Demonstrators calling for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation gathered in streets outside the governor’s mansion again on Saturday afternoon, chanting and banging pots and pans in the latest of several days of protests on the US territory.
The protests are sparked in part by last weekend’s leaks of offensive private chat messages between the governor and his inner circle. But demonstrators also have railed against alleged government corruption, even as the island battles high poverty rates, crushing debt and a painful recovery from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria.
On Saturday, scores of demonstrators stood at least a block from the governor’s residence, known as La Fortaleza, facing a line of security officers who kept the crowd from approaching the building any closer.
Two kilometers to the east, about a couple dozen people gathered around a covered table set up outside the Capitol building, listening to a protester read the chat messages that served as the boiling point for this week’s unrest.
One of those gathered there, Carla Claudio, said the chat messages formed “a ridiculous document, but a historic one.”
“It’s important to read this, do it collectively,” Claudio, 32, of San Juan, said. “It’s been the catalyst for the protest and everything that’s happened.”
Thousands of demonstrators also crowded San Juan’s streets on Friday, another in a string of protests over the past week that at times have seen police respond by firing tear gas.
Rosselló’s aides have said he does not intend to step down. He has not responded to CNN’s interview requests.
The chaos in Puerto Rico follows the Center for Investigative Journalism’s publication of nearly 900 pages of leaked chats from the governor’s private Telegram Messenger group in which he and 11 top aides and Cabinet members exchanged profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages about fellow politicians, members of the media and celebrities.
In one, the former chief financial officer appeared to joke about those who died in Maria.
The leak came the same week that two former officials from Rosselló’s administration were arrested by the FBI as part of a federal corruption investigation.
While Rosselló has refused to step down, two Cabinet members who participated in the chats resigned July 13. And on Friday, one of his aides — press secretary Dennise Peréz — also stepped down, saying she was upset that a citizen had called her corrupt in front of her son.
New committee checks possible impeachable offenses
On Friday, the president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives created a special committee on Friday to advise him on whether the governor committed impeachable offenses.
The impeachment research committee includes three attorneys who will have 10 days to provide a detailed report to Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, according to a news release from the House leader’s spokesman, Raúl Colón.
The committee will evaluate the content of leaked messages between Rosselló and Cabinet members and determine if there’s proof Rosselló committed a crime, Méndez said.
“We are here to order this evaluation, one that will be transparent and responsible,” he said. “I thank this group of lawyers for giving a step forward in this historic moment for Puerto Rico. We will thoroughly evaluate the conclusions of this committee so we can proceed.”
‘You left us to die’
Thousands of protesters gathered Friday night in the capital of San Juan calling for Rosselló’s resignation.
Layzne Alvez told CNN the territory’s government had been “left to run wild with our economy, with our money, with all the federal funds the government [is] sending here.” She added that Puerto Ricans weren’t a violent people so they did not plan to bring Rosselló down by force.
“We are going to stay here no matter what,” Alvez said. “We are going to force our local leaders, representatives, senators, whoever we need to, to get him out. We are going to stay here.”
“Unfortunately, there is always corruption in the government,” said Pamela Calderón, the owner of a small restaurant on Calle San Jose. “But with the publication of the chats, people in Puerto Rico saw how the corruption affected the response to the hurricane. There’s a sense of, ‘You left us to die.'”
“There are still people without electricity or a roof,” she added. “There is a perception of being abandoned by the government, a lack of planning, and the inept way government managed the crisis.”
The scandal made people snap out of their complacency, a restaurant manager in Old San Juan said.
“We usually wait for things to take their course,” Jose Ramos said. “But this will not get resolved without pressure.”
The protests have forced some businesses along Calle Fortaleza, which leads to the governor’s mansion, to temporarily close or adjust their hours. Some are even boarded up or outfitted with hurricane shutters.
Protesters have been joined by some of Puerto Rico’s biggest stars, including reggaeton star Bad Bunny, rapper René Pérez Joglar and singer and actor Ricky Martin, one of the targets of leaked homophobic messages. And similar demonstrations have taken place on the US mainland in cities like Miami and Orlando, Florida.
Governor not considering resigning
Puerto Rico’s Justice Department has issued summonses for everyone involved in the private chat group. They will be ordered to appear before Justice Department officials to have their phones inspected, department spokeswoman Mariana Cobian said.
Through it all, Rosselló has refused to step down, and on Friday his official Instagram account shared images of the governor at work, as if it were a typical day for his administration.
Rosselló “is not considering resignation,” Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira said Friday morning.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Rosselló said he would continue to work toward regaining the Puerto Rican people’s trust.
“I recognize the challenge that I have before me because of the recent controversies, but I firmly believe that it is possible to restore confidence and that we will be able, after this painful process, to achieve reconciliation,” he said.