BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On The Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE How can we stand on the moral foundations of our nation when they are built on such unstable ground? How broken does our political system have to be? How roiled by corruption and contempt for the governed, before we find common purpose in repairing it? And if there is a limit to what we can tolerate, how might it look when that limit is reached?
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BROOKE GLADSTONE For that answer, we turn to Puerto Rico where for the past week protesters have turned out to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
RICKY MARTIN We're tired of the cynicism. They put down women. They put down the LGBTQ community. People with disabilities. Corruption. It is insane. We are tired. We can't take it anymore. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, on Wednesday, outside the capitol in San Juan joined by rappers artists athletes and tens of thousands of others from both major political parties on the island.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE The protests began last weekend when the Center for Investigative Journalism in San Juan published some 900 pages of text messages between the governor, members of his administration and a lobbyist exchanged on the Telegram app. This was one nasty chat.
MALE CORRESPONDENT The leaked chat room conversations between the governor and 11 others are laced with profane, homophobic and sexist comments. And in one case, talk of violence against the mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz. The governor's chief financial officer Christian Sobrino wrote, 'I'm dying to shoot her up. The governor responded, 'you'd be doing me a big favor.'.
MALE CORRESPONDENT In one exchange, governor Rosselló called a former New York City councilwoman a whore.
MALE CORRESPONDENT Governor Ricardo Rosselló is defying calls to resign and apologizing for his role in what has now been dubbed Ricky leaks.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT It's a scandal where 900 pages of conversations were leaked showing the government manipulating media stories and trying to discredit negative press coverage. [END CLIP]
PEDRO REINA-PÉREZ It's like a window into the unconscious.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Pedro Reina-Pérez is a journalist and historian with both the University of Puerto Rico and Harvard.
PEDRO REINA-PÉREZ We have very little regard for public officials and the chat basically gave us evidence that what we thought about them and what we thought they thought about us was true.
BROOKE GLADSTONE He says that for Puerto Ricans pummeled by financial crisis, punishing austerity and lagging recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, learning that their own government mocks them has been too much to bear.
PEDRO REINA-PÉREZ We have had a political class that has basically enslaved the rest of the island for their own economic interests. That's what we've been learning for the past 25-30 years. But everything has come crashing down in this moment. We did not reach bankruptcy out of the blue.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The group of 12 men also mocked the poor and the dead from Hurricane Maria.
PEDRO REINA-PÉREZ At some point the number of corpses at the morgue in San Juan was so overwhelming that they had to be placed on the floor. And they mock the fact that corpses are on the floor and at one point Christian Sobrino, who is a participant in the chat and who was the chief financial officer for the government, basically said we need more corpses for crows.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Meaning their critics.
PEDRO REINA-PÉREZ I mean I say it right now and I get goose bumps. This part is one of the elements that has brought forth so much public outrage. They can only talk about their interests. There is no expression in the chat about public concern for the well-being, for economic recovery. No, it's just us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The chats show public officials who are obsessed with re-election at any cost, manipulating media coverage and public perception and using public funds to do it.
PEDRO REINA-PÉREZ One thing that we suspect that was confirmed through the chat, they have a farm of trolls on social media. They were paying people to basically you know comment, take part in surveys, attack people that were critical of the government. And for me that's one of the worst things that has come out of the chat. They were being paid to basically destruct the opposition, be it a political party or someone who dissented from--from the governor's positions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE They also make fun of several journalists including a reporter who died in the hurricane. Jay Fonseca is a TV and radio host who is derided in the chat logs and whose investigations into corruption have made him stand out in the Puerto Rican media landscape. He says the chats weren't just shocking, they were never ending.
JAY FONSECA This is not the people that were that started their day eating breakfast they going to a chat and do some jokes and then go to work. No, it was all the time. The governor has to resign because federal funding now is going to have even more supervision and more oversight than we already have. Thanks to this governor, because of corruption cases that were arrested recently, the secretary of education and basically the public health system director was arrested as well. We're talking about $5 billion dollars in government spending and we only have a $9 billion dollar. So when basically--
BROOKE GLADSTONE Wow.
JAY FONSECA --55 percent of the budget that was under just two people control, they were arrested last week. So now after these cases and this chat, even Democrats are asking for more oversight. So that means that the most vulnerable people here are going to suffer the most because they are the ones that receive federal funding.
BROOKE GLADSTONE On the chat they discussed friendly journalists they could feed questions too.
JAY FONSECA They actually wrote that they have a journalist that they ask her to ask a question to Carmen Yulin, the mayor of San Juan. And they were doing that because they wanted Yulin to look bad and she, that journalists, has government contracts. If someone gives me money and I have a contract with government--
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yeah.
JAY FONSECA --I cannot receive instructions from them to ask questions to their political enemies.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You're talking about basic conflict of interest.
JAY FONSECA That's a conflict of interest that I can see from the helicopter. My own radio station, right now, is conducting an investigation after I said on air that this guy at my radio station, a journalist, was implicated in the chat and I had to say. And now my radio station is conducting an investigation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This past Tuesday, a studio audience on Telemundo chanted in support of you, reassuring. You saying the people are with you.
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JAY FONSECA So I was going to promote my show and the most view show here in Puerto Rico, which is a comedy show that goes on air before my show. And when I went to the other studio and I was just walking and people started clapping.
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JAY FONSECA It's still hard for me to talk about it. Cause--cause you know, it was one of the most beautiful moments in my life for sure. And at the same time, it's sad cause I believe Puerto Rico is paradise. We have an amazing place. We have a great, great island. We just need to cooperate a little and seen the funds being thrown away or...robbed. It's so shameful, so shameful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Do you feel vindicated? You've been reporting about corruption for a long time.
JAY FONSECA Ah. Wow, what a question. Vindication for me, yeah some of that. I'm not going to lie. But it's justice for our sources that trusted us and the trust the media in Puerto Rico that's why I'm so mad. I met the governor at his mansion and I told him about sources that were gonna come out and show their faces. That actually was about a prior administration but they were still in their jobs and the people that they were talking about were still working in government with this administration. And he promised me that he was gonna protect my sources and they showed their faces and there were fires they were fired. And I called him. He didn't answer. When people just tell you secrets that they know they're risking everything and they just get fired. Wow.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You felt it personally, deeply when their careers were cut short by trying to be good citizens.
JAY FONSECA Exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE We're speaking on Wednesday, a protest is scheduled in about an hour from now demanding Rosselló's resignation. This moment has been described as a Puerto Rican spring.
JAY FONSECA It's the first time I have seen people this mad. I had never seen it before. I mean we are the island of enchantment. We have so many ways to have fun here that most of the people, they don't care. Mostly people are watching Netflix or just going to the beach. We have beautiful places to go and we do have really good restaurants. It's not an ad, but please come to Puerto Rico. Check for yourself. But if you come here, you'll see that most people are disconnected because there's basically an easy way out. We just buy a ticket and go to live in Florida or New York or Texas. You can just disconnect yourself. You know, no one wants to be listening to negative things all the time, not even me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You said you've never seen people so mad before that people are feeling reconnected again. We know that Trump likes to insult Puerto Rico that the recovery funds have been and continue to be too little too late. The island has a history of rebuffs and humiliations from Washington. Do you think the depth of the offense of this chat is partly due to the fact that it's coming from inside the house, from the island's own government?
JAY FONSECA Sure and from someone we never expected this kind of behavior. I mean how can I talk to my daughter and tell her not to speak the way the governor does. Same thing happens with Trump, I know. But in this case we never thought the governor of Puerto Rico was that kind of person.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Meanwhile we've been confronting the kind of moral corruption that we have here, maybe focusing too much on the trivial. I don't know, could you give us any advice with the benefit of a little bit of distance or having as the president says all that water around you.
JAY FONSECA I--I believe that the problem that we have is that we're preaching to our choir.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yeah.
JAY FONSECA I mean the problem is the rest. When that standing ovation happened, I got to see that we actually surpassed, for the first time, the top company show in Puerto Rico. So this is the first time ever we have had that kind of audience. We can tell that the rest of the people went to our show to educate themselves and then go out and fight on the street. So that's basically all we can do. Just tell others, just--just spread the word that democracy needs participation. There's no other way to do it. We have to participate. If not, it's going to fail sooner or later.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Jay, thank you very much.
JAY FONSECA Anytime.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Jay Fonseca is a radio and TV host in Puerto Rico.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, Far-right YouTube meets LeftTube–and loses ground. This is On The Media.