More than 150 people gathered at the Arizona State Capitol to denounce corruption and government mismanagement and to join worldwide calls for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló to resign.
“People have to know what is going on in Puerto Rico,” said Glenda Velez, a Phoenix resident. “The people have to rise up and speak loudly and forcefully against the lack of respect and corruption. People need to feel the anger, the rage.”
That sense of indignation is what has led tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to speak up and demand a new government for their island.
“We came from Puerto Rico (to Phoenix) 11 months ago because we were fed up with government inaction and thievery,” said Lymari Santiago. “We need someone to govern like they’re supposed to.”
During the Phoenix rally, Puerto Ricans flags large and small were all over — on signs, T-shirts, and hats; tied around people’s necks to form a cape behind their backs; and painted kids’ faces.
Several people who spoke with Arizona Mirror said they were angered that they had to uproot their lives and leave their family, friends and culture because politicians like Roselló took part in the “looting of public funds,” as the Center for Investigative Journalism put it.
In Phoenix, spontaneous chants broke out to the rhythm of percussion instruments like pandereta plenera drums, claves and cowbells. They said in Spanish, “Ricky, get out!” “The diaspora is present” and “Ricky, crook, we want you gone!”
Ricky is Roselló’s nickname.
Among the group, Adriana Guzman, of Litchfield Park, felt a sense of comfort.
“I felt like I needed to get this off my chest, join my people and let out this frustration that we all have,” Guzman said. She is one of the thousands of Puerto Ricans who call themselves the diaspora.
Since 2010, more than 500,000 people (or 14% of Puerto Rico’s population) have left the island, according to the Census Bureau.
Guzman held a sign Wednesday with a picture of Roselló and the sentence, “Because of corrupt people like you I am part of the diaspora.” She arrived in Arizona in 2017 because she couldn’t find a job after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in nutrition.
“Puerto Rico is beautiful, it’s a paradise, and it’s a shame that we have to get out,” Guzman said. “And it’s a shame that our brothers have to be on the street protesting.”
As the group gathered in Phoenix, tens of thousands packed the streets of Old San Juan to gather in front of Rosello’s mansion. The night ended in violent confrontations.
For years, Puerto Ricans in and outside of the island have put up with a lingering crisis in their nation, including a decade-long economic recession, corruption scandals, austerity measures and paralyzing natural disasters. Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department made high-profile arrests. Then, over the weekend, an explosive, 889-page chat was leaked showing mysoginist and homophobic conversations between Roselló and members of his executive team.
In one of the most appalling comments, a Roselló advisor joked about the dead bodies from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria — which ravaged the island in September of 2017 and left about 3,000 dead. The New York Times reported that incendiary comment was, “‘Now that we are on the subject, don’t we have some cadavers to feed our crows?’ he wrote, apparently referring to the administration’s critics. ‘Clearly they need attention.’”
Those chats were a tipping point that ushered in one of the largest protests in Puerto Rico’s history. Roselló has stated repeatedly he won’t step down.
The uprising of Puerto Ricans has been years in the making, explained Sandra Gavillan Sanchez. She held a Puerto Rican flag, but with black colors replacing the red stripes and blue triangle.
“It’s a flag of mourning, of resistance,” she said as she marched in a circle in front of the Capitol building. She said she lost her job as a public school teacher in Puerto Rico, and later her house, as a result of government corruption. In 2017, she and her husband moved to Arizona.
“I am not in Puerto Rico, but I have my heart there,” Gavillan Sanchez said.
As the Phoenix rally wound down and the sun began to set, music kept playing and people sang. Cesar Peña, Mahmoud Abed and Marc Fontánes gathered a few steps away. They all met at the University of Puerto Rico, and participated in protests there when budget cuts hiked tuition and later threatened to shrink the public university’s campuses from 11 to three.
“We are all fighting for Ricky to resign and for the government to respect the people,” Abed said.
Fontánes called Roselló a dictator and added, “Ricky is kidnapping the government. He has the moral responsibility to resign.”