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Conversation with Dr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares on Democratic Participation, Colonialism, and Former President Donald J. Trump: Former Governor, Puerto Rico (3)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/03/22


Ricardo Rosselló Nevares holds a PhD in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering with a concentration in Developmental Economics. Rosselló continued his academic studies at the University of Michigan, where he completed a master’s degree and a PhD in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. After finalizing his doctoral studies, he completed post-doctoral studies in neuroscience at Duke University, in North Carolina, where he also served as an investigator. Dr. Rosselló was a tenure track assistant professor for the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus and Metropolitan University, teaching courses in medicine, immunology, and biochemistry. Dr. Rosselló’s scientific background and training also makes him an expert in important developing areas such as genetic manipulation and engineering, stem cells, viral manipulation, cancer, tissue engineering and smart materials. He discusses: the moves made forward in the 2010s; and the Trump Administration.

Keywords: colonial territory, Donald Trump, Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, Trump Administration.

Conversation with Dr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares on Democratic Participation, Colonialism, and Former President Donald J. Trump: Former Governor, Puerto Rico (3)

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Another aspect, I think the big cautionary note is vigilance about no matter how good things are; for instance, the approval ratings two months prior to then needing to resign. Maybe, not hypervigilance, but certainly vigilance.

When it comes to the people fo Puerto Rico, a big thing is a 500+-year colonial history. So, that’s a major issue. Well over 90% of the population wants equal status with other states. In other words, they want equal democratic participation for themselves, for democratic self-governance.

What have been some of the moves made forward in the 2010s that you consider the most significant, whether in the office or not?

Dr. Ricardo Rosselló[1],[2]*: The way I try to tell this story. There is a 500-year story of Puerto Rico. There is a 50-year story of Puerto Rico. Then there is a 5-year story, approximately, of Puerto Rico after that. We are a colonial territory.

We have been a colonial territory all of our existence. The first 400, some of Spain and Italy, after with the Hispanic-American War were transferred to the United States. So, never has Puerto Rico been an independent company or a full partner of another country.

It is something to really keep in mind. It is an inevitable part of our culture because it’s been embedded into it for all of our existence. The second part, the 50 years, how government mismanagement based on these differences, because Puerto Rico as a colonial territory got some government ‘freebies,’ let’s put it that way.

It became a tax haven for big corporations. Bondholders would not have to pay taxes on bonds that they bought in Puerto Rico. So, that was pretty active. It is an hour-long talk. How those mismanagements got us to the place where $72 billion (USD) in debt in the bond markets, about $50 billion in debt for unfunded pension liabilities, then the last 5 years, it has been a crosshair of how it crashed.

In my view, it crashed in 2014, when we didn’t pay our first issuance of bonds. It, essentially, removed us from the market or in the short-term from getting any money back, getting an oversight board. I’m sure all of the things that you have seen.

How do you get those things started and get some transformational reform and structural reform? Unfortunately, there’s no fell swoop here. Everything, as with a lot of things, before it gets better, it’s going to have its cracks.

Through it all, my thesis has been, “Hey, granted, there’s been government mismanagement. There have been all these things. There’s been corruption. But really, the root of all of this is that we’re a colonial territory.”

Citizens of Puerto Rico get a 1/4th of the same citizens in places like Florida. You only have to get a flight. That’s it! It’s not even complicated. All you have to do is make that transfer. That’s one of the reasons people leaving Puerto Rico.

My thesis is that we have been needing to solve this problem. One thing I did prior to my administration was spearheading a first plebiscite that rejected colonial status. We won the plebiscite. Even though, the party lost. That was in 2012.

When I took office, I, immediately, established a plebiscite for the three alternatives – statehood, independence, or free associated states – to keep moving this agenda. Statehood won significantly, but a lot of the opposition members boycotted the event.

The only reason that you boycott an event like that is that you don’t have a chance to win. This year, before I left office, I established another plebiscite that would run concurrent to the election. That way, the idea behind it is, “Listen, if we do it the same day as the election, you can’t boycott it. You are going to vote for your candidates. You can’t boycott this.”

The first argument is in the past ten years. We have three distinct events, where the will of the people of Puerto Rico has said, “We don’t want to be a colonial territory. We want to be an independent state.” The next is, “How will the United States act?”

I thought it was improbable, but it crystallized. Since I was in office, I started working with Mayor Bowser, which is the mayor of Washington, D.C., to create this coalition saying, “You guys want to become a state. We want to become a state. It’s different, constitutionally different, but we are, essentially, equal partners in this.”

Interestingly, both jurisdictions have a focus that minorities are a majority. In Washington, D.C., black people are a majority. In Puerto Rico, Hispanics and Latinos are, obviously, a majority. So, we started doing that.

For the first time, there’s a narrative over here in the States that democrats would stand to benefit, not only on their story, which is, “Let’s give equal rights to all Americans,” but also politically. Sometimes, I know, it is the ugly part of it.

I think that’s also a reason why some Republicans were opposing statehood. They thought that Puerto Rico would become a democratic state and would cost them two seats in the Senate. Now, for the first time, you have a democratic president and a democratic House.

With recent events, you have, by the smallest of margins, a democratic Senate. So, there is a 2-year window in my view. If these things are going to happen, they can crystallize now. There needs to be a push. There needs to be a push from all parties.

From a global perspective, there has never been a clear path because of what has been said, because what is at stake, to have Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., become states. I’m hopeful that those things will happen and, again, I put my little grain of sand in that process.

I’ll still be [Laughing] pulling for that and helping as citizens or behind the scenes as much as I can, because I really think it is the single biggest difference that Puerto Rico has relative to any of the other states. It is the single different driver – the data is alarming.

Before, you would say, “Hey, so, Puerto Rico is the poorest state, twice as much as Mississippi or West Virginia.” Now, there’s more Puerto Ricans on the mainland than on the island. You can take what they represent as a state or as an economy, or health-wise, or crime-wise, and compare it to Puerto Rico.

The difference is staggering. I think there is an opportunity to do that and things will, hopefully, move along in the next 20 months or so.

Jacobsen: So, I want to touch on some of the recent political histories as well. This is the 500-year, 50-year, or 5-year. This is the 4-year-and-one-month or even a few weeks. For many years back, for many African-Americans, many black Americans, it was an interesting era with the Trump Administration.

Rosselló: [Laughing].

Jacobsen: As a Canadian, it was also interesting to watch from a distance. Probably, less fun in the midst of it, depending on your ethnic identity and political leaning in the United States.

Rosselló: [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Within January, the anti-science, the conspiracy theories, came to a head along with the ethnic nationalism, via the white nationalist form of it being stoked to a riot or an insurrection on the Capitol, on the Capitol building in particular.

As we all saw, one colleague posted about the QAnon Shaman. These sorts of things. From opinions and attitudes from Puerto Rico, what were the Trump years like for them? What was the reaction on social media and in the news to the insurrection on the 6th (Jan.)?

Rosselló: I can speak to this on many levels. First level is the quantitative level, I had access to public opinion polls. I can clearly share that sense with you. Essentially, President Trump had about a 100% approval rating in Puerto Rico. 10% for and 80% (or so) against. Not very different from the rest of the States.

Even though, the quantity was different. That 100% was staunch supporters. They were people that would take up the fight. Let’s put it that way. I think he wasn’t viewed as someone who did good by Puerto Rico.

I had the opportunity of interacting with him. I had this sort of question posed to me, which was, “I’m in a territory. I completely depend on the President allowing these funds to flow to Puerto Rico, so we can get FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the military, and everybody, to help in this moment.

There are people attacking him. I am a democrat. I was never really quite understood how Trump – I shouldn’t say that. I didn’t expect Trump to win. The election days in Puerto Rico were the same as in the United States.

At 1:00 a.m., I was still in a press conference. Someone said, “Hey, he won, it seems there might be an outside chance Trump becomes president.” My answer was completely dismissive, “Hillary is going to win. I’ll be working within her,” etc.

Then the results came in. The position I was in, I was like, “Do I trash the president just because everybody doesn’t like him and then risk the people of Puerto Rico not getting anything or do I have to play ball with him?”

Even though, I’m going to get attacked and scrutinized because I sat down with the man. I welcomed him to the island. I spent time with him. The position was very clear, very obvious, “I can’t put 3,000,000 people at risk because I will get a headline if I say, ‘This guy is x, y, or z.’”

So, my decision was that while, at the same time, the mayor of San Juan – who was also an opponent of mine – was heavily critical of Trump. She would get all of the headlines, all of the news stories. I was try to get to sit down with this man who doesn’t have the biggest of attention spans and is very much a “you’re with me or against me” type of persona.

I think I, for the first couple of months, was able to manage. Little has been said. But in the beginning, we were going to get nothing, zero. I was able to move that to $19.9 billion (USD). It was a bipartisan effort. Maybe, another time, we can go through that story. It is an interesting one.

I think, obviously, this is my opinion; the man is flawed. I don’t think he cared about policy. I tried to talk to him about policy: didn’t care, didn’t even try to hide the fact that he didn’t care. But I think a lot of people underestimated him, as well.

I have never a met a person with better political, raw political, instincts than him. I think that needs to be part of the story. That is why, and in some ways, Trump represents what is going on, this divisiveness. This is why some people see him as the saviour.

Even though, it is a lower number of people. Some see him as the son of Satan. In some ways – and apologies for getting into this, I think explains a little bit what is going on. The two side, in my view, keep on getting more extreme sometimes.

There are no bridges. There are very few bridges left. I think that’s going to be Joe Biden’s big challenge now. How does he rebuild some of those bridges? How do we get to a point where we can completely disagree on politics, but we don’t have to want to kill the other opposition guy?

In many ways, my fear with Trump is that he was a manifestation of that divisiveness. He, of course, poured gas into the fire, but we’re dealing with Puerto Rico. In the beginning, he was – I can say, I want to give him his due – trying to, but then his White House, apparently, disconnected.

As the years went along, people left. He got himself more in isolation. We could not connect with him anymore. Progress stopped occurring for Puerto Rico. That got me into several media battles with him as well.

So, I think he is going to be seen poorly. Again, on a policy basis, I think it’s accurate. On an execution basis, it was underwhelming. But again, I think there’s a lot to dissect. Instead of saying, “Let’s wipe the slate clean and move forward and heal,” we really need to think about what the hell got us into this situation in the first place.

Why is this happening? How can we start mending this? Otherwise, my fear, Scott: If the prevailing attitude is going to be from the new side, “Hey, you have to heal with us because we say you have to heal with us.” It won’t work out. I hope it does, but I don’t think it will.

I think there needs to be patience, time to heal, and time to understand the phenomena that was this presidency.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Former Governor, Puerto Rico.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 22, 2021:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2021:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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