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In Puerto Rico, A Governor Without Allies

Editor’s Note: Hopefully, the HIV community in the mainland United States has been watching as the people of Puerto Rico took to the streets to demand change in a government that has routinely failed them. AIDS United wants to thank Rosaura López-Fontanéz for writing this article and to express our solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico during this time of upheaval. We are grateful for your fierce advocacy on behalf of the oppressed and can stand to learn much by your example.


Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean, has been a territory of the United States since 1898, after the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. We are an “unincorporated territory”, meaning the island is totally controlled by the U.S. government.

The United States acquired Puerto Rico under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Because Puerto Rico is not a state, Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the United States Congress, which governs the territory with full jurisdiction.

In 1917, because of The Jones Act, Puertorriqueños were made US citizens, giving us the right to vote in the United States. However, those of us that live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the President of the United States.

Two weeks ago, a Chat Telegram created by the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, was leaked to the people of Puerto Rico. This chat, which included numerous government officials and lobbyists in addition to the Governor, contained some truly despicable remarks, including:

  • Misogynistic, sexist, and homophobic comments;
  • Discriminatory statements regarding class and gender;
  • Death threats against opposition leaders, including the Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin;
  • Making fun of those who passed away during Hurricane Maria and joking about the crisis in Puerto Rico’s Forensic Department where bodies piled up both during and after Hurricane Maria waiting for autopsies.

Governor Rossello was highly active in the chat and many comments made by him provided evidence of his own corruption and derision for the Puerto Rican people. Publicly the Governor has admitted his participation and has asked the people of Puerto Rico to forgive him.

This is happening during the most difficult period in Puerto Rican history as we are still struggling to recover from the devastation that was brought upon the island by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Rossello announced his resignation Wednesday night as Governor of Puerto Rico, in response to the intense demonstrations that continue to take place throughout Puerto Rico and across the world.

His resignation will be effective on the 2nd of August 2019 at 5pm.

The collective resentment against the contents of the chat and Governor Rossello has continued to rise due in large part to the remarks made by him during his attempts to avoid being forced to resign. As if this was not enough, federal arrests were made to several members of his cabinet due to the corruption within his administration.

One example of this is former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher. During her tenure, hundreds of schools in Puerto Rico have been closed, leaving thousands of students across the island with no choice but to attend overcrowded schools that are out of their districts and which have fewer teachers. In many cases, the Puerto Rican government closed schools only to later sell them to investors. Of 856 schools, Julia Keleher closed about 400.

The educational system in Puerto Rico currently serves more than 300,000 students, and with so many school closures, Keleher and those who support her have been trying to position charter schools as the solution. Earlier this month, Keleher was arrested and charged with fraudulently handing out more than $13 million in government contracts.

Another official facing charges of fraud is Angela Avila-Marrero, the former Director of the Health Insurance Services Administration (ASES) who is accused of fraudulently allocating roughly $2.5 million worth of funds.  ASES’s model of care integrates the physical and mental health of its people with the goal of offering access to medical services. In addition, they oversee and evaluate the services offered by the medical insurance companies in order to guarantee compliance and quality of services to the participants of the government medical plan.

Among the most important systems that are essential in a society are “health” (physical & mental) and “education”. These two have once again been tampered with in Puerto Rico. And, after Hurricane Maria, the physical and mental health issues among Puerto Ricans and the lack of access to quality education have only been exacerbated.

Unfortunately, government corruption in Puerto Rico has always played a major role. In 1999, Yamil Kouri, the former director of the San Juan AIDS Institute and several others were charged with embezzling $1.4 million from the AIDS Institute, which was established to treat people living with HIV/AIDS. Former Governor Pedro Rossello (Ricardo’s Father) had hired Kouri as a health care adviser early in his first administration.

Ricardo Rossello will be the first governor in Puerto Rican history who has been forced to resign by the people of Puerto Rico. Our fight has no political parties. We are the people of Puerto Rico and we will ensure that a better Puerto Rico is possible!

Posted By: Rosaura López-Fontanez, MSW/LCSW, Puerto Rico Concra - Friday, July 26, 2019

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