‘Too Many Years of Putting Up and Holding Back’: Puerto Ricans Say They’ve Had Enough

VideoProtesters have been filling the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling for Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló to resign. Here are the reasons fueling their anger.CreditCreditErika P. Rodriguez for The New York TimesSAN JUAN, P.R. — Flags in hand, Puerto Ricans descended into the streets of San Juan on Wednesday, arriving by the thousands for…

‘Too Many Years of Putting Up and Holding Back’: Puerto Ricans Say They’ve Had Enough

VideoProtesters have been filling the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling for Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló to resign. Here are the reasons fueling their anger.CreditCreditErika P. Rodriguez for The New York TimesSAN JUAN, P.R. — Flags in hand, Puerto Ricans descended into the streets of San Juan on Wednesday, arriving by the thousands for several hours before the start of a massive protest. They filled a boulevard lined with palm trees, a sea of people covering every inch from the imposing Capitol to the waterfront with a unified message: The governor must go.On a platform with speakers, the rapper Residente offered a microphone to the artist Ricky Martin. The trap musician Bad Bunny waved a flag. The singer iLe looked over the impressive crowd and declared, “It was about damn time to wake up.”Then, the schoolteachers and the union leaders, the lifetime political activists and the first-timers, the students and their parents, set off on foot to try to reach the governor’s mansion, where more protesters awaited. For the fifth consecutive day, they demanded Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló’s resignation. As on Monday, the night ended with chaotic confrontations with the police.This time, there were many more protesters packed into the narrow colonial streets of Old San Juan, including a hardcore group that faced off with the authorities for hours. Police officers in riot gear deployed tear gas and rubber bullets. The young demonstrators left a Puerto Rican flag — symbolically painted in black, white and gray instead of red, white and blue — perched on the ground facing the governor’s mansion.Ostensibly, the demonstrators were protesting the arrogant and crass exchanges by the governor and his inner circle in a leaked group chat and the corruption of top politicians unveiled by a series of high-profile arrests. But the forceful display on the streets of Old San Juan amounted to a rejection of decades of scandals and mismanagement involving affluent and disconnected leaders who have time and again benefited at the expense of suffering Puerto Ricans.The outcry has brought the United States commonwealth to a crossroads, with far-reaching implications. For now, Mr. Rosselló is still governor. But the persistent question about how Puerto Rico might be governed amid so many difficulties remains.Some of Mr. Rosselló’s ambitious goals, including the push for statehood, will almost certainly be shelved now. And his rapidly diminishing power has handed political fuel to President Trump, who has derided the island’s leaders as not competent enough to manage federal disaster relief funds.ImageThe governor’s mansion in San Juan was surrounded by barricades on Tuesday after days of protests calling for his resignation.CreditErika P. Rodriguez for The New York TimesNow, Mr. Trump claims to be vindicated — even though some of Puerto Rico’s woes are not entirely of the island’s own making. Big Wall Street investors benefited for years from the Puerto Rican government’s willingness to keep taking on more debt. The island’s bankruptcy restructuring has cost jobs and, at one point, threatened public employees’ pensions and traditional Christmas bonuses.Silvia Álvarez-Calderón, a historian who retired last year from the University of Puerto Rico, said the protests against the governor are unprecedented. Nobody took to the streets during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, when both the local and federal governments were widely blamed for a botched response, because they were too busy surviving, she said. But the accumulation of grievances has led to a spontaneous explosion of discontent.“This has been a process of trauma,” Ms. Álvarez-Calderón said. “And so now, all of that trauma has come out, all of that pain.”Mr. Rosselló’s tenure has been defined by the hurricane that hit less than nine months after his inauguration. Many people did not have electricity for months, and the storm is estimated to have left several thousand people dead — a grim reality that the governor’s administration was slow to acknowledge. On the chat, one of his aides made a joke about the cadavers that had accumulated after the hurricane in the understaffed morgue.Immediately after the storm, Mr. Rosselló’s administration caused outrage
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