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Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló Nevares. (GFR Media)
Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló Nevares. (GFR Media)

Five straight days of widespread protests —including Wednesday’s march, one of the most massive in Puerto Rico’s history, with estimates ranging from 90,000 to half a million people in attendance— have done little to convince island governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign, despite mounting public pressure to do so.

In a statement released Thursday, Rosselló reiterated his intention to stay in power, stating he was “more committed than ever to pushing forth the public policy agenda that we have been working so hard to implement in all areas of government.”

“My family and I, as well as the people of Puerto Rico, are fully aware of the demonstrations that took place yesterday throughout the afternoon and evening. It had widespread participation, which I respect not only as an exercise in democracy, but also as a natural manifestation of frustrations resulting from recent events,” he added.

The events Rosselló referred to involve the leak last Saturday of a group chat between the governor and eleven top aides featuring sexist and homophobic remarks directed at politicians, journalists, activist groups and ordinary citizens, as well as possible instances of illegal activities favoring the current administration.

The disclosure of the explosive 889-page document, detailing conversations made through the messaging app Telegram from November 2018 to last January, also comes on the heels of federal arrests of top members in Rosselló’s cabinet —among them former Education secretary Julia Keleher and former executive director of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration, Ángela Ávila Marrero— on corruption charges last week.

“Over the past few days I have come forward to face the people of Puerto Rico and beg for forgiveness. I continue to reiterate that plead,” Rosselló went on. “I recognize the enormous challenge I have before me due to the recent controversies, but I firmly believe that we can restore trust and, after this painful and shameful process, achieve reconciliation.”

The governor also spoke about the violent end to yesterday’s demonstration, in which protesters and armed guards exchanged projectiles and tear gas canisters, injuring about a dozen people in the process. “The clear majority of participants demonstrated properly, while a few decided to utilize improper and violent methods that included the use of firearms, Molotov cocktails and other explosives, causing injuries and striking Puerto Rico Police officers. This affront to law and order will be addressed accordingly,” Rosselló said.

Although yesterday’s massive protest was a high point so far in terms of anti-Rosselló demonstrations, it is by no means the last one, with additional marches scheduled every day until Monday at least. These include a Friday protest organized by Utier, the island electric utility’s labor union, and a Saturday vigil honoring the lives lost due to hurricane Maria, which according to an independent study had a death toll of 4,645, a far cry from the government’s official estimate of 64 deaths.

The political scandal has also captured headlines and social media around the globe in the past few days, with hashtags such as #RickyRenuncia (“Ricky resign”) trending number one worldwide on Twitter in several occasions.

Word about the crisis even reached the White House, with U.S. president Donald Trump commenting on the matter Thursday morning. “A lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico. The Governor is under siege,” said the president in a tweet.

Trump also took the opportunity to blast San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a Rosselló opponent who has also become one of Trump’s most vocal critics on the national stage, following the federal government’s controversial handling of the crisis in Puerto Rico after it was hit by hurricane Maria on September 2017.  “The mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance,” he lambasted.

Trump also falsely claimed, once again, that the federal government has given Puerto Rico $92 billion in hurricane relief.  A $49 billion allocation has been assigned to cover emergency food relief and administrative costs at the local offices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Moreover, less than $20 billion have been disbursed so far, almost none of it directed towards reconstruction projects on the island.