The Current

Puerto Ricans are 'tired of corruption,' activist says amid reports Gov. Ricardo Rossello set to resign

As Puerto Ricans anticipate Gov. Ricardo Rossello's resignation Wednesday after nearly two weeks of protests against his administration, a resident says many are hopeful his departure will clear the way for a "clean government."

Tayna Fernandez claims the current government 'conspires against the people'

People lining the streets of San Juan on July 23, 2019 react after hearing reports that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello will step down within a day over an obscenity-laced online chat. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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As Puerto Ricans anticipate Gov. Ricardo Rossello's resignation Wednesday after nearly two weeks of protests against his administration, a resident says many are hopeful his departure will clear the way for a "clean government."

"We are just tired of corruption and the way these politicians think they are above the law," said Tayna Fernandez, a community activist in Naguabo, a municipality on the east side of the U.S. territory.

"[The government] conspires against the people to empty our pockets and fill theirs."

Rossello is expected to quit amid the biggest display of unrest the Caribbean island has seen in nearly two decades, according to local media reports. 

The embattled first-term governor is at the centre of a corruption scandal ignited by obscenity-laced online chats that were leaked 11 days ago.

Half a million people have since taken to the streets waving flags, chanting and banging pots and pans, as part of a burgeoning protest movement over long-smouldering tensions about corruption and slow recovery efforts from 2017 Hurricane Maria. 

So far, the 40-year-old has resisted calls to step down as leader, though he said in an online video message on Sunday he would resign as head of his pro-statehood political party and not seek re-election in 2020.

But that could all change today.

Fernandez spoke to The Current's guest host Anthony Germain about the unfolding political firestorm and what is motivating Puerto Ricans to take to the streets. Here is part of their conversation.

Some media reports say that Rossello may resign later today. What's your take on that?

Well, right now there are negotiations for him to resign. ... Right now we do not have a secretary of state. Therefore, we would be appointing the Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez because that's the order. But he has also been splattered with this scandal and has taken a long time to file charges against the people of the telegram chat scandals. And the people don't trust her either. 

Tayna Fernandez, a community activist in Naguabo, stands outside a boarded-up school she tried to get officials to re-open a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Alright, so obviously some problems with the leadership at the top. What's it been like to be part of these protests? Maybe you can paint a picture for me of what it's like to be out there in the streets with so many hundreds of thousands of others.

Well the demonstrations have been very creative.

Puerto Ricans are very creative and there [has] been horseback riding, cycling, yoga, people paddleboarding, skydiving, using motorcycles and ATVs, pots and pans, [and] dancing. The truckers yesterday, on Monday, they blocked the streets and people all over the world have been expressing themselves also.

It has been a very intense 11 days.

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans demand governor resign

2 years ago
Duration 2:02
Waving flags, chanting and banging pots and pans, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans filled a central expressway Monday to demand the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello in what appeared to be the biggest protest on the island in nearly two decades. 2:02

I guess yoga backs up your claims that these protests are peaceful.

Yes, because people think this is about, I don't know, a revolution. No! We are just tired of corruption and the way these politicians think they are above the law.

Almost everyone of that telegram chat has resigned except for the governor.

Tayna, give me your personal motivation here. What's bringing you out to the streets? Obviously corruption is big, but what makes you get up and say, "Hey, I want to be a part of this," being a community leader?

 We've seen how our funds have been cut off, we've seen how our schools have been closed because there's no money, and it's the mismanagement we saw in those 889 pages: how they conspire against the people to empty our pockets and fill theirs.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, accompanied by his chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi, right, attends a press conference in La Fortaleza's Tea Room, in San Juan on July 16. Local newspapers are reporting that the first-time leader plans to quit Wednesday. (Carlos Giusti/The Associated Press)

Apparently there were jokes actually made [about] people dying during [Hurricane] Maria. Was that one of the sparks for all this?

People do think this is about the foul language and the dark humour ... and these, yes they hurt. The homophobic slurs, they do hurt. 

But it is about more than that.

It is the corruption. It is the conspiracy to commit crimes that are even more unbearable. 

Yes, what he said did hurt women, the [LGBTQ] community, the people who died. ... But there is more to this.

If Gov. Rossello does resign, what do you want to see happen next?

I just want to see a clean government, that the funds get to where they're supposed to be.


Written by Amara McLaughlin, with files from Reuters. Produced by Allie Jaynes, Idella Sturino and Imogen Birchard. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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