|Date||July 8, 2019 – August 12, 2019|
(1 month, 1 week and 4 days)
|Caused by||Leaking of hundreds of pages of vulgar, racist, and homophobic comments in a private group chat between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and past and current members of his staff|
|Goals||Resignation of Rosselló as the Governor of Puerto Rico|
|Methods||Internet activism, graffiti, sit-ins, street protests, picketing, protest art|
|Resulted in||Resignation of Rosselló as the Governor of Puerto Rico effective August 2 at 5:00 p.m. AST|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Injuries||At least 20|
(as of July 25, 2019)
|Arrested||At least 16|
(as of July 25, 2019)
Telegramgate, also known as Chatgate or RickyLeaks, was a political scandal involving Ricardo Rosselló, then Governor of Puerto Rico, which began on July 8, 2019, with the leaking of hundreds of pages of a group chat on the messaging application Telegram between Rosselló and past and current members of his staff. The messages were considered vulgar, racist, and homophobic toward several individuals and groups, and discussed how they would use the media to target potential political opponents. The leak came in the midst of allegations by former Secretary of Treasury of Puerto Rico, Raúl Maldonado Gautier, that his department boasted an "institutional mafia" that Rosselló was involved in. The leaks came a year after a previous scandal, dubbed WhatsApp Gate, involving other members of Rosselló's cabinet.
Mass protests arose, reaching up to 1,000,000 people at a single event on July 17. On July 22, 2019, up to a million protesters shut down the Expreso Las Américas, an 11-lane highway. While several of his staff have resigned in the wake, Rosselló initially refused to resign as governor and simply resigned as president of the governing pro-statehood New Progressive Party on July 21 and said he would not seek re-election in the 2020 Puerto Rico gubernatorial election. By July 22, there had been eleven consecutive days of protests, near La Fortaleza, the Governor's mansion in San Juan. On July 24, 2019, Rosselló announced that he would resign as governor on August 2, 2019. Rosselló’s resignation took effect on August 2, 2019, at 5:00 PM local time. Former US representative for Puerto Rico and recently named Secretary of State Pedro Pierluisi was sworn in immediately after Rosselló left office, amid confusion as to who would assume the role of governor.
Telegram chat dialog
On July 8, 2019, a small segment of Telegram chat messages between Ricardo Rosselló and various members of his cabinet, former advisors, and former campaign managers were leaked and spread by the local press. The full 889-page copy of the conversations was published July 13, by local investigative news agency Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism.
Among those identified in the chat logs are:
- Ricardo Rosselló, governor
- Christian Sobrino, governor's representative to the PROMESA board
- Ramón Rosario, secretary of public affairs of La Fortaleza (governor's residence)
- Elías Sánchez, 2016 political campaign director, lobbyist
- Rafael Cerame, communications consultant
- Carlos Bermúdez, communications consultant
- Ricardo Llerandi, chief of staff to the governor
- Alfonso Orona, legal counsel to the governor
- Anthony Maceira, secretary of public relations
- Edwin Miranda, publicist, founder of the advertising agency KOI
- Raúl Maldonado, Secretary of the Treasury
- Luis G. Rivera Marín, Secretary of State
The chat messages were found by the general public to be vulgar and racist and described as a "bro" culture among the group. Chat members referred to New York City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito as a "whore", made homophobic remarks about Ricky Martin, and called San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz "una tremenda HP [hija de puta]" - transl. "a total daughter of a bitch". The chats revealed plans to control the media and smear political opponents, and Rosselló shared confidential state information with the non-government officials in the chat.
Other parts of the conversations joked about the deaths from Hurricane Maria. When interviewed by Democracy Now on July 23, 2019, Carla Minet from the Puerto Center for Investigative Journalism stated that it was those jokes that were particularly painful as many Puerto Ricans had been unable to properly bury their dead in the chaotic days that followed Hurricane Maria, and reading chats where the governor mentioned "cadavers", and did not stop others from joking about the dead, which was seen as an unforgivable betrayal.
Prior to the full log's publication, on July 10, 2019, a 32-count federal indictment resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arresting six people, including two former high-ranking Puerto Rico government officials who served in Rosselló's government, on charges of conspiracy and other crimes in connection with millions of dollars in federal Medicaid and education funds.
Several of Rosselló's staff in the chat log conversations resigned following its publication. Luis Rivera Marín and Christian Sobrino resigned from their positions in the government on July 13; In addition, press secretary Dennise Peréz resigned on July 19, and chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi followed suit on July 23.
On July 17, the Puerto Rican Justice Department ordered that all participants be interviewed and have their phones inspected. The FBI would neither confirm nor deny that it is investigating those involved.
On July 19, the Puerto Rican House of Representatives formed an impeachment committee, its members being three attorneys appointed by House leader Carlos Johnny Méndez, to consider whether Rosselló committed impeachable offenses based on the chat log. On July 23, a judge issued an order requiring all participants in the conversation to surrender their phones, which were then seized. On July 24, the committee recommended five articles of impeachment against Governor Rosselló.. Later that day, Rosselló publicly announced that he would resign as governor, effective August 2, 2019, at 5:00 PM AST.
On July 28, the Public Affairs Secretary, Anthony Maceira, resigned.
On July 31, Rosselló announced his nomination of Pedro Pierluisi to the position of Secretary of State, with the intention of having him succeed the office of Governor of Puerto Rico. Pierluisi, former Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico during the Luis Fortuño administration and former Secretary of Justice of Puerto Rico during the Pedro Rosselló administration, was Ricardo Rosselló's former adversary in the 2016 primaries of their party, which resulted in Rosselló's victory over Pierluisi as the New Progressive Party's nominee for Governor of Puerto Rico in the 2016 general elections. The same day that Rosselló nominated Pierluisi, a new document with an additional 100 pages of the controversial chat was released by journalist Sandra Rodríguez Cotto. On August 1, the Puerto Rican Senate denied Pierluisi confirmation before Rosselló's resignation, thus preventing him from becoming acting Governor.
On August 2, Pierluisi was confirmed as Secretary of State by House of Representatives on August 2 after confirmation hearings; the Senate still has to conduct a ratification to confirm Pierluisi as Secretary of State. He was sworn in as Governor of Puerto Rico on August 2, at 5:00 p.m. AST, immediately after Rosselló's incumbency ended.
Protests calling for the governor to resign began upon his return to Puerto Rico from France on July 11, 2019, and continued as of July 22. A July 17 protest in Old San Juan had an attendance of 500,000 people at its peak. Protests have also been held in other municipalities, cities, and countries.
Another protest which was held in Old San Juan on July 22, also drew hundreds of thousands and was reported to have set a protest record, with NBC News estimating the crowd size to be potentially over 1 million by 1:00 local time.The crowd size is reported to have eclipsed the previous record set when Puerto Rican protestors gathered in 2004 to denounce the US military training missions on the local island of Vieques.
Many protested in creative ways, doing yoga, holding signs while scuba diving under water, on horse-back, drumming, with face-painting, via group prayers, and with exhibitions of reminders of those who died in Hurricane Maria.
Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico's sole representative in Congress, said that she believes Rosselló should not seek re-election the following year as a result of the incident. Thomas Rivera Schatz, President of the Puerto Rican Senate, took to Twitter and Facebook to call upon Rosselló and every government official included in the chat to resign; Carlos Johnny Méndez, President of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, did the same. On July 13, Sila María Calderón, former Governor of the island for the Popular Democratic Party, called upon Rosselló to resign. Luis Fortuño, also a former leader of the US possession, did the same through a letter posted on his social media. On July 19, former San Antonio mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro became the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to call for Rosselló's resignation, followed by two fellow presidential contenders, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Senator Bernie Sanders.
On July 21, Rosselló announced that he would not seek re-election in the 2020 Puerto Rico gubernatorial election, but he initially refused to resign as governor. He also announced his resignation as President of the New Progressive Party. However, three days later, Rosselló announced that he would resign as governor, effective August 2, 2019, at 5:00 p.m. AST, to be replaced by Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced. Vázquez announced in a tweet that she was not interested in becoming governor and that she hopes Rosselló appoints someone before his last day. On August 1, 2019, Rosselló's preferred successor Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in as acting Secretary of State on July 31, 2019, was blocked by the Puerto Rican Senate from being confirmed to his post before Rosselló leaves office. However, Pierluisi ended up assuming the governorship immediately after Rosselló's resignation, despite not being confirmed by the Senate. As a result, the President of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, is currently challenging the legitimacy of his ascent to office in the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Protests have continued, with their main focus shifting to calling for Pierluisi's resignation.
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