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Protestors call on Puerto Rico governor to resign

Demonstrations in San Juan draw an estimated 1.2 million protestors

Saphia Suarez
Protestors call on Puerto Rico governor to resign
Demonstrators march in Puerto Rico Janelle Liceaga photo

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators blocked a major highway in Puerto Rico Monday, with many marching to the San Juan residence of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to demand his resignation following the indictment of several members of his cabinet on corruption charges and the release of more than 800 private chat group messages between Rosselló and his staff in which the governor denigrated women, used slurs against gays and mocked the thousands of victims of Hurricane Maria.

Monday’s protest is said to be the largest in Puerto Rico’s history, with organizers estimating turnout at 1.25 million people, and was mirrored by smaller demonstrations in New York, Boston and other U.S. cities with sizeable Puerto Rican populations. In Puerto Rico, police reportedly used pepper spray to disperse a crowd that gathered at La Fortileza, the governor’s residence in San Juan.

Appearing on Fox News, Rosselló said he would not resign, although he will not run for re-election next year. But legislators in Puerto Rico formed an impeachment committee last week and are rumored to have the three-quarters majority needed to oust the governor.

Demonstrators in Puerto Rico
Janelle Liceaga photo

The leak of the Rosselló administration’s chat group messages last week came just after the arrests by the FBI of six members of his cabinet, including former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and former Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero, on charges of fraud. The two women had incited controversy even before their arrests, Keleher in particular for closing hundreds of schools across the island and opening a charter school, in a move to privatize schools rather than fix the already underfunded public schools further damaged by hurricane Maria.

In Boston, protesters have staged several demonstrations at City Hall, most recently on Monday. Last Wednesday they chanted “Ricky renuncia y llévate a la Junta!” meaning “Ricky, resign, and take the board with you!” echoing the protests in Puerto Rico and referring to the U.S.-appointed Fiscal Control Board governing the island’s finances. As the evening wore on, the local demonstrators became more creative with their chants, breaking into songs and cheering as thunder and a sudden downpour ushered them under the overhanging portion of City Hall by its front entrance.

Valeria Acosta, a student from San Juan, made the first few contacts that resulted in the quickly planned Boston protest last Wednesday. She said she was talking about the situation in Puerto Rico in her apartment with her friends, and they began reaching out to people to organize the Boston protest. Most of the demonstrators there did not know each other — news spread through Facebook and word-of-mouth.

“We are trying to bring visibility to the situation in our country,” said Yara Liceaga-Rojas, one of the rally organizers. “This event was made organically, and in solidarity with what’s going on on the island. After hurricane Maria, groups started forming organically. This is just diasporic Puerto Ricans coming together.”

Nearly an hour into the protest and in the middle of a heavy downpour, the protesters showed no sign of slowing down. One girl contacted a friend using FaceTime so he could be a part of the protest, holding her phone up so he could see the crowd. Others came with black-and-white Puerto Rican flags, a symbol of resistance on the island. The collective energy increased with each song and chant, echoing the spirit of the island and its protesters, who are in their second week of demonstrations.

Prominent Puerto Rican artists are protesting, too. Artists Bad Bunny, Residente and iLe released a protest anthem titled “Afilando Los Cuchillos” (“Sharpening The Knives”), and singer Ricky Martin flew to the island to participate in Monday’s demonstrations, leading protesters in chants and songs.

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