Protesters In Puerto Rico Call For The Governor To Resign
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The governor of Puerto Rico faces protests demanding that he resign. Demonstrators have surrounded the governor's residence ever since local media published leaked text messages. In these messages, the governor and his top advisers engage in offensive exchanges. And we should warn you - we're going to quote some of them. And this segment will last about another 3 1/2 minutes.
Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team is in San Juan, where he's done a lot of reporting over the years. Hi there, Adrian.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Who says what in these messages?
FLORIDO: So these messages - they come from a private group chat that the governor, Ricardo Rossello, and several members of his Cabinet and his closest advisers used to communicate over the course of several months late last year, early this year. A few days ago, someone with access started leaking them, page by page, to the local media. And then on Saturday, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism obtained all 900 pages and published them.
And they're - they can get pretty bad. In one instance, the governor calls the ex-speaker of the New York City Council the Spanish word for whore. He and his advisers - they insult journalists. They talk about discrediting the work of a federal police monitor. One of his advisers even makes a joke about the dead bodies that were piling up at a government facility before and after Hurricane Maria, which is obviously a very sensitive topic, still, here in Puerto Rico, more than - almost two years after the hurricane. And there are 900 pages of this stuff, so it goes on and on.
INSKEEP: Yeah. I have to mention - we're in this environment in which all kinds of things have been said in public and are in the news every single day. But I guess the fact of 900 pages puts this in a different category somehow.
FLORIDO: Yeah, and, you know, here in Puerto Rico, there is - there's a - there are a lot of crises. I mean, the island is trying to recover from an economic crisis. It's still rebuilding from Hurricane Maria. There have been a lot of budget cuts that have made it really hard for people to - here just to get by.
And so, you know, there's a lot of work that needs to be done, and there are a lot of people who are protester for the government to do what it needs to do to get people out of this hole. And I think to see the governor and his top advisers often making light of the situation, making fun of people - you know, it just - it became too much. And it sort of is what starts and drive these protests. People just got really angry about it.
INSKEEP: Well, that raises an interesting point. Wasn't Governor Rossello already in some trouble?
FLORIDO: Yeah. Last week, the FBI - he himself wasn't in trouble legally, but politically he was because last week, the FBI arrested two of his recently resigned top officials, the education secretary and the woman who had been charged with administering the government's health insurance plan. And they were charged for steering these lucrative contracts, allegedly, to friends or businessmen with political connections.
This was a big stain on the government's reputation because he has made this big point of trying to project an image of transparency and competence, in part because President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused Puerto Rican officials of being corrupt as justification for trying to withhold money that Puerto Rico still needs to recover from Hurricane Maria. So the image that Puerto Rico projects to the United States is very important here. It's really been one black eye after another for the governor.
INSKEEP: Does he still have some signs of support?
FLORIDO: He's lost almost all of his political support within the government, and obviously, there are these huge public protests. There are now talks within the legislature of possibly beginning the process of removing him from office if he (inaudible) step down himself. There's also talk within the media from well-sourced journalists that there might be more chats still to come, which could make this thing explode even bigger.
INSKEEP: Adrian, thanks.
FLORIDO: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Adrian Florido on San Juan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.