Americas

Why people are protesting in Puerto Rico

Mass street rallies in Puerto Rico have been triggered by text messages between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his team, leaked on 13 July.

They contained sexist and homophobic comments including references to Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin’s sexuality.

But long before this, public anger was boiling over alleged corruption.

Gov Rosselló now says he will not stand for re-election next year, but this is unlikely to satisfy protesters in a US territory who want him to resign.

On Monday, demonstrators blocked the main road in the capital San Juan, in what was expected to be the biggest rally in 10 days of protests.

What is the text message scandal about?

Obtained by Puerto Rico’s Centre for Investigative Journalism, the text messages span some 900 pages. They were from a group chat that included the governor and 11 of his aides and cabinet members.

The messages include jokes about Hurricane Maria victims along with sexist and homophobic comments. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when the hurricane hit the island in 2017. However a Harvard estimate puts the toll at more than 4,600.

In one conversation, Christian Sobrino, then chief fiscal officer of Puerto Rico, says he is “salivating to shoot” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Ms Cruz has criticised the governor in the past.

Mr Rosselló replies: “You’d be doing me a grand favour.”

Another message from Mr Sobrino describes singer Ricky Martin as a “male chauvinist” before referring to his homosexuality.

What has been the response?

Mr Rosselló has apologised for the messages and said he respected the right to protest peacefully. He has also vowed to provide greater transparency and accountability to his government.

Mr Sobrino and Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin resigned following the leak.

A statement from White House spokesman Judd Deere said the events “prove the president’s concerns about mismanagement, politicisation and corruption have been valid”.

Major figures have come out in support of the protesters. Ricky Martin led a protest to the governor’s house on Wednesday.

The singer said in a video on Twitter: “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.”

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has shared images of the protests in Puerto Rico and attended a demonstration in New York.

Reggaeton artist Bad Bunny has stopped his European tour to return to Puerto Rico and protest. He praised the “bravery” of people on the island.

What is the status of Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico has been a US territory since 1898. Everyone born on the island is an American citizen and holds a US passport. However they cannot vote in US presidential elections unless they are registered in one of the 50 US states.

Mr Rosselló promised to push for the island to become a state during his election campaign in 2016.

He has faced criticism for his handling of efforts to recover from from Hurricane Maria.

The island is also in the midst of a financial crisis and has billions of dollars in debt.

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