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Violent confrontations rock Puerto Rico protests demanding the governor step down

Bianca PadrĂ³ Ocasio, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- One of the largest protests in Puerto Rico's history erupted into violent clashes late Wednesday night between demonstrators who said they will keep coming back to demand the governor's resignation and officers in riot gear who shot tear gas and rubber bullets into the packed crowds.

Long after tens of thousands had peacefully marched through Old San Juan, hundreds of protesters gathered and blocked the narrow streets surrounding Gov. Ricardo Rossello's Fortaleza mansion, clamoring for him to resign.

Some protesters threw firecrackers, bottles of water, beer and glowsticks at the officers barricaded around the governor's home. Portions of the crowd called for others to stop inciting violence, leading chants like "No tiren" -- stop throwing -- as tensions boiled over between rioters and police.

Shortly before midnight, the officers issued a warning to the crowd to disperse. Minutes later, police shot rubber bullets at the crowd, injuring protesters and journalists. The tear gas drove panicked demonstrators away from the barricades and against a nearby chapel. Some climbed the fence or pried open the gates of the iconic Parque de las Palomas.

"The (protesters) would stop the throwing of objects and then start up again, and this happened repeatedly," police commissioner Henry Escalera said. He told the local Telemundo station that his officers had been attacked with screwdrivers and bottles with a "liquid that caused a reaction."

Wednesday night's events marked the second time since Monday that Puerto Rico's police teargassed a crowd of protesters who refused to disperse.


Graffiti that had been painted over since Monday reappeared. Cars, shops and street signs were vandalized. One San Juan resident was filmed by a local station denouncing the police's use of tear gas because it filtered inside the homes surrounding the Fortaleza.

The anger at the government began last week after six former island government officials were indicted in federal court on charges of corruption, and a profane private group chat that Rossello held with cabinet members and aides became public. On Saturday, when all 889 pages of the Telegram group chat were published, Puerto Ricans became enraged at the governor and his close allies, who had mocked political opponents, gay people, women and ordinary citizens.

Earlier on Wednesday afternoon, the lively protests presented a scene drastically distant from the chaos of Wednesday night.

To the accompaniment of percussion and air horns, a dense stream made up of thousands of chanting, singing Puerto Ricans began moving at a crawl through the streets of Old San Juan to demand that Rossello step down.


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