Around 100 community leaders and activists took to the streets of Manhattan Sunday in a silent protest to raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Dressed in white as a symbol of peace, the silent marchers started at the White Playground in East Harlem. From there, they headed to Trump Tower on Fifth Ave. in Midtown about three miles away.
“My intent is to send a message of peace, hope and faith,” said event organizer Carmen Cruz before the march.
“That’s what motivated me. I felt I had to do something for Puerto Rico other than volunteering, sending money and the whole bit.”
The event was for people who were unable to attend the larger “Unity March for Puerto Rico” in Washington, D.C., Sunday.
“I know a lot of people support the Puerto Ricans and there are others that are not aware,” said Cruz. “So we have to make them aware of what our plight is…our struggle.”
Two months after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, many on the U.S. territory remain without power, while others suffer daily blackouts.
As a result, hundreds of people flee the island each day for the mainland, authorities say.
Congress has set aside $5 billion for aid so far. But Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello says $94 billion in recovery aid is needed to restore housing and repair damaged infrastructure.
“The island has not stabilized enough,” said councilwoman-elect Diana Ayala, whose family lives in Puerto Rico. “We need to shine light against all the atrocities that are being committed against the people of the island.”
Her grandmother, who has a heart condition, waited for three weeks after the storm for basic aid, she said.
Many still struggle to get updates from their loved ones on the island.
“Communication has been getting better but it’s not where we need it to be,” Ayala said. “We need the government to acknowledge that and step up.”
The rally was held the same day the island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 during his second voyage to the new world. The day has long been celebrated as a national holiday on the island.
But on Sunday, activists pointed out the U.S. commonwealth has no voting representation in Congress and residents are unable to vote in presidential elections despite being American citizens.
That has made it easier for elected officials in Washington to ignore the plight of those living on the battered island, according to many in the community who blame President Trump for failing to allocate enough resources to assist those on the island.
“Is this truly citizenship, or did they just give us citizenship because they thought they bought us?” said marcher Aurora Flores.
“I feel like I’m on a ship with no captain. There’s been no empathy for the people of Puerto Rico.”