South Florida

‘Miami is with you, Puerto Rico’: Diaspora speaks out for island in crisis

While hundreds of protesters took to the streets of San Juan demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Thursday night, about 30 Puerto Rican members of the boricua community in South Florida gathered to discuss potential solutions to the island’s political crisis.

The “Beyond Party Lines” event was at La Placita, the MiMo restaurant best known for its giant Puerto-Rican-flag mural and as a gathering spot for local Puerto Ricans.

Joey Cancel, president and CEO of La Placita, said a protest would have been “unfair” to the neighborhood, so the restaurant’s management decided on an open dialogue instead.

“It hurts us to see what is happening, but we must stay professional,” Cancel said. “We must express our frustration and share our ideas about how we want to work together to rebuild Puerto Rico in a peaceful way.”

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Joey Cancel, president and CEO of La Placita Jennifer King

Last Tuesday, nearly 40 Puerto Ricans calmly protested at the foot of the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, chanting “Ricky, resign!”

But on the island, Wednesday night turned violent when police threw tear gas at thousands of demonstrators as they quickly approached Rosselló’s mansion, known as La Fortaleza, hurling rocks and lighting small fires.

The uprising against Rossello comes after a corruption scandal led the FBI to arrest senior officials of the Caribbean leader’s administration last week. Around the same time, the leaking of a private chat on the Telegram application in which the governor and his close circle disparaged other politicians and journalists with homophobic, misogynistic and overall jeering comments added to the anger.

Those who met in Miami on Thursday agreed that the indignation of Puerto Ricans has been simmering even before the most recent controversies intensified anger.

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“The people are tired,” said Hector Diaz, former president of the Association of Professionals of Puerto Rico (Profesa). “They’re tired, and they’ve arisen.”

Rosselló “obviously will not resign” because he doesn’t want to be the first governor in history to do so, said Diaz, a marketing executive at Miami Dade College. Diaz said the Puerto Rican House of Representatives should push for impeachment.

The other alternative would be to wait until the 2020 elections and vote Rosselló out, but Díaz said he doubts such a long-term proposal will appease the public and the daily riots are already costing the Puerto Rican economy millions a day.

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Valentina Rivera, a 25-year-old Puerto Rican who moved to Miami a month ago, said the only solution for her is the governor’s resignation.

Rivera said he watched the protest on the island online until almost 2 a.m. Thursday, until tears filled her eyes as she witnessed the violence between police and protesters. There’s no question for her: Rosselló must go.

She said she feels responsible for those who live on the island Many agreed, saying that the diaspora of about 5.6 million people should look after the interests of the 3.4 million on the island.

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Miami Puerto Ricans gather at La Placita in Miami. Jennifer King

“I’ll sacrifice anything for my motherland,” Rivera said. “I am ready to fight. I won’t allow people who don’t deserve to be there to stay in power.”

Her biggest takeaway after the discussion at La Placita? Rivera said she plans to inform as many people as she can about the chaos back home.

Similarly, others noted that they plan to minimize the consequences of the crisis as much as possible.

For example, Isabel Villalón, president of Progress Puerto Rico, explained that her organization is fighting so that the uproar does not prevent the US Congress from approving important bills for Puerto Rico.

“We must continue to celebrate our culture and support our island,” Cancel said. “Miami is with you, Puerto Rico.”