The #RickyRenuncia movement was multigenerational, nonpartisan, nonbinary, and, yes, a native, reggaeton singer played an essential role in the efforts of removing corrupt leaders from their positions, specifically former Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló. In the wake of Hurricane Maria and spurred on by the exposure of corruption in the federal government, this movement was as social as it was political. After 1.1 million people bravely took to the streets and Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, also known by his stage name Bad Bunny, cried to other stars and citizens of Puerto Rico to join the protest, Rosselló finally resigned after previously vowing that he would finish his term. This successful movement led by the people has the potential momentum to transform Puerto Rico for good.
With corrupt leaders managing the post-Hurricane Maria efforts, Puerto Rico has been drowning in social and economic hardships. Despite multiple efforts to rescue the island, Puerto Ricans at large remained unaware of the causes of deep governmental problems. Ocasio played a major role in sparking the movement among many Puerto Ricans and encouraged other native public figures to take action in their homeland. Protests, diss-tracks and social media were essential platforms that Ocasio used to gain strength in the social war with Governor Rosselló before his announcement to resign on July 24, 2019. This was the outcome of three key scandals.
Part 1: The Corruption
A Harvard study revealed that there were an estimated 4,645 deaths as a result of Hurricane Maria. During the crisis, many Puerto Ricans and international citizens doubted the accuracy of the official reported number of 64 post-hurricane deaths by the Puerto Rican government, which was heavily criticized for their administration’s failure to provide basic health services. The US threatened to withhold disaster aid due to Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s poor spending decisions during the crisis. The substantial underestimation that Puerto Rican officials reported caused 90 billion dollars of damage to the economy, which affected many small businesses and public schools. The relief effort was slow, as Rosselló took almost a year to acknowledge that thousands were dying from Maria’s aftermath. Puerto Rican citizens began to question their federal government and resentment grew as the corruption further unraveled.
Puerto Rico has been in a recession for over a decade now, despite Rosselló’s efforts to reduce the massive budget deficit with “strict, effective” tactics. These tactics amounted to closing many public institutions while high-ranked officials filled their pockets with the money that was intended for the island’s relief. The former Education Secretary and the former Director of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration misallocated $15.5 million from the Maria relief fund to chip away at the previous billion-dollar debts resulting from their poor management. They were both later arrested, and their actions led to the investigation into Rosselló’s officials. The list of corrupted transactions with taxpayers’ money continued during Rosselló’s governance.
While thousands were dying and Puerto Rico was losing its global respect, 889 pages of messages between Rosselló and 11 of his “inner-circle” officials were leaked. These messages consist of uncomfortable conversations that were sexist, homophobic, and had crude insults that mocked colleagues, political figures, stars like Ricky Martin, local activists, and even victims of Hurricane María. On the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rosselló mocked an obese man he had posed with in a photo. Another prominent message that stood out was one in which Rosselló referred to Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Puerto Rico-born former speaker of the New York City Council, saying (in translation), “Our people should come out and defend Tom and beat up that whore.” For many Puerto Ricans, this was the last straw. The inequalities of women and homosexuals has been a growing issue in Puerto Rico. The governor’s conduct enables toxic behavior by men all over Puerto Rico and the world. In a press conference days later, Rosselló tried to explain his messages by saying it was the exhaustion and pressures of 18-hour workdays. While two cabinet officials of Rosselló’s have stepped down in the wake of the scandals, Rosselló still refused to leave office.
Part 2: Bad Bunny’s Influence on the 2019 Movement
The Puerto Rican native and global music sensation Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, also known as Bad Bunny, jumped to support his homeland’s fight against the government’s misogyny and corruption. Amid the rising tensions across the island, Ocasio visited the Governor’s Mansion unannounced to address the growing death rates. He shared his thoughts with the governor, expressing that changes needed to be made in his administration. Ocasio’s involvement in the island’s affairs were a call to action for many other native singers such as Ricky Martin and Puerto Rican MC Residente. They have been on the front lines with millions of Puerto Ricans protesting since July 13, 2019. As the protesting continued for about a week in mid-July, Governor Rosselló said in a press conference that he would not be resigning, despite the growing number of participants. He said that he had not committed illegal acts with his leaked conversations (RickyLeaks) and that they were only improper. With the heightened tensions and anger in Puerto Rico, Ocasio was a beacon for the people to continue the marches and protest to “regain” their homeland. According to the ACLU, a general strike was declared on July 24, during which an estimated 1.1 million people peacefully protested across the island. People affiliated with all local political parties, Democrats and Republicans, single mothers, the elderly, people with disabilities, all stood shoulder to shoulder with thousands of young people, the LGBTQ community, and women protesting in the streets and major highways in Puerto Rico. To join these demonstrations, Ocasio flew back from his scheduled concerts in Spain. In a post on his Instagram, he talked about canceling his upcoming events: “I’m going to cancel everything. I’m going to put a pause on my career because I don’t have the heart or the mind to make music. I’m going to Puerto Rico.”
The protests soon became more “extreme.” Videos show police stopping a protestor from expressing his free speech and even tear-gassing protesters during the night marches. Ocasio declared in an Instagram video, “For years, decades, the system has taught us to stay quiet […] They’ve made us believe that those who take to the streets to speak up are crazy, criminals, troublemakers. Let’s show them that today’s generations demand respect […] The country doesn’t belong to them, it belongs to all of us.” This marked the birth of the #RickyRenuncia (translates to #RickyResignation) movement. Ocasio later released a single in support of the marches and protest called “Afilando Los Cuchillos,” or “Sharpening The Knives.” In it, Ocasio shares his most politically incisive commentary yet:
“Let all the continents know that Ricardo Rosselló is an incompetent, homophobic liar. . . A delinquent, no one wants you. . . not even your own people.”
Similar to the famous anti-war music during the Vietnam war such as Revolution by The Beatles, Ocasio’s music fueled the people to advocate against the Puerto Rican government. For years, the island was sunken in debt, suffering from a misogynistic culture, and not receiving proper government funding. Ocasio used his global platform to bring recognition to some of Puerto Rico’s issues, like natural disasters or corruption. Along with songs on his latest album, he continues to remind the island of its strength despite facing many hardships in the past decade.
Ocasio’s advocacy does not stop with his creative work. He continued to advocate for the citizens of his homeland by giving interviews with several news outlets such as NBC News, LA Times, and Rolling Stone, among others. Ocasio performed on the Tonight’s Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and found an opportunity to slip in awareness of Puerto Rico’s misogynistic culture. While performing, Ocasio peeled his blazer off and revealed a message in bold, bloody red letters reading, “MATARON a ALEXA, no a un hombre con falda.” This translates to “they killed Alexa, not a man in a skirt.” Ocasio spread the news to all Americans of Alexa Negrón Luciano, a trans woman brutally murdered in Puerto Rico by government officials while she was eating at a fast-food restaurant. The political stunt was an apparent response to the media reports made by Puerto Rican reporters when they misgendered Alexa in all the news about her death. This further highlights the dangerous culture in Puerto Rico that struggles to change because government officials have not done anything to improve the toxic norms. Ocasio’s performance sparked more outrage that transferred to the people of Puerto Rico’s animosity toward the government and officials that have failed in protecting the rights and lives of their people. Bad Bunny helped Puerto Ricans realize that the case of Alexa’s mistreatment was unjust and that their government had no regard for human life. His music today continues to reflect his nationalism and support for human rights.
In one of Ocasio’s newest music videos “Yo Perro Solo,” he showcases his support of gender fluidity with daring fashion choices, lots of dancing, and being dressed up in drag for most of the video. This is not the first time Ocasio has shown his support for the empowerment of women and gender fluidity (see his 2018 song “Caro”), he consistently challenges the social norms seen predominantly in Puerto Rico where many have died due to the toxic culture. He takes this bold stand, as a man from an island of strong masculine pride, in the risk of repercussion and resentment from colleagues and his society. Several beautiful parts of his music video spread the absent support to the women and transgender community that Puerto Rico has been yearning for. One part, in particular, had women, the LGBTQ+ community, and yes, even men in awe:
“si no quiere bailar contigo, respeta, ella perrea sola.”
“If a woman does not want to dance with you, respect her. She dances alone.”
On a black screen with bold, red letters at the end of the video, Ocasio writes in Spanish the words that empower women to dance alone if they want and should not be punished for that.
The former governor’s homophobia, money misuse, destruction, neglect, and manipulation of news outlets caused outrage among millions of Puerto Ricans. Ocasio has been at the forefront of this war against the federal government in Puerto Rico. Based on his previous involvement and dedication to issues affecting his people, he believes artists should use their platforms to give momentum and attention to crises and movements, like the #RickyRenuncia movement.
The hell the people of Puerto Rico endured from Maria and the federal government has given every citizen the will and resilience to demand respect from their country. Ocasio’s career has been a successful one not only from his top albums but for his courage and passion for the island that he is very proud to call home. Now more than ever, the youth, Americans, foreigners, and politicians are all saluting the strength of the disaster-struck island and the power of a small-beginnings, trap reggaeton singer.
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