Newly Found Disaster Supplies Stoke Furor In Puerto Rico

Jan 20, 2020
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

People are taking to the streets in Puerto Rico today to protest. They are angry about the discovery of a government warehouse full of emergency supplies, some dating back to Hurricane Maria - supplies that the protesters say should have been distributed to victims of this month's earthquakes. As NPR's Adrian Florido reports, the public outrage led the governor to fire top Cabinet members.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: It began on Saturday. A local blogger named Lorenzo Delgado had been tipped off about a government-run warehouse in the southern city of Ponce filled with supplies. Delgado showed up, posted a livestream to Facebook and a crowd started gathering. A few people forced open the warehouse door.

(CHEERING)

FLORIDO: Inside, the warehouse was filled with pallets of expired baby food, expired water, blue tarps, diapers, cots, air mattresses and sheets. Some in the crowd stormed in and started distributing goods.

(CROSSTALK)

FLORIDO: So many people in need and all this just going to waste, they shouted. As the live images ricocheted across the Internet, people across the island grew furious. The head of the island's emergency management agency, Carlos Acevedo, issued a statement. He said supplies were being distributed and denied supplies were going to waste. But his defense did not save him in the face of popular outrage. Within hours, the island's governor, Wanda Vazquez, fired him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOVERNOR WANDA VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: She said Acevedo had mismanaged the government's supplies and failed the victims of Puerto Rico's earthquakes. She also fired two more top officials in her Cabinet, including the island's housing secretary. Days earlier, he had stood next to the governor and spoken proudly about the imminent arrival of billions of long-delayed federal dollars to help pay for the island's recovery from Hurricane Maria.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: I have no confidence in him, Governor Vazquez said. But the governor's moves have not quelled the growing furor. Activists announced an island-wide strike for today. And this morning, a crowd gathered outside the governor's mansion, calling for her resignation. Their chants sounded a lot like the ones that protesters used over the summer, when they forced the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosello, leading months of political turmoil.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

FLORIDO: Where is Wanda, they shouted. She's not here. She's busy hiding disaster supplies.

LUIS ROSADO: We've had almost two weeks of earthquakes. The government was not providing help to the people in the south. The people took it upon themselves to do it themselves because we know what happened during Hurricane Maria.

FLORIDO: This is protester Luis Rosado.

ROSADO: And then we discover that all the supplies that the people took down - we really didn't need to bring the supplies down because the government actually had warehouses full of them. Why were they not given to the people who needed them? Why were they not distributed?

FLORIDO: Protester Awilda Rodriguez Lora said what happened this weekend was reopening old wounds that have not fully healed.

AWILDA RODRIGUEZ LORDA: We're trying. After the hurricane particularly, we pushed so hard to go back to this pseudo normality. And then when you have another entire natural disaster, remembering how the government dealt with our people - it just brings this fight and flight, you know, feeling. But we're also so exhausted.

FLORIDO: And filled with indignation, she said.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.