Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans packed the streets of San Juan Monday to renew demands that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign amid a scandal triggered by the leak of offensive chat messages between him and advisers.
A sea of people waving flags, chanting slogans and banging pots and pans jammed a major highway in the latest in more than a week of sometimes violent protests in the capital and elsewhere in the US territory.
The crowd surged along the Americas Expressway despite the punishing heat — toddlers, teens, professionals and the elderly, all dripping sweat and smiling as they waved Puerto Rican flags and hoisted signs.
“This is to show that the people respect themselves,” said one protester, Ana Carrasquillo, 26. “We’ve put up with corruption for so many years.”
“These governments are corrupt governments,” said another marcher, Martin Gonzalez. “The people must make themselves be respected. And we take to the streets to be respected.”
Rosselló, who took office in January 2017, has refused to resign but announced on Sunday that he would not seek re-election when his terms ends in 18 months and would relinquish his role as head of the New Progressive Party.
Still, those concessions did nothing to diminish Monday’s crowd, which called for him to leave office immediately.
“They can’t deny it: The power is in the street,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz tweeted.
The July 13 publication of sexist, homophobic and threatening chat messages between Rosselló and top aides inflamed simmering anger over government corruption and mismanagement, a debt crisis and the slow recovery from Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and led to 3,000 deaths.
Puerto Rican House Speaker Carlos Mendez, part of Rosselló’s party, appointed an independent panel on Friday to investigate whether the messages warranted impeachment.
Rosselló’s administration has been dogged by corruption allegations, with six people, including two former high-ranking officials, charged with conspiracy and other crimes involving millions of dollars in federal Medicaid and education funds.
And the island’s roiling financial crisis has left it $74 billion in debt, with another $49 billion in pension obligations, raising concerns among US lawmakers.
On Monday, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, called on Rosselló to resign.
“Puerto Rico has spoken up, not only as a strong, broad and united voice but as the right voice,” it said in an editorial.
Rosselló, meanwhile, sat for his first one-on-one interview since the scandal broke, telling Fox News that he assumes responsibility for his actions.
“My commitment is to follow through on some of the efforts that I established for the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.
Asked why he won’t step down now, he replied, “There’s an important component about rule of law and democracy, and I respect that process. We will have, and we will propose, certain mechanisms so that within the future that process can go forward.”
He also said he would address corruption.
“My contention is that I need to work beyond politics so that we can address some of the longstanding problems of corruption here in Puerto Rico and fix that problem,” he said.
At the White House on Monday, President Trump blasted Rosselló, as well as Yulin Cruz, both of whom he feuded with in the aftermath of Maria.
“He’s a terrible governor. You have totally grossly incompetent leadership at the top of Puerto Rico,” Trump said.
“You have an even worse mayor of San Juan. She’s horrible. I think she’s horrible.”
But Trump said he had a great relationship with Puerto Ricans.
“I have a real understanding of Puerto Rico. I’ve had jobs in Puerto Rico. I owned the Miss Universe contest, the pageants, and we had them in Puerto Rico twice,” he said.
Among the Puerto Ricans at Monday’s march were pop star Ricky Martin, who was a target of the leaked chats, meringue singer Olga Tañón and rapper Bad Bunny.
With Post wires
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