SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico >> The man streaming on Facebook Live looked straight into his cellphone camera and promised the footage to come would be outrageous. “Share what you’re about to see,” he urged his viewers.
Moments later, he walked into a huge warehouse and revealed his discovery: cases of bottled water still encased in plastic. Pallets of new diapers, baby formula and wipes. Boxes of wrapped tarpaulins, portable stoves and propane gas.
Unused emergency aid sat gathering dust in a government property in the city of Ponce, in southern Puerto Rico, as thousands of people prepared to spend their third week sleeping outside to stay safe as a swarm of earthquakes continued to assail the island. The water appeared to be expired, the man on the video said. But there were no signs of emergency workers or any effort to distribute the disaster supplies.
The video, streamed Saturday by Lorenzo Delgado Torres, who calls himself “El León Fiscalizador,” or the lion of accountability, immediately exploded on social media. Infuriated Puerto Ricans showed up at the 43,000-square-foot warehouse to demand an explanation, jeer at government officials and take some of the supplies. Someone called police officers, who closed off the street.
Within hours, Gov. Wanda Vázquez, faced with the biggest crisis of her tenure, had fired Puerto Rico’s chief of emergency management, temporarily handed control of the agency to the National Guard and ordered an investigation into why the supplies had not been given to people in need. By Sunday, two more Cabinet officials had been dismissed. The governor pledged not to charge any people who had taken supplies from the warehouse.
By today, when the video had amassed more than 800,000 views and 33,000 shares, demonstrators gathered in San Juan, the capital, to protest leaders they said had again let them down in the wake of a natural disaster, as occurred after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“We are outraged,” said Freyla Rivas, 70, of Cayey, who demonstrated on a cobblestone street outside La Fortaleza, the stately governor’s mansion in colonial Old San Juan. “If there are resources, why do the people have to suffer? It’s enraging.”
Though the demonstrations remained modest, the angry protests, chants and posts on social media resembled the early demonstrations over the summer that ultimately ousted the former governor, Ricardo A. Rosselló.