This Week in Puerto Rico: Arrests, Insults, and Apologies

Jul 12, 2019
3:53 PM

UPDATE, July 13, 2019: Puerto Rico’s Centro de Periodismo Investigativo has published the full Telegram chat thread, all 889 pages of it.

It seems as though the media frenzy coming out of Puerto Rico is never-ending. Just ask Latino Rebels founder Julio Ricardo Varela:

In the last two weeks, scandal after scandal has rocked the island, and governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares is at the center of it, trying to put out the fires with excuses and apologies.

Here’s a quick recap of what happened this past week:

FBI Arrests Former Heads of Government Agencies

Early Wednesday morning, the FBI carried out several arrests of former government employees and contractors accused of corruption. The most notable arrests were former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher, and former Health Insurance Administrator Ángela Ávila, who both served under the Rosselló Administration.

Also indicted were BDO contractor and former Governor Luis Fortuño advisor, Alberto Velázquez Piñol, who was at the center of the entire scheme; BDO president Fernando Scherrer Caillet; and sisters Mayra Ponce Mendoza and Glenda Ponce Mendoza of Colón & Ponce.

The group faces a combined 32 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and theft of government funds.

Keleher was arrested in Washington D.C., where she lives, and after declaring herself not guilty and being released, she was given until July 17 to voluntarily turn herself in to the Puerto Rican federal authorities. Velázquez Piñol turned himself toin to authorities in Connecticut, and already presented himself in front of a Federal Judge in San Juan where he declared himself not guilty and is out on bail.

The other four were arrested in Puerto Rico. All declared themselves not guilty, and are out on bail. 

TelegramGate Continues

On Monday evening, 11 pages of screenshots of a private Telegram group chat between Rosselló and his closest friends were leaked. In the first set of chats, Rosselló and his inner circle made fun of Thomás Rivera Schatz (president of the Senate), used homophobic language, and joked about taking vacations on tax payer dollars to see how the Secretary of Justice would fare as interim governor.

Then on Thursday morning, the day after the arrests, seven new pages were published by journalist Sandra Rodríguez Cotto, these ones containing sever misogynistic language from Rosselló himself. In the chat, he called former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito a puta (slut, whore) and threatened violence against her. Rosselló also said that the Financial Oversight & Management Board should “Go fuck yourself,” followed by multiple middle finger emojis, and the group made fun of the Fiscal Control Board’s executive director Natalie Jaresko.

On Friday morning, Rodríguez Cotto released five new pages from the Telegram chat. This time, the group briefly made fun of San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz (though Rodríguez Cotto assures there’s more where that came from), joked about a horse that died on the street and how the Rosselló administration was responsible, and other jokes about the government’s public image.

In her post, the journalist reminds the public that although this might seem like a group making harmless jokes, these are all public figures in charge of running the country.

Rosselló Finally Speaks

During a highly anticipated press conference on Thursday night, Rosselló made his first public appearance since the arrests and Telegram Gate scandals. He began by apologizing for his sexist comments in the leaked Telegram conversations, and promised to do better by the women he’s offended.

He then moved on to the corruption scandal, reiterating his disgust towards the officials that “betrayed” his trust. On multiple occasions, he promised to battle corruption but never gave any concrete proposals.

At times, he would get defensive when asked about the other accusations and would invoke his jet lag when he was unsure on how to answer a question.

One of the most notable things to come out of the press conference was the confirmation that Rosselló’s former chief of staff and representative on the Board, Elías Sánchez Sifonte, was part of the group chat. But when asked if he’s the elusive “F do”, Rosselló said he’s unsure who “F do” is. Sánchez’s middle name is Fernando.

Rosselló arrived on Thursday afternoon after returning from a family vacation in Europe. His return was highly anticipated, with local news shows tracking his plane since its departure from Madrid and televising its landing.

During the press conference, Rosselló was asked if he plans on seeking reelection for 2020. He failed to give a definitive answer, opting for letting his results speak for themselves.

Protestors gathered outside the airport waiting for Rosselló’s arrival. Some local activists denounced that undercover police were among them. The protests then moved to La Fortaleza, where Rosselló was addressing the press, and police with riot gear quickly lined up between the protesters and the residence. In the end, the confrontation was not violent.

A live thread of the Rosselló’s press conference:

Corruption Legacy

With all that’s happened this week, many were quick to compare Rosselló Nevares to his father, Pedro Rosselló, who served two terms as Governor from 1993 to 2001. The senior Rosselló’s administration was riddled with corruption scandals, with over 40 public officials accused or convicted for corruption, including his Secretary of Education, Victor Fajardo, who served 12 years in prison.

Arizona Democrat Asks for Rosselló’s Resignation

Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, called on Wednesday for Rosselló’s resignation after former members of his administration were arrested.


Natalia Rodríguez Medina is the 2019 summer correspondent for Latino Rebels. She is a member the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY’s Class of 2019. Natalia tweets from @nataliarodmed.