Meet the Women Who Toppled Puerto Rico’s Governor

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[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for sharing this link.] Here are excerpts of Yarimar Bonilla’s “Meet the Women Who Toppled Puerto Rico’s Governor.” Read the full article at MTV News.

Sandra Rodriguez Cotto views her job as a journalist and a radio host in Puerto Rico as that of being a spark. “I find out about things and pass them on so others can disseminate them,” she told MTV News. She doesn’t consider herself an influencer, but more of a provocateur. But for women, that task can lead to erasure down the line: even if they are the first to put out a message, it is often others who are recognized for the work of moving that message forward.

But there’s no chance of that happening this time: On Saturday, July 13, several journalists, including Rodriguez Cotto, leaked 11 pages of a governmental Telegram chat to the public. They were just a few of the many powerful women who helped bring down Puerto Rico’s governor and hold the island accountable to change that actually benefits its people.

For her coverage of the leak, Rodriguez Cotto, who runs the blog En Blanco Y Negro, focused her reporting on officials’ use of misogynistic language and the threat of violence against women in the cat. As she and others reported, Rosselló repeatedly referred to women in the opposition as “putas” (the Spanish slur for prostitute) and one of his advisors made crude comments about gunning down Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan.

The public responded by protesting for nearly two weeks and, on July 25, Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned from public office via Facebook Live. His unprecedented resignation was the result of massive public pressure from broad sectors of civil society, including international celebrities like Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, iLe, and Residente.

All of them had their reasons to protest: Among other outrages, the chats mocked the victims and survivors of Hurricane Maria. In one exchange, then-governor Rosselló joked about the cadavers that had been piling up at the public morgue during and after the storm, prompting one of his aids to joke about using the morgues as bait for the administration’s enemies, writing: “Don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?” [. . .]

The Puerto Rican government had been failing its citizens long before the hurricane. The released chat, with its misogynistic and homophobic language, pointed to some of those trends: According to an ACLU report, Puerto Rico has the highest per capita rate in the world of femicides, specifically of women killed by their partners. While Rossello’s administration makes light of gender violence behind closed doors, local feminists groups have long been calling for greater governmental attention to these issues. One group, Colectiva Feminista en Construcción has been particularly active in the battle against gender violence both before and after Hurricane Maria; as a result, they were directly targeted in the governor’s chat for their efforts to hold the government accountable for the gender-based violence crisis.

It was La Colectiva who first called for protests against the governor, including the massive march held in response to the chat on Wednesday, July 17, which was later joined by international celebrities. They were also the first to stage cacerolazos (protests with pots and pans); in November 2018, they camped out outside the governor’s mansion, in what they called a plantón, to demand that he declare a state of emergency around gender violence, thus turning this space into a site of resistance long before the current protests.

The administration’s blatant disregard for the livelihoods of the members of her community inspired journalists like Rodriguez Cotto to fight for Puerto Rico: After Hurricane Maria, she served as one of the main sources of information on the island for WAPA radio when residents found themselves with no electricity or cell phone service. She used her platform to tell the stories of women in particular who were deeply affected by the storm, particularly those who were victims of domestic violence and who found themselves doubly vulnerable in the midst of the disaster.

Because of her reporting, Rodriguez Cotto became a target: Her home was broken into, and she feared for her safety and that of her daughter. Despite it all, she has continued to report on government corruption and gender violence on En Blanco y Negro, and during her radio show on Red Informativa.

But fear of retaliation isn’t stopping the women-led independent journalists who have continued to push their stories to the next level. [. . .] The full chats came full-circle for Lourdes Muriente, a practicing attorney in San Juan, when she learned that the governor had made light of her former husband, Carlos Gallisá, a prominent activist and political leader on the island who died of cancer in 2018. In response, she and two other women marched into government buildings and began taking the official portrait of the governor off the wall. Videos of their actions soon went viral, inspiring cartoons and copycat actions.

[. . .] The persistent silence around the people who were lost in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the insurmountable challenge of mourning them properly, and the blatant disrespect from their governmental officials has been a sore point for local residents in particular. At the rallies, many carried pictures of those they had lost along with personal stories of friends and family who did not survive the storm. The indignation was key to mobilizing the protestors and ignited a fire within the younger generation of Puerto Ricans, many of whom were not even able to vote in the last election.

Among that group was Aliana Bigio Alcoba, a 21-year-old student at the University of Puerto Rico, who runs a Facebook and Instagram site called Con-Sentimiento (a double entendre in Spanish which means consent but also “with sentiment”). She began the site to launch conversations about feminism, gender binaries, and hot-button issues such as abortion. After the first leak, she gathered a group of young women outside the governor’s mansion to protest after the first leak. The group, which took on the name Mujeres en Resistencia, placed duct tape on their mouths as symbols of repression and staged a silent protest to demand the governor’s removal. [. . .] Another group of young women turned to make-up and body paint to express their discontent and used their bodies as political canvases. They drew international attention for their work and soon became known as las hijas de la crisis (the daughters of the crisis), a name that captures how the current movement spans beyond the governor’s chatsand even the crisis of Maria. It tunnels through to a deeper nerve among young Puerto Ricans who are struggling to make the island a place where they can live, dream, and create a new future.

Makeup artist Melanie Rodriguez Rosado began by painting protestor Anamar Pérez-Green, who became the canvas for a Puerto Rican flag lit up in flames. Rodriguez Rosado placed tape covered in drawings of barbed wire across Pérez-Green’s mouth and paired it with smeared black eye makeup streaming down her face. Pérez-Green also wrote the word “puta” across her buttocks, and used her back as a message board so that protestors could write their own messages to the governor. Participants filled her back with choice words borrowed from the chat and messages such as “No more abuse!” and “Resign!” The final look served as a symbol for the pain and emotion felt by protesting, and Puerto Ricans at large; images and videos of Pérez-Green taken by photographer Valeria Martínez-Marrero quickly went viral.

Days later, an iconic image began to circulate of eight girls who together symbolized various aspects of the protests. One was dressed as a white and black Puerto Rican flag, the symbol of resistance; another was painted as a rainbow flag to symbolize inclusivity. A girl painted as a skeleton represented those lost during Maria, who were ever-present in the protest. Other girls bore insults from the infamous leaked chat. Together, they looked like a new band of superheroes for Puerto Rico’s future. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.mtv.com/news/3133648/women-puerto-rico-governor-rossello

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