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'I feel indignation, pure indignation': Thousands of Puerto Ricans protest governor

Marisa Gerber and Milton Carrero Galarza, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Puerto Rico's capital Monday for what was expected to swell into the biggest protest in more than a week of public calls for Gov. Ricardo Rossello's resignation.

Laura Rodriguez, a music teacher from Caguas who arrived in San Juan around dawn, said she was incensed that Rossello has refused to step down in spite of prolonged demands by a broad cross section of Puerto Ricans. Many people at the protest -- grandmas in wheelchairs and teenagers, computer engineers and stay-at-home moms -- said the governor's comments in recently leaked messages were offensive and unforgivable.

"I feel indignation, pure indignation," said Rodriguez, 34.

In 900 pages of group-chat messages that were published by Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism, the governor and some of his aides used sexist and misogynistic language, engaged in fat shaming and joked about dead bodies accumulating in the days after Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in September 2017. Three days before the messages were published, two of Rossello's former Cabinet members were arrested on corruption charges in connection with the directing of about $15.5 million to politically connected businesses.

Rossello, who is 2 1/2 years into his four-year term, announced Sunday evening that he won't run for reelection in 2020. But during his short speech, in which he apologized and said he had heard people's criticisms, he said he intended to stay on the job.

"I am aware of the dissatisfaction and discomfort," he said during a short speech, which was streamed on Facebook. "I have heard you and I hear you today."

 

The governor's words rang hollow, many protesters said Monday. If he truly heard them, they asked, why was he still their governor? The governor's refusal to resign disgusted but didn't surprise Rodriguez. He only cares about himself, she said, not the people he represents.

"He has disrespected us," she said. "But the pueblo -- the people he has abandoned -- we will keep packing the streets until he's gone."

She teared up during the protest as she thought back to the weeks after Hurricane Maria. She thought about the time she waited in line 16 hours for gas and about her precious students -- the students who dropped out after the storm and about those who broke down in tears in her classroom. She thought about their diligence, as they studied by candlelight for nine months, waiting for electricity to be restored in their homes.

As she spoke, many in the crowd clanged on upside-down pots with drum sticks and other protesters danced along. The smell of sunscreen mixed with hot dogs grilling nearby. A man sold small Puerto Rican flags for $3 and people held up signs reading, "Ricky es basura!" referring to the governor as trash.

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