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How “Ricky Leaks” Exposed Puerto Rico’s Governor and Sparked a Movement to Oust Him

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Half a million people took to the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday in a historic protest, more than a week after the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico published 889 pages that included violently misogynistic and homophobic online chats between Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló and other government officials. The leaked documents revealed Rosselló had mocked victims of Hurricane Maria and joked about shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. It also exposed rampant corruption within the Puerto Rican government. Governor Rosselló and the 11 others implicated in the message scandal have been issued summonses by the island’s Justice Department. Two top officials have resigned since the scandal broke, including former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín, but Rosselló is resisting calls to step down, saying the messages were “done on people’s personal time” and a result of working long, stressful days. We speak with Carla Minet, executive director of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico.

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Audio squareStoryAug 02, 1996Puerto Rican Journalism and English-Only
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Monday’s historic protest in Puerto Rico came a week and a half after the Center for Investigative Journalism on the island published 889 pages that included many violently misogynistic and homophobic online chats between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and other government officials and advisers of his. The leaked documents revealed Rosselló had mocked victims of Hurricane Maria and joked about shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. It also exposed rampant corruption within the Puerto Rican government.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Rosselló and the 11 others implicated in the message scandal have been issued summonses by the island’s Justice Department. Two top officials have resigned since the scandal broke, including former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín, but Rosselló is resisting calls to step down, saying the messages were, quote, “done on people’s personal time” and a result of working long, stressful days.

Well, we go now to San Juan, where we’re joined by Carla Minet, executive director of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Carla. It’s great to have you with us. Why don’t you lay out what happened, how you got these 900 pages, the significance of this, and what it has led to?

CARLA MINET: Hi, everyone. Yes, a few days ago, nine days ago, we got the document of the 889 pages. We revised it, and we thought that we had to publish entirely the document. Since then, you know, it’s been a very chaotic week in Puerto Rico, with protest and, you know, political turmoil every single day. You know, the country has not had a day without protest. Before we published that chat, we also published a story, a very important investigation, that shows that many of the people involved in the chat, especially three of the governor’s most closest advisers, were involved in corruption, with the government’s knowledge.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Carla, one of the interesting things about this chat group, that it was not just government officials, as you say, but people who were, in effect, contractors or advisers, outside people, who had this extraordinary regular access to the governor and his other officials. Could you talk about who some of these people were and their importance?

CARLA MINET: Yes, of course. They were people who were not public officials, who were not contracted by the governor to do any kind of assessment in terms of public policy, but even then they were part of the chat, receiving confidential information and privileged information, that they used to benefit their private clients.

Some of these people were Elías Sánchez, one of the closest or the closest governor’s friend and an adviser. He was not under any kind of contract to do this job, so he was doing it voluntarily. And then, there was also Edwin Miranda, a publicist, who had the major contracts for publicity with the governor—with the government of Puerto Rico, and also Carlos Bermúdez, who was a public relations strategist, and he controlled almost all government agencies, and how they treated and they gave information to the press in a very centralized way, which he was not contracted to do.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And one of the most shocking stuff, aside from the comments that were made to some, obviously, opposition folks to the governor, was the way that the governor and his people ridiculed and talked about their own—the leaders of their own party, as well. Could you talk about that?

CARLA MINET: Yeah. I think part of the rage and the heartfelt protest that we’ve seen in the past days is because all Puerto Ricans are protesting, not only Puerto Ricans who are part of the opposition or people who are not politically involved in terms of a political party, but also the people from the governor’s political party. He insulted them. He mocked them in many different ways. And since the chat was revealed, he hasn’t even been honest about, you know, not only recognizing that he did wrong, but making amends truly to the people who were insulted in the chat.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the secretary of state sitting down, resigning, which means that he would—that is the position that, if the governor resigned, would become the next governor. On Monday, the Puerto Rican Governor Rosselló appeared on Fox News in a contentious interview with Shepard Smith.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: I’ve seen the protest. I’ve heard the people talk. I’ve had a process of introspection. And I did. I’ve made a decision. I’m not going to run. I’m not going to seek re-election. And that way, I can focus on the job at hand. …

SHEPARD SMITH: There are 100,000 people on the streets, politicians of all stripes, the president of the United States, all saying you need to go, that this is enough. You’ve said no. Why not?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Well, there’s an important component about rule of law and democracy, and I respect that process. We will have and we will propose certain mechanisms so that within the future that process can go forward. My contention is that I need to work beyond politics, so that we can address some of the long-standing problems of corruption here in Puerto Rico and fix that problem. …

SHEPARD SMITH: Governor, who’s come for to support you—

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: We’ve been tackling those problems head on.

SHEPARD SMITH: —in the middle of this chaos?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Puerto Rico didn’t—there are folks that have supported me. There are folks—

SHEPARD SMITH: Who specifically is supporting you today?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: —that support the rule—the rule of law. There are people. You just have to—

SHEPARD SMITH: Could you give me one name?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: —see them out there. There is a protest. Well, it’s—I’ve talked to people—

SHEPARD SMITH: Just one name, Governor.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: —from different groups, a lot of people from the administration—

SHEPARD SMITH: Governor, you’re not able to give me the name of one person in Puerto Rico—

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: —people that have established—

SHEPARD SMITH: —who supports you—

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Yes.

SHEPARD SMITH: —continuing as governor. Is that correct?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: I can. So, the mayor of San Sebastián, for example, supported this effort. Mayors—

SHEPARD SMITH: Whose name is?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: —from different municipalities. Javier Jiménez, for example.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was the governor being interviewed on Fox. Shortly after the interview aired, the mayor of San Sebastian, Javier Jiménez, told several media outlets, including CBS News and Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día, the newspaper, that he does not support Rosselló. If you can talk about the significance of this, Carla Minet? But also talk about the texts that were in this Telegram chat—the company was Telegram—that have caught on, have sort of lit a fire under so many people, for example, the—talking about shooting Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan.

CARLA MINET: Sure. I think that, you know, 889 pages have a lot of material to be—have rage about, because there are not only misogynistic, but there are also mockings of many public officials of his own administration, people from his own party, not only politicians, but also activists—for example, La Colectiva Feminista, which is a feminist group in Puerto Rico, and Ricky Martin and, you know, people that—I don’t know. They just express their point of view, and it’s obviously not according to the governor’s own. And then, because of that, he mocks them, and he tells very horrible jokes, despicable jokes, about them. So, I think many groups, civic groups, have felt that they are aggravated by this chat. And that is why protests have been for 11 days now and nonstop.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the comments that were made, probably the ones that undoubtedly stung the most to the Puerto Rican people were the jokes about the dead from Hurricane Maria and the—could you talk about that, as well?

CARLA MINET: Yeah, of course. As you know, we covered the story about the death toll, which was the worst mistake this administration had made, until the past weeks. And, you know, that was very heartfelt. You know, it was a very deep feeling for the people, that its government didn’t take into account and didn’t address this issue in an effective and sensitive way. So, seeing these jokes about the bodies from the hurricane not being handled correctly, and hearing that he was making jokes about that and his advisers were making jokes about that, and he didn’t say anything, was truly an insult to many people, that, you know, not only were aggravated in the first place because of their loved ones were not buried correctly after the hurricane, but now hearing this on top of that? I think people will not forgive that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, what about the whole issue of the Legislature possibly moving toward impeachment? They’re supposed to receive a report from a legal group on what the potential grounds for an impeachment process would be. Where is that? And, of course, as mentioned earlier, the resignation of the secretary of state creates a problem in terms of even if the governor were impeached or he resigned, who would replace him.

CARLA MINET: Yeah, I think that it seems like what’s happening now is that the governor knows he has to go, and I think he’s taken that decision already. That’s a gut feeling. I have no sources on that. But, you know, many of other officials from his administration have been resigning in the past days also, so he’s mostly alone in there. And I think what’s happening, the delay has to do with the political calculations that his own party is making right now in terms of who will stay in La Fortaleza. We are hearing about this impeachment process or resignation, etc., but what really is happening is that his party is making the game, how will this play for the next election in a year or so. So, I think the delay is not coming from the governor. That is my perception. It’s coming from [inaudible].

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And also, if I can ask you, Ricky Rosselló was relatively inexperienced when he was elected governor, but he is the son of a former governor, Pedro Rosselló. I’m wondering if you have any indication of what his father has been advising the son in this crisis that he’s facing.

CARLA MINET: Nobody has been able to interview Pedro Rosselló, but he was caught up in a phone video in which a protester inquired him about what was happening. And he was just defending him, defending his son, Ricardo Rosselló, saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong. And yesterday, he resigned to all his posts in the political party, the New Progressive Party. He said he was resigning to all the—any roles that he had formally within the party, because of how the party has treated his son. So I think he is just supporting him, basically.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about the control board, because the governor was attempting to stand up, as weakly as he did, but he was standing—to stand up against some of the worst excesses of the control board. What do feel the financial control board’s status is as this crisis unwinds? Will it feel itself more empowered to force austerity measures on Puerto Rico, or will it end up being part of the target of the protesters, as well?

CARLA MINET: Well, the thing is that I think that Ricardo Rosselló has given the board and the federal government, Trump himself, many tools to, you know, claim that what they were saying about Puerto Rico having corrupt officials and not doing his job right was true. It is terrible to be at this crossroads, because Puerto Rico—Puerto Ricans really are wanting and needing a quick recovery process, and this has not happened in the past three years, so now it’s going to be probably more delayed. So, that is a very important concern, I think, for all Puerto Ricans.

I think that, yes, the board may use this moment to try and claim that they should be—have more powers over Puerto Rican government, not only because of the transition process, but because of all the corruption that has come out from many, you know, government angles and agencies. So, I think it’s a very difficult moment in that sense, because probably federal government and the board itself will try to use this moment for their benefit.

And as you say, austerity measures will only worsen the situation. And as we know, this governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has been working with the board, cooperating with the board austerity measures in most cases. Only a very few measures he had retained his position. But most of the public policy that has been implemented in the past three years have been in accordance between the board and the governor.

I think the people are not only protesting for the chat. I think people are also protesting because of the accumulated issues in which people feel that they have not been part of decisions, and also because all of the decisions that are mostly fiscal or economic decisions but are not taking into account how the people feel or what they need or the services that they need.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Carla, I wanted to put this question to you, as well as to—I wanted to put this question, as well as to Juan. Do you think this will have an effect—I mean, whether Rosselló resigns or impeachment proceedings are begun, mass protests continuing—have an effect on the status of Puerto Rico, how it will play out? He represents the party, the statehood party. You have Carmen Yulín Cruz, who says she will run for governor. She represents commonwealth. And then you have those who believe in the independence of Puerto Rico. Though it polls low, it’s probably the feeling of many more than polls indicate. Will this have an effect, do you feel, Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think one thing that’s clearly going to happen is that the governor was seeking to move forward toward another referendum on statehood, and I think that that certainly is not going to be in the cards now. And the statehood party is in disarray. And exactly as Carla has said, what will happen in the future, even who its leader will be, is up for grabs and up for question. But the reality is that there’s still this whole issue of: Where is the Congress? What is Congress going to try to do to—

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Congress.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —one way or another—yeah, the U.S. Congress—one way or another, to what degree does it have the stomach to deal with the status issue of Puerto Rico, or even the willingness? I don’t know. Carla, what do you think?

CARLA MINET: I think this is not going to be a good moment, because any move on the status will be seen as opportunistic, from any point of view. I think Puerto Ricans may resent that, because we are going through the worst crisis we’ve gone in our history, in our modern history. So, I think anyone who tries to take advantage, politically and in terms of status, of this situation will be maybe seen as, yeah, opportunistic.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to just finally ask you about your organization, I mean, the award-winning Center for Investigative Reporting in Puerto Rico, that has led to these mass protests. Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father Luis Miranda have been tweeting, you know, “Support the center.” The case to be made for the power of independent journalism right now in bringing down a corrupt government, what has it meant for all of you, and you, the executive director, head of this whole, what, as they call it, Ricky Leaks project?

CARLA MINET: Well, you know, we’ve gone through a very difficult weeks, you know, very stressful. There’s a lot of pressure and expectations on our work. We’ve been doing this for 11 years now. And, you know, we have a small team, but it’s a very passionate and comprised group of journalists. I think our, you know, having this leak is a turning point, but all the work we’ve done in the past years exposing corruption, exposing how the control board operates, how they relate to political powers in Washington, how the government, the Puerto Rico government and the federal government, have not acted correctly in the recovery process after hurricane—I think, you know, all things together put us in a place to be the ones to break this leak. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you want to tell us who gave you the information, who gave you the documents?

CARLA MINET: I can’t. That is a source that we have to protect, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: But let me end by getting your comment on President Trump’s comment. He spoke about Puerto Rico on Monday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I’m the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico, because we did a great job in Puerto Rico. They don’t like to give me the credit for it, but we did a great job. I have many Puerto Rican friends. I have a real understanding of Puerto Rico. I’ve had jobs in Puerto Rico. I had, I think, the most successful—I own the Miss Universe contest, the pageants, and we had them in Puerto Rico twice. And I’ll tell you, we had tremendous successes.

AMY GOODMAN: “Tremendous success,” the president said, saying he’s “the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.” Carla Minet, your response?

CARLA MINET: I think President Trump has been one of the worst presidents, you know, in the way he has treated Puerto Ricans with disdain, not [inaudible] for Latinos, in general, and human rights issues in which we fit. So, I think it’s not true, what he’s saying. I think the federal government has not treated Puerto Rico in a just way. You know, money is barely coming in. And because of a process in which they are experimenting with us in this recovery process, having a very specific way of bureaucracy to deal with the money, the federal money for recovery, is very unfair. It has turned out to be the worst way in which they have dealt with a recovery process. So I think Trump’s expressions are just plainly false.

AMY GOODMAN: Carla Minet, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the award-winning Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico and the co-author of “Ricky Leaks.”

When we come back, we will speak with Puerto Rican musician and activist iLe of Calle 13. Her new song, “Sharpening the Knives,” with Residente and Bad Bunny, has become the anthem for the Puerto Rican protest movement. Stay with us.

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“Sharpening the Knives”: iLe of Calle 13 on Recording the Anthem of the Puerto Rico Protests

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