The Protests in Puerto Rico Are About Life and Death

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

The ongoing protests in Puerto Rico are not just about profane chat messages—they are a response to a broader context of violence, degradation, and exploitation.

Police donning anti-riot gear—many with their names and badge numbers covered—used teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons to dislodge protesters from the streets surrounding the Puerto Rican governor’s mansion in Old San Juan on Wednesday evening. Earlier that day, tens of thousands assembled at the Capitol building before marching to the governor’s mansion to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. This marked the fifth day of protests and a significant escalation in police violence against civilians. A series of leaked chat conversations involving the governor and other members of his inner-circle provided an unlikely spark that ignited mounting frustrations with the abuses of local elites and the colonial government.

Last Tuesday, a small trove of messages from a private chat between Rosselló and a number of high-ranking officials sent on the encrypted messenger service Telegram were leaked to the press. The messages showed Rosselló and members of his administration using derogatory language to mock political rivals. Although the 11 pages of the chat initially released were damning on their own, Puerto Ricans were shocked by what they read when the Center for Investigative Journalism released a total of 889 pages to the public on Saturday.

The full leaked chat—although there are rumors that more leaked chats involving additional members of the Rosselló team could be on the way—demonstrated the utter contempt and disregard that the political ruling class has for the people of Puerto Rico. The chat paints Rosselló and his inner circle as little more than a pack of overgrown frat boys. The men in the chat engage in all manner of homophobic, transphobic, and misogynist “locker room talk,” calling political opponents putas (whores) and mamabichos (cocksuckers), commenting on women’s bodies, and insulting feminists and members of the LGBTQ+ community. While this alone is certainly worthy of condemnation, protesters are not taking to the streets because of the profanity in the chats. Rather, protesters are situating the chats within a broader context of structural violence, degradation, and exploitation that mark contemporary Puerto Rican society.

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