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UPDATE 7/16 5:22 p.m.: Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló acknowledged the protests and described them as “respectful” Thursday. But he insisted he would not step down. “In the last days, I have asked the the Puerto Rican people to forgive me,” he said.
As protesters swarmed Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s mansion to demand that he resign, even more allegations of corruption in his administration dropped.
Thousands gathered in the streets of San Juan Wednesday night for the fifth consecutive day of #RickyRenuncia protests. They broke through a barricade near the 16th century fortress where the governor lives as cops fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. Celebrities also lent their support — singer Ricky Martin joined the protests alongside trap musician Bad Bunny, as Lin-Manuel Miranda took to the streets in New York.
The crowds were “pissed” — as numerous protestors told media — after nearly 900 pages of homophobic and misogynistic texts between a dozen influential Puerto Rican politicos leaked over the weekend from investigative news outlet, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo. But then, the same outlet reported Wednesday night that the very network of influence behind those chats was responsible for pilfering public funds.
High-ranking government officials and Puerto Rican lobbyists and operatives, some of whom participated in the text message conversations, are involved in a multimillion dollar corruption scheme that sent government contracts to favored companies, according to the report. And that’s just the latest report of corruption and influence-peddling in Puerto Rico: Last week, the FBI arrested two former agency chiefs for allegedly funneling about $15.5 million in big-ticket government contracts to businesses that they favored.
New corruption allegations
High-ranking government officials and Puerto Rican lobbyists and operatives, some of whom participated in the text message conversations, are involved in a multimillion dollar corruption scheme that sent government contracts to favored companies, according to the report. They strategically leaked information that helped facilitate lucrative government contracts with private companies — one of which Rosselló was well aware, according to the report.
For example, a lobbyist who was previously Rosselló’s campaign manager, Elías Sánchez Sifonte, charged up to a 25% commission on the contracts he helped to facilitate — while he had direct access to Rosselló and others close to the top of the Puerto Rican government. Sánchez was operating as a private citizen — he’d left his post on Puerto Rico’s fiscal control board in 2017 — but was still in the now-leaked chat with Rosselló and had direct access to high-ranking government officials.
One of the contracts that he helped to push, two sources told the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, was worth $300 million for a catering company to serve jails on the island, although the company and other officials involved have denied any involvement.
The FBI has reportedly been interviewing people close to Sánchez, according to Puerto Rican newspaper El Vocero.
The corruption and text messaging scandals are, to the Puerto Ricans demonstrating this week, representative of a political system that’s repeatedly failed them. The island is still in the midst of the worst financial crisis its seen in decades — and in the process of trying to restructure its more than $120 billion worth of debt and pension obligations. Puerto Rico is also still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September of 2017, which left parts of the island without power for about a year.
In the leaked texts, Sobrino Vega, a former chief financial officer, joked about the bodies piling up in the aftermath of the storm. “Now that we are on the subject, don't we have some cadavers to feed our crows?” he joked.
“It was about damn time to wake up,” singer iLe said in front of the massive crowd of protesters, according to the New York Times.
Cover image: Police arrest a demonstrator during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)