Each night, he’s rushed to help them.
“We threw a hose down the balcony, so people could wash off the tear gas,” said Caballeira, 36.
He and his fiancee opened the doors of their second-floor apartment — about a block from the governor’s mansion — to strangers who have marched on the colonial streets of Old San Juan for days.
“There’s a lot of tension,” Caballeira said. “Everyone agrees that something needs to change. People are finally reacting to the level of corruption and abuse of the government.”
The protests erupted after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published leaked chats between Gov. Rosselló and his inner circle, including profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages about fellow politicians, members of the media.
Nearly a week after the messages were made public, it’s impossible to walk the streets of Old San Juan without seeing signs of the protests calling for Rosselló’s ouster.
On the streets, a lottery salesman and an ice cream vendor talked to their customers about the demonstrations. Crews covered spray-painted graffiti messages that read “Ricky Resign” with white paint. Some people cleaned shattered glass from about a dozen storefronts and boarded up doors and windows.
Restaurants and shops impacted by protests
Juan Guerrero, 38, was serving drinks at a pizzeria a few blocks away from the governor’s mansion when protests intensified on Monday.
The bartender, his colleagues and several patrons quickly barricaded inside the restaurant and let some protesters take shelter in the building.
“It was packed,” Guerrero said. When the tear gas canisters began to fly, Guerrero said they had to close the doors, but one eventually found its way inside the building through the open indoor garden.
Yulissa Contreras, a server at the restaurant, said her family couldn’t believe she was in the middle of the unrest.
“When my family saw the images on international television they thought it was something happening in Venezuela, not here,” she said.
The protests have forced businesses in the area to temporarily close or adjust their hours. The pizzeria has remained open for fewer hours in the past days and plans to start closing early if the unrest continues.
Caballeira is also preparing for more protests. He has purchased a trauma kit and stocked up on water bottles and soap to help protesters if more tear gas is deployed again. And he’s discussed what to do in case gunfire or a massive fire breaks out.
“Where should we put people?” Caballeira said.
Puerto Rico governor says protests have ‘not gone unnoticed’
Hours after police officers sprayed tear gas on protestors on Wednesday night, Rosselló said he respects the people’s right to protest and their actions have “not gone unnoticed.”
In a statement posted on Twitter, Rosselló said he’s asked for the Puerto Rican people’s forgiveness and will continue to do so.
“I recognize the challenge that I have before me because of the recent controversies, but I firmly believe that it is possible to restore confidence and that we will be able, after this painful process, to achieve reconciliation.”
He also said “I have the commitment, stronger than ever, to carry out the public policy.”
The governor has previously said he would not step down.
More protests expected Friday
Several groups, including representatives from the labor movement and unions, are calling for more protests.
Marches and “cacerolazos” — protests with people banging pots and pans — were expected across the island Friday and through the weekend. A massive march at the Luis A. Ferré Express has been planned for Sunday.
Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of local labor union UTIER, said they want the Puerto Rican government to declare a state of emergency and change a controversial law, known as Promesa, that has been used to tackle the territory’s debt.
“Aside from asking for the governor to resign, we demand the government to declare a state of emergency over the male chauvinist (machista) violence in Puerto Rico, we want to abolish the Promesa law, pause the bankruptcy process taking place in a federal court during this crisis, and annul the bonus accords negotiated by the Junta until the debt is audited,” Jaramillo said.
Jose Ramos, 28, a restaurant manager in Old San Juan, called this week’s protests unprecedented. He said the text messages scandal made people snap out of their complacency.
“We usually wait for things to take their course. But this will not get resolved without pressure,” Ramos said.
Ramos sees only three possibilities that could bring an end the chaos: the governor resigns, he’s impeached or arrested by a federal agency.
Whatever the outcome may be, Ramos hopes whoever replaces him will be trustworthy.
“There needs to be a proper process,” he said. “The people must be able to trust the person that inherits the position for what’s left of the term.”