Protestors have been filling onto the streets of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, since last Saturday to call for Governor Ricardo Antonio Rosselló to resign.
Police officers in riot gear fired tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets into the distressed crowds, which were chanting “¡Ricky, renuncia, y llévate a la junta!” – Ricky, resign, and take the board with you. Among the protestors on Wednesday, the rapper Residente, singer Ricky Martin, and trap musician Bad Bunny joined to march against Rosselló.
The Puerto Ricans have been disappointed with the government for a while now, but the dissemination of hundreds of pages of offensive and crude chat messages of Mr Rosselló and 11 men in his inner circle triggered masses to march on the streets every day since then.
According to CNN, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of the leaked Telegram chat that disclosed a conversation in which the governor called a former New York City Council speaker a “whore” and joked about shooting San Juan’s major, Carmen Yulín Cruz, among other obscenities.
The chat messages and the recent arrests of two top former officials in his administration for corruption were the last straws for many Puerto Ricans, who had already endured a devastating hurricane, years of economic recession, job losses, and cutbacks in public services – some areas have had no electricity for nearly a year. The protestors chanted to rid of both Mr Rosselló and the board, “la junta,” which was initially created by the U.S. Congress to manage the finances of the island’s government.
Despite angry masses and private negotiations between politicians in San Juan, Mr Rosselló, whose term runs through 2020, reiterated on Thursday that he does not intend to resign. Any possibility of impeachment looks dim.
As legislative leaders asked a panel of jurists to issue a recommendation on whether to pursue impeachment charges, the main obstacle to Rosselló’s impeachment remains Puerto Rico’s absence of a lieutenant governor to replace him. The island’s Secretary of State should supposedly step in as acting governor when needed, but that post is currently vacant – and the power to fill it belongs to Mr Rosselló. According to The New York Times, in the absence of a Secretary of State, the governorship would proceed to the next Secretary of Justice, Wanda Vázquez Garced. However, influential legislative leaders from her party do not seem interested in her gaining that power.
Mr Rosselló remains governor of Puerto Rico; however, the island’s full recovery after Hurricane Maria and the goal of statehood will now take a backseat. The series of traumas Puerto Ricans have suffered along with the government’s inadequate response steadily reduced public support for the governor. The protests now mark the culmination of Rosselló’s authority and credibility – and there is no other option for a leader with no legitimacy to step down and resign.