Everything You Need to Know About the Furor Over Puerto Rico’s Governor

Lead Photo: Photo courtesy of Mari B. Robles López | @mediapersona
Photo courtesy of Mari B. Robles López | @mediapersona
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Protests calling for the resignation of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló grew in San Juan early yesterday evening, as demonstrators convened at Puerto Rico’s Capitol, eventually joining others who’d gathered about three miles away in Old San Juan around Calle Fortaleza, as close to entrances to the Governor’s Mansion as police blockades would allow. With the continuous arrival of more protestors, the crowd ultimately numbered in the thousands. They represented a variety of ages, from parents with children to millennials to elderly people – all of them calling for the resignation of Governor Rosselló.

Here’s everything you need to know about the scandal that has led to furor and days of escalating protests.

Government scandal

Photo courtesy of Mari B. Robles López | @mediapersona

On July 10, news broke that federal agents had arrested six members of Rosselló’s administration for alleged fraud and money laundering; among them, Puerto Rico’s former secretary of education, Julia Keleher, and the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero. Altogether, they face 32 counts of money laundering, wire fraud, conspiracy, and theft.

Additionally, BDO Puerto Rico, the consulting company connected to the post-Maria relief fund Unidos por Puerto Rico, is reportedly cooperating with the continued federal investigation of Rosselló’s administration, and has specifically pointed to First Lady Beatriz Rosselló as responsible for the creation of the nonprofit.

The following day, transcripts from an encrypted chat between Rosselló and his closest allies on the app Telegram leaked, unveiling a trove of jokes rooted in bigotry, callousness, and indifference toward the people Rosselló purportedly serves. Within a few days, Puerto Rico’s Centro de Periodismo Investigativo published all 889 of pages of the chat, an explosive revelation that included messages tinged with transphobia, homophobia (specifically against Ricky Martin), fat-shaming, a disgusting joke about the accumulation of corpses from Hurricane Maria, misogyny (Roselló, for example, referred to former New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as a “puta”), and attacks against journalists.

In the transcripts of what’s been dubbed #TelegramGate, there were also repeated instances of threatening language toward Rosselló’s political opponents. This included a message from Puerto Rico’s then-chief fiscal officer, Christian Sobrino, about wanting to shoot San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín-Cruz,  to which Rosselló replied, “You’d be doing me a big favor.” Sobrino, as well as secretary of state Luis G. Rivera Marín, have since relinquished their posts.

At a press conference this morning, the Governor reiterated that he has not committed any illegal acts, and reiterated, as he’s stated in other recent public appearances, that he will not resign despite the escalating protests.

Resistance has been growing

Photo courtesy of Mari B. Robles López | @mediapersona

Puerto Rican activists have for years been resisting austerity measures – from mass public school closures under Keleher, cuts to pensions, anti-worker labor reforms, the diminishing of the University of Puerto Rico’s budget, and more – recommended by the U.S.-appointed Fiscal Management and Oversight Board, as well as the island government’s own role in the implementation of those measures. Alleged financial mismanagement and corruption under Governor Rosselló’s administration, with emphasis on the need for an independent audit of the government’s massive debt (which many believe was illegally accrued) and the role partisan politics might have played in the crisis of failures post-Maria, has also been a focus.

Read up on our coverage of recent issues and movements in Puerto Rico:

Police Response

Photo courtesy of Mari B. Robles López | @mediapersona

Between 8 and 9 p.m., police began using pepper spray and tear gas to disperse protestors, allegedly without warning, according to Facebook posts. A panicked stampede ensued in the narrow, cobblestoned streets. An hour later, police on the frontlines continued using pepper spray and gas; the Brigada Legal Solidaria also reported an officer spraying from above the crowd, then hiding immediately after. Some demonstrators threw stones and set fire to dumpsters; later, at least three people were arrested, including a minor who was allegedly injured in the process. Lawyer and president of the Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (the Working People’s Party), Mariana Nogales Molinelli, reported on Facebook that, while making arrests by force, police threatened death and uttered statements to protestors like, “If you move, I’ll break your ribs.”

The footage below shows protestors being sprayed by police.

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@jayfonsecapr @yosoymolusco @davidbegnaud

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Another protestor, who was allegedly asking others to stop throwing projectiles at police, was attacked from behind with a tear gas canister.

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asi nos tratan… @jayfonsecapr @yosoymolusco

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An aerial view is available at El Calce.

Solidarity around the world

Artists that have spoken out and called for Rosselló’s resignation include Ricky Martin, Residente, and Bad Bunny. Dominican musician Rita Indiana was reportedly present at last night’s protest in Old San Juan.

As of publication, we’re aware of protests having taken place in New York City at Union Square, Philadelphia, and Boston. Globally, groups have gathered and individuals have expressed solidarity in Italy (Siena), Spain (Barcelona, Madrid), and the Netherlands, among other countries.

What’s next: Stay up to date

Photo courtesy of Mari B. Robles López | @mediapersona

Some protestors remain at La Fortaleza now, and others are coming and going throughout the day. Additionally, former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher was met by protestors as she arrived at the United States District Court in San Juan this afternoon.

Another concentration is scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, July 17, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Capitol in San Juan, and later marching to the Governor’s Mansion. Simultaneous protests are also being organized in Isabela (northwest coast) and Mayagüez (west coast).

A Facebook and Instagram account encouraging people to take down photos of Rosselló at all government offices has also emerged:

For on-the-ground live feeds and up-to-date information, follow: