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Protesters In Puerto Rico Hope Governor's Resignation Is The First Of Many Changes


The moment that protesters in Puerto Rico had been demanding for weeks finally came late last night. Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced he would step down one week from tomorrow. Cheers erupted on the streets of San Juan.



SHAPIRO: Then this morning, demonstrators were back on the streets again. NPR's David Welna was there, too, and has this report.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: (Chanting in Spanish).


DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The main avenue through San Juan's financial district was jammed with flag-waving demonstrators today. Not nine hours had gone by since Governor Rosselló caved to their demands and called it quits. The refrain they chanted was Ricky, as the governor is known here, get out. Music teacher Randall Medina Valle was one of the protesters.

RANDALL MEDINA VALLE: We are celebrating because I think yesterday was - it's a historic moment. It's the first time that this has happened, and so we are definitely celebrating. But we are also conscious that it's just the beginning. We cannot stop here.

WELNA: Some protesters demanded the governor leave immediately, not late next week. Sowani Gonzalez owns a food and beverage business in a San Juan suburb. She worries Rosselló may be buying more time to cut some deals before leaving office.

SOWANI GONZALEZ: There are so many people right now inside the government that are so corrupt and have been doing corruption and business not to benefit the people of Puerto Rico.

WELNA: The biggest question looming over today's march was who'll take over as governor once Rosselló steps down. By law, it should be Puerto Rico's secretary of justice, Wanda Vazquez.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: Wanda, (speaking Spanish).

WELNA: Protesters demanded that she resign, as well. Pablo Mendez-Lazaro teaches environmental health at the University of Puerto Rico.

PABLO MENDEZ-LAZARO: She was saying that she didn't trust the legal system of Puerto Rico. And she was the secretary of justice. So now she's taking the lead as the governor. I think that that chair is too big for her, also.

WELNA: The protesters' demands go beyond replacing the governor. Lida Orta-Anes is the president of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors. She says Congress created an outside board to control Puerto Rico's finances, but lawmakers failed to address how this island got so deeply into debt that it went bankrupt.

LIDA ORTA-ANES: We want the debt audited so we can determine the responsibility of the government of Puerto Rico as well the part of that debt that is illegal - that is a hideous debt. We shouldn't be held liable for repaying that portion of the debt.

WELNA: Meanwhile, in Washington, members of Congress have been calling for more controls over disaster relief for Puerto Rico. Deepak Lamba-Nieves directs research at the Center for a New Economy, a San Juan think tank. The conditions Washington's imposing on those recovery funds, he says, are making a bad situation worse for Puerto Ricans.

DEEPAK LAMBA-NIEVES: They resist these impositions, and I think the people of Puerto Rico are tired of having more impositions thrown upon them from Congress. So I think Congress needs to take a deep, hard look at what its relationship to Puerto Rico is going to look like in the aftermath of these massive demonstrations.

WELNA: It wasn't lost on people at today's march that today is Constitution Day in Puerto Rico. Lida Orta called that fitting.

ORTA: Hopefully, the constitution that we celebrate today have some space to be rewritten and have some space to be updated. And we really hope that that's the final outcome of today's celebration.

WELNA: Puerto Ricans, she added, are already showing they can make history.

David Welna, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.