26 photos show thousands of Puerto Ricans filling a highway, dancing, and riding on horseback to drive Gov. Ricardo Rossello from office in what is likely the island’s biggest protest ever

People take to the Las Americas Highway to protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 22, 2019. Eric Rojas / AFP / Getty
  • On Monday, Puerto Rico had what appeared to be one of its biggest protest ever. Hundreds of thousands of people took over one of the country’s largest highways to force Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign.
  • Rossello has come under fire due to corruption charges leveled against his administration, as well as the leaking of 889 pages of online conversations between him and nine of his aides.
  • The messages are filled with misogynistic and homophobic obscenities, as well as a joke about hurricane victims. People are calling the scandal “Chatgate” or “Rickyleaks”.
  • On July 21, Rosello announced via Facebook video he would not seek re-election, but he would not resign as leader. Instead of quelling the demonstrators, it seemed to have fired protesters up further.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Puerto Ricans stormed the streets as they attempted to drive 40-year-old Gov. Ricardo Rossello from office.

On Monday, Puerto Rico had what appeared to be one of its biggest ever protests. Hundreds of thousands were expected to take over one of the country’s largest highways to force Rossello to resign. Reports indicate at least tens of thousands of people showed.

Rossello has come under fire due to corruption charges leveled against his administration, as well as the leaking of 889 pages of private messages between him and nine of his aides. The scandal – which has been dubbed “Chatgate” or “Rickyleaks” – includes obscenities directed at two female Puerto Rican politicians and at Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin.There was also a joke about dead bodies piling up after Hurricane Maria.

On July 21, Rosello announced via Facebook video he would not seek re-election, but he would not resign as leader. Instead of quelling the demonstrators, it seemed to have fired them up further.

Here’s how the protests came about and what happened in Puerto Rico on Monday.

Things began to deteriorate for Gov. Ricardo Rosello on July 10, when six people were arrested by the FBI on charges of conspiracy. They’re accused of directing $US15.5 million worth of contracts to politically related consultants. Two of these people were former agency directors in the Puerto Rican government. Rosello ended his vacation in France early to return to Puerto Rico to help with damage control.

Source: The New York Times

On July 13, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published messages between Rosello and 11 of his aides. The homophobic, misogynistic, and profanity-laced messages discuss and insult former New York City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and singer Ricky Martin, among others.

Sources: CNN, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism

Since then, hundreds of thousands protesters have taken to the streets. The mass demonstrations come after a culmination of factors.

Protesters demonstrate against Ricardo Rossello. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Source: Reuters

Along with the governor’s vulgar chat messages, the island has been dealing with a 13-year recession, the suspected corruption of the current administration, and a nationwide struggle to recover, after a series of deadly hurricanes in 2017, which are estimated to have caused more than $US100 billion worth of damage.

Source: AP

On July 17, an estimated 500,000 demonstrators took to the streets in San Juan to demand the governor’s resignation. The entire island’s population is about 3 million people.

Thousands of demonstrators protested against Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico July 17, 2019 in front of the Capitol Building in Old San Juan Jose Jimenez / Getty

Sources: The Nation, World Population Review

It is the largest protest movement on the island since demonstrations occurred 15 years ago to successfully end US Navy military training on the island of Vieques.

Source: Business Insider

The diversity of the protesters, including age, political ideologies, and class, is notable. According to The New York Times, protesters include retired people, students, hospitality staff, truck drivers, and electricians.

Source: The Nation, The New York Times

The protesters have been typically peaceful. Along with filling the streets with songs, there have been yoga protests and demonstrations on jet skis and horses.

Source: NPR

But there has been a heavy police presence, and law enforcement have sometimes been aggressive in combating the protests, particularly on the nights of July 15 and 17.

Source: The Nation

Police used tear gas on some protesters, and there have been reports of rubber bullets being fired.

Police used tear gas and reportedly fired rubber bullets late Wednesday evening during the protest. Joe Raedle / Getty

Source: NPR

On July 17, in New York’s Union Square, protests took place in solidarity with Puerto Ricans. Protests have also happened in China, Holland, and Chile. Similar demonstrations are expected in major cities across the US mainland on Monday.

Source: Refinery29

Symbols have been attacked in the protests, including the US flag. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US, and some are worried that the instability could cause the US to play more of a role in the governing of the island.

Source: Business Insider, Washington Post

On the fifth day of demonstrations, a protester climbed a pole to remove the US flag.

Hurricane Maria is also remembered. The protester seen here has 4,645 written with special effects makeup on her forehead — one estimate for the number of people who were killed by the storm. This number has been controversial, because the island government originally identified only 64 victims. In August 2018, the government conceded that Hurricane Maria killed more than 2,975 people on the island, which many think was still an underestimate.

Sources: Reuters, Business Insider

On July 21, Rosello admitted he was wrong and apologised for the messages. On Facebook Live, he said he was aware of the population’s dissatisfaction and discomfort, and while he would not run for re-election, he wasn’t standing down. “Only my work will help restore the trust of these sectors,” he said in the video.

Sources: USA Today, Facebook

But that wasn’t good enough for many Puerto Ricans. On July 22, one of the largest protests was held to force Rossello to step down. Organisers aimed for 1 million protesters.

Source: The New York Times

One of San Juan’s major motorways, Espreso Las Americas, was forced to close down. Along with this, San Juan’s biggest shopping mall announced it wouldn’t open, university classes were canceled, some banks were closed, and cruise ships were diverted from San Juan.

People take to the Las Americas Highway in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Eric Rojas / AFP / Getty

Reports haven’t confirmed how many people took to the streets, but it was at least in the tens of thousands.

People march along Las Americas highway. Eric Rojas / AFP / Getty

Source: New York Times

The highways became overrun with protesters. Seen below is a flag that reads “enough” hung over a highway sign.

It wasn’t just a walking protest. Dancers performed, and at least one protester was riding down the highway on horseback.

People dance on San Juan’s largest highway. Eric Rojas / AFP / Getty

Celebrities, including Puerto Rican rappers Residente and Bad Bunny, joined in on Monday.

Singer Ricky Martin, who was one of the celebrities personally insulted by Rosello’s messages, was also there.

Singer Ricky Martin waves a flag as he joins with thousands of other people as they fill the Expreso Las Américas highway calling for the ouster of Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló Joe Raede / Getty

Read more:
26 celebrities calling for Puerto Rico’s governor to resign after vulgar messages from his group chat leaked

Due to the heat, police reported 18 cases of fainting and dizziness. Luckily, in the afternoon, it rained during the demonstration. The rain didn’t deter the protesters.

Sources: New York Times, CNN

US President Donald Trump weighed in on Rossello’s leadership. During a White House appearance, he accused the governor of being “corrupt and incompetent.” He said Washington was wary of sending aid to the island, precisely because of the administration. He also said he was the best thing to ever happen to Puerto Rico.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico in 2017. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Source: The New York Times

Protesters haven’t yet succeeded in getting Rossello to step aside, but he did appear on Fox News in the afternoon and said he wanted to stay in office. “My commitment is to follow through on some of the efforts that I established for the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Vocal protesters blocked the main road in Puerto Rico’s capital on Monday. Eric Rojas / AFP / Getty

Source: The New York Times

There’s been no official word yet whether protests will continue throughout the week, but it looks likely.

People fill the Expreso Las Américas highway. Joe Raedle / Getty