Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello resigns after weeks of protests
Alex Wong/Getty Images(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) — Gov. Ricardo Rossello, the embattled leader of Puerto Rico, has resigned after weeks of protest and multiple declarations he would remain in office through January 2021.
Rossello, who has faced intense pressure from protesters and politicians to step down after the leak of offensive text messages between the governor and his top aides, made the announcement in a livestreamed message late Wednesday.
His resignation is effective Aug. 2 at 5 p.m.
He and his staff are accused of making homophobic, misogynistic and sexist comments against opponents and critics and mocking victims of Hurricane Maria.
In a lengthy message, Rossello cited the accomplishments of his administration when it comes to infrastructure, corruption reforms and LGBT rights. He also noted the challenges the island faced after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“I hope that this decision will serve as a call for citizen reconciliation that we need so much to move forward with the welfare of Puerto Rico as its north,” Rossello said in the remarks announcing his resignation. “I complete my mandate and the most I desire is peace and progress.”
Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez will become the next governor of Puerto Rico.
“I understand he made the right decision, for the good of both his family and for Puerto Rico, as I let him know,” Vazquez said in a statement. “He just announced that this resignation will not be effective today. We will be working together to have a responsible and transparent transition process.”
The streets of San Juan have been filled with protesters over the past 11 days. Tens of thousands turned out to massive protests on Monday, which ended in police firing tear gas at some protesters late in the night.
The governor’s resignation comes after Ricardo Llerandi, Rossello’s chief of staff, announced Tuesday he was resigning, which will go into effect on July 31. Llerandi was one of the two government aides who survived the firings after the release of nearly 900 pages of Telegram group chats that prompted outcry.
“The people have spoken,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, one of the targets of Rossello’s vulgar chats, told ABC News. “Justice has prevailed. Puerto Ricans have shown the world that there is nothing that a people united cannot accomplish. Puerto Ricans have shown the world that evil can be defeated and that the power is in the streets. We are witnessing the birth of a new era a new sense of pride and a new principle of governance. I am prouder than ever today to be Puerto Rican.”
Protesters made it clear that the resignation they sought was that of Rossello. Three days before his announcement, the governor said in a video address he would not step down in the face of protests, but also would not seek reelection in 2020.
He also stepped down as the leader of the New Progressive Party. The announcement had the opposite of its intended effect, with protesters turning out in droves the following day.
Reports of Rossello’s possible resignation prompted cheers from hundreds of protesters Tuesday evening, but the official announcement didn’t come for 24 hours.
“We want a government that really represents us, that is working there for the people of Puerto Rico and not for their own benefit and the benefit of their own friends,” protester Daphne Lebron told ABC News on Monday.
The nearly 900 pages of text messages were obtained by the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism and posted on July 13. Among the chats, Rossello and aides used homophobic slurs when discussing Puerto Rican music star Ricky Martin, disparaged San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz as “off her meds” and said he was “salivating” to shoot her, referred to former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as a “whore” and joked about the corpses piling up during Hurricane Maria.
Protests have followed every day since.
The 40-year-old Rossello is the son of a former governor and has served since January 2017, eight months before Hurricane Maria came ashore and delivered unprecedented destruction to the island. Almost 3,000 people died in the storm, which delivered massive destruction to homes and businesses and knocked out power to large swaths of the island for months.
President Donald Trump, most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and scores of politicians from Puerto Rico itself have called on Rossello to resign. Even the mayor of San Sebastian, Javier Jimenez Perez, the one person Rossello was able to cite as a supporter during an interview with Fox News on Monday, told ABC News he does not support the governor.
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