Massive protests held in Puerto Rico after governor refuses to step down

Puerto Rico protestersImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters gathered to march on one of the island’s busiest highways

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Puerto Rico to demand the resignation of the island’s embattled governor, Ricardo Rosselló.

It comes a day after Mr Rosselló said he would not step down over a leaked online chat in which he and top aides exchanged obscenity-laced messages.

The texts included homophobic slurs as well as insults about victims of the deadly Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Monday’s protest is expected to be the largest in the US territory’s history.

Despite Mr Rosselló saying he would leave office next year, at the end of his term, protesters have said he must stand down immediately.

They also accuse him of failing to rebuild the territory, which was devastated by a hurricane two years ago.

Asked about the matter, US President Donald Trump said Mr Rosselló was “a terrible governor”.

“You have totally grossly incompetent leadership at the top of Puerto Rico,” he told reporters at the White House. “The leadership is corrupt and incompetent.”

Footage early on Monday morning showed crowded trains headed to the capital, and long lines of protesters preparing to march in the sweltering Caribbean heat.

Some protesters were seen blocking highways while chanting “Ricky resign”. The hashtags #RickyRenuncia (“Ricky resign”) and #ParoNacional (national strike) both trended on Twitter.

Experts predicted the crowd size would eclipse the largest protest in the island’s history 15 years ago, when Puerto Ricans successfully petitioned the US military to end training missions on the island of Vieques.

Image copyright Getty Images

What are the secret messages?

The chat, which contained 880 pages of exchanges between the governor and 11 all-male allies, was leaked on 13 July and has led to days of protests outside the governor’s mansion in San Juan.

Several of the texts mock victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017, and may have led to more than 4,000 deaths.

In one instance, Mr Rosselló criticised the former speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, saying people should “beat up that whore”.

When the nation’s chief fiscal office wrote that he was “salivating to shoot” the mayor of San Juan, Mr Rosselló replied: “You’d be doing me a grand favour.”

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Media captionRicky Martin gave his support to Puerto Rican protesters

What has the governor said?

On Sunday, the 40-year-old governor refused to resign, but said he would step down as leader of the New Progressive Party, a Puerto Rican political party which advocates for US statehood.

In an attempt to appease protesters, he said he would not seek re-election.

“I hear you,” Mr Rosselló said in a Facebook video. “I have made mistakes and I have apologised.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ricardo Rosselló apologised on Sunday

“I know that apologising is not enough,” he said.

“A significant sector of the population has been protesting for days. I’m aware of the dissatisfaction and discomfort they feel. Only my work will help restore the trust of these sectors.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters are calling for Mr Rosselló to step down over the leaked chats as well as allegations of government corruption

What has the reaction been?

The island’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, called on the governor to resign in its Monday editorial.

“Puerto Rico has spoken up, not only as a strong, broad and united voice, but as the right voice,” the editorial said. “With a gesture of nobility and humility, Governor, it is time to listen to the people. You have to resign.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said in a Twitter message on Monday: “They can’t deny it: The power is in the street.”

Singer Ricky Martin, who was targeted in the secret messages, was among those calling for the governor to resign, as well as Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and reggaeton star Bad Bunny.

“They mocked our dead, they mocked women, they mocked the LGBT community, they made fun of people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity. It’s enough. This cannot be,” Martin said in a video on Twitter.