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Puerto Ricans Take To The Streets In San Juan To Demand Governor Step Down

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Demonstrators took over the biggest highway in Puerto Rico's capital today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

KELLY: They are demanding the island's governor, Ricardo Rossello, resign immediately. Now, these protests have been building for more than a week ever since nearly 900 pages of private messages between Rossello and his top advisers were made public - messages in which they insulted political opponents and regular Puerto Ricans alike. NPR's Adrian Florido reports from San Juan.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The march was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., but by 7 in the morning, highway off-ramps near the starting point were already choked with traffic. People parked on sidewalks and grassy medians and arrived from across the island on buses, on bicycles and on foot. Haydee Maime stood on a median to take in the masses who packed an 11-lane highway.

HAYDEE MAIME: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I can't see the end of it," Maime said, "this is a march unlike any other."

MAIME: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Maime said she'd come to the march for those who died after Hurricane Maria because of the governor's inaction to protest corruption, to reject the homophobia, the sexism, the elitism that were on full display in the leaked text messages between the governor and his top advisers.

MABEL TURELL: These chats only reveal who he really is and the kind of leader he is.

FLORIDO: This is protester Mabel Turell.

TURELL: And we are asking him to resign.

FLORIDO: Though the protests against the governor began over those texts, they've quickly ballooned into something much bigger. They've set off an unprecedented political awakening. People who've never protested before have come out. Many Puerto Ricans can hardly believe what's happening.

ANDRES HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Andres Hernandez said this isn't just about the governor's chats. He said the chats had made clear to Puerto Ricans that their leaders don't really care about their struggles, including, he said, their suffering after Hurricane Maria and their frustrations with the slashing of public services amid the island's economic crises.

HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We're standing up to a government that's taking what's ours," he said, "our education, our health care, our pensions." In the weeks since the protests against him broke out, Governor Rossello has repeatedly apologized for his offensive texts but refused to resign. On Sunday, he said he would not seek reelection. But his decision to finish his current term made protesters even angrier.

MARIA SEPULVEDA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Maria Sepulveda, a retired schoolteacher, said, "look around. Look at all the people. His reputation is ruined. He needs to step down for his own good and the good of his family and for the good of all of Puerto Rico. He may even save a little of the dignity he has left," she said. Though the protests against the governor have built quickly, Kelvin Merle Medina said this week's political rebellion has been decades in the making. And he said it might not have happened if not for Hurricane Maria, which opened people's eyes to all of their government's flaws.

KELVIN MERLE MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Since Hurricane Maria," he said, "it's been like the governor's clock has been ticking down to zero."

MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We hadn't realized how much of a voice and how much power we have as a people to demand what we want," he said, "and now we realize we can achieve whatever we want."

Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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