Proportionate aid for Puerto Rico’s natural disasters, elimination of the Jones Act, and billion-dollar debt relief are some of the demands during Sunday’s Unity March for Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico, you are not forgotten,” demonstrator and author of the famous Broadway hit, "Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda said to the thousands gathered in Washington D.C. in a show of support for Puerto Ricans still struggling after September’s Hurricane Maria.
“We can keep raising money, but it’s not gonna do any good if the government doesn’t help us,” said Miranda.
Almost two months after Hurricane Maria crushed into Puerto Rico, still 50 percent of the island, around 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, are still without power, phone service, and basic necessities.
"I have family in Puerto Rico- they still don't have clean water, they don't have electricity, I can barely get a call to them, and that is a major, major problem, and it's not being addressed," a demonstrator named Jasmin told SBS,
"Months from the storm, and it's still the same. And there's this narrative that things are getting better, but it's not,” she said. “This is another instance where Puerto Rico always gets the short end of the stick."
Protesters holding the Puerto Rican flag gathered at the National Mall demanding justice for the U.S. territory. The demonstrators then marched to the Lincoln Memorial.
"We have men and women in Puerto Rico who are suffering ... We need to abolish the Jones Act, we need to remove the debt," protester Janette Messina said while holding a sign that read, “Make Puerto Rico Great Again.”
According to the event organizer, Evelyn Mejil, the unity march was a powerful push toward demanding the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
“I think everyone was able to unify and have one message, which is, ‘We’re here for Puerto Rico and we’re going to continue to make sure we put pressure on Congress so that we do the right thing for Puerto Rico,’” Miranda said.
Sunday’s march also centered around support and disaster relief for Puerto Rico now and for future disasters.
Among the other demands, removal of the 20th century Jones Act which restricts delivery of shipments from foreign parties and caused significant delays to disaster relief following the destructive hurricane.
“It’s a long road,” said Debbie Rios from Maryland. “We really need everyone to understand how the Jones Act is hurting the island.”
Puerto Rican authorities requested US$94 billion for reconstruction efforts and disaster relief aid, the Associated Press reported. Last week, amid criticism from lawmakers, Congress received a request for US$44 billion from the White House for hurricane-ravaged areas like Texas, Puerto Rico and Florida. Critics say the amount is too small.