SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Puerto Rico’s capital Monday for what was expected to swell into the biggest protest in more than a week of public calls for Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s resignation.

Ricardo Rossello

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello speaks during a press conference in La Fortaleza’s Tea Room, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Laura Rodriguez, a music teacher from Caguas who arrived in San Juan around dawn, said she was incensed that Rossello has refused to step down in spite of prolonged demands by a broad cross section of Puerto Ricans. Many people at the protest — grandmas in wheelchairs and teenagers, computer engineers and stay-at-home moms — said the governor’s comments in recently leaked messages were offensive and unforgivable.

“I feel indignation, pure indignation,” said Rodriguez, 34.

In 900 pages of group-chat messages that were published by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, the governor and some of his aides used sexist and misogynistic language, engaged in fat shaming and joked about dead bodies accumulating in the days after Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in September 2017. Three days before the messages were published, two of Rossello’s former Cabinet members were arrested on corruption charges in connection with the directing of about $15.5 million to politically connected businesses.


Thousands of Puerto Ricans gather for what many are expecting to be one of the biggest protests ever seen in the U.S. territory, with irate islanders pledging to drive Gov. Ricardo Rossello from office, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, July 22, 2019. AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Rossello, who is 2 1/2 years into his four-year term, announced Sunday evening that he won’t run for reelection in 2020. But during his short speech, in which he apologized and said he had heard people’s criticisms, he said he intended to stay on the job.

“I am aware of the dissatisfaction and discomfort,” he said during a short speech, which was streamed on Facebook. “I have heard you and I hear you today.”


The governor’s words rang hollow, many protesters said Monday. If he truly heard them, they asked, why was he still their governor? The governor’s refusal to resign disgusted but didn’t surprise Rodriguez. He only cares about himself, she said, not the people he represents.

“He has disrespected us,” she said. “But the pueblo — the people he has abandoned — we will keep packing the streets until he’s gone.”

She teared up during the protest as she thought back to the weeks after Hurricane Maria. She thought about the time she waited in line 16 hours for gas and about her precious students — the students who dropped out after the storm and about those who broke down in tears in her classroom. She thought about their diligence, as they studied by candlelight for nine months, waiting for electricity to be restored in their homes.

As she spoke, many in the crowd clanged on upside-down pots with drum sticks and other protesters danced along. The smell of sunscreen mixed with hot dogs grilling nearby. A man sold small Puerto Rican flags for $3 and people held up signs reading, “Ricky es basura!” referring to the governor as trash.

The crowd showed other signs of discontent and unity.


Protesters are demanding Rossello step down for his involvement in a private chat in which he used profanities to describe an ex-New York City councilwoman and a federal control board overseeing the island’s finance. AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo

One man picked up a newspaper from the ground and stared at a solemn portrait of the governor. He shook his head and ripped it in half. The man selling flags gave one for free to a woman who had no cash.


Alanis Vazquez and her mother, Gloryvee Nieves, a schoolteacher from San Lorenzo, joined the protest in disgust with what they described as government negligence after the hurricane. So many people died in the days and weeks after the storm, Alanis said, because water, food and medication took so long to arrive.

Alanis, 17, had a number written on her right hand — 4,645 — an estimate of the lives lost during and after the hurricane.

“Thanks to the government,” she said, “we suffered much more.”

Both mother and daughter said they believe the governor will resign soon.

“This is historic for Puerto Rico and for the whole world,” Nieves said. “This has united us as one people.”

Omar Silva, guitarist for the reggae band Cultura Profetica, joined protesters Monday, smiling as he stared into the crowd.


“Anyone who says they knew a movement such as this would happen is lying,” he said. “It took us by surprise.”

Nearby, film director Pedro Muniz said he, too, was in awe of the crowd size.


Protesters are demanding Rossello step down for his involvement in a private chat in which he used profanities to describe an ex-New York City councilwoman and a federal control board overseeing the island’s finance. AP Photo/Carlos Giusti

“Three weeks ago,” he said, “I would have never thought that I would see a living revolution in Puerto Rico. This is a revolution without the need to fire one gunshot.”

Muniz said it was foolish for Rossello to insist on keeping his job, adding that he expects the governor will eventually resign.

Nearby, in the shade of a massive Puerto Rican flag, Haydee Silva reflected on the past several days. The 73-year-old retired physical therapist said the governor had somehow managed to insult nearly every Puerto Rican. Women, gay people, victims of the hurricane, fat people, she said, sighing as she ticked off the list.

“He’s an embarrassment,” said Silva, who traveled from Trujillo Alto to the capital with her friends Monday. “He has mocked us, all of us.”

She then waved her hand back and forth, as if bidding him farewell. Goodbye, she said, hopeful that the governor will resign before sundown.

Monday’s demonstration, which was centered near the biggest shopping mall on the island, followed several days of varied protests. Last week, a caravan of motorcycles rumbled from the outskirts of San Juan toward the governor’s official residence, La Fortaleza, and a group of Puerto Rican singers released a song called “Sharpening the Knives,” which offers a searing rebuke of Rossello. On Sunday morning, more than 50 yogis splayed out colorful mats in front of La Fortaleza, chanting mantras and discussing how proud they were to see people uniting on the island.

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