Puerto Ricans Hold Town Assemblies To Figure Out Next Steps Following Rosselló's Exit
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's been three weeks since Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, resigned following protests against his administration.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting, unintelligible).
CORNISH: The protests were massive, drawing hundreds of thousands of people. As soon as the governor resigned, they dwindled. But on the island, many people are trying to keep the momentum alive, as NPR's Adrian Florido reports.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: About 30 people gathered on the town square in Lares, a small city tucked into the hills 60 miles west of the capital. Maria del Carmen Babilonia Rosado took a microphone hooked up to an amplifier.
MARIA DEL CARMEN BABILONIA ROSADO: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "Express what you're feeling," she said. "We're going to listen to you and make sure that all of Puerto Rico hears what you have to say." This is an asamblea de pueblo - a people's assembly. In the days after Governor Rosselló was forced out by demonstrators, the protests dissipated. And so some of those who were protesting are now organizing these assemblies in town squares across the island. Here's Babilonia again, one of the organizers of this one.
DEL CARMEN BABILONIA ROSADO: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "These assemblies," she said, are to ask, "what do the citizens want? How can we improve the conditions in which Puerto Ricans are living?" The responses have ranged. Some people have said they want an overhaul of Puerto Rico's political system, others have focused on local problems like power outages or roads unrepaired since Hurricane Maria destroyed them. Irenia Veles stood up and said she's tired.
IRENIA VELES: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "Tired," she said, "of politicians who come with innocent faces and Colgate-white smiles. They make promises they don't keep," Veles said. Veles said her poor health kept her from travelling to San Juan for the protests, but she could come to her town square. Yarimar Bonilla is an anthropologist and has attended several of these assemblies and many of last month's protests.
YARIMAR BONILLA: It all happens in such an unexpected manner. The streets were filled. And, you know, the focus was on getting Ricardo Rosselló out of power. And so there was no real time to develop an agenda. So I think that there was this desire that was born in that moment, you know, to keep moving this forward and to create something new.
FLORIDO: It's unclear if these town square assemblies will achieve anything new. Compared to the protests that forced out the governor, they're tiny. But Bonilla argues that's the point. They're meant to be small so people can talk about policy and politics and what they should do next.
BONILLA: It's a really early stage right now. And so I think the true impact of them we might not see until the elections, where, you know, suddenly, we might see the politicians having to respond to different kinds of questions in the debates and having to position themselves in relationship to citizen concerns in different and new ways.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: In the plaza of Jayuya, a remote agricultural town in the mountains, the assembly got called to order a little after dusk. Eighteen people showed up - not many, said Elena Lara, a retired school teacher. But she said the protests against the governor began small before exploding in size.
ELENA LARA: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "The important thing is there's a seed," Lara said, "we just need a small group to get us going. And as people see that we're addressing problems all over the island, they'll join in." At the end of this assembly, everyone promised to bring a friend or relative to next week's meeting.
Adrian Florido, NPR News, Jayuya, Puerto Rico.
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