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Thousands Protest Against Puerto Rico Governor After Profane Chats Leaked

Thousands Protest Against Puerto Rico Governor After Profane Chats Leaked

  • Second day of demonstrations calling on Rossello to step down
  • Puerto Rico celebrities lend their support to the protests
Puerto Ricans Call For Gov. Resignation

Embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello vowed not to step down even as the streets of San Juan were choked with demonstrators calling for his ouster following the release of profane chats with aides that disparaged political opponents and ordinary Puerto Ricans.

In a statement Sunday evening, Rossello said “despite the difficulties we may have, internal and external, the work will continue and the agenda will be completed.” Rossello on Monday told reporters he “respects the right to demonstrate” by protesters calling for his resignation and “has asked for their forgiveness.”

Protesters Demand The Resignation Of Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello

Protesters march to the Capitol building on July 15, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Photographer: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

Rossello’s comments came after many lawmakers from his own New Progressive Party, which favors Puerto Rico becoming a U.S. state, joined the opposition Popular Democratic Party, which favors continuing Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status, called on him to step down.

On Monday evening, thousands of protesters flooded the streets of San Juan’s colonial quarter for a second straight day, chanting, banging drums and blowing whistles and vowing to bring down the commonwealth’s chief executive, depicted as a prisoner, mobster or goat on demonstrators’ placards.

‘Doesn’t Represent Us’

Surrounding the governor’s mansion, the protesters chanted slogans calling for Rossello to be tried for his alleged crimes and against a congressionally mandated fiscal oversight board, tasked since 2016 with handling the island’s finances. Many said they were demonstrating for the first time.

“This is my first time doing something like this, but I couldn’t just stay at home,” said Kimberley Ayala, 25, from the San Juan suburb of Bayamon. “This governor doesn’t represent us, and those messages are what got me out into the street.”

A number of Puerto Rican celebrities also joined the chorus of criticism in recent days. The Puerto Rican Latin trap-and-reggaeton singer Bad Bunny tweeted Monday that he was returning to the island to join the protests against Rossello. Puerto Rican musician Rene Perez Joglar, who goes by the stage name “Residente” and is best known as the singer for the band Calle 13, posted a long critique of the governor on Instagram. “We don’t want this government for even one more day,” he wrote.

The singer Ricky Martin wrote on Twitter that Rossello should “commit an act of true generosity, value and love for Puerto Rico and give up your office.”

Puerto Rican social media also featured calls for protests to be held in New York City and Washington on Monday.

To many observers, the broad sweep of the protest -- calling on Rossello to resign, anger over the island’s corrupt politics, which have been dominated by the same two parties for the last 50 years, as well as the fiscal oversight board -- make the current tumult something more than a simply political protest.

‘No Parallel’

“This is the most important moment we have had since the 1930s,” said Juan Angel Giusti-Cordero, a history professor at the University of Puerto Rico, alluding to a decade that saw widespread labor unrest and the brutal suppression of pro-independence forces by U.S.-backed police. “The structural questions that are being raised right now have no parallel since then.”

Rossello government said over the weekend that Christian Sobrino, the government’s chief financial officer and representative to the fiscal oversight board handling the island’s finances, and Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin had resigned as a result of the fallout from the chats. But on Monday, Puerto Rican newspaper El Vocero reported that both men remained in the posts and would not be stepping down until the end of the month.

Succession, Authority

Rivera Marin’s pending departure throws into confusion exactly who would replace Rossello if that latter did resign. According to Puerto Rico’s 1952 constitution, in the event of a vacancy at the gubernatorial level, the governorship then passes to the secretary of state, and then to the secretary of justice, that latter position currently occupied by Wanda Vazquez, a Rossello appointee.

The lurid texts were released days after the U.S. Justice Department announced the indictments of Rossello’s former education secretary and health insurance administration director over government contract awards.

Rossello’s Treasury Secretary Raul Maldonado was fired last month after disclosing in a radio interview alleged crimes within the department, including influence peddling, issuance of fake licenses, destruction of documents and accessing privileged taxpayer records.

Maldonado’s son, Raul Maldonado Nieves, later said Rossello ordered the auditing firm BDO to change a report on Hurricane Maria aid to remove references showing mismanagement in a relief effort involving his wife, Beatriz. The governor denied the allegations.