Photo by Gabriel López Albarrán | Center for Investigative Journalism
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and his closest advisers, or “brothers” as he refers to them, did political campaign work during regular hours and used public resources, shows a Telegram group chat in which members discussed, among other things, how to control the political narrative through the island’s social media and press.
The 889 pages conversation, which went on from late 2018 to Jan. 20, 2019, also reveal a fixation on political polls, some of which were manipulated to advance the public image of Gov. Rosselló Nevares and his administration. Chat members, moreover, made numerous sexual and misogynistic jokes, mocked journalists, activist groups and politicians of all parties, namely San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and fiscal control board officials such as its chairman, José Carrión, and its executive director, Natalie Jaresko, among many others.
These are only some of the conclusions that emerge from 889 pages of a Telegram group chat, parts of which were leaked last month.
In addition to the governor, the chat included former Public Affairs Secretary Ramón Rosario and former governor’s representative to the federally appointed fiscal control board, Elías Sánchez Sifonte, even after both had left the government. The Telegram chat confirms that the participant under the name of “F do” in previous leaks was indeed Sánchez Sifonte, who also led Gov. Rosselló’s election campaign. Despite that both Sánchez Sifonte and Rosario Cortes were officially out of the government, they actively participated in the chat, weighing in on various public policy matters and even giving instructions on related issues.
In addition to Gov. Rosselló Nevares, Rosario and Sánchez, the all male chat included former chief financial officer (CFO) and former Treasury secretary, Raúl Maldonado; Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín; the governor’s former chief legal adviser, Alfonso Orona; CFO and governor’s representative to the fiscal control board, Christian Sobrino; public relations advisers Carlos Bermúdez and Rafael Cerame; publicist Edwin Miranda; Chief of Staff Ricardo Llerandi; and Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira.
Public policy issues and privileged and confidential information were discussed and exchanged despite Sánchez Sifonte and Rosario Cortés’ presence on the chat.
On one occasion, Sobrino shared a “highly confidential” opinion rendered by government lawyers on issues related to the island’s budget. This information was exchanged with people who were not public officials such as Bermúdez, Miranda, Cerame, Rosario and Sánchez Sifonte.
“What’s the line for interviews regarding Trump and disaster funds?” asks Sobrino on another instance.
To which Sánchez Sifonte replies: “The governor’s tweets.”
Chat members, moreover, consistently used web and TV polls as a means to validate the administration’s public policy decisions on areas such as public safety and the privatization of the island’s public broadcast services. Their reactions on the chat to these issues differ greatly from their public discourse.
Rosario, for instance, sent a photo of a protest held by Utier, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s employees’ union, which momentarily shut down a PREPA office in Santurce.
“Let them destroy it. Heh [sic],” Sobrino replied.
“One less to shut down. Thank you Utier,” Sánchez Sifonte added.
Group members also commented on the recovery after hurricane María, admitting delays in the process, blaming in part the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They say, however, that many expectations created by the Rosselló Nevares administration were not being met.
“Add to that the negative and poor execution of Hogar Renace,” Bermúdez replied, in reference to Rosselló Nevares’ home rebuilding program following hurricane María.
In a press conference held Thursday, the governor justified some of his comments with the fatigue from “18-hour working days.” But the Telegram chat shows his constant participation, throughout the day, including in working hours.
“No, well… Yes, yes, uh… Again, the memes we did and things that were done were made during people’s personal time. Everyone has the right to produce, without obviously getting paid by the government, in that sense. No, one thing does not interfere with the other,” Gov. Rosselló Nevares answered the day he arrived from his abruptly ended vacations in France, when CPI asked whether the content of the chat showed misuse of public resources for political campaign work.
In an ambiguous way, Rosselló Nevares also denied having “access” to the Telegram conversation. He said the chat “was deleted” and that he didn’t remember how or when this happened.
CPI attempted to contact Secretary of Public Affairs Anthony Maceira, and the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Ricardo Llerandi, for a reaction, but there was no response. The governor’s press secretary, Denisse Pérez, declined to comment “on something I haven’t seen.”
CPI received all 889 pages from a source that requested anonymity and was able to validate that the pages of the previous leaks matched the structure of the Telegram chat.
Omaya Sosa Pascual contributed to this story.