Something beautiful has been happening over the past two weeks in Puerto Rico. Daily, young people from all across the island-colony took over the streets to demand that Governor Ricardo Rosselló resign.
They began an unstoppable movement and soon people from all creeds races and ages started showing up on kayaks, in scuba gear, with horses, bicycles, yoga gear, and motorcycles.
They were mad at the governor for disrespecting the estimated 4,645 people who died after the hurricane. They are tired of the corruption, the austerity, the school closings, misogyny, homophobia and the lies. They are tired of living on an island where people are forced to leave while rich investors buy up all the land.
They demanded that Rosselló leave office and they fought for 15 days until he had no choice but to resign.
Now, they demand that the next governor protect our essential services, our pensions, and move forward with an audit of the debt before any more money is given to Wall Street bondholders.
Meanwhile, many in Washington propose to resolve Puerto Rico’s crisis through more of the same that got us here in the first place. Media outlets like the Washington Post and members of Congress, such as Rob Bishop, think that the solution to the crisis is to impose additional federal intervention through the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB).
They argue that the Puerto Rican government is corrupt and that the only way to “save” the island is for the U.S. to take over.
What many in Washington fail to mention is that the oppression that Puerto Rico endures is not just a matter of local corrupt governments. Puerto Rico is a colony that has been economically controlled by the United States for over a century. Most recently that control has been exacerbated by the imposition of an unelected FOMB that has pushed austerity and privatization in the name of fiscal stability, all while siding with Wall Street bondholders. During its short tenure,l the FOMB has cut basic services, labor rights, and threatened the survival of the public education system.
So, what is the answer? Ask any of the hundreds of thousands of protestors and we will probably say the same thing: We need more democracy, we need to get involved, and we need the old guard to get out.
In a moment where there’s little to no leadership, how will we organize ourselves out of the crisis?
Many of us believe that communities have the ability to bring forward a process of true democracy. Local community groups —many of the same ones that actually provided immediate assistance and relief post-hurricane Maria— have been at the forefront of demanding transparency and accountability of our government. Puerto Rico desperately needs this leadership from within and a process of self-determination to effect change.
Rosselló is just the beginning. Puerto Ricans are demanding that the next governor, the FOMB, and the federal government listen to the thousands of people ready to build a new Puerto Rico, or get the hell out.
Julio López Varona is the Co-Director of Community Dignity Campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy and works with the Construyamos Otro Acuerdo and Hedge Clippers campaign on Puerto Rico debt relief and corporate accountability.