Some of Puerto Rico’s biggest stars rallied a crowd of many thousands in San Juan on Wednesday calling on the island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign. It was the fifth day in a row of protests following a leak of hundreds of pages of misogynistic and homophobic texts between the governor and his main advisers.
During the day, trap artist Bad Bunny and the singer Ricky Martin were among the huge crowd that marched to the governor’s mansion.
Tensions ratcheted up in the evening as protesters burst through a barricade at the governor’s mansion, and security forces fired tear gas at the crowd, causing many to flee into surrounding streets. A livestream from Puerto Rican news site El Nuevo Día showed chaotic scenes of demonstrators confronting riot police a few minutes after midnight local time.
By early hours Thursday, the old city of San Juan resembled a war zone, with police chasing protesters through the streets while firing rubber bullets, gas canisters and what appeared to be flash bombs.
Earlier, demonstrators wearing gas masks and hard-hats set a pile of garbage on fire in a plaza, and police quickly fired tear gas at them. A street was shown littered with debris and broken glass.
As El Nuevo Día reported, police spokesperson Axel Valencia said five people were arrested and two people were reported injured.
He said several senior police officers were in the area and ordered the protesters stand down.
“They were given verbal commands to cease and desist what they were doing. They were throwing rocks, quarter sticks of dynamite. They were throwing many things,” Valencia said, according to the news site. “You all saw how close they got to the fences of the perimeter, and well, there came a moment when our personnel had to use tear gases.”
The protests have been gaining momentum every day with high-profile support, including from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who led a demonstration in New York calling on Rosselló to step down.
Rosselló has apologized for the texts but has insisted that he intends to remain in office.
In the private chat messages published on Saturday by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, the governor and his inner circle use misogynistic language to talk about women. They use homophobic language to talk about journalists and Ricky Martin. They engage in fat-shaming. They talk about manipulating the media, manipulating public opinion polls. And they make jokes about shooting the mayor of San Juan.
The governor’s chief financial officers made a joke about the dead bodies that piled up in a government facility before and after Hurricane Maria in 2017. That comment has been particularly galling for many Puerto Ricans still recovering from the deadly storm nearly two years later.
The island is suffering from far more problems than the hurricane. It’s been mired in an economic recession for more than a decade, including a debt crisis that has resulted in slashing public services and the imposition of a federal oversight board that has taken control of Puerto Rico’s finances. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced leave the island, a trend that accelerated after the hurricane. For many residents, the chats have become a representation in black and white of the indifference they feel their leaders have for their daily struggles.
Protesters say they expect demonstrations to get bigger should the governor continue clinging to office.