The #MeToo movement arrived in Puerto Rico in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic like a sonic boom that has uncovered the dark side of the island’s machismo culture.
The stories from dozens of young women, some underage, appeared on social media this weekend, accusing two prominent businessmen of sexual harassment and sexual assault. After decades of silence, Puerto Rican women are fed up and embracing the feminist anthem sung the world over—the predator is you.
The initial accusations were against Javier Marrero, owner of Yatea.PR, a yachting party company, and Julius Ortiz, owner of Pauwii Swim, a bathing suit company. Marrero and Ortiz are said to have hunted young women on social media, promising to be their “sugar daddies,” and inviting them to party on a yacht and try on bathing suits. Both companies have since shut down their social media.
“If the accusations are true, these people are pigs. I am not afraid of saying it, they are pigs,” said outspoken radio personality Molusco on Sunday via Facebook Watch. “If this is all true, what these young women must have gone through is awful.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been informed. ICE spokesperson Iván Martínez has said that “they can’t confirm or deny that an investigation is underway.” They did say they had interviewed some of the young women but declined to specify any further.
On Sunday afternoon, governor Wanda Vázquez called for an investigation via a tweet.
“After seeing a number of these allegations by young women, many underaged, about an alleged pattern of harassment, it’s imperative that the Justice Department and the Office of Women’s Issues get in touch with the accusers to investigate this,” Vázquez said. “What I have read as of this moment is alarming. Enough!” she said.
Luego de ver varias alegaciones de jóvenes sobre un supuesto patrón de hostigamiento, me comuniqué con @DSPnoticias y la Policía para que se trabaje en conjunto con las autoridades federales. Es una situación altamente preocupante e inaceptable, y debe investigarse con prioridad.
— Wanda Vázquez Garced (@wandavazquezg) April 26, 2020
The accusations have spawned a movement on the island that hauls out sexual predators on social media, the medium that started it all. The @AcosadoresPR Twitter profile has actively been sharing allegations against Ortiz and Marrero, as well as allegations against other men, including some professors at the University of Puerto Rico.
The tweets are hard to read.
— sirena #WandaRenuncia (@valecutie) April 26, 2020
According to what some of the young women said, the modus operandi of Ortiz was to touch the women because he said he needed to “size” them for the design of the bathing suit, slap their backside, forcefully kiss them and take their photographs without permission.
“I was alone and while I was trying on one of the bathing suits, he loosened my top, slapped my backside, took photos of me without my permission as I was trying to cover myself, and before I left, he gave me three disgusting kisses on my face,” said one of the young women, whose name was withheld to protect her identity.
Another young woman wrote that the “businessman” asked her for photos from all angles in order to “know her size.”
“It wasn’t enough that I gave him my measurements as any professional would ask for,” she added.
Yet another woman wrote that when she was just 16, Ortiz went into the changing room with her because “that is what he was used to doing with young girls from San Juan.”
“He touched me inappropriately and even told me that my nipple was pretty. Sick man,” se said.
In an interview with Telemundo Puerto Rico, Ortiz refused to answer any questions about the accusations leveled against him.
“I do not want to talk about this until I consult my lawyers,” he said. When asked if he knew Marrero, he denied knowing or ever speaking to him.
Alicia Blanco, who worked as a social media consultant for Pauwii Swim, has since resigned because the company refused to fire Ortiz and cut all ties with him. She expressed her solidarity with the women via her Twitter feed.
Alicia Blanco (@aliciacblanco), encargada de manejar las redes y el website de #Pauwii, publicó unos vídeos indicando que no sabía lo que estaba pasando pero que entendía, escuchaba y apoyaba todas las denuncias.
— V. Torres Montalvo ? (@Motinsitepegas) April 26, 2020
Blanco was also interviewed by Telemundo and denied any knowledge of what Ortiz was doing.
“I had no knowledge of what was going on. He [Ortiz] never used the company’s platform to communicate and make those approaches or set up those meetings,” she said. Blanco added that she had been working from the United States.
“Shocked to my core at the accusations by these young girls against these two businessmen. This has to be pursued until the bitter end. #metoo #nosecallen,” said Myraida Chavez, a well-known and much-loved actress and television personality posted on social media. “The #metoo has started in Puerto Rico,” she said. “Bravo for the brave. #niunamás #niunamenos.”
It’s time. El violador eres tú.
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living in New York City. She has a blog in El Nuevo Día called Dos Caminos y Una Subversiva. Comments can be sent to her email. You can follow Susanne on Twitter @DurgaOne.