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Puerto Rico's Governor Resists Calls To Resign As Protests Against Him Grow


The governor of Puerto Rico is resisting calls to resign, even as protests against his government grow. Demonstrators over the weekend surrounded the governor's residence in San Juan. They vowed to stay until the governor steps down. This follows the publication of private text messages between the governor and his inner circle; messages that were both profane and offensive. Adrian Florido from NPR's Code Switch podcast has more from San Juan.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The nearly 900 pages of leaked messages show the governor and top officials in his administration repeatedly using misogynistic, homophobic and other distasteful language to insult women and political opponents. After Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published the texts on Saturday, most of the governor's political allies withdrew their support. This morning, the governor was interviewed on a local radio station.


RICARDO ROSSELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I've asked everyone for forgiveness," he said. But much of the public has not been in a forgiving mood. Since the chat was published, demonstrators have been surrounding his official residence, demanding that he step down.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

FLORIDO: The protests have not let up.

MILDRED DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "The time has come for us to take to the streets," said Mildred Diaz, a retired schoolteacher. "Enough of this abuse from our government," she said, "from this corrupt governor." In addition to misogyny and homophobia, the texts include conversations about how to manipulate public opinion and how to discredit the work of the federal police monitor.

DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "This has been an awakening," Diaz said. In these last three or four days, "I've seen people angrier and more indignant than I've seen in a long time." Miosotis Cortes said she and her partner have been taking turns reading the text messages out loud to each other. They consider it their patriotic duty.

MIOSOTIS CORTES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Cortes said they were on Page 400 or so. The worst part was seeing how the governor and his inner circle cracked jokes about the many struggles facing Puerto Ricans. In one text, the governor's chief financial officer cracks a joke about the dead bodies that piled up in a government facility before and after Hurricane Maria.

CORTES: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "You can see that our politicians lack humanity," Cortes said. "They lack decency." The publication of the texts was like a spark that set off pent-up anger and frustration that many Puerto Ricans feel over the direction their island is taking. Puerto Rico is in the 13th year of a recession and in massive debt. The governor and a federal control board have slashed public services and moved to privatize many public assets, like the power grid, schools, roadways. Many people fear these policies will widen the gap between the island's rich and poor. Making matters worse for the governor was that just days before the chat scandal erupted, the FBI arrested two former officials in his administration for allegedly steering lucrative contracts to friends and political allies.


ROSSELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Speaking on the radio this morning, the governor admitted his credibility is battered. But he insisted, I have to lift myself up, and I have to move forward to do what's best for Puerto Rico. After initially discussing removing the governor from office, legislative leaders said Sunday night they wanted to give Rossello some time for, quote, "introspection." But protesters said they planned to keep up the pressure with more demonstrations scheduled this evening.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.