Puerto Rico Governor Urged to Resign After Profanity-Laced Chats
(Bloomberg) -- The administration of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, under pressure after the arrest of two former officials and accusations of impropriety, drew fresh criticism as leaked, profanity-filled chats between the governor and his top aides led to calls for his resignation.
Over the weekend, key allies distanced themselves from Rossello, 40, casting doubt on his ability to build enough support to stay in office until elections next year.
Rossello’s woes deepened after publication of chats, taken from the messaging service Telegram, that cast the governor and his aides as profane, vengeful and cruel, mocking his political opponents with often misogynistic and homophobic slurs, openly fantasizing about an assassination of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and heaping ridicule on ordinary Puerto Ricans the government came into contact with.
The scandals may undercut Rossello as he fights for his budget with the oversight board and seeks release of U.S. aid from President Donald Trump’s administration to rebuild from Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is in negotiations with holders of about $18 billion of government’s debt, the last major chunk that it is seeking to have reduced in bankruptcy.
“This government is near collapse,” said Juan Lara, an economist at the University of Puerto Rico. “The way things are happening now, it’s very hard to see them getting control of the situation. They will try to repaint the facade, but I don’t think they can.”
The chats emerged slowly last week, then on Saturday the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo -- the Center for Investigative Journalism -- posted almost 900 pages of the discussions on its website.
The disclosure led the head of Puerto Rico’s lower house in Congress, Carlos Johnny Méndez -- a member of Rossello’s Partido Nuevo Progresista -- to say he had lost confidence and asked the governor to “reassess” his position. A group of PNP mayors made a similar statement. Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress and a PNP member, said Rossello ”should not stand for re-election.”
The opposition Partido Popular Democratico joined the PNP in denouncing Rossello, with former PPD governor Sila María Calderón telling the local paper El Nuevo Dia the governor “does not have the moral force to govern.”
After the chats emerged, Mayor Yulin Cruz filed a police complaint against Rossello and Christian Sobrino, the government’s chief financial officer and representative to the congressionally mandated fiscal oversight board handling the island’s finances, for Sobrino’s comments suggesting he was “salivating” at the idea of shooting her, to which Rossello responded: “You would be doing me a favor.” Sobrino resigned his posts on Saturday.
On Sunday, about 2,000 protesters marched through the narrow streets of Old San Juan, near the governor’s mansion, calling on “Ricky,” as he is known, to resign. They banged on drums, chanted from soundtracks and were joined by parishioners leaving a church.
“We’re finally at a turning point, not only with Rossello but also with the board,” said 32-year-old Nicole Diaz, pushing her 6-month old son in a stroller. “Maybe we can find a more democratic way forward and an end to impunity,”
Rossello made a surprise stop at a Sun Juan church on Sunday, a visit he streamed as a Facebook live event with the message: “I recognize that I have made mistakes and my commitment has been number one to seek reflection and wisdom of the Almighty.”
The lurid texts were released days after the U.S. Justice Department announced the indictments of Rossello’s former education secretary and health insurance administration director over government contract awards. After the indictment, Rossello on Thursday said he was “ashamed” and “outraged” but vowed to remain in the post he won in 2016.
Rossello’s Treasury Secretary Raul Maldonado was fired last month after disclosing in a radio interview alleged crimes within the department, including influence peddling, issuance of fake licenses, destruction of documents and accessing privileged taxpayer records.
Maldonado’s son, Raul Maldonado Nieves, later said Rossello ordered the auditing firm BDO to change a report on Hurricane Maria aid to remove references showing mismanagement in a relief effort involving his wife, Beatriz. The governor denied the allegations.
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