World

Puerto Ricans demand answers after discovery of disaster aid in warehouse

Dozens of demonstrators gathered Monday in front of the governor's mansion in Puerto Rico's capital to demand the resignation of the U.S. territory's governor and protest the recent discovery of apparently forgotten disaster supplies amid ongoing earthquakes.

Those who broke in and distributed supplies won't be prosecuted, officials say

People protest outside Puerto Rico's executive mansion in San Juan demanding the governor's resignation on Monday after the discovery of an old warehouse filled with emergency supplies. (Carlos Giusti/The Associated Press)

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the seaside governor's mansion and capitol building in Puerto Rico's capital Monday to demand the resignation of the U.S. territory's leader and protest the recent discovery of apparently forgotten disaster supplies amid ongoing earthquakes.

"We have to get rid of all the corrupt officials," said Mari Rivera, a 33-year-old government employee, who said Gov. Wanda Vazquez "needs to stop blaming others and show her face."

About 600 people banged on pots and some waved Puerto Rican flags as one of them yelled into a bullhorn, "Wanda! Turn over the disaster supplies!"

Evangelical preacher Ramon Marrero, who drove up to San Juan from the southern coastal town of Guayama with his wife and daughters, said they came "to show our indignation, our annoyance, our rebellion."

The scene reminded many of the beginning of protests that escalated over the summer and led to the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello, with demonstrators once again vowing to remain in the streets until Vazquez steps down.

Singer Ricky Martin holds a Puerto Rican flag as he participates in a protest demanding the resignation of then-governor Ricardo Rossello, in San Juan last July. (Carlos Giusti/The Associated Press)

"This fight goes on no matter what!" they chanted.

Joining the fight soon is Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin, who announced on Instagram that he was en route to the island.

"In the times of our people's greatest needs, those who are supposed to be leaders have once again failed. They have once again failed to address the most basic rights of human beings: water, roof, education, security," he wrote.

Martin was also part of last year's protests, along with several other renown artists who drew tens of thousands of people to the streets.

Monday's protest came a day after Vazquez fired two more high-ranking officials in her administration, Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andujar, over the lack of information regarding aid collection and distribution centres. On Saturday, she fired former emergency management director Carlos Acevedo.

Vazquez said she had lost confidence in those officials after the discovery of a warehouse in the southern coastal city of Ponce that was filled with disaster supplies dating from when Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017 as a Category 4 storm.

A member of the Puerto Rico National Guard is shown on Sunday outside the warehouse in question in Ponce. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)

She ordered an investigation into the incident and said those who broke into the warehouse to distribute supplies to people affected by a recent 6.4 magnitude earthquake that killed one person and caused more than an estimated $200 million US in damage would not be prosecuted.

Officials said a preliminary report on the investigation was completed late Monday, and Vazquez said she was turning it over to the island's Justice Department for a more in-depth probe based on the recommendation of Puerto Rico's Special Investigations Bureau.

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