Calls intensify for Puerto Rican governor’s resignation following leaked private chats

Posted at 11:42 AM, Jul 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-15 16:37:07-04

Calls for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign are growing after remarks he made in a private group chat were leaked, and more protests are being organized in San Juan.

On Sunday, one man yelled over a microphone, “We will kick you out,” as other protesters filling the street in front of the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan joined him chanting, “Ricky resign!”

Demonstrators say they feel disrespected and deceived. Many believe the chats indicate corruption and that the governor violated their trust, they say.

The Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages from the private group chat via Telegram.

The exchanges between the governor and his inner circle reveal a vengeful approach in running the government — including attacking journalists by discrediting stories and threatening to turn over political opponents to police.

The remarks also include derogatory terms against women — notably former New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — and homophobic comments targeting singer Ricky Martin.

When discussing the federal board responsible for managing Puerto Rico’s financial crisis, Rosselló wrote, “Dear Oversight Board, Go F*** Yourself.”

In the chat, Christian Sobrino Vega, then-Puerto Rico’s chief fiscal officer and Roselló’s representative on the federal board, expressed frustration with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and said he wanted to shoot her.

“You’d be doing me a grand favor,” the governor responded, according to the leaked chats.

Yulín Cruz belongs to the opposition Popular Democratic Party and is running for governor.

Sobrino Vega and Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin, who also participated in the chats, have both resigned.

Rosselló said he will not resign.

“Despite the difficulties that we have internal and external, the work will continue and the agenda will be completed in all areas, social, educational, safety, health, infrastructure, recovery and everything related to the financial situation that is a high priority among others,” he said.

“You do not give up on work already started, and today, more than ever, a lot of people are counting on my commitment to do so.”

Roselló’s office has not responded to a CNN request for an interview.

The leaks came the same week FBI officials arrested two former officials from Rosselló’s administration as part of a federal corruption investigation.

Education Secretary Julia Keleher and Angela Avila Marrero, executive director of the island’s health insurance administration, had resigned prior to their arrests.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, the American territory’s nonvoting representative in the US Congress, who was also mocked in the group chat, said the governor’s apologies are not enough.

Carlos Johnny Méndez, speaker of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and a member of Rosselló’s New Progressive Party, told a local radio show Monday morning that he’d been in touch with the governor and was pulling back his support.

“There are many issues to address, and we cannot have these distractions,” he said.

Puerto Rico Sen. Aníbal José Torres, who chairs the Popular Democratic Party, has called for an investigation, saying he believes the chats contain ethical and criminal violations.

Many on the island are expressing concern over the politics of the scandal jeopardizing relief aid for the most vulnerable people, who are still trying to rebuild their lives nearly two years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

In April, President Donald Trump called Puerto Rico’s politicians “incompetent or corrupt” in a tweet. He added, “Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess.”

Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira, who also participated in the chats, told CNN on Sunday that he had no control over Trump’s remarks.

“We understand we have challenges ahead, but we feel we are already working to address them,” he said.

If Rosselló were to resign, the law says the secretary of state, a post that is currently empty, is next in line to take the helm, followed by the island’s treasurer.

As for the Puerto Rican diaspora, which includes thousands of people who moved to the States after Hurricane Maria, they are monitoring from afar.

Some, including Mark-Viverito, the ex-New York City Council speaker who the governor insulted, have traveled to the island to join protesters in their calls for the governor to resign.

In Washington D.C., a Tuesday protest is planned in front of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration building.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly referred to the US territory of Puerto Rico as a country.