Governor Ricardo Rossello stepped down this week, after 12 days of protests and many calls for his resignation. He posted a live message on Facebook just before midnight on Wednesday, July 24, resigning his position.
Protests began after hundreds of texts from private chat service Telegram were leaked. The texts included vulgar language and disrespectful comments about individuals, written by the governor and his colleagues.
A 2016 study found that such terms are very common in social media; women are called “whore,” for example, some 10,000 times a day on Twitter. However, for many protesters, the texts were only the straw that broke the camel’s back. Just a few days before the texts were leaked, members of the government were arrested on 32 counts of fraud and money laundering involving $15.5 million in federal funding since Hurricane Maria.
Protesters voiced concerns about corruption, about disrespect and violence toward women, and about the economy. They spoke about the PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, the Jones Act, and longstanding frustration.
A June 2019 survey on the Island showed a 54% positive rating for Rossello, though answers to questions about whether or not he had done a good job showed a 46% yes/47% no split. It is apparent that the “Ricky Renuncia” protests were about more than the text scandal.
Carlos Méndez Núñez, the leader of the Island’s House of Representatives, said on Wednesday that he would begin impeachment proceedings if Rossello did not step down.
Rossello intends to leave on August 2.
At this point, it is not clear who will be the next governor of Puerto Rico. By law, the Secretary of State should take on the role. However, the most recent Secretary of State, Luis G. Rivera Marín, resigned before the governor did. He was also involved in the Telegram chat scandal.
The next person in line is the Attorney General, Wanda Vázquez Garced. However, sources say that leaders such as Luis Fortuno and Pedro Pierluisi are being considered for the position of Secretary of State. If a new Secretary of State is in place before the governor leaves office, it is possible that he or she could be the next governor.
As for the federal response, Rep. Raul Grijalva, Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee (the committee that oversees Puerto Rico), said, “I don’t want the governance crisis that’s going on in Puerto Rico with the governor to be a reason that Congress, in particular Republicans, and the Trump administration use as an excuse to limit, restrict, and otherwise affect the aid and support and resources that Puerto Rico deserves in its reconstruction and in its ability to stabilize the fiscal crisis. This should not be an excuse. The people of Puerto Rico are at stake here. Not any particular individual that happens to be in the governor’s seat right now.”
He continued, “I hope that the control board, the overseer in terms of fiscal stability, doesn’t see this as an opportunity to amass more unelected power over the lives of the people of Puerto Rico. That they prioritize the necessities: health, education and the welfare of the Puerto Rican people.”
“The issue of status? We can discuss that. But I think Puerto Rico is speaking clearly. Their voices are being heard and certainly I and my colleagues on the committee have heard those voices and we intend to move forward… I think it is our obligation on the Resources Committee and in Congress, to deal with that manifestation and to provide the people of Puerto Rico with what they deserve, which is equity, respect and attention.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, “I will keep working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that the island receives all the help needed to rebuild from the storms stronger than before and to provide opportunity for our fellow Americans to be treated as equal and full citizens.”
In the final analysis, the scandal and the governor’s resignation are important events in Puerto Rico’s history, but they do not affect the statehood movement.