WASHINGTON, D.C. - OCTOBER 19: (AFP-OUT) Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico attends a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House on October 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Trump and Rossello spoke about the continuing recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images)
Puerto Rico governor says he won't seek reelection
01:52 - Source: CNN
San Juan, Puerto Rico CNN  — 

As protests against Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló intensified on Monday, politicians on the US mainland joined the chorus of voices criticizing his leadership or calling for him to resign.

“He’s a terrible governor,” President Donald Trump said Monday, as hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans blocked a major highway and launched an island-wide strike demanding that the governor of the US territory resign.

“Governor Rosselló has exhibited a pattern of sexist, homophobic and entirely inappropriate behavior,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, referencing the nearly 900 pages of leaked messages between Rosselló and members of his inner circle that sparked the protests.

The group chat messages “offended almost every group on the island,” said Angel Rosa, a political science professor at the University of Puerto Rico. In them, one member of Rosselló’s inner circle joked about victims of Hurricane Maria.

“While Puerto Ricans attempt to heal from Hurricane María, he mocks victims for a cheap laugh,” de Blasio said. “Governor Rosselló should resign immediately.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement that “the ongoing crisis of faith in Governor Rosselló makes his continued leadership untenable and he should resign.”

An aerial view from a drone shows thousands of people as they fill the Expreso Las Américas highway calling for the ouster of Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló on July 22, 2019, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Though Rosselló announced Sunday that he would not seek reelection when his term is over, protesters say they won’t rest until he has left office.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said the governor’s refusal to step down has “added fuel to the fire.”

“We are prepared here at City Hall with a makeshift emergency unit with medics and doctors and nurses to take in anybody that receives tear gas or has a cut in their body or potentially been shot,” she said.

‘This has never happened in Puerto Rico before’

Protests have been ongoing for the past week – and older protesters said Monday’s rally was one of the largest they’ve ever seen.

“This has never happened in Puerto Rico before,” Rosa said.

Police deployed tear gas into a crowd of protesters Monday night. Officers told the crowd of protesters who were behind a barricade to get back and gave them several verbal warnings on the speaker system. Police also used an alarm siren on a loud speaker as a warning for the crowd to disperse. Protesters did not heed the warnings, instead throwing water bottles and other objects at the police.

As the crowd dispersed, police fanned out along streets and alley’s in Old San Juan and continued to use gas against pockets of protesters.

The protesters spanned many generations and political leanings. Both supporters and opponents of US statehood came together for this cause.

They say the offensive chat messages are just one of many reasons why Puerto Rico’s leadership needs to go.

“I am fed up with the thieving government,” protester Maristella Gross said. “I am fed up with corruption. I am fed up with lack of integrity.”

“This is an opportunity to Puerto Rico to clean house, to start over,” said Ediris Rivera, 23.

Many protesters dripped with sweat, but Neysha Benitez, 24, didn’t mind the sweltering heat. Even when it started raining, marchers were undeterred by the heavy downpours throughout the early afternoon.

“We cannot be silent anymore,” Benitez said. “Our voices need to be heard.”