independent popular organization may keep the Renuncia Ricky uprising from fading.