“She said, ‘Mami, you taught me to respect all people. We shouldn’t make fun of people. Why aren’t we out there with the people?'” Diaz said. Her daughter, Valerie, had just finished first grade. “She’s the reason I’m here,” Diaz said.
“We want a better country when I grow up,” Valerie said.
A broad cross-section of society turned out on Monday for what many residents said was the largest demonstration they could remember.
The chat messages lit the fire — but the tinder had been building for some time.
“Rosselló and his chat messages put into words what we have been feeling as people for a long time,” Cynthia García Coll, a psychologist who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, said at an anti-Rosselló street concert the night before the big march.
“That we are nothing. They can take our pensions. They can lower our salaries. They can take away our vacation time. They can take away our Christmas bonuses.”
Earlier this month, days before the leaked chats, FBI agents arrested two ranking Rosselló officials for allegedly directing contracts worth millions to politically connected firms.
Long before this popular wave of rage and indignation, generations of Puerto Ricans endured epic levels of corruption and mismanagement at the hands of the political class, many demonstrators said.
Many lived through the scandal-plagued tenure of the governor’s father, Pedro Rosselló, who served as governor in the 1990s.
Now Rosselló and his government have given a name and face to long-festering political and economic wounds, according to many demonstrators.
“Ricky, renuncia!” (“Ricky, resign!”) has become the mantra of the nightly gatherings of boisterous demonstrators on the cobblestone streets one block from governor’s mansion, a historic 16th-century structure known as La Fortaleza.
“This is a historic moment,” Elba Nazario, 63, who retired after working 30 years as a teacher, said near the governor’s mansion Sunday night. “There is no turning back. It’s very emotional. I’ve sat on this street and cried from seeing so many people, young and old, come out.”
“We march for all Puerto Ricans,” said Mariana Rivera, 77, as four of her teenage grandchildren pushed her wheelchair under a blistering sun along Las Americas expressway. “What will we leave for our children?”
A 12-year economic recession and Puerto Rico’s ballooning debt crisis resulted in shuttered schools, cuts in government services, layoffs and university tuition hikes. In 2016, the US Congress created a board to oversee the island’s finances — a body that has become a target of the protesters.
“I am aware of the dissatisfaction and discomfort you have,” he said on Facebook Live. “I have heard you, and I hear you today. I have made mistakes, and I have apologized.”
During a tense interview with Fox News Monday, Rosselló said he’s “not making light of the demonstrations.”
Still, the protesters vow to continue until he steps down, accusing the governor of exacerbating the crisis.
“It hurts to see my people going through so much,” said Alfredo Ruiz, 47, tears in his eyes as he drove away from massive march along the San Juan expressway. “This government laughs at us. They have no heart.”
On a humid Monday evening, hundreds of flag- and sign-waving demonstrators packed the narrow streets of Old San Juan in a mostly festive gathering, featuring drums and the music of the island. It began to grow increasingly tense after 8 p.m.
“Our generation awakened this longing to rebel against politics,” said Nayelez Andino, 18, from the town of Bayamon.
“Our parents, our grandparents for a long time sided with one party or the another. But we’re fighting for our future. That’s at risk. What will our children grow up to?”
Standing with a friend among the hundreds of protesters near the governor’s mansion, she added, “This doesn’t end. This is the beginning of a revolution.”
On the other side of a barrier, a phalanx of riot police cut off access to La Fortaleza. Dozens of reinforcements arrived.
Chants of “Ricky, renuncia! Ricky, renuncia!” turned to “Somos mas, y no tenemos miedo!” — “We are more and we are not afraid!”