Puerto Rico protesters demand governor’s resignation
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the seaside governor’s mansion and Capitol building on Monday to demand the U.S. territory’s leader resignation and to protest the recent discovery of apparently forgotten disaster supplies amid continuing earthquakes.
“We have to get rid of all the corrupt officials,” said Mari Rivera, a government employee who said that Gov. Wanda Vazquez “needs to stop blaming others and show her face.”
About 600 people banged on pots and some waved Puerto Rican flags as one of them yelled into a bullhorn, “Wanda, turn over the disaster supplies!”
Evangelical preacher Ramón Marrero, who drove up from the southern coastal town of Guayama with his wife and daughters, said they came “to show our indignation, our annoyance, our rebellion.”
The scene reminded many of the beginning of protests that escalated over the summer and led to the resignation of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, with demonstrators once again vowing to remain in the streets until Vázquez also steps down.
“This fight goes on no matter what!” they chanted.
Joining the fight soon is Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin, who announced on Instagram that he was en route to the island.
“In the times of our people’s greatest needs, those who are supposed to be leaders have once again failed. They have once again failed to address the most basic rights of human beings: water, roof, education, security,” he wrote.
Martin was also part of last year’s protests, along with several other renown artists who drew tens of thousands of people to the streets.
Monday’s protest came a day after Vázquez fired two more high-ranking officials in her administration — Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar — over the lack of information regarding aid collection and distribution centers. On Saturday, she fired emergency management director Carlos Acevedo.
Vázquez said she had lost confidence in those officials after the discovery of a warehouse in the southern coastal city of Ponce that was filled with disaster supplies dating from when Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017.
She ordered an investigation into the incident and said there would be no prosecution of a crowd that broke into the warehouse Saturday to distribute supplies to people affected by the recent 6.4 magnitude earthquake, which killed one person and caused an estimated $200 million in damage.
Officials said a preliminary report on the investigation was completed late Monday, and Vázquez said she was turning it over to the island’s Justice Department for a more in-depth probe based on the recommendation of Puerto Rico’s Special Investigations Bureau.
Vázquez has warned that the incident would further erode the U.S. government’s trust in Puerto Rico, which is still awaiting millions of dollars in federal aid for Hurricane Maria amid concerns of corruption and mismanagement.
Underlining that concern, Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, tweeted Sunday that “the news out of Puerto Rico is disturbing, to say the least.”
“In order for healing to begin, the corruption must end. This further underscores the importance of the reforms and financial controls we put in place to ensure these resources reach those who need them most,” he added.