Thousands have marched in Puerto Rico for a fifth day demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello, following corruption accusations and the leak of text chats in which he made sexist and homophobic remarks.
To the chant of “Ricky, renuncia!” (“Ricky, resign!”) large crowds on Wednesday gathered in the capital, San Juan, clamouring for Rossello to leave office.
In the morning, police erected concrete barricades in the centre of the city and later in the event used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
The protests erupted after the Center for Investigative Journalism released 889 pages of text chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram in which Rossello and 12 other male administration members mocked women, politicians, journalists, disabled people and the victims of Hurricane Maria, one of the United States‘s worst-ever disasters.
According to local reports, one of Rossello’s aides joked in the chat about the corpses that had accumulated in the morgue after the hurricane.
“I have never seen something that connects us in such a deep and social level,” Carla Gonzalez, a protester in Puerto Rico told Al Jazeera.
“It’s not about politics, it’s about our people and our humanity that has been slapped in the face time and time again, and we had enough,” she added.
Julio Ortiz, a protester, told Al Jazeera that “when those texts got leaked, we knew he hit the rock bottom.
“There is no way that his guy could continue governing Puerto Rico. We need a strong leader, we need someone us to guide us in the right way,” he added.
But Rosello has refused to step down, saying on Tuesday that he understood the protests were “a message” against him but added: “You do not give up on work already started, and today, more than ever, a lot of people are counting on me.”
The crisis comes as Puerto Rico battles a 13-year recession, a debt crisis and is working to recover from devastating hurricanes.
The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is a territory of the US and residents are American citizens, but it does not have the same congressional representation accorded to states.
Rossello is also under pressure after US federal agents arrested contractors and government officials, including former Education Secretary Julia Keleher, on corruption charges.
Former Governor Luis Fortuno, who is also a member of the New Progressive Party, said Rossello’s credibility is completely gone.
“I only hope and pray that the governor will think of the Puerto Rican people first, and put them above his own political interests,” Fortuno said.
— gloria ruiz (@gruizkuilan) July 17, 2019
Amid the turmoil, businesses have expressed concern, arguing that recent clashes could end up scaring investors, especially if truck drivers join protests and slow down deliveries of fuel and goods.