As protests grow and turn violent, Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló insists he won’t resign – NBC News
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo RossellÃ³ doubled down on his plans to stay in his job after protests calling for his resignation turned violent Monday night. The massive protests injured about two dozen police officers and roughly five protesters were arrested as a result of the demonstration, according to authorities.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the embattled governor said, âI was elected by the people,â citing this as one of his main reasons for not resigning.
The remarks and the protests come in the wake of multiple scandals that have hit the RossellÃ³ administration during recent weeks regarding corruption investigations and the leaking of private chats between the governor and some officials and close associates.
At least 889 pages of the private chats, which included profanity-laced, misogynistic and homophobic comments were released Saturday by Puerto Ricoâs top investigative journalism media outlet after excerpts were first reported days before.
In the chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, RossellÃ³ made fun of an obese man he posed with in a photo, called former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito a âwhoreâ and said Carmen YulÃn Cruz, the mayor of San Juan who had announced her intent to run for governor against RossellÃ³ in 2020, was âoff her meds.â
âEither that, or sheâs a tremendous HP,â the governor said, using the Spanish initials for âson/daughter of a b—-.â
The members of the chat group were Luis Rivera MarÃn, RossellÃ³âs secretary of state; Christian Sobrino, who held a series of important economic posts; Carlos BermÃºdez, a one-time communications aide; Edwin Miranda, a communications consultant; Interior Secretary Ricardo Llerandi; Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira, and ElÃas SÃ¡nchez, one-time representative to the board overseeing Puerto Ricoâs bankruptcy.
The chat also contains vulgar references to Puerto Rican star Ricky Martinâs homosexuality and a series of emojis of a raised middle finger directed at a federal control board overseeing the islandâs finances.
Talking about a lack of forensic pathologists as the death toll rose after Hurricane Maria, Sobrino said, âCanât we feed a body to the crows?â
The scandal has sunk RossellÃ³ into the deepest crisis of his career.
The messages were leaked shortly after Puerto Rico’s former secretary of education, former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ãngela Ãvila-Marrero and four other people with government contracts under RossellÃ³âs administration were arrested last week and are facing 32 counts of money laundering, fraud and other related charges for the alleged embezzlement of $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019.
The White House reacted to the unrest in Puerto Rico on Tuesday afternoon saying, âThe unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the Presidentâs concerns about the mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid.â
âWe remain committed to Puerto Ricoâs recovery and steadfast in protecting taxpayers and the Puerto Rico survivors from political corruption and financial abuse,â the statement said.
In reaction to comments from the White House, RossellÃ³ said that âcorruption is a social evilâ and it âhas occurred in all administrations.â
The U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, is expected to make a stop in San Juan on Thursday, as part of an official trip that will take him to Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and El Salvador.
The scandal comes as the U.S.Senate is prepared to add more restrictions that could limit federal funds for the island, including $12 billion in Medicaid appropriations for the next four years and other hurricane-recovery aid.
Puerto Rico is still recovering from the category 4 hurricane that destroyed the islandâs long-neglected infrastructure and power grid and resulted in the deaths of at least 2,975 people, making it the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years and has come to define a sad turning point in the island’s history.
For many Puerto Ricans still recovering from Hurricane Maria and on the back of the islandâs biggest public financial collapse, the scandal analysts and ordinary people are calling âChatgateâ or âRickyleaksâ has resulted in unprecedented protests against the U.S. commonwealth’s chief executive.
As thousands marched in the capital Monday calling for RossellÃ³âs resignation, police tried to disperse them with pepper spray in front of the Fortaleza governorâs residence, which was protected by barricades.
Puerto Rico police spokesperson Axel Valencia told Telemundo during live coverage of the demonstrations that such protests are one of the biggest, most intense heâd seen in the island in recent history â leaving about 40 properties in Old San Juan, where protests took place, damaged.
The U.S. Attorneyâs Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating the violent acts and vandalism that took place Monday.
Protesters have been calling for RossellÃ³’s resignation for over three consecutive days. Demonstrations first started with hundreds of people, then growing to the thousands. The growth was reflected on Twitter as the hashtag #RickyRenuncia (Resign Ricky, a shortened version of his name, Ricardo) was trending worldwide Monday.
Some leaders of the U.S. territoryâs Legislature said they werenât planning impeachment proceedings. Others introduced a resolution to initiate a process of impeachment for RossellÃ³. In it, House Rep. Dennis MÃ¡rquez outlined 18 possible crimes that stem from the leaked chats.
At the same time, an influential association of mayors from RossellÃ³âs pro-statehood party said he had lost their support.
The president of the commonwealthâs House of Representatives, Carlos MÃ©ndez NÃºÃ±ez, said Sunday night that legislators from RossellÃ³âs pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which has a majority in both houses, did not support starting impeachment proceedings against the governor. He said they gave RossellÃ³ a one-week deadline to reflect, show contrition and prove he could continue to govern.
âImpeachment isnât on the table yet,” he said. “But we reserve the right to evaluate if thatâs merited.â
Puerto Rican artists Benito A. MartÃnez Ocasio, known as Bad Bunny, and RenÃ© PÃ©rez, known as Residente, both said on social media they planned to return to Puerto Rico to protest RossellÃ³âs administration on Wednesday.
Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose production of âHamiltonâ on the island is mentioned in the chats, called them âa very disturbing portrait of how this Administration operates.â
Even if RossellÃ³ survives until next year’s election, it’s clear to many observers that he has been profoundly weakened and less able to deal with crises.
Despite widespread cynicism in Puerto Rico about politiciansâ corruption and self-dealing, the chat shocked residents in a way that other scandals havenât, particularly given RossellÃ³âs image as a gentle, even meek family man, said Mario NegrÃ³n Portillo, a professor at the University of Puerto Ricoâs school of public administration.
âEveryone woke up one day and the governor was spouting vulgarities,â NegrÃ³n said. âThereâs nothing worse for a politician than losing legitimacy. I think Ricardo RossellÃ³ has lost legitimacy.â