The governor of Puerto Rico continued to defy protesters’ calls for him to resign Monday after nearly 900 pages of leaked text messages littered with homophobic and misogynistic slurs were published over the weekend. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s text messages on the private messaging app Telegram with 11 male aides and advisers were published by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism. The exchanges deployed sexist and homophobic language to degrade political opponents, and in one exchange, the governor’s chief financial officer joked about dead bodies piling up during Hurricane Maria, the deadly and debilitating storm that hit the island in 2017.
The political backlash to the leak has been severe: two top officials resigned over the weekend and numerous political allies have withdrawn their support for Rosselló’s government. On Monday evening, protests continued to grow outside of the governor’s mansion, prompting police to use pepper spray and rubber bullets. Despite the public anger and the loss of support among the leadership of his own party, Rosselló has so far rebuffed calls for his resignation saying he has apologized for what he’s labeled a mistake. “We do not give up on the work under way, and today more than ever, many people are counting on my commitment to that work,” Rosselló said in a statement in Spanish over the weekend. With 18 months left in his term, the 40-year-old leader is still expected to run for reelection in 2020.
The leaked messages added fuel to simmering frustrations in Puerto Rico over the U.S. territory’s political leadership. Bankrupt, mired in a decade of recession, and under strict U.S. federal financial oversight as a result, the text message scandal, coined #TelegramGate and #RickyLeaks, has galvanized public outrage and directed it against the sitting governor. Anger was already bubbling after two former members of Rosselló’s administration were arrested last week on fraud charges for awarding $15 million in sweetheart contracts to friends and political allies. And then there is Hurricane Maria, which looms large over the political climate of the island: The slow storm response by the government was aggravated by the Rosselló administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge the scope of the death and destruction and the popular belief he hasn’t done enough to stand up to President Donald Trump.