Impeachment committee forms in Puerto Rico as protesters call for Gov. Rosselló to resign
(CNN) — As thousands of people crowded the streets calling for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to step down, the president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, created a special committee on Friday to advise him on the process of impeaching the governor.
The impeachment research committee includes three attorneys — Francisco Reyes Caparrós, Luis Rodríguez Rivera and José Colón Santana — who will have 10 days to provide a detailed report to Méndez, according to a press release from Méndez spokesman Raúl Colón.
Méndez said the committee will evaluate the content of leaked messages between Rosselló and cabinet members and determine if there’s proof Rosselló committed a crime.
“We are here to order this evaluation, one that will be transparent and responsible,” Mendez said. “I thank this group of lawyers for giving a step forward in this historic moment for Puerto Rico. We will thoroughly evaluate the conclusions of this committee so we can proceed.”
Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of leaked chats from the governor’s private Telegram Messenger group in which he and 11 top aides and Cabinet members exchanged profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages about fellow politicians, members of the media and celebrities. In one, the former chief financial officer appeared to joke about those who died in Hurricane Maria.
‘You left us to die’
Thousands of protesters gathered at the capital in San Juan Friday night calling for Rosselló’s resignation.
Layzne Alvez told CNN the territory’s government had been “left to run wild with our economy, with our money, with all the federal funds the government are sending here.” She added that Puerto Ricans weren’t violent people so they did not plan to bring Rosselló down by force.
“We are going to stay here no matter what,” Alvez said. “We are going to force our local leaders, representatives, senators, whoever we need to, to get him out. We are going to stay here.”
Protesters have jammed the streets of San Juan over the last several days. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Capitol on Wednesday and marched to the governor’s mansion, playing tambourines and banging on pots and pans. At times police have fired canisters of tear gas into the crowds.
“Unfortunately there is always corruption in the government,” said Pamela Calderón, the owner of a small restaurant on Calle San Jose. “But with the publication of the chats, people in Puerto Rico saw how the corruption affected the response to the hurricane. There’s a sense of, ‘You left us to die.'”
“There are still people without electricity or a roof,” she added. “There is a perception of being abandoned by the government, a lack of planning, and the inept way government managed the crisis.”
As one restaurant manager in Old San Juan said, the scandal made people snap out of their complacency.
“We usually wait for things to take their course,” said Jose Ramos. “But this will not get resolved without pressure.”
Jennifer González, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, also called for Rosselló’s resignation.
“Its time for the governor to have an orderly transition of government so that this doesn’t continue affecting us in DC as it pertains to obtaining federal funds for the island,” González said. “The disbursement of funds to the island will obviously suffer dramatically if he remains on the position.”
Protesters have been joined by some of Puerto Rico’s biggest stars, including reggaeton star Bad Bunny, rapper René Pérez Joglar and singer and actor Ricky Martin, one of the targets of leaked homophobic messages. And similar demonstrations have taken place in the US mainland in cities like Miami and Orlando, Florida.
“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito attended protests at New York’s Union Square.
“I’m so numb from politics in America. But the people of Puerto Rico are numb and they are waking us all up. I’m going to have their backs,” Miranda told CNN.
Governor not considering resigning
Puerto Rico’s Justice Department has issued summonses for everyone involved in the private chat group. They will be ordered to appear before Justice Department officials to have their phones inspected, according to department spokeswoman Mariana Cobian.
Through it all, Rosselló has refused to step down, and on Friday his official Instagram account shared images of the governor at work as if it were a typical day for his administration.
On Friday morning, Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira said Rosselló “is not considering resignation.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, Rosselló said he would continue to work toward regaining the Puerto Rican people’s trust.
“I recognize the challenge that I have before me because of the recent controversies, but I firmly believe that it is possible to restore confidence and that we will be able, after this painful process, to achieve reconciliation,” he said.
But the calls for his ouster have yet to die down.
“He’s still holding onto power, we don’t want him anymore here,” said Alvez, the protester. “He says we voted for him, so that’s why he’s staying in power, but we don’t want you anymore, I don’t know how you don’t get this. We don’t care if some people voted for you, we don’t care if the whole island voted for you.”
Not far from the governor’s mansion, along Calle Fortaleza, one storeowner covered his windows with pieces of plywood labeled “Tablón de Expresión,” or “expression board,” in hopes that protesters would share their thoughts on the panels instead of defacing the walls of his business with graffiti.
“Ricky we hate you,” one panel read, referring to the governor. Another said, “Ricky resign.”