Three women watched as a pick-up truck equipped with massive speakers reversed down Old San Juan’s Calle Fortaleza, the thumping of reggaeton dwindling as it continued its exit. When 20-year-old Alondra Vélez-Reyes followed the music, the remaining two called her back. The protest-turned-dance party around them — better known as the perreo intenso — began to wind down after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation late Wednesday night. The trio, who’d traveled to the capitol city from eastern-central municipalities, had just protested for the first time in their lives.
“If my abuela saw me here, she’d die,” says 21-year-old Kidria Agosto of her grandmother.
The perreo intenso is just one in a series of international actions calling for Rosselló’s removal from office. Following a corruption scandal that saw members of Rosselló’s cabinet arrested — not to mention a damning log of his private chats, leaked by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism — Agosto’s family still supports him, as well as his party, the pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresistas.
“They’re in denial,” Agosto tells Rolling Stone.
For millennials and younger generations, reggaeton is emblematic of Puerto Rican culture — as well as its risqué signature dance, perreo. Throughout weeks of protests, Puerto Ricans have demonstrated against Rosselló in all manner of unconventional ways: on horseback, on kayaks, on ATVs, even through yoga. But on Wednesday night, thousands of protestors chose to grind in front of the governor’s mansion, flanked by SWAT teams, to the sounds of Nio Garcia, Casper Mágico and Darell’s viral breakup anthem — totally apt given the circumstances — “Te Boté,” or “I Dumped You.”
In conjunction with existing activist groups and labor unions, Puerto Rico’s most popular musicians have been essential in building people power. Ricky Martin, Residente, Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee and many others have publicly voiced criticism of Rosselló — then backed up their dissent by joining civilians in the streets, where police had reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets. But the call to protest via perreo drew criticism from contrarians across social media: Is reggaeton an appropriate soundtrack for a protest? Or is it just another excuse to party?
— Dr. Ortiz Cardona (@DrOrtizCardona) July 26, 2019
Says protestor Velez-Reyes: “A lot of people just see [perreo] as a type of dance, but it can also be an artistic way of expressing our feelings against Ricky Rossello and everything he’s done to our country.”
Combining typical streetwear with protective gas masks and bandanas, thousands of perreo protestors were split between several concentrations. There was the Calle Fortaleza contingent, convened by the perreo party collective Guayoteo, who made the original call; a block away at Plaza de Armas, DJ Kelvin el Sacamostro gathered another crowd, cranking out old-school reggaeton hits. And on the steps of the historic cathedral, San Juan Bautista, there was a third party soundtracked by queer DJs Kaya Té and Perra Mística. There, its LGBTTQIA+ attendees staged a mass kiss-in before the Catholic church — to the dismay of the Archbishop of San Juan. Protesters brandished perreo-centric signs: “With the boom of this perreo intenso, let’s see if you finally resign,” one read. “Perreo for your dreams,” read another.
Does the perreo eclipse the significance of Puerto Rico’s historical protest music, like bomba y plena? Of course not. But the perreo protesters were doing more than drinking and dancing — they were uniting against Rosselló, and concretizing the solidarity they’ll need as the movement to revolutionize Puerto Rico’s government continues. Though Rosselló has agreed to step down on August 2nd, Puerto Ricans called a general strike on Thursday to rally around other demands: many have called for a government audit; others call for the dissolution of the Obama-appointed fiscal oversight board, and the cancellation of Puerto Rico’s debt.
Miguel Soto, 28, wields a sign proclaiming, “When tyranny is law, the perreo is order” while dancing at Guayoteo’s party. “This isn’t the end,” says Soto, a Carolina resident, upon Rosselló’s resignation. “It’s the beginning of a movement that should have started 50 years ago. And we’re doing it now.”