Puerto Ricans remember last year, when for the first time in history a governor resigned over a scandalous Telegram chat.
SAN JUAN — During the summer of 2019, Puerto Rico experienced one of its most indignant moments in modern history.
The then Governor Ricardo Rosselló had used the app Telegram to discuss issues of public policy with cabinet officials, and some of these private conversations were leaked to the public.
On Telegram, the governor communicated with former Secretary of State Luis G. Rivera Marín, former representative of the Financial Oversight Board and Chief Financial Officer Christian Sobrino, former Legal Adviser Alfonso Orona, lobbyist Elías Sánchez, former Secretary of the Treasury Raúl Maldonado, former Communications Adviser Carlos Bermúdez, publicist Edwin Miranda of the public relations company KOI, former secretaries of Public Affairs Ramón Rosario and Anthony Maceira, Secretary of Government Ricardo Llerandi, and publicist Rafael Cerame.
The leaked chats, from the end of 2018 through January 20, 2020, revealed disrespectful comments made by the officials and their tone of mockery, which included misogynistic, homophobic, and sexist remarks, inciting the indignation of the people. They even made fun of the victims who died in Hurricane María.
A 15-day period brought Rosselló’s government to an end. It was the first time in the history of the island that a governor resigned.
This is a recount of the events during that time, from the release of the first pages of the chats to the appointment of a new governor.
- July 8: Information about the existence of a Telegram chat between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and several members of his cabinet began to circulate on social media.
- July 9: The first 11 pages of the Telegram chat were published. Llerandi confirmed its veracity. The comments exposed a mocking, informal tone among the high-ranking government officials participating in the chat. They made fun of people like Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, as well as former Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, who is now governor.
- July 10: While Rosselló was on vacation in Europe with his family, federal authorities arrested six officials of his government. Among them were Julia Keleher, ex-secretary of education; Alberto Velázquez Piñol, a former adviser to Rosselló; Ángela Ávila, former executive director of the Puerto Rico State Health Insurance Administration; and Fernando Scherr, president of the accounting firm BDO Puerto Rico.
- July 11: Rosselló canceled his vacation and returned to Puerto Rico. More pages of the Telegram chat were published. Within the published comments, the governor called former New York councilwoman Melissa Mark-Veverito a bi**h and made disparaging remarks about the Financial Oversight Board. That evening, Rosselló delivered a message in which he apologized to the people but assured he would not resign.
- July 12: More pages of the chat were published. The new pages include Rossello’s derogatory comments about San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and lawyer Mayra López Mulero. Cruz accused the governor of abuse and called him out on what she thought was an insincere apology.
- July 13: The digital media outlet Centro de Periodismo Investigativo published 889 pages of the controversial chat. The conversation exposed how the group of officials controlled information and used misogynistic, homophobic, sexist, and violent terms. One of Rosselló’s most infamous phrases is “cogemos de pe****os hasta los nuestros” (“we’ll fool even our own”). The governor announced the resignation of almost all the members in the chat, except for Llerandi and Maceira, and reiterated he would continue as governor. Mass protests began in La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan.
- July 14: Rosselló attended a religious service at El Calvario Church and once again asked for forgiveness. The mass protest continued in Old San Juan. Police teargassed protesters.
- July 15: Rosselló was interviewed on FM radio station Z-93. He stated that his wife Beatriz Rosselló had forgiven him, and he insisted on remaining as governor. Reggaetón singers Bad Bunny and Residente encouraged people to protest. A mass protest ended in riots, destruction, and teargassing.
- July 16: In an interview, the governor reaffirmed his intention to remain in charge. He also claimed that a lawyer had examined the chat and found no violation of the law. Rosselló visited a young man with morbid obesity in Lares, whom he had made fun of in the chat.
- July 17: Thousands of Puerto Ricans participated in a massive protest organized by artists and athletes like Ricky Martin, Residente, Tommy Torres, and Kany García. Puerto Ricans in New York, Orlando, Chicago, and other cities also joined in on protests demanding Rosselló’s resignation.
- July 18: Rosselló once more asked for forgiveness through a press release and expressed his desire for a reconciliation with the people. The daily protests would begin with an act of remembrance for all the people who died in Hurricane María. New Progressive Party (PNP) figures such as former Governor Luis Fortuño, and Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera also asked Rosselló to resign.
- July 19: Rosselló signed several legislative measures and announced some appointments in a press release. As demonstrations continued in front of La Fortaleza, people came up with new ways of protesting, like the “cacerolazo” (banging on cooking pots at 8 p.m.), horseback rides, and a protest in kayaks and jet skis.
- July 20: Rosselló denied that he embezzled public funds, and that he had a contract with the legislature. The protests continued with participants chanting phrases from the leaked chats.
- July 21: The governor announced on Facebook that he would not run for reelection in 2020, and that he would resign from his post as president of the PNP, but not the governorship. He welcomed any impeachment process in the Legislature. Protests continued at La Fortaleza.
- July 22: Over half a million of people blocked Las Américas expressway, demanding Rosselló’s resignation. The “Paro Nacional” began and ended in Hato Rey’s Hiram Bithorn stadium. Artists and athletes like Olga Tañón, Kany García, Ednita Nazario, Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin, Residente, and Tito Trinidad led the march. Some protesters walked near La Fortaleza. Daddy Yankee joined them in Old San Juan. At night, the police said the protest was illegal and evacuated thousands of people with tear gas. Thousands of people arrived later in motorcycles, led by the populist leader Ray Charlie. The police teargassed the bikers. Rosselló gave an interview to Fox News. He said he had the support of Javier Jiménez, mayor of San Sebastián, but Jiménez himself denied this.
- July 23: Rosselló said he was having a moment of reflection because “the people were talking and he had to listen.” Reports on social media said he had recorded a resignation message. The Department of Justice had begun to evaluate the content of the chat.
- July 24: Rosselló announced via a televised message that he would resign on August 2. His announcement was made after the President of the House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, announced that a process of impeachment would begin against the governor. The protest turned into a large celebration called “Perreo intenso.”
- July 25: The celebration continued in Old San Juan. The slogan “Wanda resign,” started after the possibility that the Secretary of Justice would take the gubernatorial position was made public.
- July 26: Rosselló began the transition process with Vázquez.
- July 30: Rosselló continued signing laws and making government decisions. He planned to name Pedro Pierluisi Secretary of State, so he could in turn fill the governor’s chair.
- July 31: Rosselló named Pedro Pierluisi Secretary of State and called for an extraordinary session for the Legislature to evaluate the appointment.
- August 2: Rosselló left La Fortaleza with his family and moved to the United States. Pierluisi decided to take the oath as governor. He was sworn in by Court of Appeals Judge Luisa Colón in a residence in Condado.
- August 4: President of the Senate Thomas Rivera Schatz petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate Pierluisi’s oath.
- August 7: The Supreme Court nullified Pierluisi’s oath. Wanda Vázquez Garced is sworn in as governor by Maite Oronoz, president of the Supreme Court.