Bowing to the demands of masses of protesters who had filled the streets of San Juan, scandal-plagued Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló said early Thursday morning that he would resign his post, effective August 2. Rosselló, who had previously announced that would not seek reelection — a concession that did not pacify those calling for his ouster — announced his decision in a video posted to Facebook, just before midnight on Wednesday. In it, he defended his record and swatted away allegations of corruption. “The demands have been overwhelming and I’ve received them with highest degree of humility,” he said, of the protests convulsing the island. He also expressed his desire to unify Puerto Ricans. “What I wish most is peace and progress for my people” — a message his adversaries would have trouble believing.
As they heard the news, crowds outside the governor’s residence erupted in cheers, then celebrated with songs and chants during the early hours of Thursday morning.
Jubilant demonstrators were still at it later Thursday morning.
Rosselló is the first Puerto Rican governor to resign since popular elections for that post began in 1947. He is set to be replaced by Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez — though it’s unclear if she or someone else will actually assume leadership. (Puerto Rico’s secretary of state, who was previously first in the succession line, resigned last week in the wake of the text-message scandal that brought down Rosselló.)
The governor had been in a precarious position since July 13, when a cache of leaked text messages showed him and other senior aides and officials making offensive comments about elected officials and even victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. The messages appeared days after a wide-ranging corruption probe launched by the Justice Department had ensnared former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and former director of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration Ángela Ávila Marrero, who were accused of steering $15 million in federal contracts to handpicked consultants.
Even if Rosselló had clung to power, he would have faced serious legal consequences: Puerto Rico’s legislature had notified him that it was prepared to initiate impeachment proceedings over a range of possible offenses reaveled in the chats, including improper use of public resources and mulling punishment for an employee based on political beliefs.
The political turmoil that fueled residents’ anger goes well beyond the latest scandals. Years of corruption and debt-crisis-fueled economic stagnation, coupled with the government’s unsteady response to Maria, had laid the groundwork for widespread civic anger.
Anti-Rosselló demonstrations had swelled in recent days to hundreds of thousands of people, with protesters blocking highways and forcing cruise ships to reroute. Puerto Rican celebrities like Ricky Martin and the reggaeton star Bad Bunny joined the crowds, and their now-familiar refrain, “Ricky, Renuncia!” (Ricky, resign!)