Puerto Rico on Aug. 7 swore in its third governor in less than a week, Wanda Vázquez Garced, after the removal of Pedro Pierluisi by order of the commonwealth's Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that his appointment was unconstitutional. Pierluisi had been the chosen successor of Ricardo Rosselló of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP), who stepped down Aug. 2 following two weeks of mass protests. The protest wave began after group chats between Rosselló and his staff were made public, disclosing ugly homophobic and misogynistic comments aimed at political rivals, including San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of the opposition Popular Democratic Party (PPD). The comments also included cruel "humor" aimed at victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017.
A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)
Hurricane Maria's destruction on Puerto Rico could spawn one of the largest mass migration events in the United States' recent history, as tens of thousands of storm victims flee the island territory to rebuild their lives on the mainland. Some 97% of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without power. About half of the island's residents do not have running water. And no one knows when things will be fixed. Scientific American warns that the displaced islanders, thousands now awaiting flights from San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín airport, might be among the United States' newest "climate refugees," a demographic that includes former residents of the Louisiana coast and of shrinking islands in Alaska's Bering Strait.
With North Korea's apparent testing of its first (or perhaps second) hydrogen bomb yesterday, the White House is again warning of a "massive military response." Last week, North Korea for the first time fired a missile over Japanese land territory, specifically the northern island of Hokkaido, and last month for the first time tested an apparent intercontinental ballistic missile. (NYT, NYT, AP) Pyongyang's threat to launch missiles toward Guam put the unincorporated US island territory briefly in the news—although the actual threat was to fire into waters some 40 kilometers off Guam. (AP) Pyongyang has threatened to strike Guam before, but now looks as if it may be developing the capability to make good on its threat. Amid all the hype, just a few stories have made note of how Guamians themselves are reacting to all this. And growing sentiment on the island holds that the only thing they are getting out of their current US territorial status is being made a nuclear target.
In an effort to quell controversy, liberated Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera has declined to be an honoree at New York City's upcoming Puerto Rican Day Parade, writing in a statement to the Daily News: "The honor should not be for me; it should be bestowed on our pioneers who came to the United States and opened doors. It should go for activists and elected officials who fight for justice and a fair society." This comes after Goya Foods and other traditional sponsors of the parade had pulled out under pressure of a media campaign portraying OLR as a "terrorist." The New York Post, of course, has been particularly aggressive, and national right-wing media like Breitbart had also piled on.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Feb. 3 approved a law (PDF) calling for a non-binding referendum on statehood for the US territory. The referendum, to be held in June, will allow the voters to choose between statehood, independence or "free association." Those in support of statehood believe it could help Puerto Rico restructure its $70 billion in public debt and stave off further federal austerity measures. If approved, statehood would allow Puerto Rico to receive $10 billion in federal funds per year, as well as allowing government agencies and municipalities to file for bankruptcy. Rosselló called the vote "a civil rights issue" and said the US will have to "respond to the demands of 3.5 million citizens seeking an absolute democracy." Puerto Rico's citizenry is currently denied many of the benefits of citizens of US states, including equal access to Social Security and Medicare, despite paying taxes for these services. In addition, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, Jenniffer González, is only allowed to vote in House committees in which she is a member.
Oscar López Rivera, the longest-held Puerto Rican political prisoner in the US, was among 209 federal inmates granted clemency by President Barack Obama on Jan. 17. His sentence commuted, López Rivera is now set to be released in May from the federal prison at Terre Haute, Ind. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), in announcing the commutation, said: "Thank you, President Obama, thank you on behalf of millions of Puerto Ricans on the island and around the world." Arrested by the FBI in Chicago in 1981, López Rivera was convicted of "seditious conspiracy" as an adherent of the pro-independence Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). Other charges included armed robbery, although he was never accused of any actual act of violence. If Obama had not intervened, he would have remained in captivity until June 26, 2023, five months after his 80th birthday.
Some 150 supporters greeted Puerto Rican independence activist Norberto González Claudio at San Juan's international airport on Jan. 15, hours after he was released from a federal prison in Coleman, Florida. González Claudio, a former member of the Boricua Popular Army-Macheteros, had served a three and one-half year prison term for his involvement in the group's 1983 armed robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Conn.—until then the largest heist on record. Arrested in May 2011 in the central Puerto Rican town of Cayey after 25 years as fugitive, González Claudio pleaded guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence. He was due to be released last September, but his time in Coleman was extended four months because of an alleged infraction. His relatives and colleagues saw this as part of a pattern of physical and psychological torture they say he endured.