[News] How music took down Puerto Rico’s governor

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 1 11:16:35 EDT 2019


  How music took down Puerto Rico’s governor

By Verónica Dávila and Marisol LeBrón August 1

    Underground music overcame censors to gain popularity and political

On July 24, Puerto Ricans made history when, after nearly two weeks of 
massive public protests, Ricardo Rosselló finally resigned as governor 
Puerto Ricans found increasingly creative 
ways to gather people in the streets to demand this change. They 
protested on horses, motorcycles, jet skis, kayaks, yoga mats and by 
banging pots. Yet it was the young people dancing provocatively on the 
steps of the oldest cathedral in the New World to the 
/boom-ch-boom-chick-boom-ch-boom-chick/ of reggaeton beats 
that may have finally forced Rosselló out of office.

This “perreo combativo 
as dubbed by queer, trans and non-binary youth, used perreo, reggaeton’s 
dance style, to create a sensuous and liberated communal space that 
generated political power. After Roselló’s resignation, people on social 
media said: “El Perreo ganó” (perreo won) and “Sin Perreo No Hay 
Revolución” (There’s no Revolution Without Perreo), pointing to 
reggaetón’s dance as the knockout blow to the corrupt governor.

Yes, some of these comments were tongue-in-cheek, playing on the irony 
of music that arose from black and low-income communities unseating the 
highest elected official in Puerto Rico. But they were also tapping into 
the longer history of reggaeton and perreo, forms that have always been 
political. Through reggaeton, Puerto Ricans have expressed political 
critique, resisted state censorship and criminalization, defied racism 
and misogyny — and now fueled collective action.

Since the 1990s, when it emerged as an “underground” musical form, 
rappers used their lyrics to denounce social inequality, racism, police 
violence, marginalization and the hypocrisy of the Puerto Rican elite. 
Underground rap often took aim at the abuses and corruption of the 
government and exposed the harsh realities of vulnerable young people, 
especially those living in public housing. For instance, songs like 
Eddie Dee’s “Señor oficial <https://youtu.be/mhmBjLZsKjk>” (Mr. Police 
Officer), Ivy Queen’s “Somos raperos pero no delincuentes 
<https://youtu.be/1_pCKfRqd0A>” (We are rappers but not criminals) and 
Daddy Yankee’s “Abuso oficial <https://youtu.be/mSXPXru-v7w>” (Police 
abuse) criticized associations between underground music and 
criminality, as well as the stigmatization of poor Afro-Puerto Ricans. 
Unsurprisingly, this, along with sexually suggestive lyrics, made 
underground music a target of police and government officials.

Indeed, it is deeply ironic that Ricardo Rosselló could not withstand 
the power of the people’s//perreo intenso, given that his father, former 
governor Pedro Rosselló, played a major role in criminalizing 
underground rap as part of his anti-crime initiative, mano dura contra 
el crimen 
(iron fist against crime). From 1993-2000, as part of that initiative, 
Rosselló deployed the Puerto Rican police department and National Guard 
to raid and occupy public housing and other marginalized communities as 
part of the fight against drugs and violence.

Through both rhetoric and practice associated with mano dura, people 
living in economically and racially marginalized communities were 
conceived as dangerous and in need of state intervention. Poor 
dark-skinned young men who dressed with an urban diasporic aesthetic 
were presumed to be violent criminals or drug dealers and encountered 
constant police surveillance and harassment. As a musical and cultural 
expression born from the experiences of low-income communities, which 
were framed as criminal by Pedro Rosselló’s administration, underground 
rap came to be regarded as one more node in a vast criminal enterprise 
threatening the “decent and hard-working” people of Puerto Rico.

When underground music started to move above ground, the genre became an 
object of intense state scrutiny. In 1995, police launched a series of 
record store raids 
resulting in the confiscation of hundreds of CDs and cassettes, as well 
as the arrests of several employees for selling “obscene” material that 
supposedly encouraged promiscuity and drug use. Politicians and police 
tried to censor perreo <https://nacla.org/news/reggaeton-nation> as 
well, arguing that the dance was pornographic and led to the corruption 
of impressionable women and children.

These repressive measures inspired artists and fans to fight back, using 
music to call attention to political corruption permeating the 
government. Eddie Dee in his song, “Censurarme 
<https://youtu.be/4_XDRnxaGOo>” (Censor Me), for example, rapped that 
even though underground artists were criminalized and labeled as 
delinquents, no rapper had been accused of corruption, fraud and the 
rape of a minor like the former president of the Senate, Edison Misla 

And, so, despite a concerted effort by religious figures and 
conservative politicians to censure and criminalize reggaeton and 
perreo, the genre exploded during the 2000s and began its journey into 
the mainstream and the recognizable pop dominating the airwaves today 
worldwide. And reggaetón’s political ethos continued after it crossed 
over. For example, Ivy Queen 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acOk35Crs7Q> has promoted women’s 
bodily and sexual autonomy during perreo dances and beyond, while Tego 
Calderón has used his music to decry racism, xenophobia, social 
inequality and poverty in Puerto Rico.

Prominent reggaeton and trap artists frequently joined demonstrators in 
the streets during the protests. Residente 
and Bad Bunny <https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-49013761>, in 
particular, alongside pop star Ricky Martin 
played a vital role in amplifying the call of the Colectiva Feminista en 
Construcción <https://www.facebook.com/Colectiva.Feminista.PR/> for the 
National Strike on July 18, one of the largest demonstrations to take 
place in Puerto Rico’s history. In addition to the presence of artists 
at the protests, people also used reggaeton lyrics as chants. For 
instance, demonstrators frequently used a popular line from “En la Cama 
Daddy Yankee’s 2001 hit featuring Nicky Jam to call for Rosselló’s 
resignation. When a protester shouted “Yo quiero la combi completa” (I 
want the whole combination), which in the original makes reference to 
the various parts of a woman’s body, the crowd chanted in response “Qué? 
Ricky renuncia, puñeta!” 
<https://twitter.com/marie01_31/status/1151688037736341506?s=20> (What? 
Ricky, resign, damnit!).

But the very open embrace of reggaeton’s often highly sexual dance 
itself has also emerged as an important act of defiance in a country 
where conservative, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic sentiments 
are expressed even by its head of state. Perreo, unlike other Caribbean 
dances, allows women to lead and control, to determine the intensity of 
the dance and to select how much or little contact she wants with her 
partner. It also defies society’s respectability politics and breaks 
taboos toward sex by allowing people to revel in their sexuality and 
opening up conversations about consent.

Recognizing these radical roots and potential, feminist and LGBTQ 
collectives in Puerto Rico have been organizing reggaeton dance parties 
for over two years. La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, the feminist 
collective that initiated the protests in La Fortaleza, organize a 
yearly celebration “Si no puedo perrear, no es mi revolución” 
<https://www.facebook.com/events/375846082989687/> (If I can’t dance 
reggaeton, it’s not my revolution). Other LGBTQ groups have been 
organizing similar events at El Hangar 
<https://www.facebook.com/Elhangarensanturce/>, a queer and 
trans-friendly venue in Santurce, all geared toward the intersections 
between perreo as an anti-colonial practice and queerness as a defiant 

When Rosselló’s resignation message, which was broadcast on Facebook 
Live, had ended, protesters in the streets rejoiced and celebrated. In 
addition to victoriously chanting “Olé, Olé, Olé,” they joined to sing 
the ultimate reggaeton breakup revenge song, “Te Boté” 
(I Dumped You). That night, triumphant and feeling the power of their 
collective action, Puerto Ricans sang “Te Boté” not only because they 
got Rosselló out of their lives, but because they knew their future 
would be better without him.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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