The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, announced he will resign on August 2nd, after protests calling for him to step down reached a climax last week. The citizens of Puerto Rico have been vocally fed up with the political institutions serving them for a long time, and the recent leaked messages from the governor and his inner circle, which teemed with hateful insults, stoked the public furor to the point that Rosselló no choice but to resign. High profile Puerto Rican musicians, such as Ricky Martin, Residente, and Bad Bunny, stood in solidarity with the protesters, joining the rally as it flooded the streets of San Juan. Throughout the protests, the artists used their platform to protest and perform, to energize and unite, and deliver a song to inspire in the way only music can.
There are a number of factors that begin to explain the recent dissatisfaction of the Puerto Rican people. For starters, 2 years ago, two hurricanes devastated the island. Hurricanes Irma and Maria left the entire island without power, ravaged houses and buildings, and killed an estimated 3,000 people. To this day, there are still massive amounts of material damage that need to be addressed: some people are still without power, the water supply is contaminated, and buildings are not being rebuilt quickly enough. Puerto Ricans have been forced to move to the US mainland amid the crisis, and hundreds of local schools have been shut down.
Then on July 13th, 880+ pages of messages between Rosselló and his advisors were leaked to the public. The contents of those messages pushed the people of Puerto Rico over the edge. In the messages, Rosselló and company made homophobic and sexist comments targeting the likes of latin pop star Ricky Martin and San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, among others. While the hyper-targeted comments are offensive and ugly, it was probably the exchange of comments joking about the victims of Hurricane Maria that struck the biggest nerve with the Puerto Rican people. They weren’t going to let the governor and his circle disrespect a local and national tragedy of that magnitude.
The ensuing protests organized tens of thousands of people outside the governor’s mansion in San Juan. The atmosphere in the streets was electrified when hometown heroes Residente and his sister iLe (of Calle 13), Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin, and Daddy Yankee showed up to galvanize the crowd. Other Puerto Rican musicians that weren’t on the island took to social media to voice their support for the protests, many of them using the hashtag #RickyRenuncia in their posts, which translates to “Ricky Resign.” Marc Anthony, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Luis Fonsi, Ozuna, and Nicky Jam were among the Puerto Rican stars who joined the protests on the digital front.
Bad Bunny (holding flag), Ricky Martin (black hat), and Residente (blue hat) in San Juan; cred: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
As the rallies in the streets raged on, Residente, Bad Bunny, and iLe waged their own war on Rosselló through the internet. They released a song titled ‘Afilando Los Cuchillos’ – or ‘Sharpening the Knives’ – that condemns Rosselló with a ferocious sense of urgency. The song is a call to arms that succeeds in denouncing Rosselló while also addressing the larger problems confronting Puerto Rico. Residente, a veteran of activist music, has built a reputation for calling out political corruption in both the United States and Latin America. In Afilando los Cuchillos, Residente describes how Rosselló’s Puerto Rico is a dictatorship: “si el pueblo entero quiere que te vayas, caradura y tú te quedas, entonces estamos en dictadura,” which translates to “if the whole city wants you to leave and you don’t, then we’re in a dictatorship.”
In the second leg of the song, Bad Bunny raps a memorable verse that demonstrates how rebellious street art pales in comparison to the real vandalism of the Rosselló government:
“To’as las paredes dicen “Ricky vete”, (Ey)
Y no es vandalismo
Vandalismo es que nos tiremos nosotros mismos
Por defender a los que nos llevaron al abismo
Vandalismo es que siempre voten por los mismos
Y se roben to’s los chavos de educación
Mientras cierran escuelas y los niños no tienen salón”
“All the walls say “Ricky leave,” (Hey)
And it’s not vandalism
Vandalism is that we kill each other
For defending those who led us into the abyss
Vandalism is to always to vote for them
And they rob all the kids of the education
While they close schools and children don’t have a classroom”
The song is a triumph beyond just the realm of protest music. The long rap verses are vivid, explicit, and defiant. Tooka’s bass-heavy production picks up and backs off strategically to make sure Residente and Bad Bunny’s lyrics remain the focus of the song. iLe’s chorus ties everything together, reminding everyone of the larger reason why they’re sharpening the knives: “Pa’ que ninguno se aproveche de lo mío,” or “so that nobody takes advantage of me [us].” And most importantly, this song was the voice of the Puerto Rican people. It was the soundtrack to a victory that the island has long been waiting for.
There are still big questions facing Puerto Rico’s government. The resignation of Rosselló and affiliates is not enough to appease protestors, who know the fight against corruption doesn’t end with a handful of people stepping down. But it does give the citizens a newfound sense of power and influence that they can carry with them moving forward.
While the celebrations continue, they can enjoy another new Residente & Bad Bunny song: Bellacoso. 🍑
Residente, Bad Bunny & iLe – Afilando Los Cuchillos