By Sean Jackson
Over the weekend, protesters converged in San Juan donning Puerto Rican flags in one of the biggest protests ever seen in a U.S. territory. Protesters came together hoping to collectively force pressure on the island’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign from his office in light of the controversial messages that he posted to a group on the messaging app Telegram. The chat logs were released by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism earlier this month.
Telegram is an encrypted private chat application, which the Puerto Rican governor used to send messages mocking the island’s inhabitants after Hurricane Maria almost two years ago. The messages were sent to a group of eleven members from his inner circle. This comes amid the U.S. territory attempting to recover from a thirteen year long recession, as well as restructuring after procuring close to $70 billion in debt.
The demonstration in San Juan followed an announcement made by Governor Rosselló where he stepped down as leader of the island’s Democratic party. In the video he stated that he would not seek re-election, but would not resign and will finish out his term. The announcement was made in a four-minute Facebook video in which he also agreed with the right of the people to protest, and said he is willing to confront impeachment. Impeachment proceedings have already begun in Puerto Rico’s legislature.
In the Facebook video Rosselló acknowledged making mistakes for which he has apologized in the past, but did not offer any new apologies about his comments. The announcement resulted in more anger from his critics, which further drove the mass response in the streets.
Following the Governor’s announcement, protestors blocked the entrance of the government building in Guaynabo – and while the Governor was able to escape, other lawmakers from his party were stranded. The protesters began to disperse after hours of riot police using crowd control devices such as tear gas and pepper spray.
While police have defended the crippled infrastructure and governmental building across Puerto Rico, reports indicate that up to a million protesters may be expected in the streets across the island territory throughout the coming days.
The choice for the Governor to not step down was not only met by criticism from demonstrators, who have been protesting in the street for 10 consecutive days, but also with top government officials. One official, Gerardo Portela, who is Principal Investment Officer, President of Puerto Rico’s Economic Development Bank, and Executive Director of the Housing Finance Authority submitted a resignation, and spoke Sunday about Rosselló’s decision to not step down, stating, “Unfortunately the events in recent weeks, including the attitudes reflected in the comments of officials and advisers of the current administration, do not match my values and principles.”
The current demonstrations against Rosselló could potentially damage the already fragile economy of the island, with the upheaval deterring at least four cruise liners from making berth over the weekend.
Thousands gathered for another wave of protests today, dubbed the “Marcha del Pueblo”, or “The People’s March” where protesters are expected to virtually halt all activity in San Juan, as well as block main travel access through the Las Américas Expressway.