Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has resisted calls for his resignation amid an escalating political crisis in recent days following the revelation that he and members of his inner circle maintained a profane and prejudicial secret chat group.
The messages began to leak last week and show Rosselló, 40, and 11 others were in the chat, on the messaging app Telegram, according to multiple news reports. The group included current and former government officials.
Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of the messages on Saturday. The log begins in November and goes through Jan. 20, when it appears it was then downloaded and later released to the press.
“The men wrote derisively … about an array of people, including leaders of their party; political critics; members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; the news media … and a blind Cabinet secretary,” The New York Times reports. “The chat also revealed a cozy relationship between Mr. Rosselló and former staff members who now represent special interests.”
The chat members sometimes exchanged “highly confidential” government information, according to the Center for Investigative Journalism.
At one point Rosselló referred to Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former speaker of the New York City Council, as a “whore,” according to CNN.
Christian Sobrino, then a top economic official, mocked Ricky Martin for being gay and said he was “salivating to shoot” the mayor of San Juan, Yulín Cruz, a rival of Rosselló’s. In response to Sobrino’s insult of Cruz, Rosselló responded, “You’d be doing me a grand favor,” and he used an abbreviation to call her a “daughter of a bitch.”
Of Martin, Sobrino wrote: “[He] is such a male chauvinist that he f—- men because women don’t measure up. Pure patriarchy.”
Rosselló also made fun of an overweight man with whom he had taken a photo, according to the Associated Press.
“My apologies to all the people I have offended … This was a private chat,” he said Thursday, the AP reports.
While many have denounced the remarks, and other leading Puerto Rican politicians have said they are not supporting him, Rosselló is not resigning, he said. It is unclear if he will seek re-election in 2020.
However Sobrino and Luis Rivera Marin, the secretary of state, have both resigned, according to CNN.
“It’s not business as usual, I recognize that this is a big hit, and I’m working to remediate it,” Rosselló said Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s business as usual, however I do have to operate the business of running government. And that is what I’m doing and that is what I’d like to communicate to the people of Puerto Rico and anybody who’s watching.”
In a separate statement released by the governor’s office, Rosselló’s wife, Beatriz, urged others not to turn on him. “When my husband has failed, he has accepted it, and with humility he has asked for forgiveness,” she said, according to a translation. “Because it is for honest men to accept mistakes and face, as they always have.”
Every day I see him work, fight, share his family with us, entrust himself to God and continue giving his best,” she continued. “He made a mistake, he understood, and immediately apologized.”
According to the Times, Rosselló said Tuesday a “legal analysis” showed he had not broken any laws in the chat group.
“I feel ashamed by everything being said in these private communications,” said Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s Congresswoman, according to the Times. “The people are disgusted, disappointed by this telenovela.”
“Everyone woke up one day and the governor was spouting vulgarities,” Mario Negrón Portillo, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s school of public administration, told the AP. “There’s nothing worse for a politician than losing legitimacy. I think Ricardo Rosselló has lost legitimacy.”
The secret messages, which have been referred to as “Chatgate” and “RickyLeaks,” catalyzed significant protests against the governor.
Rosselló was reportedly already under scrutiny for his administration’s role in Puerto Rico’s response to Hurricane Maria, his response to the island’s debilitating economic conditions and his posture toward President Donald Trump — an antagonist who has dismissed island officials as incompetent and expressed skepticism about continued federal aid.
Last week, just before the chats were made public, several top Puerto Rico officials were arrested in a corruption probe.
“The unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “We remain committed to Puerto Rico’s recovery and steadfast in protecting taxpayers and the Puerto Rico survivors from political corruption and financial abuse.”
With protests stretching over days, thousands gathered on Monday in San Juan, the capital, where some of them clashed with police and were sprayed with tear gas and shot at with rubber bullets, according to the Times.
More protests were planned for Wednesday as celebrities weighed in, including the singer Bad Bunny and Martin, both of whom are Puerto Rican.
Bunny (né Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio), 25, sang on the protest song “Afilando Los Cuchillos” (“Sharpening the Knives”). Martin, 47, said in a video on Twitter that he would join the other protestors.
“Puerto Rico has already suffered so much,” he said. “And we can’t deal with these leaders any more.”
“I think when Puerto Rico unites, it will be a marvelous thing,” he continued. “We can change history. We have done it and I think this is what is going to happen tomorrow.”