Last week, Puerto Rican protesters forced the resignation of their governor, Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló, over allegations of corruption. But on Sunday, the people were back on the streets, salsa dancing to mark their boisterous disapproval of his successor, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez. Rosselló appointed Vázquez, and Puerto Ricans see her as more of the same.
The “same” is the corrupt misrule they have suffered since, well, pretty much since they can remember.
Rumors of corruption had swirled around Vázquez even before she was tapped to succeed Rosselló. Things could get rough. It has been fewer than 10 days since police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators, and on Sunday night, authorities had already cordoned off the Justice building to keep the protests at a distance.
That’s no deterrent to young Puerto Ricans, whose memories can only drum up a government contaminated by corruption. They have now dubbed themselves Generación del yo no me dejo — the “Generation of ‘I’m not going to let you do this to me.’?”
Corruption is sometimes dynastic in Puerto Rico. Rosselló’s father, Pedro, also served as governor from 1993 to 2001. Thirty-three members of his administration were charged amid a kickback scandal. His executive assistant and former secretary of education were convicted.
Then there was Sol Luis Fontanes-Olivo, the former mayor of the municipality of Barceloneta, in northern Puerto Rico, a post he held for 26 years. In 2012, Fontanes-Olivo was convicted of receiving kickbacks from contractors who were doing business with the municipality and sentenced to 10 years. There were even audio and video recordings of Fontanes-Olivo making arrangements for the payments.
Hector Martinez Maldonado, a former regional senator, was sentenced to four years in federal prison after he was convicted of bribery in May 2017.
Juan Bravo Fernandez, the former president of one of the largest private security firms in Puerto Rico, had treated Maldonado to a lavish trip to Vegas in exchange for the senator’s help crafting legislation that would benefit Bravo Fernandez’s business interests.
Who cares who won the boxing match in Vegas — Maldonado was the real winner, according to evidence at his trial: The trip came with first-class airfare, food and beverages, swanky lodgings at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, $1,000 tickets to the match and hotel rooms in Miami on the way back to “government business” in Puerto Rico.
“Corruption relies on connections, forcing businessmen to forge questionable relationships with government officials, who facilitate their requests and grant them favors,” Luis Fraticelli, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan field office, said at the time.
Fraticelli added: “This corrupt behavior, ingrained so deeply in the Puerto Rican government’s fabric, allows money and power to become one. Law-abiding citizens must denounce those dishonest government officials in order to weed out corruption from our society.” Well, now they are doing just that.
These are but a few examples of officials who have been convicted of graft and egregious abuses of power. Heaps more have been indicted or suspected of wrongdoing. So it’s easy to see why the citizens of this island have had it.
And it illuminates the marches against Vázquez, too, who allegedly turned a blind eye as Rosselló & Co carried out their shenanigans.
No wonder that by Sunday, she was practically begging someone else to take the responsibility.
“I reiterate, I have no interest in occupying the position of governor,” she tweeted Sunday. Good — because the Puerto Rican people don’t intend to let her have it anyway.
Once the protesters have dethroned all of the politicians they consider corrupt stock, the question remains: Who will fill the void? Who will take the country’s top government seat?
That is the limit of protests. After all, it’s easier to unite against than unite for. The Puerto Ricans have a long, uphill battle. Here is hoping they will remain united while they search for an honest someone to represent the proud people of this small island.