Motorcyclists descend on Puerto Rican capital, call for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló faces calls to resign after private chats leaked, revealing the men mocking women and victims of Hurricane Maria. Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
A massive group of motorcyclists that swarmed San Juan, Puerto Rico, became the latest to add their thundering voices to calls for the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
The creative expression of protest comes after nearly 900 pages of private chats between the 40-year-old governor and members of his administration leaked, revealing the men mocking women, disabled people and victims of Hurricane Maria.
The scandal, informally known as "Chatgate," erupted a day after Rosselló’s former secretary of education and five other people were arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors.
The bikers that banded together late Wednesday – numbering in the thousands by some estimates – revved up in Canteras around 5 p.m. and wove through residential neighborhoods before arriving on the narrow, cobblestone streets of Old San Juan about seven hours later.
"We won't rest until Ricky leaves power. We can't demand his resignation from the sofa or on social media," El Rey Charliesaid in an interview with local TV station WAPA Noticentro.
The biker protest was part of a larger event in the island’s capital where thousands of people marched to the governor’s residence carrying Puerto Rican flags and chanting demands for his resignation.
The crowd ranged from teenagers to retirees, with some waving the island’s flag printed in black and gray rather than red, white and blue – to symbolize their discontent with a government they say is rife with corruption and scrimping on necessary public services.
Police erected concrete barricades and shop owners covered store windows with metal sheeting or plywood as if a hurricane were coming. The multi-colored umbrellas that form a photogenic awning over the street in front of the governor’s mansion were taken down.
The turnout fell far short of the 100,000 that some Rosselló opponents had hoped for in internet posts. Many older protesters went home before nightfall as chanting young people filled Old San Juan’s Totem Plaza and the first few blocks leading up to the 16th century fortress where the governor resides.
Late Monday, Rosselló released a statement saying he respected the protests and was taking their message into account.
“Unfortunately, despite responsible calls for peaceful demonstrations by many participants, a few others decided to damage public property and assault public officials who tried to preserve order and defend the security and rights of all,” he said.
Karla Villalón has three elementary-age children and an 81-year-old grandmother. Her kids have been uprooted twice in two years when first one school, then another, was closed by budget cuts under Rosselló. Her grandmother, a retired teacher, is anguished over the possibility of losing her pension in future rounds of cutbacks.
“It’s the final straw,” the homemaker said before the. “My kids’ classrooms have mold in them. ... There’s just so much outrage that’s been building over time.”
That feeling rippled across Puerto Rico, where many are angry over what they see as neglect by Washington and the U.S. territory’s own government.
The island is mired in crises. It is struggling to emerge from a debt-driven financial failure and a more than decade-long recession. It needs federal funding to help recover from Hurricane Maria, the 2017 storm that devastated the island’s electrical system and a months-long failure to provide care to the elderly and medically vulnerable.
The outrage erupted after Rosselló’s former secretary of education and five other people were arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors.
Freelance music producer Ise Sonja, 28, said he took to the streets Wednesday because he was fed up with corruption and government ineptitude. “(Hurricane) Maria woke the people up — it outraged us as a people.”
Since the storm, hundreds of schools have been closed to save money and a wide range of social services and pensions are being cut back, or are under threat.
Prominent Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland raised their voices in the call for Rosselló to resign.
Actor Lin-Manuel Miranda led about 200 mostly ethnic Puerto Ricans at a rally in New York’s Union Square on Wednesday. The group waved Puerto Rican flags amid drumbeats, chanting in Spanish: “Long live free Puerto Rico.”
“Puerto Ricans are so numb to politics in America and we get lies from the Trump administration,” Miranda said. But the alleged corruption surrounding the governor of the U.S. territory “is the last straw and Puerto Ricans are standing up against it.”
Singer Ricky Martin said in a video message posted online, “Puerto Rico has suffered so much and we can’t deal with the cynicism of these leaders anymore. Enough already. Enough already.”
Contributing: Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.