Leaked Documents Prompt Massive Protests In Puerto Rico, Calls For Governor’s Resignation
“I have not committed an illegal act and I have not committed an act of corruption. I committed some improper acts and I asked forgiveness for that,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
Puerto Rico’s political crisis is unraveling at a rapid pace, as leaked private messages between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and nine members of his administration revealed an internal culture of immaturity, callousness, and misogyny among the U.S. territory’s most powerful public officials, triggering thousands of citizens to march in San Juan and call for the governor’s resignation.
The 889 pages of a leaked private chat proved to be a breaking point after six former officials were arrested by the FBI on charges of fraud last week. Citizens are widely enraged with the government’s corruption-plagued response to Hurricane Maria, which killed thousands of people and devastated the island’s long-neglected infrastructure.
Rose Cortés Santos, a history teacher studying archaeology for her Master’s degree at the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, spoke to Citizen Truth about her perspective on the situation:
“The current situation is the result of many years of terrible decisions, bad government and disrespectful behavior from political leaders to the people. To me (and I’m sure that for many other Puerto Ricans) the importance of this protest is that for the first time we have all the evidence of the bad actions of political leaders displayed in a group chat, and it’s so embarrassing to recognize that a bunch of leaked images of those conversations was the final push we all needed it to stand against all the damage the government has done.”
Puerto Rico Governor Refuses to Resign
On Tuesday, Governor Rosselló reiterated that he would not resign despite the intensifying protests.
“I have not committed an illegal act and I have not committed an act of corruption,” the governor said. “I committed some improper acts and I asked forgiveness for that.”
Critics argue the pervasive corruption in Rosselló’s administration casts doubt on his claims of innocence. Among the 6 members of his cabinet arrested last week are 32 counts of money laundering, wire fraud, conspiracy, and theft altogether.
The scandal has led to the resignation of two members of the governor’s cabinet: Sobrino Vega, the former chief financial officer, and Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin.
In one of the leaks, Vega joked about wanting to shoot San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín-Cruz, writing “I am salivating to shoot her.”
“Everybody knows that after the hurricane the island was devastated,” Ms. Cortés Santos told Citizen Truth. “Now we know that while the people were struggling to keep on track the government was more focused on telling the local and international press that all the agencies were working, when the truth is, and now we know, that they worked slowly or did not work at all.”
Second-Class Treatment of Puerto Rico
The political crisis complicates Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy plan, a long-sought-after debt restructuring that would aim to alleviate harsh austerity measures, such as pension cuts, slashed minimum wages, and the closure of hundreds of schools, that are burdening the island’s already-struggling population.
Puerto Rico’s history as a colony of the United States is inextricable from its second-class treatment under the federal government, and many argue its debt was accumulated illegally by predatory hedge funds and financial firms. In 2016 the U.S. imposed the Financial Oversight and Management Board on Puerto Rico to shape the territory’s public policy around paying creditors, diluting the power of elected officials and exacerbating the pain caused by Hurricane Maria.
These measures were taken despite the fact that the U.S. is in three times as much per capita debt as Puerto Rico. The U.S. is in $22 trillion dollars of debt, while Puerto Rico is in $73 billion.
President Trump’s deputy press secretary Judd Deere spoke on the situation Tuesday, using it to steer blame for the egregious mismanagement of Hurricane Maria relief efforts away from the president and towards the territory’s government: “the unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid.
“We remain committed to Puerto Rico’s recovery and steadfast in protecting taxpayers and the Puerto Rico survivors from political corruption and financial abuse,” Deere continued.
Trump has been reluctant to distribute federal aid to the island, prompting the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to open an investigation into potential White House interference in March. In May, the inspector general said his department had “unreasonably” delayed producing documentation on its handling of Puerto Rico disaster relief funding.
As Rosselló lingers after what most observers consider an irredeemable blow to his credibility, it is clear the island has arrived at a historical turning point. If the governor resigns, it will be the first time Puerto Rico chooses a governor outside of elections.
Puerto Rican musician Bad Bunny will be leading protests on Wednesday, according to NPR journalist Adrian Florido. Ricky Martin, who was the subject of homophobic jokes in the leaked messages, will also be attending the protests, which are expected to continue throughout the week.