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Puerto Rice Preps for Massive Protests 07/22 06:20

   SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Rico braced early Monday for what many 
people expected to be one of the biggest protests ever seen in the U.S. 
territory as irate islanders pledged to drive Gov. Ricardo Rossell from office.

   Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to take over one of the 
island's busiest highways Monday morning to press demands for the resignation 
of Rossell over an obscenity-laced leaked online chat the governor had with 
allies as well as federal corruption charges leveled against his administration.

   The anticipated march in the capital of San Juan came a day after Rossell 
announced that he would not quit, but sought to calm the unrest by promising 
not to seek reelection or continue as head of his pro-statehood political 
party. That only further angered his critics, who have mounted street 
demonstrations for more than a week.

   "The people are not going to go away," said Johanna Soto, of the 
northeastern city of Carolina. "That's what he's hoping for, but we outnumber 
him."

   Organizers labeled the planned road shutdown "660,510 + 1," which represents 
the number of people who voted for Rossell plus one more to reject his 
argument that he is not resigning because he was chosen by the people.

   Monday would be the 10th consecutive day of protests, and more were being 
called for later in the week. The island's largest mall, Plaza de las Amricas, 
closed ahead of the protest as did dozens of other businesses.

   In a video posted Sunday night on Facebook, Rossell said he welcomed 
people's freedom to express themselves. He also said he was looking forward to 
defending himself against the process of impeachment, whose initial stages are 
being explored by Puerto Rico's legislature.

   "I hear you," he said the brief video. "I have made mistakes and I have 
apologized."

   The 889 pages of chat on the encrypted app Telegram between the governor and 
11 close allies and members of his administration, all men, showed the governor 
and his advisers insulting women and mocking constituents, including the 
victims of Hurricane Maria.

   Hours after Rossell spoke Sunday, another top government official submitted 
his resignation. "Unfortunately the events in recent weeks, including the 
attitudes reflected in the comments of officials and advisers of the current 
administration, do not match my values and principles," wrote Gerardo Portela, 
principal investment officer, president of Puerto Rico's Economic Development 
Bank and executive director of the Housing Finance Authority.

   Since the chat leaked July 13, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have 
marched to Rossell's official residence in the largest protest movement on the 
island since Puerto Ricans successfully demonstrated to bring an end to U.S. 
Navy military training on the island of Vieques more than 15 years ago.

   Ramphis Castro of Guayama arrived in San Juan late Sunday after more than an 
hour-long drive to prepare for Monday's march. He said he was incensed after 
Rossell's announcement Sunday.

   "When is he going to say that he's resigning," Castro exclaimed. "This makes 
people even more angry."

   The upheaval comes as the U.S. territory is struggling to recover from 
Hurricane Maria and trying to restructure part of $70 billion in debt amid a 
13-year recession in this territory of more than 3 million American citizens 
who do not have full representation in Congress or a vote for president.

   Normally, a governor who resigns would be replaced by Puerto Rico's 
secretary of state, but Luis Rivera Marn quit that job amid the uproar over 
the chat, so the next in line would be the justice secretary, Wanda Vzquez.

   Pressure on Rossell to step down has intensified as the chorus calling for 
his resignation grew to include Puerto Rico music superstars Ricky Martin, Bad 
Bunny and Residente and a string of U.S. politicians including Congress members 
from both parties, several Democratic presidential candidates and Puerto Rico's 
non-voting representative in Congress.

   Rossell was elected governor in November 2016 with nearly 50% of the vote, 
and he had already announced his intention to seek a second term. A graduate of 
MIT with a doctorate in genetics, he is the son of former Puerto Rico Gov. 
Pedro Rossell, who flew to the island to marshal support after the chat was 
made public.

   The governor belongs to the New Progressive Party, which seeks statehood for 
the island, and he is also a Democrat. Most of his time has been spent seeking 
federal funds since Hurricane Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20, 2017, 
and battling austerity measures implemented by a federal control board that 
Congress set up to oversee the island government's finances.

   The upheaval against Rossell prompted at least four cruise ships to cancel 
visits to Puerto Rico, and many officials worry about the impact a resignation 
would have on the already fragile economy as the island rebuilds from Maria, a 
Category 4 storm that caused more than an estimated $100 billion in damage.

   Another concern is the recent string of arrests involving federal corruption 
charges targeting Puerto Rico officials, among them two former agency heads, 
including former education secretary Julia Keleher.


(KR)

 
 
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