Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Resigns Following Text Message Scandal
NOEL KING, HOST:
For two weeks, demonstrators were out in the streets of San Juan demanding that Puerto Rico's governor resign. And for two weeks, he refused. Then last night, Ricardo Rosselló made a video statement on Facebook.
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RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: (Speaking Spanish).
KING: Rosselló said, quote, "after listening to the grievances, talking to my family, thinking about my kids and prayer, I've taken the following decision with detachment. Today, I announce that I will be resigning the governorship effective Friday, August 2."
In San Juan, the crowd celebrated.
KING: These protests kicked off after some offensive text messages that the governor exchanged with his inner circle became public.
NPR's David Welna is in San Juan. He's on the line. Good morning, David.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: So what else did Governor Rosselló say in this statement where he said he's resigning?
WELNA: So he said he had fully intended to serve out the remaining two years of his term - in fact, just a few days ago, he said he would do just that but not seek re-election - but that he now saw that all he's accomplished during his first two years as governor could be damaged if he remained in office.
Interestingly, he did not mention the fact that Puerto Rico's Congress was planning to begin impeachment proceedings against him this afternoon if he did not resign or that he'd been served with a search warrant this week and that many of his Cabinet members as well as his chief of staff had already stepped down. And as for his plan to step down next Friday, it's not clear how that delay is going to go over with all the folks here who are demanding that he leave office immediately.
KING: And let me ask you about those folks because these protests, these kind of protests were unprecedented for Puerto Rico. They were colorful. They were loud. There were a lot of people. What was their reaction when he made this announcement?
WELNA: Well, they reacted as people who had just won a big fight. They rejoiced when the governor confirmed what had been rumored throughout the day yesterday, that he had a change of heart and had decided to step down. There'd been a lot of anxiety earlier in the evening after Rosselló failed to make a promised announcement about his plans late in the afternoon. And things looked like they could get quite nasty when squads of police in full riot gear appeared outside The Fortress, as the governor's palace here is known.
But once it became official he's leaving, people danced in the streets, and people honked car horns throughout the night. They're celebrating what was really a grassroots-driven uprising that had no clear leaders and no party affiliation either. This is the first time in modern Puerto Rican history that a governor has resigned. And had he stayed, it would have been the first impeachment ever undertaken by the Congress.
Curiously, it was on this day 121 years ago that the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. It's now known as Constitution Day, and it's being celebrated today by a lot of people who feel that by winning this drive to push out this governor, who was a big proponent of statehood, they're finally taking charge of this island's destiny.
KING: Oh, that's some very interesting timing. David, it was the offensive text messages that lit the match, but there was some other stuff going on in Puerto Rico too that made people upset with the governor, right?
WELNA: Yes, one of them is corruption. Just three days before these chats were leaked, two of Rosselló's former Cabinet members were charged by federal officials with pocketing money through contracts. But this island has been through a lot more travails in the past dozen years or so.
It's had to file for bankruptcy. It was hit by two devastating hurricanes two years ago. And even though the U.S. Congress has approved some $42 billion in disaster assistance, less than a third of that has actually been dispersed. And a lot of people here blame the governor for that. And what money has come has had lots of austerity measures attached to it at a time when many Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island for the mainland because it's just so hard to get by here.
KING: So who's going to replace Rosselló?
WELNA: Well, Puerto Rico has no lieutenant governor, so the secretary of the interior is the next in line to replace Rosselló. But that secretary resigned after those chats were leaked, and he has not been replaced. So the next in line is the secretary of Justice, Wanda Vazquez. And it would appear that she will fill this vacancy. But she's widely seen here as tainted by her association with this governor and could lack the legitimacy needed to do this job.
People here are still planning to go ahead with street demonstrations this morning, and more protests are planned over the next few days. They'll be celebrating Rosselló's resignation, but it's likely they'll also be demanding someone else take over.
KING: NPR's David Welna in San Juan. Thanks, David.
WELNA: You're welcome.
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