SAN JUAN, PR – An afternoon of extraordinary protests calling for the immediate resignation of Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló from Puerto Rico turned chaotic late on Monday as police in protective gear triggered tear gas and pepper spray into a crowd of thousands of demonstrators.
The gas leak shortly after 8.30 pm dispersed most of the gathering, which had swelled outside the governor's villa, La Fortaleza. But some protesters defied the authorities, sitting in a row in front of the police wall, raising their arms and holding their hands.
"Somos más y no tenemos miedo!" They cried. There are more of us and we are not afraid.
When the crowd approached again and filled the narrow streets of Old San Juan while she was singing against the governor, the police released the pepper spray. Nevertheless, protesters remained nearby. The police began to push out, use more gas and later fire rubber bullets.
Henry Escalera, the police commissioner, told reporters that some demonstrators were taking more than two-hour breaks.
"We are here to uphold the right to freedom of expression," he said. "We will defend democracy to the last drop."
The tense clashes marked an escalation of the dramatic political crisis that began in Puerto Rico after hundreds of pages of a private chat in the messaging app Telegram between Mr. Rosselló and some of his closest aides were leaked on Saturday revealed a lot of raw and inappropriate bartering.
The leakage caused by high-profile federal corruption arrests last week triggered months of pent-up frustration over Rosselló's dealings with Hurricane Maria, his education policy, and the federal regulator controlling Puerto Rico's troubled finances.
"The conversation was the last straw," said Norma Jean Colberg, 58, one of the protesters. 19659002] She compared the Monday demonstrations with those of the Puerto Ricans, which took place in 1999 against the military presence on the island of Vieques. "If people manage to get the Navy out of Vieques, we can get that governor out," she said.
The Puerto Ricans organized smaller solidarity protests outside the island, including in New York and Washington
The authorities had carried out at least three arrests, Escalera said in a late night press conference in La Fortaleza. Outside, a fire was burning about a block away. The demonstrators stayed nearby when firefighters arrived to extinguish the flames. Luis Cordero, a police captain, said the demonstrators had set fire to garbage in containers that had acted as a buffer between the crowd and the police officers.
In a statement, Mr. Rosselló, who was not in the villa of the clashes, called the protests "an expression that I respect and keep in mind". He complained that some demonstrators "decided to damage property and attack officials who tried to uphold public order."
Many other ways to be heard, "he said.
The skirmishes continued late into the night as demonstrators moved closer to the mansion and officers responded with more rubber bullets According to a Harvard study that could have died after Hurricane Maria, that's the number of people.
"My mother died on 13 November 2017 after the storm," said Mildred Feliciano, 55, of Yabucoa, PR. I'm here for you. "
Mr. Rosselló, who insisted on not resigning, tried to maintain a normal climate by holding regular Monday meetings and posted a photo of himself at the head of a conference table surrounded by his team on Twitter .
"I will continue," Mr. Rosselló said in a radio interview, reiterating that he felt remorse for his actions. "We're all hurt – I'm hurt – but I recognize it and I have to get up again."
But a sign of how untypical the day was after Mr. Rosselló left and ignored a radio station. A crowd of reporters, a television crew, jumping into a car and chasing the governor motorcade to broadcast the ride live on TV Do not be distracted by the scandal.
"He made a mistake that understood and apologized immediately," she said.
On Monday afternoon, a lawmaker from the Puerto Rican House of Representatives introduced a law to bring charges against the Lord. Rosselló. However, the House and Senate leaders, both controlled by the governor's New Progressive Party, have announced that they want to give Mr. Rosselló time to reflect on his future. Previously, he was expected to be re-elected in 2020.