Half-a-Million Angry Protesters Demand Rossello’s Resignation
After almost 900 pages of private chat messages between Governor Ricardo Rossello and his aides were published, citizens of Puerto Rico began to express their outrage at the contents of the chat messages.
In the chats, Rossello and his aides talked disparagingly about victims of hurricanes Irma and Maria; they made homophobic remarks about the Puerto Rican LGBTQ population—which included beloved native Puerto Rican, Ricky Martin. One of the chats contained a “playful” threat to shoot Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan. Just before the chat messages were made public, the FBI arrested two government officials in Rossello’s administration, on unrelated corruption charges.
In response, 500,000 residents took to San Juan’s streets to demand “Ricky Renuncia” resign. A significant number of the protesters were young, angry people vowing to stay in the streets until Rossello resigned.
Protesters were unionized, unemployed, old, young, black and white. The protesters clogged a six-lane highway, effectively forcing it to shut down.
Tourism and businesses took quite a toll from the protests. Cruise ships were turned away and as passengers were not allowed to disembark from the ships. In San Juan businesses closed; San Juan restaurants prepared and handed out food and water, expressing solidarity with the protesters.
Puerto Rico Legislature Threatens Impeachment
Rumors began floating around that Rossello was expected to resign; he stayed in office. Two days later, Puerto Rican news outlets reported Rossello was expected to resign later in the day. Nothing happened.
The Puerto Rican Legislature stepped in, threatening to initiate impeachment proceedings against the governor unless he resigned. Late that night, Rossello finally gave up, offering to resign on August 2, 2019.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters who were still on the streets of San Juan began to light fireworks, cheering the good news.
Protests Crossed Political, Ideological Spectrums
Since July the protests in San Juan have calmed down, but things still remain on edge. On August 7th, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez was sworn in as governor. She was the third governor sworn in after the resignation of Rossello. This has renewed some protests since many Puerto Ricans view Vázquez as an extension of Ricardo Rosselló.
The entire uprising was triggered by the publication of the private chat messages. Residents didn’t like the disparaging tone the messages contained. They felt betrayed after struggling for years with poverty, an island debt crisis, government corruption and almost 3,000 deaths related to the hurricanes, which still haven’t been acknowledged by the government.