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Puerto Ricans celebrate in the streets after disgraced governor Rosselló resigns

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Protesters are calliing for Puerto Rice governor's resignation
Protesters are calliing for Puerto Rice governor's resignation -
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REUTERS/Gabriella N. Baez
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Puerto Ricans celebrated in the streets on Thursday following Governor Ricardo Rosselló's resignation after 12 days of protests.

Demonstrations began on Saturday after Telegram chats, allegedly between him and nine members of his administration, were leaked.

The chats contain homophobic and misogynistic content as well as jokes about those killed by Hurricane Maria in 2017, according to the Center for Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico (CPI), who obtained the leaks.

The chats are also said to show the manipulation of political polls to improve the public image of the governor and his administration.

"In these chats, there are many people who are not public officials, but privileged information was being shared," Luis J. Valentín, a journalist with CPI, told Euronews. "Partisan political work was also being done during working hours."

The chats reveal derogatory comments against journalists and activist groups such as the Feminist Collective. Other targets of these disparaging conversations are political opponents, especially San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and officers of the Fiscal Control Board, such as its president José Carrión, and its director, Natalia Karesko, according to the CPI.

The chats were leaked the same week that two former officials of the Rosselló administration were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a corruption investigation.

Rosselló said he would resign effective August 2.

Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny lead the protests against the governor

The protesters found the backing of Puerto Rican artists such as Ricky Martin, Benicio del Toro and Bad Bunny.

"I want to pay my respects to all the people who have always had the bravery, courage and initiative to go out into the streets and fight for the sake of our country," singer Bad Bunny wrote on Instagram.

René Pérez said that "this government has already lost the respect of an entire country, if it does not resign, we will take it out".,

Singer Ricky Martin released a heartfelt video on Twitter. "Puerto Rico has already suffered so much. We can't stand more of this cynicism of these political leaders," he said.

Puerto Rico, in the midst of a deep internal political crisis

The political crisis comes at a time when the island is still reeling from Hurricane Maria and is immersed in bankruptcy.

A recovery requires US funds, but scandals such as this, have put a "shadow" on them, said Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico representative in the US House of Representatives. González has also been mocked in the chats.

San Juan's mayor, Yulín Cruz, said that "Telegramgate" or "RickyLeaks" will only increase the distrust of the US.

If Rosselló were to resign, the secretary of state would take over. Currently, the post is empty and the New Progressive Party (NPP), is looking to fill it.

REUTERS/Gabriella N. Baez
Sixth day of protests calling for the resignation of Governor Rossello in San JuanREUTERS/Gabriella N. Baez

How did the scandal begin?

"Chatgate" or "Rickyleaks," broke out a day after some members of the Rossello administration were arrested on charges of directing federal money to unskilled contractors. These include Julia Keleher, former education secretary and Angela Avila Marrero, the former executive director of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, and four others

The Justice Department accused Keleher and Ávila Marrero of illegally directing about €13.5 million ($15.5 million) in federal contracts to politically connected consultants.

The lower house prepares the 'impeachment'

Carlos Méndez, president of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, announced on Wednesday that the legislative entity has initiated contacts with jurists to present a report on the activation of the impeachment process of Rosselló.

Méndez's decision comes after the governor reaffirmed on Wednesday that he will remain in office.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) was the first to present a resolution through its spokesperson in the House of Representatives.

Resolution 1465 aims to initiate the legislative process of "residency", or impeachment provided by the constitution. The resolution was accompanied by a statement that contains the list of crimes imputed to the governor of Puerto Rico.

"The 'residency' is the constitutional mechanism by which the legislative chambers can accuse and prosecute the governor in order to dismiss him from office, under certain circumstances such as bribery, treason, felony or less serious crimes that imply depravity", explains Yanira Reyes Gil, professor of Constitutional Law at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.

The reaction of the White House

Washington said on Tuesday that the scandal "demonstrates" that the US president, Donald Trump, had been right all along to be worried about the management of the island.

"The unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the President's concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. "We remain committed to Puerto Rico's recovery and steadfast in protecting taxpayers and the Puerto Rico survivors from political corruption and financial abuse."

Trump's relationship with the island, which is a US-associated free state, has been strained for a while, because a good part of the Puerto Rican population considers that the president treated them as second-class citizens after Hurricane Maria, which devastated the Caribbean territory in September 2017.