Protesters call for Puerto Rico governor to resign

By Danica Coto, The Associated Press

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Puerto Rico’s Capitol building and governor’s residence on Monday to demand the US territory’s leader’s resignation and to protest the 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 Governor Wanda Vazquez needed to “stop blaming others and show her face”.

Around 600 people banged pots and pans and waved Puerto Rican flags as one protester yelled through a loudspeaker: “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 had come “to show our indignation, our annoyance, our rebellion”.

A young man holds a sign that reads in Spanish ‘Be the storm’ while protesting outside the executive mansion (Carlos Giusti/AP)

The scene was reminiscent of the beginning of protests that escalated last summer and led to the resignation of former governor Ricardo Rossello, with demonstrators once again vowing to remain in the streets until Ms Vázquez also stepped down.

“This fight goes on no matter what!” they chanted.

Puerto Rican celebrity Ricky Martin is expected to join the protests soon, after announcing on Instagram 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.

The singer was also part of last year’s protests, along with several other renowned artists who drew tens of thousands of people to the streets.

Monday’s protest came a day after Ms 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 centres. On Saturday, she fired emergency management director Carlos Acevedo.

Ms 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 on 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 on Monday. Ms 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.

Ms Vazquez has warned that the incident would further erode the US 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 on Sunday that “the news out of Puerto Rico is disturbing, to say the least.”