Puerto Rico braced early Monday for what many people expected to be one of the biggest protests ever seen in the U.S. territory as irate islanders pledged to drive Gov. Ricardo Rossello from office.
Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to take over one of the island’s busiest highways Monday morning to press demands for the resignation of Rossello over an obscenity-laced leaked online chat the governor had with allies as well as federal corruption charges leveled against his administration.
The anticipated march in the capital of San Juan came a day after Rossello announced that he would not quit, but sought to calm the unrest by promising not to seek reelection or continue as head of his pro-statehood political party. That only further angered his critics, who have mounted street demonstrations for more than a week.
Monday would be the 10th consecutive day of protests, and more were being called for later in the week. The island’s largest mall, Plaza de las Americas, closed ahead of the protest as did dozens of other businesses.
In a video posted Sunday night on Facebook, Rossello said he welcomed people’s freedom to express themselves. He also said he was looking forward to defending himself against the process of impeachment, whose initial stages are being explored by Puerto Rico’s Legislature.
“I hear you,” he said the brief video. “I have made mistakes and I have apologized.”
The 889 pages of chat on the encrypted app Telegram between the governor and 11 close allies and members of his administration, all men, showed the governor and his advisers insulting women and mocking constituents, including the victims of Hurricane Maria.
Hours after Rossello spoke Sunday, another top government official submitted his resignation.
The upheaval against Rossello prompted at least four cruise ships to cancel visits to Puerto Rico, and many officials worry about the impact a resignation would have on the already fragile economy as the island rebuilds from Maria. Another concern is the recent string of arrests involving federal corruption charges targeting Puerto Rico officials, among them two former agency heads, including former education secretary Julia Keleher.