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Governor's Ouster Could Lead To Other Changes For Puerto Rico

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Puerto Rico is facing a major transition now. After weeks of protests, the Governor Ricardo Rossello announced that he is resigning. His last day in office is on Friday, but who is taking over remains unclear. And that has a lot of people in the U.S. territory concerned, including Puerto Rican journalist and commentator Ana Teresa Toro.

ANA TERESA TORO: I'm definitely worried. People are not satisfied. Last night, there was a lot of people back again in Old San Juan protesting. And I think it's not going to stop.

GREENE: Recently, she wrote an opinion piece in the Spanish-language New York Times, and Toro argues that the protests mark an awakening of Puerto Rico's true nature. When she spoke to our co-host Rachel Martin, she pointed to the symbolism in Puerto Rico's coat of arms.

TORO: I like to use the figure of the lamb in our badge, our national emblem - and a very docile, obedient lamb. And that idea has made a lot of the people in Puerto Rico to present themselves or to think as themselves as a very docile country. But that's changed. I think that there's been, like, a symbolic death of that lamb figure, and there is a new social animal emerging. It's a more angry animal, and we're going to find out how it's going to behave in the next couple of months.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: What do people want now? In the beginning, it was an expression of anger over the allegations of corruption, ethical violations and a push for Rossello to resign. Now he has. What is the next push? What compels people to keep showing up to these protests?

TORO: People are starting to imagine, what kind of country do we want? How are we going to design this? And it has a lot to do with the recovery efforts, the community recovery efforts after the hurricane. Because when the government wasn't stepping up to history to how they were supposed to be reacting, people started solving the problems for themselves. And that change in the self-respect of the country, we saw each other as capable of changing things on our own. I think we don't only want him to go, but we want to start making decisions of our own.

MARTIN: Let me ask you about that because when we have seen protesters go on the streets in Puerto Rico before, it has been around the issues of statehood or independence. Is that where this is leading now?

TORO: I think it's going to be affected by it, but I think it's not the main priority right now. In the protests, there were a lot of people that favor statehood that were there because they were just absolutely angry about the way the government has been handling everything after and during the hurricane up to the present. So I think this is going to have a lot of effect on that, but this is not the main discussion right now.

MARTIN: Can you give us a sense of what the protests have felt like, sounded like, to you?

TORO: It's been like an awakening. It's been like a realization of the power that we can actually have. It's like a new air. It's like for the first time you look around and people know that there is - there might be a democratic deficit in Puerto Rico, but there is definitely a democratic culture in Puerto Rico. People have the notion that they have power, and they have proven that to themselves throughout these weeks.

MARTIN: And it's young, isn't it? It's been driven a lot by young people?

TORO: Fourteen-year-olds, 19-year-olds, 17-year-olds - a lot of people that, they are just sons and daughters of the crisis, the economic crisis starting in Puerto Rico in 2006. So these young generations, they've grown up in a country where all of our institutions were falling apart so they have nothing to lose. They are actually willing to put everything out there because they've never had anything better.

MARTIN: Ana Teresa Toro, a journalist from Puerto Rico, talking to us about her recent op-ed published in the Spanish version of The New York Times, titled, "Puerto Rico Is Not The Same Country." Thank you so much for your time, Ana Teresa. We appreciate it.

TORO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.