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Protesters mobilize for week of action to 'demand justice' for Puerto Rico

Protesters mobilize for week of action to 'demand justice' for Puerto Rico
© Greg Nash

Thousands of protesters are expected to mobilize for a week of action to "demand justice" for Puerto Rico one year after Hurricane Maria devastated the island's infrastructure and resources, displacing thousands and resulting in almost 3,000 deaths.

Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition of Puerto Rican and progressive groups, has organized a trio of protests to take place across the country later this week. The major demonstrations will be held at the White House in Washington, D.C., Trump Tower in New York City and President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The coalition is also urging local organizers to stage smaller protests across the country. 

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“From the day Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, President Trump has shown a level of indifference and callousness towards the people of Puerto Rico that is nothing short of reprehensible," said José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation, which is participating in the protests, in a statement.

"It is why today we continue our work with the Power 4 Puerto Rico Coalition to unite diverse organizations across our country to demand justice for this egregious atrocity," Calderón added. 

Protesters have been told to bring candles and photos of loved ones who died as a result of the hurricane.  

“From Jacksonville to Tallahassee and down to Miami, Puerto Ricans and our supporters in Florida are mobilizing for caravans, rallies and vigils to send a clear message: Puerto Rico will not be forgotten,” Marcos Vilar, president of Alianza for Progress, said in a statement. “Our island is still struggling to rebuild."

"This is a moment to make our voices heard, so that all Puerto Ricans, whether here or there, can live their lives with justice, power and opportunity," Vilar said.

Trump last week inflamed Puerto Rican lawmakers and officials with two tweets casting doubt on the official death toll of 2,975, which was determined by researchers at George Washington University earlier this year. 

The coalition organizing the protests says Puerto Ricans have been the victim of "government inefficiency, discrimination and neglect" since the hurricane hit in 2017. 

The protesters are citing the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) response to hurricanes on the mainland, including last year's Hurricane Harvey, to allege the government discriminated against Puerto Ricans. FEMA provided fewer resources and personnel to Puerto Rico, PBS reported.

“By FEMA’s own admission, terrible errors were made in the rescue and recovery process," said Melissa Mark-Viverito, campaign director for Power 4 Puerto Rico, in a statement. "The Puerto Rican people demand that the White House own its failures and support the Puerto Rican people in rebuilding, instead of offering denials and rebuttals that serve no one but the President." 

A report in July by FEMA determined the agency was underprepared to deal with the crisis wrought by the Category 4 hurricane.