SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Ricans have been in the streets for seven consecutive nights now, chanting “viva Puerto Rico libre” and demanding the resignation of the island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló.
What initially set these protests off was the publication of nearly 900 pages of leaked text messages between Rosselló and some of his closest associates, including a ton of crass homophobic and misogynistic messages.
In those messages, now dubbed “Rickyleaks,” one of Rosselló’s advisers joked about feeding dead bodies, which were overwhelming the morgues in the wake of Hurricane Maria, to crows.
But Puerto Ricans have been suffering for a long time: Between austerity measures imposed to alleviate a ballooning debt crisis and Maria, which left an estimated 4,645 people dead, there’s a feeling that the texts were simply the final straw for Puerto Rican citizens.
“It’s the corruption in the midst of so much suffering and so much vulnerability at an island-wide level,” said Laura Rexach, a radio show host, who’s been out in the streets every day for the last week. “Everyone was suffering day to day.”
Protests began earlier in the week with violent clashes with police, who fired tear gas into the crowds outside the governor’s mansion. By the end of the week, they took on the feel of a street party. Old men reclined in beach chairs and watched as young protesters blasted music and did dances from Fortnite.
To Manuel Natal Albelo, an independent member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, the protests and scandals are something of a vindication. He’s been raising the alarm over what he saw as corruption in Rosselló’s administration for two years.
“The things that we always thought that were going on but we never got the confirmation — now we have them in close to 900 pages of private chats,” Natal said. “And that has provoked so much anger in people. That has to eventually get them to get out of their couch and get onto the streets and protest for what's right.”
Rosselló has issued public apologies since the chats came to light, but he refuses to step down.
The protests, however, show no signs of abating. While the streets of San Juan were quieter on Thursday night after a huge showing on Wednesday, more actions are planned for Monday. The people of Puerto Rico don’t appear to be willing to stand down until Rosselló is removed from office.
“There's no turning back,” said Aliana Bigio Alcoba, a retail worker. “Everything will be different from now on. I'm sure of it."
Cover: Marietere Santos, 27, was silent protesting outside the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza. The tape says "resign" in Spanish. (Photo by Zach Caldwell/VICE News Tonight on HBO)