Puerto Rican investigative site that leaked chats, spurring protests and governor’s resignation, ‘never anticipated’ the outcome

“We have been super shocked, we are going to say so, as stunned by how everything was evolving. We were like, ‘wow.’ Very strong, very strong,” Carla Minet, executive director of the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, for its acronym in Spanish) of Puerto Rico, told the Knight Center.

In the early morning hours of July 13, the CPI published a report about leaked chat messages between governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, and his inner circle. The often-times crude messages, coupled with the recent arrests of former top officials indicted for corruption, led to massive citizen protests. Eleven days later, Rosselló announced he would resign.

“Everything has been very unexpected. The truth is that we never anticipated that things were going to develop in this way, or that a scenario like the one that happened was possible,” Minet said.

The team at the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico (Courtesy)

The team at the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico (Courtesy)

In this report, “The 889 pages of Telegram between Rosselló Nevares and his circle,” the site published the entirety of a leaked Telegram chat containing messages between the governor and his officials and collaborators from the end of 2018 to the beginning of 2019. The conversations of that chat allegedly reveal a network of influence peddling and conflicts of interest within the government, according to CPI.

“The Center had been carrying out an investigation for several weeks that involved several of the chat participants, long before we knew about the existence of a chat. We knew that one of the sources with whom we were working in the investigation had access to the chat and we told them that we had interest in it,” Minet said.

Three days after publishing the report with the full chat, the CPI published the investigation “The looting of public funds behind the chat,” which gave more depth to the revelation of the chat, the journalist said, because it explained in greater depth the alleged pattern of corruption in the governor’s inner circle.

“Actually, when we were investigating and when we got access to the chat, what we were obviously thinking was in the reporting, and in oversight and in seeking the accountability of these officials who were committing violations of the law. That was our interest,” Minet said.

The journalist explained that the public outrage generated by the chat scandal is due to social unrest that accumulated over time. For a decade, the island has been going through a major fiscal, economic crisis, a bankruptcy, in addition to having been hit by hurricanes like Maria in 2017, which has been “making the lives of people here in Puerto Rico precarious, and this (the revelation of the chat) was like a drop that filled the cup,” Minet said.

Following the collaborative report on Hurricane María, “Maria’s dead,” in 2018, CPI won the Javier Valdez Latin American Prize for Investigative Journalism organized by the Press and Society Institute of Peru (IPYS), Transparency International and Open Society Institute.

Together with the Associated Press (AP) and the U.S site Quartz, the CPI worked for months throughout the island collecting testimonies from the survivors of the category 5 hurricane that whipped the island in September 2017. During the weeks after the storm, the Government did not report the true number of victims left by the hurricane in a timely manner.

For now, as the governor expectedly leaves his official residence known as La Fortaleza, or The Fortress, the journalists at the CPI continue their investigations and reports.