Red, white, and blue waved through the streets from Broward County to Palm Beach County. The Puerto Rican flag flew in the wind as hundreds gathered in a caravan to commemorate the thousands of reported victims of Hurricane Maria that plowed through Puerto Rico, last September.
Saturday’s 50-mile route from Hollywood to the West Palm Beach Meyer Amphitheater included one significant stop: Mar-A-Lago, President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach residence. Although Trump was not there at the time, the route had a meaning.
“These people died because of a poor intervention by the federal government in Puerto Rico,” said Marcos Vilar, president and executive director of Alianza For Progress and the main organizer of the event.
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With the slogan “Puerto Rico won’t be forgotten,” people demanded that a tragedy like this never happens again. Vilar said Puerto Ricans will continue to fight to stop having its residents treated as “second-class citizens.”
One year later, the island is still struggling to rebuild. There are still homes and businesses without electricity, the organizers said.
The march included about 300 Puerto Ricans and supporters of the cause. It came after Trump’s reaction about a study conducted by George Washington University that showed that 2,975 people died due to causes related to Hurricane Maria.
Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” and blamed the Democrats of coming up with this death toll. He also added that “they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths” when he visited the island after the storm and that “it did not go up by much.”
Demonstrators agreed that the reaction was “ignorant,” said Luis A. Miranda Jr., father of the Puerto Rican composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and one of the participants in the event.
“Never again should this happen. We don’t want [Puerto Ricans] be treated as second-class citizens,” Sen. Bill Nelson told the Miami Herald.
Democratic nominee for Florida governor, Andrew Gillum, added that the Trump administration’s relief effort was an “utter failure.” “What the people of Puerto Rico want now, and we stand in align with and agreement with is a response that is deserving of other American citizens,” he told the Herald. On stage he also urged attendees to go out and vote.
More than 20 buses transported residents from all over Florida, including Orlando, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Hillsborough,Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
One man from Orlando attending the caravan drove to West Palm Beach with his son to teach him about his roots. Miguel Rodriguez said Puerto Rico is his island and these are his people, which is why he had to come down for the caravan.
After musical performances, people marched to the nearby boardwalk for a candlelight vigil in honor of those who lost their lives in the hurricane. Amid prayer and religious hymns, they lit candles and placed them inside paper bags, with messages printed on them that read “God protect our Puerto Rico from the evil eye.”