Nearly 100,000 Demand Puerto Rico Governor Resign Over Lewd Texts, Corruption

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.

TRANSCRIPT

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.

LINMANUEL MIRANDA: Every step he takes now should be about the peaceful transition of transition and getting out of office. … You 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 MARKVIVERITO: [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 MARKVIVERITO: 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 MARKVIVERITO: 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 MARKVIVERITO: Yes. So, I think that there —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that’s all about.

MELISSA MARKVIVERITO: 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.