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Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló resigns amid public outcry, specter of impeachment

By on July 24, 2019

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Corruption charges, probes underway and chat leak led to a confidence crisis in his administration

SAN JUAN — After remaining incommunicado for hours, in a message close to midnight, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares resigned effective Aug. 2, becoming Puerto Rico’s first governor to step down before finishing the four-year tenure for which he was elected.

In a 14-minute Facebook Live message, he listed his and first lady Beatriz Rosselló’s achievements, such as not having laid off public workers and leaving economic growth of 4.1%, “the most in a decade,” and the lowest unemployment rate “in the history of Puerto Rico,” as well as the efforts carried out in the aftermath of the historic Hurricane Maria in 2017

When the resignation takes effect, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced will succeed him as governor after being sworn in to carry out the duties of the office until the 2020 gubernatorial elections.

Vázquez Garced would become the second woman to serve as Puerto Rico’s governor.

Since the island’s secretary of State stepped down, the governor has not named a replacement, leaving unclear to whom the governor officially resigned. In fact, people close to the process told Caribbean Business that after intense negotiation, an agreement had yet to be reached as to who would be appointed.

Puerto Rico Labor Secretary Carlos Saavedra and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (CB file, July 2018)

With the departure of Rosselló, it is presumed the decision will be in the hands of Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, whose interests are represented by Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, who said he was convening a special session Thursday at 2 p.m. to initiate the impeachment process.

The resignation came a day after Rosselló held multiple meetings with advisers and assistants and informing his cabinet of his decision.

On Tuesday afternoon, social media posts began to claim his resignation could come any time and even that he had left the island on a private plane.

On Wednesday morning, the allegations were rejected by both the governor’s chief of staff, Ricardo Llerandi, who has resigned, and Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira.

Around noon, Maceira informed the media that “Rosselló has not resigned and is presently in Puerto Rico.

“As he stated yesterday, he is in a process of reflection and of listening to the people. Whatever decision he makes, it will be communicated officially, as usual. Currently, due to the expectant environment, there are incorrect rumors that are being disseminated, even by some media outlets. We reiterate that any official communication will be shared with the media,” the official added.

Employees of the governor’s mansion began arriving after 9 a.m. and the members of the press were received with a ham and cheese snack tray, as if anticipating a long wait.

Subsequently, when a Telemundo reporter was able to intercept the governor’s legal adviser, Carlos Saavedra, close to the mansion, it was quickly fenced off to prevent reporters from approaching the main building.

While that was happening, the House speaker told the media that he met with Rosselló and, “looking into his eyes,” told him the committee of jurists he appointed to evaluate possible causes for impeachment presented him with a positive report.

The fall of the Rosselló Nevares administration began when, 11 days ago, the island woke up to a Center for Investigative Journalism report with the publication of 889 pages of the now infamous Telegram chat in which Rosselló Nevares and his closest advisers mocked allies and opponents, while addressing public policy issues with third parties who were not government officials.

According to the report delivered to the House, as well as another commissioned by the Puerto Rico Bar Association, Rosselló may have incurred in “moral depravity” and violated the Government Ethics Law, among other accusations such as sharing privileged government information with third parties that were not public officials.

A few days earlier, federal authorities arrested former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher and the director of the Health Insurance Administration, Ángela Ávila, as well as three contractors for fraud and money laundering, among other charges.

The governor interrupted his family vacation in Europe to return to the island and address the indictments. In his first public appearance, he apologized for the chat messages, of which a few initial pages had been leaked, but attributed them to a form of relief amid the pressures of the office. He said then he would not comment further about the leak.

Since then, protesting across the island has not subsided, and peaked Monday when more than half a million people of all ages and social strata flooded a major highway and the street of Old San Juan demanding his resignation.

Demonstrators who have crowded the La Fortaleza mansion have been met by what has been turned nearly nightly into a police stronghold, with seemingly hundreds of officers including those specialized in riots and tactical operations launching tear gas canisters to disperse the mass when activists taunt them by lobbing objects at the contingent.

Despite the developments, a protest scheduled for Thursday around the Hato Rey banking district in San Juan, has led the island’s largest mall, Plaza Las Américas to announce it would remain closed for the day to ensure the safety of visitors, employees and tenants.

See the governor’s farewell message here.

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