As It Happens

Puerto Rican woman protests for her late husband, mocked by the governor in private chats

Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of private chat logs between Rosselló and nine members of his administration.

Lourdes Muriente is one of thousands of people to take to the streets demanding Ricardo Rosselló's ouster

Lourdes Muriente, right, and her fellow protesters are pictured in San Juan on Monday night. (Submitted by Lourdes Muriente)

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When Lourdes Muriente read the cruel things Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his colleagues said about her late ex-husband in private chat messages, she was outraged. 

Within minutes of independence movement leader Carlos Gallisá's death in December 2018, Rosselló and his inner circle were making jokes about lowering the flag six inches.

"These men, nine of them, they were joking about his passing away, and that was very hard for us to take," Muriente told As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan.

"I think that also many people felt offended by that. You don't fool around with your dead, you see?"

That's what prompted Muriente to join the thousands of Puerto Ricans who have taken to the streets in recent days to protest Rosselló and his government over what's been dubbed "chatgate." 

What is 'chatgate?'

On Saturday, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of private chat logs between  Rosselló and nine members of his administration.

The profanity-laced messages are intermittently misogynistic, homophobic and fatphobic, targeting journalists, politicians, celebrities, disabled people, hurricane victims and even members of the governor's own party.

In the chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rosselló calls one New York female politician of Puerto Rican background a "whore," describes another as a "daughter of a bitch" and makes fun of an obese man he posed with in a photo.

The group also makes vulgar references to Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin's homosexuality and a series of emojis of a raised middle finger directed at a federal control board overseeing the island's finances.

Demonstrators chant and wave Puerto Rican flags during the fourth day of protest calling for the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello in San Juan on Tuesday. (Gabriella N. Baez/Reuters)

"They have offended everyone," said Muriente — who has taken it upon herself to tear down the governor's official portrait from public spaces. "It sounded like young spoiled kids." 

In the chat group were Luis Rivera Marin, Rosselló's secretary of state; Christian Sobrino, who held a series of important economic posts; Carlos Bermudez, a one-time communications aide; Edwin Miranda, a communications consultant; Interior Secretary Ricardo Llerandi; Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira and Elias Sanchez, one-time representative to the board overseeing Puerto Rico's bankruptcy.

Massive protests 

Thousands of protesters marched in the capital of San Juan for the fourth day in a row on Tuesday, calling for Rosselló's resignation.

Another demonstration is planned for Wednesday. 

Demonstrators chant and wave Puerto Rican flags during the fourth day of protest in San Juan. (Gabriella N. Baez/Reuters)

"It's been great, " Muriente said. "The people that are on the streets come from all walks of life. Not the usual suspects, you know, people from all economic backgrounds."

She said she's seen women, the elderly, young folks and people from outside San Juan joining the demonstrations.  

"I think that it's a step forward, a big step forward, in our struggle for justice in this country," she said.

Scandal after scandal 

The chats are just the latest in a long line of scandals and tragedies to rock the U.S. territory.

Puerto Ricans are still recovering from 2017's Hurricane Maria, one of the United States' worst-ever disasters, on the back of the island's biggest public financial collapse.

The chats started leaking after Rosselló's former secretary of education and five other people were arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors.

"This was like the drop that broke the barrel," Muriente said. "When those ... arrests happened and then this chat, it was like it uncovered something very,  very ugly that was happening there."

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has refused to step down. (Carlos Giusti/The Associated Press)

Rosselló has refused calls to step down.

"Unfortunately, despite responsible calls for peaceful demonstrations by many participants, a few others decided to damage public property and assault public officials who tried to preserve order and defend the security and rights of all," he said in a statement.

But Muriente said she doesn't think he will last much longer.

"We had a huge demonstration that we haven't seen something like that for many years," she said. 

"I think that if we continue putting on all this pressure on the governor, I know I personally don't have any doubt that he will have to step down."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press and Reuters. Interview with Lourdes Muriente produced by Sarah Cooper.

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