Puerto Rico Governor Clings to Power as Protests Over ‘Chatgate’ Enter 2nd Week

July 23, 2019 by HJ Mai
Demonstrators rally at Lake Eola park Monday, July 22, 2019 in downtown Orlando, Fla., in support of Puerto Ricans and their demand that the island's governor, Ricardo Rossello, resign immediately. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a second straight week demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. The demonstrations arose after hundreds of pages of offensive chat messages between the governor and nearly a dozen of his close associates were leaked on July 13. 

The chat messages, which were published by Puerto Rico’s Center of Investigative Journalism, contain explicit exchanges between Rosselló and 11 top aides and cabinet members, including Rosselló’s secretary of state, his public affairs secretary and a former representative to a board overseeing Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy crisis.

CNN described the content of the messages, which were sent in December 2018 and January 2019, as “profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic.” For example, Rosselló called the former speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, a “whore” for not backing Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez’s push for Puerto Rico statehood. 

“Our people should come out and defend Tom and beat up that whore,” the governor wrote.

Despite the large public outcry, Rosselló made clear that he has no intention of resigning as governor of the U.S. territory. However, in a brief video posted to Facebook on Sunday, he announced that he will not seek reelection in 2020 and step down as president of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. 

“In spite of everything, I recognize that apologizing isn’t enough, that only my work will help restore confidence,” the governor said.

A number of U.S. politicians, as well as President Donald Trump have criticized Rosselló and urged him to resign.

“He’s a terrible governor,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. The president has been at odds with the governor after Rosselló’s complaints about the speed and scale of the federal response to Hurricane Maria. 

New York mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bill de Blasio called the governor’s behavior “entirely inappropriate.” 

“While Puerto Ricans attempt to heal from Hurricane Maria, he mocks victims for a cheap laugh,” de Blasio said. “Governor Rosselló should resign immediately.”

Fellow 2020 presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro also joined the calls for Rosselló’s resignation.

Puerto Rico, which declared bankruptcy in 2017, is still yet to recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Maria. The deadly Category 5 hurricane destroyed the island’s infrastructure and killed more than 3,000 people. 

While “Chatgate” may turn out to be his ultimate downfall, Rosselló’s political problems began with Hurricane Maria. Almost two years after the hurricane made landfall, there are still people without electricity or a roof over their head. In addition, the rampant corruption on the island caught up with him. 

Shortly before chat messages were leaked, two of Rosselló’s top former officials — his former secretary of education and former Health Insurance Administration head — were arrested by the FBI on fraud and corruption charges.

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that a judge in Puerto Rico issued search warrants for phones of government officials tied to chats that sparked political crisis.

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