The tropical heat and the downpours. The blasts of tear gas and pepper spray. What they endured during weeks of protests against Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was nothing, they said, compared to what came before.
Across the island, Puerto Ricans took to the streets following years of corruption and mismanagement at the hands of government leaders.
First-time marchers stood with retired teachers and government workers, union members and longtime political activists, pro-statehood residents and supporters of independence.
They waved flags and handscrawled signs. They banged drums and pots and pans. They spoke out against suffocating debt, school closings and public service cuts. They denounced the Rosselló administration’s botched response to Hurricane Maria in 2017, especially its longtime failure to acknowledge a death toll of more than 4,000 people.
They rallied against what they consider to be the second-class citizenship afforded to a US territory where about 40% of its more than 3 million residents live in poverty.
The chat app scandal that exposed Rosselló and 11 top aides and Cabinet members exchanging profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages about fellow politicians, members of the media, celebrities and others was merely the final indignity.
Late Wednesday, Rosselló conceded he could no longer credibly govern and said he would step down by Friday.
These faces and voices helped bring down a governor:
Zuheidy Ramos, 21
Ramos summarizes her presence at the protests in one word: indignation.
“They are our employees, they are the people’s employees,” she says of the island’s politicians. “And they can’t do whatever they want with us. We put them there to represent us and they are doing us harm.”
Kiromy Arroyo, 19
“I am disgusted by all the injustice — in education, the soaring prices, the treatment of the dead,” she says. “I feel some relief but there are others left that have to be removed (from government).”
Melania Ruiz, 76
“This is my first time protesting. It makes me sad because I was one of the people who voted for (Rosselló) and I feel defrauded though you still feel some affection because he was our governor.”
Jesus Emilio Amadeo Ocasio, 30
“I feel an incredible amount of pride for my people,” he says. “We are rising up for the first time. That the people of Puerto Rico are changing their way of thinking is a step forward.”
Carlos Alsina, 27
“I’m a public school teacher,” he says. “We are fighting for our students and for education, for an end to the corruption in the Education Department. We need all federal and public funds dedicated to schools and more books and material and better salaries for the teachers.”
Fabiola Torres, 21
“I feel very proud to be a Puerto Rican because we are defending our rights and what we feel is just,” she says. “We’ve had enough of the abuse. We deserve a leader who is determined, honest and intelligent.”
Astri Elanni Corchado-Rivera
“I’m really humbled to see the unity between my people,” the New York City resident says. “Especially coming from New York, you don’t really see this kind of unity. I came here to celebrate the unity of my family, but getting here and seeing the unity of my entire island is beyond words.”
She adds,”Today is about Ricky but tomorrow is going to be about the system … When he resigns, it’s not over. We’re not going to pack our bags and go home.”
Heriberto Rivera, 57
“I wear this to represent all of Puerto Rico,” he says.
Xudlamy Morales, 16
“If you’re going to govern a country, you are supposed to do it for the good of all the people,” she says, adding that she’s protesting for a better educational and health systems.
Anibal Rivera Torres, 23
“This is not about race, gender or the color of your political party,” he says. “This is about justice for the people. And if the people have to rise up and form a civilian militia, we will do it. The government is using more force than they’re supposed to against unarmed civilians. We literally have no weapons. We have our voice and our hands. Then I have the right to come prepared as they come prepared.”
Gabriel Almonte, 16
“Ricky cannot govern this country,” he says. “He needs to go.”
Roberto Vasquez, 55
“This is serious,” he says. “This is for the future of Puerto Rico. It’s time we stopped being fooled. Democracy is fixed with more democracy. And protests are fundamental to democracy.”