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Puerto Rico’s Governor Is Pissing Off the Island Even More

Protesters clashed with police, who used tear gas to disperse a crowd that threw bottles and rocks.

by Alex Lubben
Jul 23 2019, 4:40pm

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Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his wife went on the offensive Monday in an attempt to do damage control after more than a week of protests on the island. But demonstrators didn’t seem to care: Hours later, they clashed with police, who used tear gas to disperse a crowd that threw bottles and rocks.

In a televised interview on Fox News on Monday, Rosselló was asked point-blank why he won’t resign, as the island’s protesters have repeatedly demanded. He tried to project that he understood why people were in the streets but that the best move for Puerto Rico was his continued leadership.

“I’ve seen the protests. I’ve heard the people talk. I’ve had a process of introspection,” he told Fox News’ Shepard Smith. “I’ve made a decision. I’m not going to run. I’m not going to seek reelection, that way I can focus on the job at hand.”

Rosselló’s wife, Beatriz, also tried to save face Monday when she visited a women’s shelter in Arecibo hit hard by Hurricane Maria. The island’s lackluster hurricane response has, in part, fueled the protests, as well as a trove of leaked messages between the governor and 11 of his confidants — one of which joked about feeding dead bodies to crows in the wake of the storm.

Rosselló has since apologized for the chats. Puerto Ricans aren’t convinced.

“That wasn’t a mistake,” said Laihany Pontón, 21, said of the leaked chats. “That was the real him, chat after chat, day after day and the leaking of this was just a favor to us so we could finally open our eyes and fight for a better government.”

READ: Protesters were already in the streets when yet another corruption scandal broke

The protesters have been out in the streets every night since the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo published nearly 900 pages of the homophobic, sexist, and otherwise offensive messages last week. That leak came just days after Puerto Rican officials were indicted on charges that they gave out government contracts to favored and unqualified companies.

“It’s not just about the governor and the chat. It’s about so much more,” said Jonathan Meléndez, 28, who attended Monday’s protests. “The Puerto Rican people are exhausted of being lied to.”

The protesters, however, took no notice of the first couple’s rounds. Half a million people, of the 3.2 million on the island, poured into the streets, according to Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día. Some took buses, and even flights, to join what feels like a seismic shift in the island’s politics.

During the day, the protests stayed peaceful while shutting down one of the island’s major highways.

As the demonstrations dragged on into the evening, the protests once again turned violent. Outside La Fortaleza, the centuries-old fortress that serves as the governor’s mansion, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds at around 11 p.m. Monday night.

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A protester in Old San Juan after police fired tear gas on the crowd outside La Fortaleza, the governor’s official residence. (Jeffrey Mercado for VICE News)

Many of the protesters at La Fortaleza had been out in the streets since the protests started last Saturday. They now have some experience dealing with tear gas after last Wednesday’s protests, where cops also used gas. On Monday night, they showed up prepared with goggles and cloths tied over their faces.

They spray-painted buildings with anti-Rosselló graffiti.

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A protester covers her face from tear gas in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Zachary Caldwell for VICE News)

The cops had warned protesters to disperse. When they didn’t, the cops launched tear gas canisters.

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At 11 p.m. ET, after several warnings, authorities moved in on protesters and fired tear gas. Clashes continued for hours up and down the streets of Old San Juan. (Zachary Caldwell for VICE News)

Some of the island’s big names turned out. Singer Ricky Martin sat atop a truck alongside Puerto Rican rapper Residente, as they waved and encouraged the protests. (In the leaked messages, one of Rosselló’s buddies made an offensive comment about Martin’s sexual preference.)

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Ricky Martin and Puerto Rican rapper Residente join the protest demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló. (Jeffrey Mercado for VICE News)

A little rain didn’t deter the crowds. They broke out their umbrellas and huddled under an overpass.

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A protester covers her face from tear gas in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Zachary Caldwell for VICE News)

Despite the fact that likely more people were protesting Monday than voted for him, Rosselló still refuses to step down. El Nuevo Día ran a rare front-page editorial calling for his resignation.

To many Puerto Ricans, even if Rosselló manages to ride out the unrest, the protests will shape his legacy.

“No matter if Ricardo Roselló has a prominent job after being governor of Puerto Rico, he will go into the history books as the abusive governor who didn’t listen to the people and didn’t care about what they wanted,” said Krizianid Vázquez, 30, a Puerto Rican who’s been attending anti-Rosselló protests in Atlanta.

Victoria Leandra contributed to this report.

Cover image: Protesters gather under an overpass to escape the rain during the protests in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday. (Zachary Caldwell for VICE News)

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