Though Puerto Ricans still face a triple whammy from the ravages of hurricanes, earthquakes, and COVID-19, the island’s intrepid citizens refuse to be suppressed when it comes to injustice. Puerto Ricans are marching for #BlackLivesMatter this week, honoring George Floyd and other victims of racism and police brutality while also protesting the suppression of their own civil rights. The island’s unelected governor, Republican Wanda Vázquez Garced, just signed oppressive, dangerous civil code changes into law, and now people on the island have taken to the streets.
At Tuesday’s demonstration in front of the governor’s mansion in San Juan, protestors brought out a guillotine, which was also done for the #WandaRenuncia protests in January, which demanded that Vázquez step down.
Footage of Wednesday’s protests was posted to social media.
Holy shit Puerto Rico just brought a guillotine to the Governor’s mansion for their #BlackLivesMatter protest.
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) June 3, 2020
Here are a series of tweets that help paint a visual image of what’s been happening on the ground.
— Julio E. (@jlopezvarona) June 2, 2020
"don't ignore us wanda (the governer) don't say you don't see racism because we DO see it and we DO live it IN THIS SKIN." pic.twitter.com/sUIR3CK9Gx
— jei exotic (@lxvlttrs) June 3, 2020
— Yarimar Bonilla 👩🏾💻 (@yarimarbonilla) June 1, 2020
It is important to note that Puerto Rico has a large population with African ancestry thanks to a long history of enslavement.
Puerto Rico (like Cuba), was one of the last territories in the Caribbean to continue importing large numbers of enslaved Africans and became the Spanish Crown’s other leading producer and exporter of sugar, coffee, cotton and tobacco; all mostly produced with enslaved African labour.
The Royal census of Puerto Rico in 1834 established that the island’s population as 42,000 enslaved Africans, 25,000 coloured freemen, 189,000 people who identified themselves as whites and 101,000 who were described as being of mixed ethnicity.
Emancipation on the island didn’t take place until 1873, and even then slavery wasn’t completely abolished.
On March 22, 1873, the Spanish National Assembly finally abolished slavery in Puerto Rico. The owners were compensated with 35 million pesetas per slave, and slaves were required to continue working for three more years.
Though Loiza is one of the areas that is always pointed to as having a large Afro-Puerto Rican population and is considered to be “the African heart” of Puerto Rico, Afro-Boricuas are everywhere, both on the island and in the diaspora of the mainland.
— Victoria Leandra (@leandrareports) June 2, 2020
This is in Puerto Rico so fucking proud of my island right now pic.twitter.com/jKxzYdUul6
— Miguel.M (@doublemb__) June 3, 2020
I have written about the importance of bomba in Puerto Rican culture in the past, so it is no surprise that we see bomba danced as part of the protests and memorials.
In Loìza, Puerto Rico they are protesting for Black Lives Matter with bomba, the islands traditional music which is rooted in Boricua’s African heritage pic.twitter.com/IKk1RKvbOq
— La Taína (@Destineyteresa) June 3, 2020
Notice the depth of these tributes to George Floyd: Here they printed a photograph of him and framed it.
— Defend Puerto Rico (@DefendPR) June 1, 2020
Puerto Rico, like many places in the Caribbean—and like the U.S. mainland—is no stranger to systemic racism. The elite who rule Puerto Rico are almost all “white.”
Black and Dominican communities in Puerto Rico are too often met with excessive force from the PRPD. ACLU’s research shows that civilians regularly elect not to report police abuse because of a lack of faith in the investigatory and disciplinary system. #LasVidasNegrasImportan pic.twitter.com/Uda3VirWCU
— Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora – BUDPR (@BUnidosDPR) June 3, 2020
Like everywhere else, there is also denial of racism.
Such bullshit, there is racism against black skinned folks on the island, racism against the LGBTQ community, and discrimination against women to make decisions with their own body. Racism, discrimination, and inequality does not discriminate because of geography. #PuertoRico https://t.co/S7y2UonIvx
— Margarita 🇵🇷 (@AHappyMargarita) June 3, 2020
I’m also following the responses to the oppressive Civil Code changes, which ironically took effect at the start of Pride Month.
BREAKING: Puerto Rico’s Governor signs a new civil code into law despite vocal protests from residents & academics who asked she veto it.
The final stage was rushed without public hearings.
Support for the amended bill didn’t get much attention.
The Gov is running for election. pic.twitter.com/ukmlqS3HhO
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) June 1, 2020
This is the disgusting and homophobic new Civil Code that the governor of Puerto Rico just signed. My people are taking to the streets. They’re ready to fight. pic.twitter.com/eK7XFfQOHj
— dened rey moreno (@Hajabeg) June 2, 2020
Gov. Wanda Velazquez just signed the “Codigo Civil” in Puerto Rico which is anti woman and anti LGBT. She was NOT voted in by the people of Puerto Rico. This is an outrageous thing to do in the middle of a pandemic and the protests for justice going on. #WANDARENUNCIA
— ezra (@screwedezra) June 2, 2020
In closing, here’s a reminder about people power in Puerto Rico.
Does anyone remember when the people of Puerto Rico protested and removed their governor back in 2019? pic.twitter.com/icTSidjD2f
— Shoresy (@radiokaos666) May 31, 2020
Thank you, Puerto Rico.