Fed-Up Puerto Ricans Demand Gov Resign 07/18 06:45
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Accompanied by some of Puerto Rico's most
famous performers, thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in
San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossell to resign
after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and
mocking his constituents.
The crowd ranged from teenagers to retirees, with some waving the island's
flag printed in black and gray rather than red, white and blue to symbolize
their discontent with a government they call corrupt and unresponsive to its
people. Musicians Ricky Martin, Residente and Bad Bunny marched and addressed
Police erected concrete barricades and shop owners covered store windows
with metal sheeting or plywood as if a hurricane were coming. The multicolored
umbrellas that form a photogenic awning over the street in front of the
governor's mansion were taken down.
The turnout filled several city blocks in colonial Old San Juan but appeared
to fall short of the many tens of thousands that some Rossell opponents had
predicted. Many older protesters went home before nightfall as chanting young
people filled Old San Juan's Totem Plaza and the first few blocks leading up to
the 16th century fortress where the governor resides.
Karla Villaln has three elementary-age children and an 81-year-old
grandmother. Her kids have been uprooted twice in two years when first one
school, then another, was closed by budget cuts under Rossell. Her
grandmother, a retired teacher, is anguished over the possibility of losing her
pension in future rounds of cutbacks.
Villaln was outraged when Rossell's former education secretary was
arrested and accused of steering millions in improper contracts to politically
connected contractors. Then hundreds of pages of online chats between Rossell
and members of his administration leaked, revealing the men mocking women, the
disabled and victims of Hurricane Maria.
Villaln has had enough.
"It's the final straw," the homemaker said before the march. "My kids'
classrooms have mold in them. ... There's just so much outrage that's been
building over time."
That feeling rippled across Puerto Rico, where many are angry over what they
see as neglect by Washington and the U.S. territory's own government.
The island is mired in crises. It is struggling to emerge from a debt-driven
financial failure and a more than decade-long recession. It needs federal
funding to help recover from Hurricane Maria, the 2017 storm that devastated
the island's electrical system and a months-long failure to provide care to the
elderly and medically vulnerable.
The outrage erupted after Rossell's former secretary of education and five
other people were arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified,
politically connected contractors.
Freelance music producer Ise Sonja, 28, said he took to the streets
Wednesday because he is fed up with corruption and government ineptitude.
"(Hurricane) Maria woke the people up --- it outraged us as a people."
Since the storm, hundreds of schools have been closed to save money and a
wide range of social services and pensions are being cut back, or are under
Prominent Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland raised their voices in the call
for Rossell to resign.
Actor Lin-Manuel Miranda led about 200 protesters at a rally in New York's
Union Square on Wednesday. The group waved Puerto Rican flags amid drumbeats,
chanting in Spanish: "Long live free Puerto Rico!"
"Puerto Ricans are so numb to politics in America and we get lies from the
Trump administration," said Miranda. But the alleged corruption surrounding the
governor of the U.S. territory "is the last straw and Puerto Ricans are
standing up against it."
Singer Ricky Martin said in a video message posted online: "Puerto Rico has
suffered so much and we can't deal with the cynicism of these leaders anymore.
Enough already. Enough already."
Martin flew to Puerto Rico to march along with other Latin music stars from
the island, including singer-producer Benito A. Martnez Ocasio, known as Bad
Bunny, and rapper Ren Prez, known as Residente, who released a song online
Wednesday calling people to the streets.
"This is coming out early so you can eat it for breakfast," Residente raps
on the song, "Sharpening the knives." ''Fury is the only political party that
In comments to The Associated Press shortly before the protest was to start,
he said, "The anger is so great that for the first time I'm seeing Puerto Rico
rise up and take to the streets."
In Boston, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who is from Puerto Rico, told
reporters that he hopes Rossell resigns within the next hours or days.
"I know it's hard to do --- but at the same time, as a whole, we're very
upset and very mad at everything that is going on," Cora said. "I'm with my
people back home."