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Women Protesting Puerto Rico's Governor Say He's Ignored Their Concerns

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Puerto Rico, citizens this week have been calling on their governor, Ricardo Rossello, to resign. Protests that started small over sexist, homophobic and offensive messages that the governor sent have exploded into massive demonstrations against a political system that citizens say has failed them for decades. Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team says that some of the loudest voices at these demonstrations belong to women.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Like Claudia Beralt - 19 years old - her message was emblazoned on her T-shirt.

CLAUDIA BERALT: My T-shirt says (speaking Spanish). In English, it is, quiet I am not prettier. My voice - I'm not going to be quiet because...

FLORIDO: Beralt said that when the governor's private text messages were leaked last week, she was deeply offended by the one in which he called the former speaker of the New York City Council a whore over a tweet he disagreed with.

BERALT: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "When the governor himself is denigrating women," she said, "you realize he doesn't respect us."

In the leaked text messages, the governor and his advisers, all men, mock indiscriminately gay people, overweight people, poor people, women. Joanne Torres said the governor's misogyny infuriated her more each day.

JOANNE TORRES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: But she said she wasn't surprised by it because, for months, she and other activists have been trying to get the governor to do something about a spike in domestic violence and femicides they noticed after Hurricane Maria. In the fall, they even drafted a policy proposal and took it to the governor's mansion.

ZOAN DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Zoan Davila is a spokeswoman for the Colectiva Feminista En Construccion, the feminist collective that drafted the proposal. Their plan, she says, had been to remain outside the governor's mansion until he agreed to meet them and declare that Puerto Rico was facing a domestic violence emergency. Instead, two of the governor's assistants took the document.

DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "They promised to schedule a meeting," Davila says, "but two months passed, and it didn't happen."

Then one morning before sunrise, two famous Puerto Rican singers, Bad Bunny and Residente, arrived at the governor's mansion after an apparent night on the town. The governor let them in. But he was criticized because the feminist collective had been trying to see him for months. They finally got a meeting.

DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "He told us it concerned him if even one woman died because of domestic violence," Davila says, "but he didn't agree that the situation was an emergency."

And that was that. Then last week, when the texts between the governor and his advisers were leaked, Davila and her fellow activists in the feminist collective got a shock. They'd been mocked in the texts, too, with a derogatory term for lesbians.

DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "For someone like that to govern," Davila says, "with people who aren't only sexist but who go after women who are trying to address something like domestic violence - someone like that doesn't deserve to be governor," she says.

She decided immediately that Ricardo Rossello had to resign. Davila says that's why she and so many women and men have shown up to the protests every day and won't stop until Rossello is gone. Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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