Puerto Rico Protest Demanding Gov. Rossello Resign over Lewd Texts & Corruption
HAVANA TIMES – Close to 100,000 Puerto Ricans took to the streets Wednesday chanting “Ricky Renuncia!” as they called for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, following the leak by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism of hundreds of misogynistic, homophobic and violent text messages between Rosselló and members of his Cabinet.
On Monday, Denis Márquez of the Puerto Rican Independence Party introduced formal complaints against the governor and called for his impeachment.
All of this comes as former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and five others have been arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors. We speak with Melissa Mark-Viverito, interim president of the Latino Victory Project, and, from San Juan, journalist Juan Carlos Dávila, Democracy Now!’s correspondent in Puerto Rico.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets Wednesday calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló following the leak of a series of sexist and violent text messages between the governor and members of his Cabinet, that included jokes about victims of Hurricane Maria. This is feminist activist Zoan Dávila.
ZOAN DÁVILA: [translated] This is the seventh consecutive day that the people arrive here at Old San Juan to demand that the corrupt Ricardo Rosselló resign immediately. Through these days and weeks, two things have been demonstrated. First, that Ricardo Rosselló doesn’t have the capacity to govern, nor the sensibility to govern Puerto Rico. And second, that there’s a strong claim from the people, starting with the women, to demand his resignation now.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Some of Puerto Rico’s most famous performers, many of whom were targeted in the leaked text messages, joined protesters in the streets. Singers Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny were in San Juan, along with Grammy-winning artist Residente.
RENÉ PÉREZ: [translated] We have to defend ourselves. The only ideal that is present tonight is the distrust and that we want to be respected as a country. This government needs to begin respecting the country, and this country has never been respected. This is historic. We are making history. Tonight we are making history. Puerto Rico doesn’t stand up, because we’ve always been standing.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: While the protests were largely peaceful, for a second straight night police in San Juan tear-gassed demonstrators and made multiple arrests. Protests also took place here in New York City, where hundreds gathered in Union Square Park, including Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
LIN–MANUEL MIRANDA: Every step he takes now should be about the peaceful transition of transition and getting out of office. … Yuo are the ones who rose up in the street and said “Enough.” And we are here to let everyone know the world is watching. We’re with you.
AMY GOODMAN: The nearly 900 pages of misogynistic, homophobic and violent text messages exchanged between Governor Rosselló and government officials were leaked by the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism. In one exchange, the governor jokes about shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and called former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who’s an ally of Yulín Cruz—he called her a “whore.” Mark-Viverito also spoke in New York’s Union Square on Wednesday, calling for the Puerto Rican governor to resign.
MELISSA MARK–VIVERITO: [translated] We’re in a difficult moment for Puerto Rico. We have an administration, a leader who’s showing his true face, his immoral character. And it’s now what’s coming out in chat, which is obviously very worrisome, but also regarding the investigations from the likes of the FBI in Puerto Rico, so there’s accusations of corruption. We also have the moral character of the governor, who has appealed for the trust not only from his party, but also from the Puerto Rican people, so he can be an effective leader. So, for the benefit of Puerto Rico, as his people are calling for, he ought to resign.
AMY GOODMAN: Two top officials have resigned since the scandal broke, which is being called “RickyLeaks,” but Governor Rosselló, who is up for re-election next year, is resisting calls to step down, saying the messages were, quote, “done on people’s personal time” and a result of working long, stressful days. On Monday, a member of the Puerto Rican Independence Party introduced formal complaints against the governor and called for his impeachment.
All of this comes as former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and five others have been arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors. Governor Rosselló has also faced backlash against austerity and privatization measures imposed after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests. Here in New York, Melissa Mark-Viverito, interim president of the Latino Victory Project, former speaker of the New York City Council. She was the first person of color and the first Puerto Rican to lead the New York City Council. And with us from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is Juan Carlos Dávila, Democracy Now!’s correspondent in Puerto Rico.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s stay in San Juan for a moment. Juan Carlos, I know we have a big delay between our studio and yours, but if you can just lay out what has been taking place in the streets of San Juan, where you have been, over the last days?
JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: Yeah, so, over the last days, ever since Thursday, there has been a series of protests happening in San Juan to call for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. The protests began last Thursday, when Ricardo Rosselló arrived to Puerto Rico after his vacation in Europe, to actually give a press conference about the first pages of the chats that were filtered. That day, on Thursday, some activist groups called for a protest in front of the governor’s mansion, and people started protesting. And I’d say that that first protest was about—was around dozens of people, maybe 100 people.
But then things continued to escalate as more pages of the chat were released, you know, by the Center for Investigative Journalism, that they received a leak of a document containing a chat of around two months of conversation of the governor with his executive team, almost a 900-page document. And when that document began to be released, more people felt indignated and went to the streets. And across last weekend, more protests took place.
And then, on Monday, a huge protest, in the thousands, you know, happened just in front of the governor’s mansion. And it was a protest of people protesting in front of the governor’s mansion that came together with another one of people marching from the Capitol of Puerto Rico. And the outcome of that protest resulted in the first clash of violence successes here in San Juan. Then, yesterday, we saw a second—you know, we saw the first one on Monday, and then, yesterday, we saw the second event of violence, where the people were—I’m sorry, where the police violently fired tear gas to the protesters that are there demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Melissa, can you talk about your response when you learned of these chats? I mean, you, yourself, were targeted?
MELISSA MARK–VIVERITO: Well, listen, you know, this is an incredibly difficult moment for us as Puertorriqueños and those of us that are watching what is happening to the island. I see a lot of similarities with what is happening with the Rosselló administration with what is happening under the Trump administration. What I do see very differently is the response from the people. We had literally 100,000 people in Puerto Rico yesterday. That would be the equivalent of 300,000 people marching in New York City. This is massive. This is probably the largest, and there’s some initial reports saying it may have been the largest mobilization of people in Puerto Rican history, right?
So, the attacks against me, I don’t take them personally. The attacks against me were attacks against every woman, were attacks against Puerto Rico. Those of us who believe in equality and justice and inclusion were literally attacked on that day. And what was expressed in that chat—and I thank you, Amy, for saying it—I mean, people talk about it as profanity-laden. No, it’s misogynistic. It is homophobic language. These are people that are—
AMY GOODMAN: Attacking Ricky Martin.
MELISSA MARK–VIVERITO: Right, attacking Ricky Martin, attacking—you know, it’s very pervasive. And these people are leading the island, making sure that policies are being implemented, budgets are being passed, issues are being addressed, and they are talking in such violent, vile language.
So people have rebelled. People are saying, “This is not representative of who we are. We reject this resoundingly.” Yesterday was a clear indication of that, and that the governor has no other option but then to resign. And that is in the best interest of Puerto Rico. If he truly does care—and he says that he cares about the people of Puerto Rico and his island—then he needs to resign, in the best interest of all Puerto Ricans.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would happen next? I mean, you have a situation where the person who was supposed to follow him also is gone.
MELISSA MARK–VIVERITO: Yes. So, I think that there—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that’s all about.
MELISSA MARK–VIVERITO: Right. So, there is no special election clause in Puerto Rico. Right? So, usually, it is—what would happen next is the next line of succession would be the secretary of state, who has resigned in these days, so there is a vacancy there. So, there is some internal conversation, I’m sure, and crisis happening within the party that he represents, that is figuring out what to do. Right?
So, if the governor does not resign—and again, his staff reiterated that he refuses to resign—then what was going to happen, most probably, is that the pressure is going to fall on the Legislature to start the process of impeachment. And so, I believe that the pressure is just—I’m hoping, right? The expectation is that the pressure will get to be so overwhelming and that the Legislature would rather not have to deal with this—the Legislature is dominated, both houses, by the party of the governor—that there will probably be pressure on him to have to withdraw and resign.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Melissa Mark-Viverito was the first Puerto Rican New York City Council leader. She was one of the targets of what’s called “RickyLeaks” right now, which is the text messages on the messaging app Telegram, being released of the governor of Puerto Rico and his aides, where, among others, Melissa Mark-Viverito was attacked. They joked about shooting the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, and other attacks, on everyone from Ricky Martin to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who brought Hamilton to Puerto Rico to raise money for Hurricane Maria survivors. This is Democracy Now! We’re going to go back to San Juan and stay with Melissa Mark-Viverito in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: “Sharpening the Knives,” released Wednesday by Residente, iLe and Bad Bunny, in protest of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his administration. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets Wednesday and, before that, Tuesday, calling for the resignation of Governor Rosselló, following the leak of a series of sexist, violent, homophobic messages between the governor and members of his Cabinet, that included jokes about victims of Hurricane Maria. This is history [teacher] Lourdes Torres, who joined protests in San Juan.
LOURDES TORRES: [translated] The level of corruption and misbehavior that the governor had with the group of corrupts and vultures gets transferred to the management of the Department of Education alongside the secretary. So, the demand: his resignation and jail time for the guilty and corrupts. We want jail time for Julia Keleher. It is not reasonable for us that she reaches a negotiation with anyone. We want her to do jail time. All of the corruption scheme and misuse of funds must result in jail time, as the law states.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to stay in the streets of San Juan with Democracy Now!’s Juan Carlos Dávila, who has been reporting from the streets there, filming everything that he is seeing, has been there for years covering the protests in Puerto Rico. Juan Carlos, if you can talk about how this movement now, calling for the toppling, the resignation of Governor Rosselló, is feeding on frustration that has been building for quite some time? And also talk about the behavior of the police in responding to these mass protests of thousands. We have a big delay here.
JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: Yeah. Yeah, so, really, these protests that are happening right now against Ricardo Rosselló and calling for his resignation are really a catalyst moment, you know, and a catalyst moment in Puerto Rican current history, where the Telegram messages and the chats that were released actually made that catalyst happen, because you can see the hypocrisy of the governor, particularly how he handles, you know, he administers the country, you know, how–the hypocrisy within members of his own party, you know, really showing a two-face of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
So, really, I mean, you would ask why the protests did not happen before, why right now, you know, when all of this debt and all these austerity measures and the lack of response after Hurricane Maria? So, like I said, you know, this has been an accumulation of many dissatisfactions of the Puerto Rican people. And I think what is different of this protest is that Ricky Rosselló—the anger was able to be directed at him specifically. You know, so his figure consolidates all of this, consolidates the corruption of Puerto Rico, consolidates years of years of neoliberal policies that have been implemented in Puerto Rico, consolidates also and shows the lack of respect that most Puerto Rican politicians have for the people. So, really, what this chat that was released is showing is all of these frustrations that for many years the Puerto Ricans have felt, you know? But this is something that has been built up for years. You know, this is the legacy of colonialism of and the legacy of U.S. occupation in Puerto Rican territory. This is the legacy, like I said, of many years of neoliberal policies implemented in Puerto Rico. And this is also the lack of response in regards to Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma.
And then, also, we need to also recognize the work that social movement organizations have been doing for the last years, you know, that they have been able to put out the message there about the corruption, about the illegality of Puerto Rico’s debt, and also put out there the problem that Puerto Ricans have with colonialism. So, I think that right now all of those problems actually came together, and people can see them very tangible with the chats, in the Telegram chat that was released, that document.
And in regards to police misbehavior, I mean, this is far—I mean, as far as me covering protests here in Puerto Rico, this is the most violent actions from the part of the police that I’ve seen here. You know, just last night, I got a police pointed to me at my chest with a rifle that shoots tear gas canisters, you know? And I got really scared, because they have actually shot the tear canisters directly to people here, not necessarily just to the air like they’re supposed to, you know? Or, I mean, they’re not supposed to do that, first of all, because it’s also a residential area. So, one of the things here, you know, there’s an abusive excess of force being used here in Puerto Rico. And it’s very important to say that, first of all, that this area where the protests are taking place, the protests in front of the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan, is also a residential area, so people live there. So, also, that tear gas is not only in the streets; it’s also getting into people’s houses, you know, affecting her health. Many elder people live there in Old San Juan, and many families live in Old San Juan.
And the protesters have been protesting peacefully, you know, and what they just want to make clear is that they’re not going to leave Old San Juan, and they’re not going to leave protesting from the governor’s mansion until he resigns. But then what has been happening is that the police have been using an excessive use of force to actually, you know, oppress the protesters, that are really just exercising their right of freedom of speech and actually their democracy, of being dissatisfied and their democratic right of being dissatisfied with the governor and ask for his resignation. And what I’ve seen here, you know, is really heartbreaking, seeing how the police is really, really shooting so much tear gas as the protesters are committed to be there for—you know, to reclaim their freedom of speech, their freedom of expression, and to use—to make use of their democratic right of protest.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Juan Carlos—I mean, sorry, Melissa, can you respond to what Juan Carlos said? And what do you think it will take for him to leave?
MELISSA MARK–VIVERITO: So, let’s be clear, these are very important points. In the chat, what was also divulged was that government resources, one, were being used against opponents. Sound familiar? It was going after the press for negative coverage. Sound familiar? So there’s probably criminal conspiracy.
Or the other one that was revealed was that they were going after the federal monitor. The police department has a federal monitor in place because of past practices of abuse. And they were going after and utilizing resources of the government to attack and undermining the work of the federal monitor, which now demonstrates, I believe, that now the police department is closing ranks with the governor. Right? So this is really serious in terms of what has been revealed in the chat.
Also, pay to play. Sound familiar? Utilizing government resources to benefit those that supported your campaign. A lot of similarities, again, with what we’re witnessing here, with the Trump administration, right?
And so, what has—what is very different is the fact that people are on the streets. People are protesting and saying, “We don’t accept this. We need this governor to resign.” And so, the pressure, I think, is going to get overwhelming. And so, that’s critically, critically important. And I think that we arrived.
The last thing I’ll say, as those of us in the diaspora that are leaders and are working to raise support and build coalitions to support Puerto Rico, our job obviously has gotten a lot tougher. But we have to close ranks and make sure that we continue to support Puerto Rico, because there is a real conversation. The Trump administration has been hostile to Puerto Rico, has used any opportunity to try to withdraw and take away funds that have been designated for Puerto Rico. And there’s already conversations within the Republicans to figure out how they can put more barriers to the receiving of these funds.
And then, the other thing, those of us that are working to mobilize communities to come out and vote, we need our Democratic leadership to step up and support and speak to the Puerto Rican people. This is a historic moment for us. And so, if we want to mobilize the Puerto Rican community in Florida, if we want to mobilize the Puerto Rican community that votes in primaries on the island, we do need the support and solidarity of the Democrats and Democratic leadership. And I think that that’s something that definitely we would like to see.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue, of course, to follow this story, and we’ll be speaking with the Puerto Rican Center for Investigative Journalism, that broke this story wide open, based in San Juan. Melissa Mark-Viverito, thanks so much for being with us, interim president of the Latino Victory Project, former head of the New York City Council, first Latino and woman of color to head the New York City Council. And thanks so much to Juan Carlos Dávila, Democracy Now!’s correspondent in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
When we come back, for five years, Waad al-Kateab documented her life and the lives around her in war-torn Syria to make an astounding award-winning documentary called For Sama. She and her husband, Dr. Hamza, join us in a moment. Stay with us.