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Puerto Ricans embrace their protest identity in historic march against the governor

Bianca Padro Ocasio, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The morning after the governor of Puerto Rico insisted he would not resign amid demands for his ouster, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans responded with a record-breaking march that shut down a main highway, surrounding roads and major malls to protest the leadership of Ricardo Rossello.

Hours after a national strike began at 9 a.m., protesters continued to arrive at the San Juan Hiram Bithorn stadium by the hundreds, riding in cars and on motorcycles, taking buses, scooters or wheelchairs, long after the nearby parking lots were packed full.

Dozens of vendors stood ready with coolers selling local Medalla beer and water, running hot dog stands and selling chicken and pork pinchos. Others sold Puerto Rican flags. Graphic artists laid out tables with their merchandise, including T-shirts with a Puerto Rican flag in the shape of an arm that held Rossello's severed head on it.

Demonstrators parked their cars on sprawled-out grassy areas near the Las Americas highway, popped the trunk open and pulled out beers and sangrias in a pouch. They chanted, "Donde esta Ricky? Ricky no esta aqui. Ricky esta vendiendo lo que queda del pais." (Where is Ricky? Ricky is not here. Ricky is busy selling what is left of our country.) They cheered. They held impromptu "cacerolazos," banging on pots and pans. They danced. They waved the flags of their home cities. They slung hammocks between palm trees.

As their government was submerged in a far-reaching corruption scandal, leaked profanity-laden chats, vacant cabinet positions and an embattled governor, Puerto Ricans were at their most effusive, most ironic and irreverent, facing their situation with humor and celebration.

"The truth is we Puerto Ricans are like that. We're all party-seekers. No matter where we are, we're going to have a good time," said 34-year-old Rodolfo Vega. "Whether it's protesting, whatever it is we're going to do, we're going to make sure we have a good time doing it."

 

Monday's massive protest, which garnered national and international attention, was a rare event for Puerto Ricans. And even as rain poured over San Juan in the afternoon, flooding some streets and forcing some to seek shelter, many demonstrators marched with wet hair and soaked socks, holding Puerto Rican flags and chanting. Dozens of protests also took place in other towns around the island. Puerto Rican celebrities including the rapper known as Bad Bunny, singer Ricky Martin and boxer Felix "Tito" Trinidad also marched with the large crowd.

The event capped more than a week of relentless demonstrations in front of the governor's Fortaleza mansion, which show no signs of ceasing, demanding that Rossello step down. Puerto Ricans from communities in the U.S. traveled to the island to attend the march. Tourists in Puerto Rico on vacation also went to witness and support the historic moment.

The last time thousands flooded and shut down this same highway was in 2000, during the administration of Rossello's father, former Gov. Pedro Rossello. Nearly 200,000 demonstrators then called for the U.S. Navy, under former President Bill Clinton, to cease military testing and leave the island town of Vieques. This time, 19 years later, marchers estimated in the hundreds of thousands, called for Rossello's son to leave the government entirely.

On Sunday night, Rossello said in a video statement streamed over Facebook Live that he would be stepping down as president of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and withdrawing his candidacy for a second term in 2020. He also said he would be open to a possible process of impeachment if it were pursued by the island's legislative assembly.

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