Puerto Rico’s embattled governor Ricardo Rossello announced his resignation late Wednesday following two weeks of massive protests triggered by the release of a text exchange in which he and others mocked gay people, women and hurricane victims.
Protesters who had thronged the streets near the governor’s mansion since the afternoon erupted into cheers as the news broke, shooting fireworks and waving Puerto Rican flags.
“I announce that I will be resigning from the governor’s post-effective Friday, August 2 at 5 p.m.,” Rossello said, in a video statement posted on the government’s Facebook page.
Rossello faced a full-blown political crisis over the chat scandal and corruption cases involving money that was supposed to help victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people.
The rallies started July 13, when the Center for Investigative Journalism released 889 pages of text chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram in which Rossello and 11 other male administration members criticized officials, politicians and journalists.
“I trust that Puerto Rico will continue united and move forward as it always has,” Rossello said. “And I hope that this decision will serve as a call for reconciliation of citizens.”
BREAKING: It is official. @ricardorossello will resign effective August 2. Protesters light fireworks, erupt in euphoric cheer. Here is the moment they find out their cries, fraught as they are, have been heard. That Ricky has resigned. #rickyrenuncia #PuertoRico pic.twitter.com/y3FYBidOGa
— Nick Brown (@NickPBrown) July 25, 2019
Rossello said he made the decision taking into account the complaints against him and after discussion with his family.
Puerto Ricans had gathered at the gates of the governor’s mansion, known as La Fortaleza, in San Juan, ahead of the rumored announcement.
“Everyone feels betrayed by him,” celebrity musician Rene Perez (“Residente”) told Spanish-language news channel Telemundo at the protest, shortly before the governor’s announcement.
He later tweeted his delight at Rossello’s resignation, saying the country had “discovered that what unites us is the heart.”
Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical “Hamilton” and whose family are from Puerto Rico, also praised the protesters on Twitter.
Other local celebrities, including pop star Ricky Martin and trap musician Benito Martinez (“Bad Bunny”), have also been leading support for the protests.
Marilyn Negron, a 36-year-old waitress, agreed that a new leadership team must take over.
“People have had enough. It’s time for politicians to get scared, to understand that people cannot take any more and need someone honest to come in and represent Puerto Rico,” said Negron.
Impeachment on Horizon
Forty-year-old Rossello said that Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez would temporarily succeed him.
Puerto Rican House Speaker Johnny Mendez had already convened an extraordinary legislative session that was to begin the impeachment process against Rossello on Thursday.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mendez had said that if the governor did not resign, he would be removed.
More than a dozen other government officials have already resigned in the wake of the scandal.
This was the moment thousands of protesters, standing in front of the governors mansion, tonight, heard the governor say he is resigning pic.twitter.com/PhmVDGpe4A
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 25, 2019
Rossello had reiterated as recently as Tuesday that he would not resign, having already said he would not seek reelection in 2020.
Prior to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico suffered a serious fiscal crisis that forced the government to file for bankruptcy in May 2017.
Budget cuts prompted many Puerto Ricans to flee.
Combined with the post-hurricane exodus, Puerto Rico lost four percent of its population.