Puerto Rico gov apologizes but says he won’t resign
Rosselló did not answer who authorized charged contractor to act on behalf of his office
SAN JUAN — Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares apologized to Puerto Rico for his vulgar language against women in a private messaging application chat group and assured he would not step down from the government following former cabinet officials having been indicted for corruption.
“I want to start by asking for forgiveness for my expressions in a private chat. I am the governor of Puerto Rico. I used a private chat and those flaws manifested themselves there. I would use it to release tension. Nothing justifies the words I have written and said,” Rosselló said at 9:05 p.m. Thursday in a televised press conference convened in haste after having to interrupt his vacation in Europe amid the developments.
Among the leaked banter on the Telegram app chat group that included government officials was Rosselló Nevares calling the former speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark Viverito, a “whore.” In his televised message, he said he will not use the application again, nor express himself that way.
“I do not want it to be an empty apology. My commitment is to assure that I never do it again. From now on, I guarantee that we will not be using these chat mechanisms to sustain this type of dialogue in order to focus on work for Puerto Rico,” he said.
The governor said he apologized, personally, to Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and the House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez for the degrading expressions he made about them in the chat group and that he will apologize to Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón as well.
“Yes, I say bad words and yes, I send memes. Yes, I say sarcastic things and the truth is I’m not proud of that. And when those things happen, I wanted to start today asking for forgiveness because one has to accept when one fails and I failed,” he said.
When asked by the media, the governor acknowledged that his former campaign director, Elías Fernando Sánchez Sifonte, was part of the chat group but said he did not remember whether it was the person who identified himself as “F do.”
‘I will not resign’
The chief executive reacted to the federal charges against his former secretary of Education, Julia Keleher; his former director of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym), Ángela Ávila; and contractor Alberto Velázquez Piñol, stating that “they are regrettable.”
“I will not resign. I am proud of the results we have obtained for our people. The answer is clear and blunt: I will not resign. I will continue working for our people. I can handle blows. I am a fighter and in the end, I guarantee victory. I am a resilient governor,” he said.
Caribbean Business directly asked Rosselló Nevares who authorized contractor Velázquez Piñol to tell the Education Department and ASES that he was representing his office, La Fortaleza, and if those supposed orders came from his then-campaign manager, Sánchez Sifonte, but the governor did not answer clearly.
“He [Velázquez Piñol] is a consultant. He has no power to make decisions. The way I know Alberto is from the [former Gov. Luis] Fortuño administration and later he was a contributor to the Plan for Puerto Rico [Rosselló’s campaign platform]. He was a consultant,” the governor said without specifying who in La Fortaleza gave him instructions to negotiate Education and ASES contracts.
According to the federal indictment, Velázquez Piñol arrived at meetings in ASES and the Education Department saying he went on behalf of La Fortaleza. However, he worked for the BDO Puerto Rico auditing firm, from which he received an additional 10% compensation for each contract he obtained with the government.
Rosselló Nevares arrived in Puerto Rico Thursday afternoon from Spain after canceling his family vacations following the arrests for corruption that shook the island only two years into his administration.
“I consider myself an open book. I will have highs and I will have lows,” he said.
The governor said he will evaluate, when meeting with lawmakers and mayors of his party, what actions to take to prevent situations such as those revealed this week from recurring.
While the governor was addressing the island from La Fortaleza—known as Palacio de Santa Catalina—outside, a group of protesters called for his resignation, and at one point clashed with the police.
—On Twitter: @Limarys_Suarez