Police In Puerto Rico Fire Tear Gas At Thousands Of Protesters

Jul 16, 2019
Originally published on July 16, 2019 10:39 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go next to Puerto Rico, where a protest last night descended into chaos. Police fired tear gas into a crowd of thousands. People were demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello. It was the third day of demonstrations against the governor. He is in trouble after the publication of private text messages between him and top members of his administration.

Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch podcast is in San Juan.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The protests began peacefully with thousands of demonstrators flooding the cobblestone streets outside the governor's mansion.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Resign, Ricky, resign, they shouted. Late in the evening, though, things took a turn when police in riot gear, who'd formed a line blocking access to the executive mansion, shot pepper spray and tear gas into the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE BLOWING, PROTESTERS SHOUTING)

FLORIDO: The face-off between police and protesters lasted for several hours. During a contentious press conference inside the governor's mansion, the island's police commissioner, Henry Escalera, held up improvised gas canisters and rocks he said protesters had hurled at police cars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HENRY ESCALERA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "This is the evidence," Escalera said. The clashes were just the latest development in a fast-moving scandal that's driven Governor Ricardo Rossello's administration to the brink of collapse. It exploded over the weekend after local media published 900 pages of leaked private text messages between the governor and members of his inner circle.

They used misogynistic and homophobic language to insult political opponents. They scheme ways to manipulate public opinion, even make jokes about the dead bodies from Hurricane Maria.

SOFIA VASQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Sofia Vasquez's (ph) eyes were still red from the tear gas. And she said the chats had shown Puerto Ricans that the governor doesn't care about the struggles they face after years of economic recession and a slow hurricane recovery.

VASQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "They made fun of our hurricane dead," Vasquez said, "something that was so hard for us." Many at the protest said, while they want the governor gone, these demonstrations are about much more. People say they're fed up with poor treatment from politicians and the federal government. Despite the calls for his resignation, the governor has vowed to stay in office. Protests are expected to continue this week.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.