Puerto Rico Governor Faces Calls To Resign Over Messages
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The governor of Puerto Rico is facing increasing calls to resign this morning. Last week brought corruption charges against top advisers of Governor Ricardo Rossello. And now a new bombshell - the release of hundreds of pages of chat messages between the governor and his advisers; messages that use misogynistic and homophobic language to refer to women, political opponents, the federal oversight board and even to make fun of Hurricane Maria's dead. NPR's Adrian Florido has reported extensively from Puerto Rico. And we catch up with him this morning on his way back to the island.
Good morning, Adrian.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with these corruption charges. What is alleged there?
FLORIDO: So last week, the U.S. attorney for Puerto Rico filed corruption charges against two former top officials in the Rossello administration. They were charged with conspiracy and other crimes in connection with $15 million worth of Medicaid and federal education funds. And they're accused of, essentially, steering those contracts for that money to personal friends or people with government connections. Governor Rossello, after these charges were filed, said that he would not tolerate corruption. And he pledged to cooperate with law enforcement to continue rooting out corruption, but the charges were a big stain on his administration.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should be clear that this federal money was not hurricane relief money but still immensely damaging. And now, to the latest part of this saga - these text messages. Give us an idea of what they say and where they come from.
FLORIDO: Yeah. These are text messages that were part of a group chat that the governor and members of his inner circle in the administration were a part of for several months. Over the last several days, they've been leaked to local media sort of page by page. And then yesterday, the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico got ahold of and published all 900 pages. And they really are quite damning. We see the governor using a really offensive misogynistic word to refer to the ex-New York City Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito. He used profanity to refer to the federal oversight board that's trying to get Puerto Rico out of debt. We saw the way that they have tried to manipulate press coverage and opinion polling. You know, the outcry over these text messages forced Rossello to simply fire all of his top advisers.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that ostensibly is going to have a big effect possibly for Puerto Rico on its road to recovery. And also, it sort of puts a spotlight on how he has dealt with President Trump in particular. He has been conciliatory, if not flattering at times. Other times, he was more upfront with his frustration. Neither worked, and President Trump was highly critical of Puerto Rico's government. So where does this leave things in your view?
FLORIDO: Yeah. You know, Lulu, one of the great ironies here is that Ricardo Rossello, as a governor, has made a very big point of selling himself as this transparent and competent leader, as someone who has gone to great pains, in fact, to distance his administration from any association with corruption, with scandal. In large part, that's because President Trump, as you know, has repeatedly accused island officials of being corrupt, of being incompetent as a way to justify withholding disaster-recovery money that Puerto Rico still needs. And there's no doubt, I think, that these recent episodes are going to harm Puerto Rico's standing with U.S. federal lawmakers. Some Republicans, after these corruption charges were filed last week, said, in fact, that they were going to put more safeguards in place before sending more money toward Puerto Rico. Other lawmakers, since this scandal has been ballooning, have started to denounce Rossello. And so this is bad not only for him. More broadly, it's damaging for the island's efforts to rebuild.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Adrian Florido.
Thank you so much.
FLORIDO: Thanks, Lulu.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAN PHELPS, MATT CHAMBERLAIN AND VIKTOR KRAUSS' "CREEPER VINE")
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