This is why hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are taking to the streets demanding that their governor resign

ERIC ROJAS/AFP/Getty ImagesPeople take to the Las Americas Highway in San Juan, Puerto Rico, July 22, 2019 on day 9th of continuous protests demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

Hundreds of thousands of people have filled the streets of Puerto Rico, demanding that embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign from his position.

Monday’s protests are expected to be one of the largest that the island has seen, to date, against the governor, with organisers estimating that up to one million people could hit the streets. People across the island – from young professionals to retirees – have occupied Puerto Rico’s main highways, demanding that Rosselló step down, and are chanting “Ricky resign” in an effort to force Rosselló out. Notable Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin and rapper Residente, have also joined the crowds.

The protests come a day after Rosselló, a Democrat and member of Puerto Rico’s statehood party, announced that, while he would not seek re-election in 2020, he does not plan to resign at this time. Calls for the governor to step down first broke out over a week ago, after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) published nearly 900 pages of obscene and offensive private messages between him and close aides. The messages, which were vulgar, misogynistic and homophobic, have ignited a firestorm across the island, with major social, political, and economic repercussions.

Outrage against the governor has also centered focus on a myriad of other grievances plaguing the island, such as a more than decade-long recession, crippling debt, and the devastation that has plagued the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

A multi-million dollar scheme

Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy in May 2017, after attempts to right the country’s struggling economy fell flat. Now, more than two years later, Rosselló’s administration has failed to pass a budget, and many have accused Rosselló of funelling public funds meant for hurricane recovery and economic stimulation into the hands of his cronies.

According to the CPI, Rosselló’s scheme “involved planting internal personnel and external contractors in key advisory and communications positions in the agencies to control the entry and exit of information. Also, sharing privileged data on government contracts to benefit private clients in exchange for commissions and payments.”

In one case, Rosselló’s former campaign manager – lobbyist Elías Sánchez-Sifonte – was given control over who was awarded government contracts, including a $US300 million prison management contract. Sánchez-Sifonte, who was also at one point Rosselló’s roommate, reportedly took commissions of up to 25% of the contract’s value, according to the CPI.

Governor RoselloGetty ImagesGov. Ricardo Rosselló

The CPI also implicates publicist Edwin Miranda, who recieved more than $US50 million in contracts from 22 government agencies, and Carlos Bermúdez, who runs the PR firm Ojo Creativo and won more than a $US500,000 in government contracts. According to three sources who spoke to the news site Nocticel, both allegedly wielded the power of their relationship with Rosselló, winning private contracts by controlling what government contracts were given to businesses.

Despite not being in official government roles, Sánchez-Sifonte, Miranda, and Bermúdez, alleges the CPI, have become the de facto center of power and have made highly partisan, personally beneficial deals, while Puerto Rico continues to flail. All three participated in the incendiary group chat that spurred this month’s protests.

The power is in the street’

On Monday, highways were blocked, metro trains packed, businesses (including the capital’s biggest mall) closed, university classes cancelled, and cruise ships rerouted. The island’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Día, called for Rosselló to resign in a scathing front-page editorial, and by the afternoon some protesters could be seen heading toward Old San Juan and La Fortaleza, the governor’s official residence, CNN reported.

“They can’t deny it: the power is in the street,” San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz tweeted on Monday. In an interview with CNN, she described the governor’s crimes as “horrendous.”

“It is impeachment time. He’s obstinate. His mental health isn’t there. He doesn’t want to resign. It’s impeachment time,” she said.

“The people have spoken,” added Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter on Monday.

Carlos Méndez Núñez, president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and a member of the governor’s party, is expected to receive a report sometime this week determining whether an impeachment process can be initiated against Rosselló. It remains unclear whether impeachment proceedings will take place.

“We voted for him because he promised to bring a new face to Puerto Rican politics and change things,” 31-year-old Veronica Caro told The Washington Post on Monday. “But he turned out to be more of the same.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.