By Jordan Karp
NEW YORK — Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced late Wednesday that he will resign Aug. 2, after the Puerto Rican House of Representatives told him they were starting an impeachment process. He will be the first governor of the U.S. territory to resign.
Rosselló’s announcement follows two weeks of protests — both in Puerto Rico and internationally — in which tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand that he step down. The protests began after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism released an 889-page document of offensive messages shared among Rosselló and his staff. The text messages were homophobic and sexist, and some even mocked hurricane victims. Some of Rosselló’s personnel involved in the exchanges resigned, including next-in-line Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín.
Rosselló had previously refused to quit despite the clamor in the streets of San Juan, with Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin — the subject of some of the messages — joining the protesters. Martin is gay.
The scandal — dubbed Telegramgate — was the last straw for Puerto Ricans, who lost trust in Rosselló after hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged the island in the fall of 2017. The government’s official death toll from Maria was 64. After being roundly criticized, the government finally adjusted the number to 2,975 last August. However, a Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2018 found that more than 4,600 people likely died as a result of Maria.
Rosselló’s government also faced harsh criticism after Hurricane Maria knocked out 80% of Puerto Rico’s electricity transmission lines on Sept. 20, 2018. The blackout, affecting nearly 3.4 million people, became the largest in U.S. history. Fully restoring power went slowly and took nearly a year.
Rosselló began his tenure in 2016 riding on the promise of changing Puerto Rico’s political status. He governed a Puerto Rico desperate for change, yet overwhelmed with a debt crisis, feelings of disenfranchisement and ongoing struggles of recovering from the two hurricanes.
Telegramgate follows the FBI’s arrests of two of Roselló’s officials earlier this month, which added to the perception that Rosselló was corrupt.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement pushing Congress to continue supporting Puerto Rico through the transition.
“I don’t want the governance crisis that is going on in Puerto Rico with the governor to be a reason that Congress, in particular, Republicans and the Trump administration to use this as an excuse to limit, restrict, and otherwise affect the aid, support, and resources Puerto Rico deserves in its reconstruction and its ability to stabilize the fiscal crisis.”
The celebration of Rosselló’s impending resignation quickly died down when he announced his successor, Justice Secretary Wanda Vásquez Garced, whom the protesters welcomed by demanding her resignation.
Vásquez is scheduled to become the next governor on Aug. 2. Even though Puerto Rico will have a new leader, it faces a long road ahead in restoring the public’s trust in their government.
UPDATED JULY 30
Protests still continue as Rosselló’s successor, Vásquez, clarified her stance on becoming Puerto Rico’s next leader.
Vásquez said on Twitter on Sunday that she has “no interest” in the position and hopes that Rosselló will appoint another person.
However, Vásquez said she will reluctantly become the next governor if the Puerto Rican Constitution requires her designation.