Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Puerto Rico Monday and Tuesday, demanding that the island’s governor resign over what they are calling the complete mismanagement of emergency relief.
Over the weekend, a Facebook video went viral showing residents of Ponce, Puerto Rico, breaking into a warehouse full of emergency supplies, apparently delivered in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island back in 2017. The warehouse was full of pallets of bottled water, non-perishable food, baby supplies and diapers, blankets, and bedding, that was never distributed to those who were in dire need, but, instead, kept under lock and key by local government and Puerto Rico’s emergency management authority.
Ponce was devastated not once, but twice — first during Hurricane Maria, and again during a recent round of earthquakes that topped buildings in the island’s southwest quadrant and destroyed the electrical grid, leaving many without shelter, food, clean water, or power. The supplies were sorely needed.
On Monday, the island’s secretary of state even admitted, in an interview with Univision, that there are probably other, similar warehouses, full of supplies locked out of reach of those who need them.
The island’s governor, Wanda Vazquez, fired three people amid an outcry over the discovery, but residents of Puerto Rico say the corruption goes deeper, and the entire government is to blame. They want Vasquez to resign, and took their demands to the governor’s mansion, according to the New York Post, “banging on frying pans” outside her windows and holding signs that said, “Government, Absent, Criminal, Negligent.”
“Wanda! Turn over the disaster supplies!” protesters screamed.
Protesters now gathering outside the capital in San Juan calling on the Governor to resign after revelations that 2 warehouses of disaster aid weren't used immediately to help people. This makes 2 protest locations: capital & in front the Governors mansion pic.twitter.com/1yYwZJVSCD
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) January 20, 2020
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) January 21, 2020
“I have never come out to protest but this caused me so much anger and indignation,” one protester told local media, according to the Post. “How is it possible that you say you care about the country and yet you let so many people die while hiding these supplies?”
The mayor of Ponce spoke to media on Tuesday, demanding to know why, despite her pleas for assistance, no one in the island’s central government even acknowledged that the warehouse existed.
“I spent several days requesting cots and water,” she said. “They sent me to Cabo Rojo for the cots and to San Juan for the water. If I had known that those supplies were there I would have demanded that they be taken out immediately.”
Puerto Rico’s now-fired head of emergency management tried to excuse the situation by saying the supplies were being doled out as needed, that some of the items were “expired,” and around 600 bottles of water were handed out to residents of Ponce during a drought.
Corruption in Puerto Rico, though, appears to go to the island’s core, and its not clear resignations — even mass resignations — will solve the island’s problems. The FBI is even involved, now, along with several other government agencies, in investigating what happened in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The United States, reports say, delivered millions of pounds of supplies to the island that were left to rot on airstrips, never given to the needy, allegedly traded for bribes and favors, and, it seems, left to languish in locked warehouses.