Puerto Rico’s embattled governor has announced his resignation following almost two weeks of continuous mass protest on the island tied to a leaked text message scandal that saw him gradually abandoned by his own party. Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation – set for 2 August – was announced late on Wednesday.
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, Rosselló said, “The demands have been overwhelming and I’ve received them with highest degree of humility.”
Rosselló said he would be replaced by his justice secretary, Wanda Vázquez.
Hundreds of thousands have lined the streets of Puerto Rico during some of the largest demonstrations in the US territory’s history. The protests began in response to hundreds of pages of leaked text messages between Rosselló and 11 members of his inner circle, who partook in a series of homophobic and sexist jokes. Others mocked the victims of Hurricane Maria.
Rosselló’s resignation had seemed increasingly inevitable after key members of his party, the New Progressive party, began to abandon him last week. Pressure mounted further on Wednesday when the Puerto Rican legislature announced that it will begin impeachment proceedings for Rosselló unless he resigned. Lawyers commissioned by the president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives found multiple offenses that constitute grounds for impeachment, according to Telemundo.
Senior Republicans and Democrats in Washington, including a number of Democratic candidates for president and the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, herself of Puerto Rican descent, had also called for Rosselló to go. Although Donald Trump branded the Rosselló “a terrible governor” on Monday, the White House stopped short of calling for his departure.
But the governor’s resignation was largely the result of a sustained popular movement that spanned generations and party political allegiances, and was without a formal leadership structure. The movement led to a general strike on Monday, which saw hundreds of thousands shut down one of the major highways in the island’s capital, San Juan.
Last Wednesday a number of high-profile Puerto Ricans, including the singer Ricky Martin and the reggaeton star, Benito Antonio Ocasio, known by his stage name, Bad Bunny, led demonstrations to the governor’s residence in San Juan. The musicians were also present during Monday’s general strike.
The protests have remained largely peaceful, but police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests on a number of evenings as protesters thronged onto the cobblestoned streets of old San Juan.
The text message scandal is the manifestation of many Puerto Ricans’ deep dissatisfaction with local government and federal administrators.
Rosselló’s tenure has been plagued by corruption scandals since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017. Shortly before the leaked texts were published the FBI arrested a number of former administration officials and contractors, including the former education secretary, over corruption allegations involving the alleged misappropriation of $15.5m (£12.5m) in federal funds apportioned to Puerto Rico after Maria.
The island’s economic affairs are largely dictated by an unelected fiscal control board, imposed by the Obama administration and appointed in Washington, referred to locally as la junta.
The territory has seen waves of austerity across all areas of public services as it grapples with a multi-billion debt crisis accumulated over decades.
Puerto Rico is due to hold gubernatorial elections in November 2020.