by Chris White
Thousands of protesters in Puerto Rico are demanding Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign over corruption charges and what many believe are misogynistic private messages he shared with officials.
Protesters hurled bricks, glass and fireworks, at police Wednesday evening in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Police fired tear gas in response as they attempt to clear the streets. Authorities also shot rubber bullets into the crowd, which included celebrities such as Ricky Martin and award-winning actor Benicio Del Toro.
People have lit up the streets for five consecutive days, urging Rosselló to resign in the wake of corruption charges and the leaking of a private correspondence between him and close associates. The messages reportedly include misogynistic and homophobic comments, as well as cynical comments about deaths following Hurricane Maria.
Martin and the other celebrities asked participants to protest peacefully. “Puerto Rico, say present without fear. Let’s march in peace and remain firm and assertive,” he told NBC reporters Wednesday. “When Puerto Rico unites, we accomplish wonderful things and we can change the course of history.” Del Toro made similar comments.
“I’m here in support of the people of Puerto Rico,” he said during the rally. Others flocked to social media to voice their opposition to Rosselló, who is an advocate of making Puerto Rico a free state.
“They made fun of our dead! Not even in the chats that I’m in with my friends I talk about the people in my country like that,” René Pérez Joglar, a Grammy-winning artist, told reporters in Spanish ahead of Wednesday’s rally. “People are angry with the things that the people in this Cabinet have done… The people don’t want him there!”
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 18, 2019
Corruption charges have plagued the American territory for years. Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy in May 2017 and recently closed nearly 200 schools to save $7 million, while simultaneously issuing 107 consulting contracts since January to questionable recipients, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported in 2017.
Puerto Rico spent $256 billion in federal funds from 1990 through 2009, but only collected $74 billion in tax revenue. The U.S. territory is required to prioritize its payments to creditors unless the funds go to essential services.
Democratic Rep. Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, chair of the House Natural Resource Committee, demanded Rosselló step down Wednesday after the FBI arrested two of his former officials on corruption charges.
Authorities charged Angela Avila-Marrero, who previously served as the executive director of the island’s Health Insurance Administration, and Julia Keleher, former education secretary, in a 32-count federal indictment, which accuses both officials of directing federal funding to contractors with political connections.
Prosecutors say Rosselló himself is not involved in the investigation. President Donald Trump has long accused Puerto Rico’s government of rampant corruption, and now officials on the island worry the indictments will give the White House more leeway to withhold funds.
Trump’s critics believe the corruption charges and Rosselló’s behavior will make it more difficult for federal officials to secure funding for Puerto Rico. U.S. lawmakers managed to pass a $19 billion aid package that gave financial relief to the island and other states hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters.
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