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The Leaked Texts at the Heart of Puerto Rico’s Massive Protests

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It seems appropriate for Puerto Rico’s self-proclaimed “millennial governor” to be brought down by his own text messages—a modern spin on Richard Nixon’s White House tapes. On July 13, just days after an FBI corruption probe rocked Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s administration and resulted in the arrests of two top officials, the island’s Center for Investigative Journalism released 889 pages of leaked chat logs between Rosselló and his inner circle—many of them crude and offensive. The governor seemed to assume that his texts and their misogynistic and homophobic comments would never reach the public, that his party’s loyalists would never turn their backs on him, and that the Puerto Rican people were too ideologically fragmented to rally around a common cause.

Yet for more than a week, in what are some of the US territory’s largest ever protests, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have come together to protest outside the governor’s mansion in San Juan, demanding Rosselló’s immediate resignation. Despite announcing on Sunday that he would no longer serve as president of the conservative New Progressive Party and that he would not seek re-election next year—an empty concession given his unpopularity—Rosselló refuses to resign. But as administration officials continue to exit in disgrace, his government is crumbling from under him. 

Despite multiple scandals, Rosselló appeared to believe he would emerge unscathed. Soon after the arrests of two of his cabinet members, he declared himself to be a “resilient” governor, an offensive remark toward Puerto Ricans, who, for the past few years, have been forced to exhibit a nearly unbearable resilience. Since Hurricane Maria battered the island in 2017, people across the island have been forced to live without electricity and running water and to navigate dark streets without traffic signals, while they attend school in makeshift trailers, bury dead relatives in mass graves, and wait months to receive medical treatment because so many doctors have fled the island’s economic crisis.

The government and its spin doctors have grown fond of celebrating the population’s resilience. They applaud the strength of those still living under blue tarps and who have been forced to rebuild their own homes brick by brick after being denied FEMA assistance. They romanticize a recovery effort that has been carried out through sheer force of will, spearheaded by people who have seen no trace of the thousands of dollars ostensibly donated from telethons and charity drives and who have yet to benefit from the government-affiliated nonprofits such as United for Puerto Rico, Your Home Reborn, or any of the other countless entities named after meaningless slogans.

In this age of resilience, many Puerto Ricans have turned to chat groups and virtual conversations not all that different from the governor’s. They’ve often laughed to avoid crying, gossiped about beauty pageants and other banalities, thrown around curse words, and circulated memes to—as Rosselló claims he did—”relieve stress.”

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