Police deployed tear gas and fired rubber bullets at protesters in Puerto Rico's capital city of San Juan late Wednesday on the fifth consecutive day of mass demonstrations to demand the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
The Miami Herald reported from the scene as hundreds of protesters and police faced off on the colonial streets outside La Fortaleza—the governor's mansion—in the neighborhood of Old San Juan.
Some protesters threw firecrackers, bottles of water, beer, and glowsticks at the officers barricaded around the governor's home. Portions of the crowd called for others to stop inciting violence, leading chants like "No tiren" — stop throwing—as tensions boiled over between rioters and police.
Shortly before midnight, the officers issued a warning to the crowd to disperse. Minutes later, police shot rubber bullets at the crowd, injuring protesters and journalists. The tear gas drove panicked demonstrators away from the barricades and against a nearby chapel. Some climbed the fence or pried open the gates of the iconic Parque de las Palomas.
NBC News producer Annie Rose Ramos shared videos of the confrontation on Twitter:
Police storm over the barricades and into the crowd - throwing tear gas into the crowds as people tried to get away - some too overwhelmed from the gas they fall over in pain, rubbing their eyes #PuertoRico #PuertoRicoMarcha #RenunciaRicky pic.twitter.com/S1dc7Gty1Z
— Annie Rose Ramos (@Annie_Rose23) July 18, 2019
Wednesday marked the second time this week that police used tear gas outside the governor's mansion amid growing outrage directed at Rosselló, a member of Puerto Rico's New Progressive Party who is affiliated with Democrats nationally.
Despite the mounting unrest, Rosselló has refused to step down. He told reporters in a news conference on Tuesday, "I have not committed any illegal acts, I only committed improper acts," and "I will continue my work and my responsibility to the people of Puerto Rico."
Calls for Rosselló to resign were sparked by Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism publishing screenshots last week of sexist, homophobic, mocking, and threatening messages from a private group chat that included the governor and several of his top staffers—some of whom have left their positions this week. On Saturday, the center released the full chat thread, which spans 889 pages.
However, as Common Dreams reported Monday, "the chat was the final straw." Since Rosselló took office in January of 2017, Puerto Ricans have expressed frustration with government corruption and how he has handled both the island's debt crisis and recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the territory nearly two years ago.
Puerto Rico has had troubled governments “for as long as I remember, since I was a little girl,” one protester said. “I have never seen or heard of a transparent government. I haven’t lived under a government that hasn’t been corrupt. This is why we came.” https://t.co/IUhXoWNngC
— Patricia Mazzei (@PatriciaMazzei) July 18, 2019
This historic moment for #PuertoRico will give way to transparency, growth, & a stronger democracy. I’m proud of #PuertoRican people for demanding accountability & not accepting soundbyte apologies. They are shining light on corruption. The governor must resign. #RickyRenuncia pic.twitter.com/bbjWo9TEdG
— Nancy Santiago (@nancysnegron) July 18, 2019
The chaos outside La Fortaleza Wednesday night came after thousands of Puerto Ricans marched through the narrow streets of Old San Juan that afternoon, chanting "Ricky Renuncia," which means "Ricky Resign" in Spanish. Some of the island's famous performers—rappers Bad Bunny and Residente, singer Ricky Martin, and actor Benicio del Toro—joined the march.
#RickyMartin spoke for the people of #PuertoRico during the protests in “La Fortaleza” and explained why #RicardoRosello, the governor, should resign#RickyRenunciaYa [: @ricky_martin] pic.twitter.com/lxO1uQLtup
— Latinx Now! (@latinxnow) July 18, 2019
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 18, 2019
"The crowd ranged from teenagers to retirees, with some waving the island's flag printed in black and gray rather than red, white, and blue to symbolize their discontent with a government they call corrupt and unresponsive to its people," according to The Associated Press. "Many older protesters went home before nightfall as chanting young people filled Old San Juan's Totem Plaza and the first few blocks leading up to the 16th century fortress where the governor resides."
— Gabe Gutierrez (@gabegutierrez) July 17, 2019
Demands for Rosselló's resignation have come not only from residents of the island but also Puerto Rican communities across the mainland—with protests in California, Florida, New York, and Washington D.C.
The controversy comes as Puerto Rico is only in the second month of this year's hurricane season, which goes through the end of November, and as the island still struggles to rebuild from the devastating 2017 storms.
Odeh criticized Rosselló and "his inner circles" for having "the audacity to joke about the lives of those lost, while doing nothing to ensure our long-term recovery." As she put it: "This is unacceptable and appalling, and as Puerto Ricans, we do not stand for this behavior."
"With hurricane season already upon us, Puerto Ricans are reminded of the toll that the combined effects of colonialism, classism, corruption, environmental destruction, and disaster capitalism have on our communities," Odeh added. "We need leaders and new models of democratic governance that are dedicated to just hurricane recovery, access to health and education services, and to having our human rights and right to safety respected without hurtful austerity measures."