Day 6

Puerto Rico's governor is gone, but protesters say more change is needed

Protesters got their wish when Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello stepped down Friday, but he's left behind a political crisis over who should lead the territory and where it should go from here.

'People, I think, no longer want to settle for the lesser of two evils,' says protester Ana Portnoy Brimmer

A demonstrator with a Puerto Rican flag protests against Gov. Ricardo Rossello in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 23. (Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/The Associated Press)

In the hours before Governor Ricardo Rossello resigned late Friday, Puerto Rico's House of Representatives confirmed Pedro Pierluisi as successor — but protesters who called for Rossello to step down aren't happy with the decision.

"The ones being proposed by the current political party, they are unacceptable candidates and the people of Puerto Rico do not want them," said Ana Portnoy Brimmer, a Puerto Rican writer and protester.

Some of the largest protests in the U.S. territory's history broke out in July after 900 pages of profanity-laced, sexist and homophobic chat message logs were released involving Rossello and 11 other men, including government officials.

Though Pierluisi was confirmed Friday afternoon, legislators say that his role is still in dispute.

Portnoy Brimmer has been on the ground in Puerto Rico. She told Day 6 guest host Nana aba Duncan what she and others are hoping for following the governor's resignation.

Here's part of that conversation.

So Ricardo Rossello is out — which is kind of a victory for you and the other protesters — but this whole week, it's been a big fight over who should run Puerto Rico next. It all seems very chaotic and unresolved. What does that feel like to you in this moment? 

It's definitely very stressful and overwhelming, but I think it is also fuelling the fire and the current momentum that is a result of these chats that were leaked. 

That is the result of these federal arrests that happened before the chats and everything else that preceded that. 

So I think it's a combination of being overwhelmed and also definitely having the fire be fuelled and continuing to be joined by this collective anger and rage. 

Ana Portnoy Brimmer is a Puerto Rican writer living in Newark, N.J. She travelled to Puerto Rico last month to protest for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello. (Submitted by Ana Portnoy Brimmer)

Is that what it's like on the streets right now? Is it anger and rage from the protesters? 

I would say it's productive anger against all of the abuses that we have been subjected to since 2016 and for years and decades before that.

It's also hope; I see a lot of hope on the streets.

How did we get here? What are the factors that brought Puerto Rico to this moment?

The chat kind of set things aflame, but before that came these federal arrests of high officials in Puerto Rico, including the former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher. 

But before all of these scandals, Hurricanes Irma and Maria basically destroyed Puerto Rico … and before that was in 2016 when Puerto Rico hit its peak of the debt crisis and the U.S. Congress and former President Barack Obama created a PROMESA bill which imposed, in an anti-democratic fashion, the fiscal control board in Puerto Rico. 

And before that we've been in a 13-year economic recession. And I could keep going back, but it's all been leading up to this. 

Ricardo Rossello stepped down Friday, Aug. 2, as a result of calls for his resignation following the release of a trove of profanity-laced chat message logs. (Carlos Giusti/The Associated Press)

And with the protest movement going from ousting a governor to trying to build something better, do you think there's anyone currently in the running to be governor that you think could actually deliver change? 

The ones being proposed by the current political party, they are unacceptable candidates and the people of Puerto Rico do not want them. 

There are already campaigns against Wanda Vasquez, which is one of them; Pedro Pierluisi, which is another one; Thomas Rivera Schatz, which is another one as well. 

These are all unacceptable options and people, I think, no longer want to settle for the lesser of two evils. 

People really want to topple the corrupt government's structure and really kind of start anew and have the values of accountability and transparency and self-determination play leading roles in this. 

Is there someone who represents that for you, right now, that could do that?

We're still thinking about all of that — and I think that's kind of beautiful about the current moment in the movement where people are really taking the time now to set up, for example, public assemblies in Puerto Rico. 

There are different public assemblies happening in different towns to begin talking about next steps and to begin talking about how to address the upcoming struggles and obstacles to come.

And one of those is who will be governing Puerto Rico. 

Demonstrators chant and wave Puerto Rican flags during the fourth day of protest calling in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 16. (Gabriella N. Baez/Reuters)

But there needs to be someone right now. 

Yeah, there currently needs to be someone right now. 

And right now I think the efforts are directed at making sure these people that are being proposed do not come in while we figure out who needs to come in. 

OK, so the problems that Puerto Rico is facing [go] back decades, as you mentioned, so where do you start with trying to fix something that big? 

That's a very big question too and I'm not sure I can answer it by myself. I think it needs to be a collective answer. 

But the big demands that we have right now to start targeting, for one, is for the debt to be audited. The more than $74-billion debt hasn't been audited yet and there are very big and backed up claims that a big portion of the debt was contracted illegally. 

There are also claims to re-evaluate the role the fiscal control board is playing in Puerto Rico, as well, and whether it's doing Puerto Rico any good.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Ana Portnoy Brimmer, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.