All together. Youths – in large numbers – families and old people. Bishops and artists Ricky Martin and Daddy Yankee. Last Monday, a human tide invaded the entire island of Puerto Rico, starting from the capital San Juan, demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who has been governing the territory not incorporated into the United States of America since 2016, and whose ambition is to become its 51st State. After almost two weeks of uninterrupted popular pressure, Rosselló relinquished his role in the party and announced that he would not be running for a new term of office, resulting in the decision, taken in the evening, to step down after the news of his imminent resignation had been circulating for the whole day yesterday. “The country lost confidence in him”, emphatically declared to SIR the president of the Puerto Rican Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Rubén González Molina, bishop of Ponce, who released a statement yesterday, the fourth in a few days, at the news of Rosselló’s resignation , with an invitation to “remain calm and serene, preserving democratic balance” at this important moment in time that offers “a great opportunity to come together as a people and work together” in the quest for the common good.
People’s indignation comes after the publication of 900 printed pages from the messaging app Telegram involving Rosselló, top aides and Cabinet members.
The messages contain information on potential bribery in the bidding process, they are filled with sexist and homophobic slurs, vilifying political opponents, women, gays (including Ricky Martin, the most famous of the many Puerto Rican singers), the disabled, the sick. They even mock the dead, including the countless victims – several thousands – of the tragic hurricane that devastated the island a couple of years ago. Despite the tense situation and the difficulties of the population, which has not yet recovered from the catastrophe, Msgr. González Molina is optimistic, especially because of the high participation of young people, undoubtedly encouraged by the mobilization of their artistic idols, although last night a controversy broke out over a reggaeton concert (the music style that originated in Puerto Rico) staged right in front of San Juan’s Cathedral. Meanwhile, the 24-hour prayer for the country announced by the Bishops’ Conference, to be held in the national Marian shrine of Divine Providence of Cupey (Rio Piedras), has been confirmed.
Mons. González, you participated in Monday’s protests. What happened?
I took part in the demonstration together with Bishop Eusebio Ramos, Bishop of Caguas, Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference. There were also many priests, religious and committed lay people. Interestingly enough
the demonstration had not been organized or promoted by someone in particular.
The people took to the streets spontaneously, in many different ways: on horseback, on foot, with musical instruments. And with no acts of violence.
There were also many youths…
Yes, and in the demonstrations they gave a fine example of participation and civility. They brought bags to collect the paper and waste produced during the march, which thus also had an ecological dimension, with no litter left on the streets. Young people have been defined apathetic, but they awakened at this difficult moment.
Wasn’t Rosselló expected to resign?
He was, we wrote it in our capacities as Executive Committee of the Bishops’ Conference.
After the publication of the message transcripts the people lost confidence.
The messages contain unacceptable slurs and mockery of many different groups of people. Then we will need to focus on reconciliation in the Country.
What does Puerto Rico need?
The most important thing is to uproot the scourge of corruption, that also emerges in the leaked messages, in addition to insults and derision. We need a different kind of politics.
Are the consequences of the 2017 hurricane still being felt in the country?
They are. And the people are angry also for this reason. It emerges from the messages that money intended to be spent in the reconstruction program has been diverted.
This is happening against the backdrop of the “historical” precarious status of Puerto Rico – a territory incorporated into the United States which is not part of it in its own right and, at the same time, is not even a fully independent nation. In a referendum the people asked to join the US, even if the process will be long and uncertain. What is the opinion of the Puerto Rican Church? We have no position on this as Bishops’ Conference,. We feel it is our duty to accompany the people to make a conscious and wisely expressed choice.
We seek to educate people through a pastoral project that outlines five challenges: young people, families, education, healthcare and a fair economy, combined with care for the poor.
We hope to form consciences and we will not impose a decision on Puerto Ricans, ours will be a serene accompaniment.
In the meantime, in this specific moment, do you feel optimistic about the future?
Young people’s participation came as a surprise. It probably happened because the scandal involved social media, which they are very sensitive to. It is a moment of hope, a new Puerto Rico is being born and we want to accompany this change, standing with our people.