Saturday 17 August 2019

Puerto Rico’s governor to quit in face of protests

A crowd of demonstrators outside the governor’s mansion erupted into cheers at the news.

Ricardo Rossello said he will resign on August 2 (Miami Herald/AP)
Ricardo Rossello said he will resign on August 2 (Miami Herald/AP)

By Danica Coto, Associated Press

Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello has said he will resign on August 2 in the face of public furore over a leak of crude and insulting chat messages between him and his top advisers.

A crowd of demonstrators outside the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan erupted into cheers and singing after his announcement on Facebook just before midnight.

Addressing the protests, Mr Rossello said: “The demands have been overwhelming and I’ve received them with highest degree of humility.”

The obscenity-laced online messages involving the governor and 11 other men infuriated Puerto Ricans already frustrated with corruption, mismanagement, economic crisis and the sluggish recovery from Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago.

In reaction, tens of thousands took to the streets to demand Mr Rossello’s resignation in Puerto Rico’s biggest demonstrations since the protests that put an end to US Navy training on the island of Vieques more than 15 years ago.

People celebrate outside the governor’s mansion (Dennis M Rivera Pichardo/AP)

Mr Rossello, a Democrat elected in 2016, is the first governor to resign in the modern history of Puerto Rico, a US territory of more than three million American citizens.

Under Puerto Rico’s constitution, the secretary of state would normally assume the governorship, but since Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin became one of more than a dozen officials to resign in the uproar over the leak, leadership of the island would fall to Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez.

She would become Puerto Rico’s second female governor.

In the 889 pages of conversation leaked on July 13, the chat participants mocked their constituents, including survivors of Maria, and made offensive remarks about women, with Mr Rossello calling one a “whore”.

The men also talked about politics and government contracts, and authorities this week issued search warrants for their mobile phones in an investigation into whether they illegally divulged confidential government information.

Locals listen to the pre-recorded message by Ricardo Rossello announcing that he is resigning on August 2 (Dennis M Rivera Pichardo/AP)

Politicians also began exploring the possibility of impeachment.

Over the weekend, Mr Rossello posted a video on Facebook in which he announced he would not seek re-election in 2020 or continue as head of his pro-statehood political party, but his refusal to resign further angered Puerto Ricans and led to a colossal demonstration on Monday on one of the capital’s main motorways.

Pressure on Mr Rossello to step down included calls from Puerto Rico music stars Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny and Residente and a string of US politicians, including members of Congress from both parties and several Democratic presidential candidates.

The upheaval comes as the island tries to restructure part of 70 billion dollars in debt and cope with a 13-year recession that has led to an exodus of nearly half a million people to the US mainland in the past decade.

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