Puerto Ricans mobilize mass protest to demand resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló

Monday's protests calling for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló's exit are poised to be the island's largest in recent history

Published July 22, 2019 6:28PM (EDT)

Demonstrators protest against Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico on July 17, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Getty/Joe Raedle)
Demonstrators protest against Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico on July 17, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Getty/Joe Raedle)

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are mobilizing in San Juan in the island's largest protest in recent history to call for the resignation of the island's governor, Ricardo Rosselló.

Protesters took to the streets of San Juan and other parts of the island in recent days, waving the Puerto Rican flag and chanting "Ricky, renuncia!" (Ricky, resign!) as part of the "March of the People." The protests calling for Rosselló's resignation come after Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published at least 889 pages of private chat messages between the governor and members of his inner circle. The exchanges are profanity-laced, homophobic and sexist.

The protesters have said they won't stop until Rosselló resigns. So far, Rosselló stated that he won't seek reelection but vowed to finish out his term. He also resigned as President of the New Progressive Party.

In chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rosselló mocked an obese man he had posed with in a photo; called former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito a "whore"; made homophobic remarks about pop star Ricky Martin; and argued San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz must be "off her meds" by deciding to run for governor against him in 2020.

The group chat members joked about the casualties caused by Hurricane Maria, which tore through Puerto Rico in September 2017.

Many see the scandal, which some are calling "RickyLeaks" and "Chatgate," as the last straw for an island still reeling from the destruction of Hurricane Maria, which killed thousands of people and left even more without power —all amid a decade-long financial crisis.

The messages were leaked several days after Puerto Rico's former Education Secretary Julia Keleher; former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero; businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velázquez-Piñol; and education contractors and sisters Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza were arrested by the FBI on 32 counts of money laundering, fraud and other related charges. The alleged fraud involves $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019.

The FBI is also investigating the finances of Unidos por Puerto Rico, the non-profit organization launched by the governor and his wife, Beatriz Rosselló, to streamline donations to the island after Hurricane Maria.

Calls for Rosselló's resignation increased amid the federal corruption probe — and they exploded in the wake of RickyLeaks. Two cabinet officials have stepped down in the wake of the scandals, though Rosselló has said that he plans to stay in office.

Thomas Rivera Schatz, President of the Senate of Puerto Rico, announced on his Facebook Page earlier on Monday that he will become President of the New Progressive Party.

"I want to thank in a very special way my fellow Vice Presidents, Jennifer González and Johnny Méndez, for their support and confidence to establish order and direction in our community. I will dedicate myself with soul, life and heart," Rivera Schatz wrote. "To the Puerto Ricans who were offended, I reiterate that our party rejects this behavior, censures these expressions and is in solidarity with you."

Many politicians from the U.S. mainland have started remarked on the crisis in Puerto Rico. President Donald Trump — who has called Puerto Rican officials "incompetent or corrupt" and who has opposed sending additional federal aid to the territory following Hurricane Maria — took aim at Rosselló on Twitter.

Democratic presidential candidate Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the first White House hopeful to urge Rosselló to step down.

Other 2020 Democrats also weighed in. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; former Vice President Joe Biden;  South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who made his first 2020 campaign stop in Puerto Rico, also called on the governor to resign.

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas expressed similar support — in Spanish.

So far, Rosselló has rejected the mounting demands for his resignation — including some from inside his party. He apologized for his "inappropriate" messages in a public address last week.

"We will make changes — no doubt," he said. "I've made the determination that I have to keep my promise and continue to work to do the job that the public has trusted me to do."

By Shira Tarlo

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