Protesters flooded the streets of Puerto Rico Monday to protest Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who refuses to step down over a profane and slur-filled online chat as well as federal corruption charges leveled against his administration. Rosselló announced Sunday night he will not seek reelection, but stopped short of resigning.
A political crisis has swept the Caribbean island — home to approximately 3.2 million U.S. citizens — since a non-profit journalism group published a trove of messages in which Rosselló and his top lieutenants mocked political opponents, talked about retaliating against journalists and made sexist and homophobic remarks.
A recent report also alleges a multi-billion dollar corruption network is behind the group chat, where public funds were used to influence and benefit private clients and the Puerto Rican government.
The scandal prompted the resignation of several officials, including his secretary of state and chief financial officer.
CBS News’ David Begnaud is reporting from San Juan to cover the protests.
Puerto Rican celebrities attend and support protestors
A number of Puerto Rican celebrities have joined the protest crowds. The list of public figures includes pop singer Ricky Martin, a target of the governor’s inappropriate text messages; meringue singer Olga TaInDon, rapper Bad Bunny, and boxing champion Felix Trinidad.
“I want to feel the power of the people,” Martin, 47, said in a Facebook video, urging legislative leaders to start an impeachment process.
Protests numbers continue to grow
CBS News is on the ground in Puerto Rico and estimates the crowd protesting the governor in San Juan is growing. CBS News’ David Begnaud is filming footage of the protests that include cheering people, waving Puerto Rican flags, and ringing cowbells.
Begnaud has footage that shows the extent of the crowd, which is so extensive it spans the width of San Juan’s main expressway.
“There is something incredible to be with people so unified”
CBS News’ David Begnaud reports that the crowd of protestors have descended on the largest expressway in San Juan and on the main mall of San Juan, Plaza Las Americas.
“The size of this crowd is absolutely enormous,” Begnaud told CBSN’s Anne-Marie Green. “It is loud. It is peaceful. People range from millennials, to grandparents, to teachers, to bikers, to truckers, to doctors, to librarians.”
“There is something incredible to be with people so unified,” Begnaud said, as he walked in the middle of the expressway.
Protests have rocked San Juan
After Governor Rossello’s announcement that he will not step down, protesters blocked the only entrance to a government building in Guaynabo where the governor had met with mayors from his party. The governor was able to get out but some lawmakers were trapped. The police moved in after a couple of hours using smoke bombs and pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
Protesters in San Juan are saying Monday’s demonstration will be the biggest yet since this scandal broke. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to shut down the main highway that links the capital with the rest of the island.
CBS News’ David Begnaud is live in San Juan at the protests.
Governor said he won’t seek re-election
Puerto Rico’s beleaguered Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced on Sunday he will not seek reelection next year and will relinquish his role as the head of one of the main political parties on the island.
But he vowed to stay in office for the remainder of his term, despite days of large-scale protests calling for his immediate resignation. For nine straight days, thousands of protestors have been calling for his immediate resignation.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans are expected to block the main artery into the capital of San Juan on Monday. Former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of Rosselló’s targets, told CBS News: “The only choice he has is to resign.”
“It was shameful”: Puerto Rico’s governor responds to scandal
Last week, Puerto Rico’s embattled Governor Ricardo Rosselló apologized for his role in a vulgar group chat that included profane, homophobic and sexist comments, in a question-and-answer session from CBS News’ David Begnaud.
When asked by Begnaud if the content of the leaked messages was illegal, Rosselló said in response that it was “improper. I recognize it was improper, it was shameful. I’m going to everything I can do in my power to have conversations with groups I have hurt, not only personally but on a group basis, and start a healing process with it.”
Governor Rosselló embroiled in scandal
Midway through July, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published excerpts of a private chat involving the Governor of Puerto Rico. The leaked chat room conversations among Rosselló and 11 others are laced with profane, homophobic and sexist comments, and in one case even a death threat against San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
The governor’s chief financial officer, Christian Sobrino, wrote “I’m dying to shoot her up.” Rosselló replied “You’d be doing me a big favor.”
At another point, he called former New York City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito the Spanish word for “whore” and in English told a federal control board overseeing the island’s finance to “go f— yourself” that were followed with emojis of a raised middle finger.
Residents on the islands were outraged, and protests have continued over many days. The island has struggled to recover from Hurricane Maria in 2017, and Rosselló’s administration has been plagued by scandals involving funding.