Shirley Rivera is the Founder and President of the Ateístas de Puerto Rico. The intent is to learn about Puerto Rican atheism and culture, as an educational series. Here we talk about politics and religion in Puerto Rico with an example, and more.
*Interview conducted around the beginning of the original news.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: There is some controversy in Puerto Rico based on the actions of a politician. It involved finances. What is the relation between politics and religion here?
Shirley Rivera: The Governor Ricardo Rosselló was accused of denigrating females, denigrating the people with disease, and people from the LGBT community. Last Tuesday, the Secretary of Education and five other people from her team have been arrested by the FBI in Washington, D.C. Another was in Puerto Rico for stealing 15.5 million USD from the Department of Education.
All of those designated to fix the schools after Hurricane Maria. They did contracts to do them to create money. She gave the contacts to these people to do the project to fix them, but then they gave the money to them.
They have been accused of corruption and more. It is like nine charges, I guess. So, two or three days after, the governor was in Spain. He was in vacation in Spain. The next day when she was arrested she is from the United States and not from Puerto Rico.
This is the first time that we have a U.S. person who is coming to administrate Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican department. People were not happy with her from the beginning. At schools, these were the only schools in the town.
She closed 300 schools because she said there is not enough money to keep open those schools. Plus, for people, they were moving out to the U.S. They cut school to save money because there was not enough money.
After that came out, one page came out talking about the feminists protesting because we have a lot of gendered crime in Puerto Rico. It is common for the husband to choke the wife or kill the wife. It is something happening. It is shown in the numbers.
The feminists went to the governor’s house to try to talk with him. He did not receive them. They went plenty of times. He did not receive them until a rapper went to his house. He opened the house to the rapper. He said, “Let these ladies come to you and make their claims and do something. It is a gender emergency.”
They called it a “gender emergency.” It was like 5:4 in one week. Everyone said, “We have to do something,” including the policemen. Policeman were killing the wife and people thinking they should protect the people. Because they are probably as stressed out with the crisis and everything. Anyways, he let them in. But in that chat, it was making fun of puta, “puta” means “prostitute” in a bad way or a vulgar way.
That is the only page that was released. Everyone in the congregation crazy in the island. So, he arrived in Puerto Rico. Everyone is waiting at the airport. He went to his house. He got a press conference. He apologized because he is not supposed to call the females “putas.” He apologized.
He said that he would not do it again and be a man. The next day, the same website who is run by an investigation journalist. They released 800 or so pages for the same chat. In that 800 pages, I was reading. I stopped at 160.
There is no way! [Laughing] There is too much. One of the highlights put out by the press is making fun of the representative campaign help. The person making fun of him is someone helping him in the party. He is making fun of how he looks.
In another chat, he is making fun of someone who died. In another chat, he was planning, when Bush died, to make a press release or something. Everything was planned to look good. He was not empathic. He takes a picture when it was Hurricane Maria.
He said, ‘Poor people, look at these ugly places.’ It was people who lost their house for the hurricane. It went bad for everyone in the island. All the time, he was pretending. He was not empathic.
He did not have any sense of feeling what people are feeling. Like, so, he was the candidate who represents the conservative party. He represents the faith and values people from the Christian church. He represents the moral people in his campaigns. Now, we finish with a person who is worse than any other candidate at that time.
The religious bigots on the island were endorsing for his campaign. They also put out a list with all the candidates who should vote because they believe in God. If you believe in God, you should vote for these people.
He was on the list. He was the value candidate. So, that is why the people bully, and then he wins. We have a guy who called putas to the females, to making fun of the campaign, to making fun of the George Bush father when he died, and all the people not asking for his resignation.
He does not want to do it. He will not. We have the last three days. We have people protesting from his house, just an hour or two hours ago. The police are in front of his house because the people want to come and get him.
They try to break the people apart because it was already out of control. That is what happened today. This morning, the governor decided to get his car with his people and then went to church. So, he went to a Christian church, where they prayed for him.
The priest then interviewed after. The priest asked him to come, but he said it was a surprise and that they need them to pray for the governor.
Rivera: [Laughing] he came. When she was giving her service [Laughing], she asked if he wanted to give a word. He went to the podium. He apologized for everything that he does and promised to be a better man.
He said, ‘The powerful God will guide him now.’ I guess, God did not guide him the last two years [Laughing].
Jacobsen: [Laughing] exactly.
Rivera: He will not call the females putas. It means like, probably, whores here or something like that.
Jacobsen: Prostitute already has negative connotations to it. In addition to it, it becomes very vulgar. You are considered in the presence of someone saying it to be in bad company.
Rivera: Yes, putas, he called this to the feminists. They were asking to meet with him. I think this was the strongest thing in the chat. People were angry. People say, ‘He does not represent us.” They are voting to put him out.
Probably, we will not have the governor next week.
Jacobsen: The governorless state of Puerto Rico. How have some of the other leaders in America given license to this kind of talk as well as behaviour? Somehow, it has given it license to be out in the open and bold in a not-courageous way [Laughing].
Rivera: I guess because of the patriarchal culture. They feel, “It is normal.” The feminists are not strong now and choose to not speak out about it. The patriarchal culture may be strong inside them. I guess that is how they really think.
When this stuff comes closer, you can see how they really are. It was his whole thing. There was just talking in a disrespectful way as if it was normal. You can see in Trump when he is campaigns and ‘grabbing pussies.’ It is probably strongly in the Christian cultures.
As if females are inferior to them, that is why they act like that and make reference to us in that way. They see us as less than them. That is the only way. I am pretty sure that they would not talk that way about another male. They see us as inferior.
That is what the religion does. Male is first. Female is second. Female came from the rib of Adam. We came from the side and are less. Sometimes, in my personal experience, I can see when you speak out. They try to raise their voice.
When this is something like me who get quiet and talk to them, and do not care, and make my own space to talk about them, they cannot accept it. It happens with the old people in my work environment.
They say, “You have to respect.” I say, “What is respect – be quiet?” They see disrespect as talking over a man. Because you are inferior to them. So, I guess, it is that culture.
Jacobsen: Who have been some positive leaders who do not talk in demeaning language to anyone? But if they do, it is not about the person but about the ideas and ideals the person holds dear. It becomes a political difference rather than a personal difference.
Anyone who stands out in this case, in politics.
Rivera: In the feminist side, probably the youngest legislators, they show more empathy to this gender perspective, about female rights, are more aware about it. They are not the majority yet. We do not see any big change.
But last year, we have a female running for governor. She is an open atheist in Puerto Rico. So, you can see, little by little, that we have more prisons and the males are supporting them. She was like, “I am an independent candidate.” At the end of the campaign, she almost says that she is an atheist.
She had a daughter by insemination. She does not want the dad. She just wants to be the mom. That is it. She was very modern, I guess, in that way. People accepted her. She got a lot of votes. If you can translate that probably in the general population, you can see people are starting to change their minds, which just takes time.
Jacobsen: What do you think will come of this? Will this change any of the political culture?
Rivera: I guess, yes. Because we have these Baby Boomer generation dying. So [Laughing], at some point, that type of perspectives and thoughts will leave, will disappear. But I do not think we will be perfect either.
I do not think this generation will be perfect either. We will have a lot of stuff to fix and work. A lot of people say Millennials get offended at everything. That is true. You cannot work like that. How can you spread yourself and get offended? It is not respect. I am a Millennial. I am 30 years old.
I think we need stop being too touchy. Otherwise, we will not have good communication in a world where communication is part of work. I think homophobia, gender inequality, will disappear. I think we will have new problems.
Jacobsen: If we consider the ideals proposed, and if we take into account the degrees to which the world has approximated those values and ideals, e.g., gender equality, less prejudice, and so on, what are practical limits to those? What are potential innate limits to those?
Where, as societies become more free, certain innate capacities can flourish more and more. In other words, the developmental outgrowth of the human organisms males, females, men, women, trans, etc. – come out. What do you see as potentially some myths that the Millennials and others in a similar cohort hold about ideas, ideals, and values, where those hit a practical wall?
Rivera: I think the ways that Millennials are raising the kids. I think the parents are more open to talk to the kids about daily topics. I remember in our time, probably, parents are saying to not talk to the kids or not wanting to talk to the kids. It was more reserved.
Now, I see Millennials are more involved with the minors, the kids, in talking with them. In the culture, the Millennials do not have the prejudgment. In a way, when the Baby Boomer leave, you have Millennials and Generation X [Laughing] and in between both. I see it will change.
Prejudgment will probably leave. It will be open to speak out to how they are. My kids see LGBT people and think nothing of it. I remember as a kid, “Wow!” Because, you get that from your parents, from your family, because that is how you react. You will think this is weird.
Millennials do not see this as weird. They normalize all this stuff. They pass on the normalized stuff to the kids. The kids do not see any difference. Probably not now, but in 40 to 30 years, when the Baby Boomer disappear, by default, we can see, probably, a cultural change.
Plus, we are more connected. Soo, people who travel and talk with other people from other countries accept change because change does not accept them. They are exposed to more things. I guess it will be fine, except working with offended people [Laughing].
Jacobsen: The end.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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