[All links lead to Spanish language pages, unless otherwise noted]
“I ask myself if this killing was not involved in sex, drugs, homosexuality, and prostitution. Did he get what he was looking for?”
These comments [es] were made on one of Puerto Rico's most popular TV shows, by the irreverent newscaster puppet “La Comay” about the gruesome death of a publicist José Enrique Gómez Saladín in a remote sector outside the island’s metropolitan area last month.
The death has led to an ongoing saga in which the Puerto Rican public has turned from alarm to shock, anger, and finally to the internet in a bout of activism that now threatens to overthrow one of the top rated TV programs here.
José Enrique Gómez Saladín's death
Through it all, in a whirlwind week and a half full of sombre twists, social media has played a leading role. It all started on Friday November 30, when the news of a missing publicist, 32 year-old José Enrique Gómez Saladín, went viral. A picture of Gómez Saladín accompanied by a hooded, unidentified man while taking out cash from an ATM became an instant call to action, the image was massively shared in Facebook and Twitter in the hopes of finding him alive.
Those hopes came crashing down by the following Monday, when Edwin Torres Osorio was turned in to the police by his mother, who recognized his son after seeing his picture in the news. It was through this initial confession that Gómez Saladin’s body was found, even as other assailants turned themselves in. An FBI sworn statement that was leaked to the press revealed that Delgado Ortiz teamed up with three others: Rubén Delgado Ortiz, Alejandra Berríos Cotto and Lenisse Aponte Aponte in a possible carjacking that led to the killing. The murder took place after the victim was forced to withdraw $400 from an ATM machine. Gómez Saladín was then driven to an isolated rural area where he was first doused in gasoline and set on fire before being beaten to death.
Puerto Rico has been racked by a violent crime wave that has seen the murder rate soar in the last four years. All records were broken in 2011, when more than one thousand murders were committed in an island with just over 3.5 million residents. The killing of Gómez Saladín, a young professional whose wife is an olympic archer, crystallized for many the violence that has become common place. Spontaneous reactions quickly sprang up in the web, where the hashtag #TodosSomosJoseEnrique (We Are All José Enrique) became a trending topic in Twitter. The chorus of voices expressing solidarity with the victim has kept growing, making way for a movement in which Puerto Rican internet users from all over the island and in the United States have posted profile pictures of themselves with signs that echo the hashtag. Celebrities like Ricky Martin and salsa singer Victor Manuelle have joined the campaign [en], giving it a higher visibility in the process.
A Netroots Boycott
The anger over Gómez Saladín’s death then turned on one of the most familiar faces in Puerto Rican television last week. The gossip and news program SuperXclusivo features a five foot puppet called La Comay [en] made to look like an older woman. Both the program and the puppet are the creation of Antulio “Kobbo” Santarrosa, who has held the top spot in Puerto Rican television for nearly two decades. His show, a mixture of gaudy visuals, occasional homophobic and mysoginistic taunts, and breaking news mixed indiscriminately with uncorroborated rumors has proven to be a consistent hit among a wide swath of the island’s TV audience. The program is broadcast on local station WAPA, but reaches a larger stateside public through WAPA America. Celebrities and local politicians often visit the show, making La Comay one of the most powerful figures in the Puerto Rican media landscape.
However, her preeminence is now threatened by a boycott of the program’s sponsors that started as a response to the offensive treatment that La Comay gave Gómez Saladín after his death. After taking up the coverage of the killing, La Comay hinted that the publicist got what he deserved for picking up male and female prostitutes in the street, an assertion that has not been verified. Blaming the victim is a classic move on the TV show, which has been involved in similar scandals in the past. This time Santarrosa may have finally gone too far.
“I ask myself if this killing was not involved in sex, drugs, homosexuality, and prostitution”, expressed Santarrosa through his character last Tuesday on the show. “Did he get what he was looking for?” (You can hear La Comay’s statements in the following clip, 6 minutes and 48 seconds in).
That statement ignited an immediate response. Less than 24 hours later a Facebook page had been set up calling for a boycott of SuperXclusivo’s sponsors. Within a couple of days the group had grown to more than sixty thousand. And then something unexpected happened. What might have been seen as a case of hashtagtivists throwing a fit on Facebook started to yield results beyond social media. Facing a deluge of phone calls and emails, one company after another started announcing that they would pull its ads from the show. Dish Network, Triple-S Insurance, Banco Popular, ATH, Lanco Puerto Rico, Borden Dairy, Palo Viejo Rum, and Claro telecommunications all withdrew from the time slot and Walmart’s support started to waiver.
According to a December 5th post [en] on the blog News Is My Business, some of the companies that have upheld their suppport for SuperXclusivo are: AlphaOne Security Solutions, Xtreme Hair Gel, Joyerías Borroto, Cre-c hair growth product, Le’dermis Skin Solutions, Oro Centro in Mayagüez, Ashley Furniture, Disney Live, Expo Manualidades, La Feria, Lenel Restaurant in Arecibo, Vanilla Gift Card, Lanco Paints, FirstPlus, Batteries Plus, Aquafresh (GlaxoSmithKline) and Casas Mi Estilo.
In the Web and On the Streets: An Outpour of Solidarity
Meanwhile, other demonstrations of solidarity have taken place. What started with the tag line “We Are All José Enrique” evolved into an international event that took place this past Sunday. Dubbed “Un Abrazo Para Puerto Rico” (An embrace for Puerto Rico), groups of Puerto Ricans in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere lit candles next to their own “We are all Puerto Rico” signs in an act of rememberance for all the victims of violent crimes in the island. Another event, “Marcha por la paz” (March For Peace), has been scheduled for December 15 in Puerto Rico.
Antulio “Kobbo” Santarrosa, for his part, has countered the increasing pressure on La Comay and SuperXclusivo by arguing that those who would have his program cancelled are engaging in an act of elitist censorship. He has opened his own Facebook group dedicated to amassing support for his TV show. So far it lags far behind both the boycott group, which is over seventy thousand strong and has now started its own Twitter account (@BoicotLaComay), and the massive “We Are All José Enrique” movement.
[All links lead to Spanish language pages, unless otherwise noted]