WASHINGTON: Protesters marched Sunday in Washington in solidarity with hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, criticizing the lacklustre US response to the storm and calling for reform.
Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in September, ravaging the US territory’s infrastructure.
Some 50 percent of its population of 3.4 million people still lacks electricity more than two months later.
Demonstrators gathered at the US Capitol with Puerto Rican flags and signs that read “Fight for Puerto Rico,” then marched toward the Lincoln Memorial at the other end of the National Mall.
Hit hip-hop musical Hamilton‘s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jose Andres — an award-winning chef who led efforts to feed hungry Puerto Ricans after the storm — both attended the march.
“We have men and women in Puerto Rico who are suffering. We need to help our fellow Americans. We need to abolish the Jones Act, we need to remove the debt, we need to make Puerto Rico great again,” Janette Messina — a 45-year-old protester from New York — said.
The Jones Act is a 1920 law that restricts shipments between US ports to US-owned and operated cargo ships.
The restrictions were eventually waived for Puerto Rico but were blamed for slowing the disaster relief response.
Messina carried a sign that read “Make Puerto Rico Great Again” — a play on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, and one of many that appeared to take aim at the president.
“Tweet Puerto Rico With Respect,” read another sign, an apparent reference to Trump’s at-times vitriolic Twitter responses to criticism of his handling of the disaster.
Jasmin — a 39-year-old from New York who would only give her first name — said her family members on the island lacked basic necessities months after the storm hit.
“I have family in Puerto Rico — they still don’t have clean water, they don’t have electricity, I can barely get a call in to them, and that is a major, major problem, and it’s not being addressed,” she said.
“Months from the storm, and it’s still the same. And there’s this narrative that things are getting better, but it’s not,” added Jasmin.
“This is another instance where Puerto Rico always gets the short end of the stick.”
Rafael Negron, 52, came from New York with his wife and daughters for the protest.
“We came out… to protest what’s going on, the lack of support for Puerto Rico from the United States government,” Negron said.
Another motivation was taking their daughters to their first demonstration, a chance for them to learn about “what it is to be an American and… how to protest things you don’t like”.