Protesters in Puerto Rico have stayed on the streets after the resignation of disgraced governor Ricardo Rossello last week.
Rossello announced that he would stand down next Thursday after 15 days of protests, the biggest in the history of the US-controlled Caribbean island. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital San Juan and a one-day general strike saw even the smallest businesses shut down.
Pabsi Livmar from San Juan said, “It’s clear at last that the country has risen up against corruption and austerity.
“People who have never marched before are now marching.
“It’s not only the young fighting for a better future, but people from the countryside and from tiny villages. There are teachers and children, parents and grandparents and people who had voted for the very same Rossello.”
The protests followed the leak of nearly 900 pages of sexist, homophobic and potentially corrupt texts between Rossello and several top officials.
But anger at a decade of austerity has continued to drive forward the movement after its demand that Rossello step down was met.
Ferdinand Rivera, a logistics workers, said the protests have gone beyond who is governor. “I’m also marching for those that were forced to leave the island due to the lack of opportunities,” he said.
“I’m marching for the souls that departed after Hurricane Maria and were forgotten by this corrupt regime we live under."
Two years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico infrastructure has not been rebuilt properly.
Journalist Ana Castillo Munoz was another protester who is fighting for a better quality of life. “Besides the resignation of Ricardo Rossello we want to raise our concern about the schools that were closed down and the health services that were cut,” she said.
“The resignation of the governor is not everything.”
Since 2016 Puerto Rico has been effectively ruled by the US-appointed Fiscal Control Board—a group of bankers that oversee the island’s “debt restructuring”. This has meant more austerity and neoliberalism.
Tere Marichal-Lugo said, “We have to take it to the street and express our rejection of the colonial government and its long streak of abusive acts.”
People are already demanding the resignation of justice secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced, who is set to take over as governor. She is accused of not looking into corruption claims thoroughly enough.
Rossello’s resignation has sparked a power struggle in his neoliberal New Progressive Party, but neither challenger offers any alternative for ordinary people.
But Pabsi says the protests are a beacon of hope for real change. “Without a doubt life for Puerto Ricans has been very hard, which helps to explain these collective feelings of anxiety and disappointment,” she said.
“But now we are witnessing an awakening that is leaving a profound mark on us, giving us strength and uniting us more than ever before.”