Twitter Trolls and Even More Uncertainty Plague Puerto Rico’s Government Crisis

Jul 30, 2019
6:00 PM

People march in protest against Puerto Rico’s current Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, next in line for Puerto Rico’s governor, in San Juan on July 29, 2019. (Photo by Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN JUAN — After holding Puerto Rico hostage for almost two weeks, Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation as governor finally came via a pre-recorded Facebook video on the evening of July 25.

Days after his resignation, the Puerto Rican government is in a crisis, as scandals continue to hit Rosselló’s administration, protests have not slowed down, and the soon to be ex-governor is seemingly acting like business as usual in the days leading up to August 2—when Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez is set to take the position.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening.

51 Trolls

On Monday, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) released an investigation that found 51 Twitter trolls accounts that targeted opposition leaders and used pro-government hashtags.

This finding is allegedly linked to the infamous #TelegramGate chat, where Rosselló and the other members (some of whom were also government officials) planned attacks on opposing figures and journalists, and celebrated people within their own party.

“After analyzing almost 900 pages of text messages, the DFRLab identified 12 cases in which the chat’s participants discussed specific actions on Twitter, either amplifying a message from the government or targeting opponents,” DFRLab wrote.

This investigation also confirms the suspicions many journalists like Sandra Rodríguez Cotto have had for years. In a Facebook post, Rodríguez Cotto listed articles dating back to 2015 where she documented cases of trolls used to attack people on Twitter.

Who’s Next?

 As of Tuesday afternoon, there is still no word on who will succeed Rosselló’s position. On Sunday morning, Wanda Vázquez (Secretary of Justice and next in line) tweeted out that she was uninterested in assuming the role of Governor but was only following Constitutional order.

Many speculated that Vázquez’s tweet was meant to calm down the masses, but it seems to have amplified the calls for her resignation. Thousands gathered in front of the Department of Justice on Monday evening to protest the Justice Secretary and let the world know that Puerto Rico is not done yet.

Another consequence of Vázquez’s tweet is that with no appointed Secretary of State, the next in line to become Governor is Secretary of Education Eligio Hernández Pérez.

Until the Secretary of Justice’s remarks, Hernández Pérez was a pretty low-key public figure. He assumed the role of Secretary of Education in April when Julia Keleher (who was recently indicted on several counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy) stepped down.

Strong rumors that the Senate President Thomás Rivera Schatz, is making moves to be appointed Secretary of State have been running around since last week, but there’s yet to be confirmation that it’s true.

Meanwhile, El Nuevo Día reported that Rosselló will likely nominate Pedro Pierluisi for the position of Secretary of State.

For many, the thought of Rivera Schatz becoming Governor is terrifying. Rivera Schatz is known as a ruthless leader who defies journalists, attacks his opponents, and whose office is currently the target of an investigation by public figure Jay Fonseca and his team.

Right now, it’s a waiting game.

Business As Usual

Although Rosselló has maintained radio silence since releasing the resignation video on Wednesday, the soon to be ex-governor has been busy passing laws and holding meetings during his last days in office.

On Friday, Rosselló signed a bill into law that creates the Puerto Rico Innovation and Technology Service (PRITS, in Spanish) to advance government management of innovation, information, and technology.

On Saturday, he signed a bill that allocates $1.4 billion dollars from the General Fund to transfer and deposit them in the trust for pensioners and retirees.

Then on Sunday, Fortaleza released a statement saying that the Governor received approval from the Financial Oversight Board to increase police officer’s salary by 15 percent.

Rosselló has also been tweeting about meetings and activities that the First Lady and other government officials have been partaking in.

Many see his attempt to appear nonchalant as a measure of distraction, and people on social media have been unreceptive to Rosselló’s “business as usual” behavior.


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.