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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 
the crowd.

   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 
threat.

   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 
unites us."

   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."


(KA)

 
 
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