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Businesses Take A Hit Amid Puerto Rico Protests


It's been a week of high political drama in Puerto Rico. The island's governor, Ricardo Rossello, was facing impeachment proceedings after days of massive street demonstrations demanding his resignation. Then on Wednesday, Rossello announced he'll step down next week. That was good news, not just for the protesters - it also means relief may be in sight for the many businesses that saw sales plummet during the upheaval. NPR's David Welna is in Old San Juan, ground zero for the protests, and has this report.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Yesterday was the first time in weeks that Rincon Iberico, the bar that Karen Clark owns, was open for regular hours. Sitting in a corner of the bar, which is itself in the corner of a big barracks built when Puerto Rico was still a Spanish colony, Clark rhapsodizes about Old San Juan's attractions.

KAREN CLARK: This is a beautiful place - historical. It's amazing. This building here was the last building made by the Spaniards in the Americas. You come through the cruise ship, and you have to make sure that you walk Old San Juan.

WELNA: But for the past two weeks, the tourists this place depends on for 80% of its business have all but disappeared. Instead, what's been in abundance are street protests.





WELNA: The protests scared off several cruise ships, but a few did stop here this week. One passenger was Danielle McGoff of Colorado Springs, who toured Old San Juan with her husband and daughter.

DANIELLE MCGOFF: We noticed all the windows are boarded up so their windows don't get smashed. And there's a lot of graffiti all over. And the graffiti is really sad, and it's kind of taken away some of the beauty.

WELNA: It's 10:00 in the morning, and Gabriel Karim is opening Himalaya; it's an ice cream shop on the blue-glazed cobblestone street leading up to the governor's palace. He says Calle Fortaleza, as this street is known, has been crammed with protesters every day for the past two weeks.

GABRIEL KARIM: I mean, obviously it's an inconvenience. I don't mind it though. I mean, it's part of the territory. We do business on this block. We're used to protests.

WELNA: Inside the shop, Karim begins making a batch of pina colada rolled ice cream. He says the protests have hurt sales, though he's gotten by.

KARIM: But I think, yeah, if it continued on for a couple more weeks or to a month or so, and then that's when mortgages and rent start coming due.

WELNA: Big plywood panels were being placed over display windows earlier this week at Rainbow, a discount clothing store. They're still there today, even though protests subsided after the governor announced he's quitting. Yesterday, I asked the store's manager, Lisbeth Sanchez, how much longer she'll keep those windows covered.

LISBETH SANCHEZ: Maybe one month, three weeks. I don't know.

WELNA: And why?

SANCHEZ: Because all the glass is break with the protests, and I don't know what happen with the protests again because the people going now for Wanda Vazquez.

WELNA: Wanda Vazquez is the secretary of justice in line to be Puerto Rico's next governor. But she, too, is tainted by scandal, and more protests could be coming.

JUAN BAUZA: It has been very tough.

WELNA: Juan Bauza owns a True Value hardware store in Old San Juan. He sold out all his plywood panels. He's also donated paint to hide the graffiti covering the walls here.

BAUZA: Most important here is that we have a Constitution. And this is an island that has law and order, and we have to respect that. We can not let whole groups of people dictate what we have to do.

WELNA: Tomorrow, a big community cleanup gets under way despite all the uncertainty that lingers about what's next here. David Welna, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.