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Puerto Rican Artists And Celebrities Fly In To Protest The Island's Governor


Thousands of protesters have gathered in the streets of San Juan. They're demanding that Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, resign. Puerto Rican artists and celebrities have flown in from around the world, including the trap artist Bad Bunny and the singer Ricky Martin. This is the fifth day of protests following the publication of leaked text messages between the governor and his inner circle; text messages that many Puerto Ricans found deeply offensive. Well, Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team is there. He's at the site of the protests.

Hey, Adrian.


KELLY: Hey. So tell me what you can see; how the protest is shaping up so far.

FLORIDO: This is expected to be the biggest protest that Puerto Rico's seen in many years. And, in part, that's because, as you mentioned, the international artists, including Bad Bunny, have called on people to come out. Bad Bunny actually postponed his European tour to fly back to Puerto Rico for this. Ricky Martin called people out last night.

And I've been sort of walking around, talking to people. And people are just kind of in shock at the size and the energy of this protest and how many different sectors of society have been participating because it's not that often you see this kind of protest in Puerto Rico. And it's never really happened around - they're calling for the resignation of an elected leader.

KELLY: Well, I was going to ask because you've been covering these protests as they've built over the last few years. But you're saying this is a significantly larger one, it appears so far, at least today.

FLORIDO: Oh, yeah. It's enormous.

KELLY: Just pause us for a minute to remind us how we got to this moment. The demands for Governor Rossello to step down began on Saturday after local media reports came out publishing these private text messages between him and some of his top advisers. What was so offensive in there?

FLORIDO: I mean, the text messages were, frankly, horrible. They were this part - they were from this private chat between the governor and members of his inner circle, including Cabinet members. And you see these men using misogynistic language to talk about women. They use homophobic language to talk about journalists and Ricky Martin, by the way. They engage in fat shaming. They talk about manipulating the media, manipulating public opinion polls. They make jokes about shooting the mayor of San Juan. And by far the thing that has most infuriated people is a joke that one of the governor's advisers made about the dead bodies that piled up after Hurricane Maria. He made a joke about feeding them to vultures.

KELLY: Oh, wow. Considering everything that Puerto Rico has been through, I can imagine that must be a very sensitive topic indeed.

FLORIDO: Oh. I mean, it's still very sensitive two years after Hurricane Maria. But - you know, and that's not the only thing. These chats are not the only thing that these protests are about. You know, Puerto Rico has been hit by one crisis after another, going back more than a decade. It's in a deep recession. It's driven hundreds of thousands of people from the island. The government has a ton of debt that it can't pay. It's been slashing public services as a result of that debt. And then, of course, there was the tragedy of Hurricane Maria and the government's bungled response. So when residents, you know, saw the governor and his top officials making light of these very real struggles that people here face, you know, it just felt like leaders didn't care about them and were out of touch with reality. And that is really what has been at the heart of these protests.

KELLY: I can hear lots of activity behind you, so I'm going to let you go back to the protests in just a second. But very briefly, what about the governor? What is Rossello himself saying?

FLORIDO: Well, he's apologized for these chats. But he has said that despite these protests, he's not resigning. People here say that they're going to keep marching until he leaves office. There's an even bigger protest planned for Monday.

KELLY: All right. That's Adrian Florido from NPR's Code Switch team, reporting there from San Juan. And the protest's underway.

Thank you, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.