A day after students in Puerto Rico protested in front of La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, New York officials celebrated and awarded the controversial figure at an event in San Juan on Saturday. When a transgender activist in attendance objected, she was kicked out of the event.
SOMOS, Inc., a New York-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in collaboration with the New York State Assembly’s Hispanic Caucus, held its annual SOMOS Puerto Rico conference over the weekend, where Latino politicians and advocates came together to engage in conversation to help shape priorities for public policy, civic participation and community engagement.
The event, which was attended by politicians from New York and Puerto Rico, took an unexpected turn during an Entre Nosotras luncheon on Saturday when organizers announced they would be honoring Gov. Wanda Vázquez, the former secretary of justice who became interim governor of the Caribbean archipelago in August following massive anti-political corruption protests over the summer that ousted previous Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
In her three months in office, Vázquez, who many protesters view as an extension of the Rosselló administration, has come under fire for her inaction around gender violence and, most recently, calling cuts to the budget of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the island’s main public university system, “inevitable.”
Overlooking the cries from thousands of students and women who have protested in front of La Fortaleza for months, New York officials brought the governor up to the stage, granted her an award and allegedly dedicated a song to her.
“How are you going to name a conference ‘Somos el Futuro’ and claim to be here to listen to the people of Puerto Rico and completely ignore the voices of the young people of Puerto Rico,” local transgender activist Joanna Cifredo, who attended the event and was kicked out for her criticism, tells Remezcla.
Upset over organizers’ blatant dismissal of the Puerto Rican people’s outrage and demonstrations, Cifredo stood up at the luncheon and yelled, “Wanda, renuncia,” a popular call among people on the archipelago and on social media since rumors began spreading that she could be next up for the governor’s seat.
“They closed our schools. They’re cutting the pensions of our seniors. They want to cut funding to special needs education and shut down our public universities. She [Gov. Vasquez] has refused to fight against the proposed funding cuts by the fiscal control board. How dare they celebrate that,” Cifredo says.
After calling for the governor to resign, the activist was escorted out of the event by five security guards. Alongside her were New York State Senator Jessica Ramos as well as Jessica González-Rojas, candidate for New York State Assembly, who walked out in solidarity with Cifredo and the people of Puerto Rico.
“As a Puerto Rican woman of the diaspora who was deeply inspired by the leadership and activism of local organizers during the protests this summer, I was appalled that Vázquez was being honored at this luncheon,” González-Rojas, the former executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health who is now running to represent New York’s 34th assembly district, tells Remezcla.
She continues: “I support Joanna’s courage in speaking truth to power, even in spaces where it was deeply unpopular to do so. I walked out in solidarity as the entire room booed us for boldly calling out the hypocrisy of recognizing Vázquez while local communities are suffering under her leadership.”
On Friday, Puerto Ricans will once again protest at La Fortaleza to demand Gov. Vázquez to not ignore the cries of students and halt the prospected $71 million budget cuts.