Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Says He Is Considering Resigning

Jul 24, 2019
Originally published on July 26, 2019 3:56 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

OK. In addition to the Facebook news and the Mueller news, we are also following widespread reports today that Puerto Rico's governor is ready to resign. This comes after days of street protests so massive that they shut down miles of a major highway in the capital of San Juan, which is where we find NPR's David Welna.

Hi, David.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: OK. So Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, has said for days that he has no intention of stepping down. Why now is it considered a real possibility?

WELNA: Yeah. Well, people who've been very close to the governor and who've talked with him in the last 24 hours say he's now begun, as they put it, considering all his options. And some have advised him he has to make a decision soon and be ready for possible legal action against him. This is a very different message from when we last heard from the governor on Monday when he put out a statement saying he had nothing more to say about the calls for him to resign.

SHAPIRO: And remind us what has made people in Puerto Rico so animated that they would take to the streets day after day. Why do they want him to step down so badly?

WELNA: Well, these huge street protests got started after nearly 900 pages of online chats were leaked about a week and a half ago. In them, Rossello, the governor, and 11 of his buddies both inside and outside the government refer to female lawmakers as daughters of whores. They make anti-gay remarks, and they even make light of the cadavers that piled up after Hurricane Maria. And all that has infuriated a good part of this island and made people really take to the streets to express their anger. Last night, I talked with one demonstrator named Nadia Mori near the governor's mansion.

NADIA MORI: We're not afraid. We're not scared. We need him out now. And we're not going to stop until he leaves.

WELNA: Now, another big thing that may be prompting a departure by Rossello is the fact that he and others who were in that leaked chat were served with search warrants yesterday. And a few hours later, his chief of staff announced that he is resigning. Also the leader of the House of Representatives here told Rossello that impeachment proceedings are now beginning. And a legal team has found five offenses that he could be charged with, including misuse of public funds and negligence in carrying out his duties.

SHAPIRO: Puerto Rico has never before expelled one of its governors. If that happens now, what kind of change would that signal for the island?

WELNA: Well, you know, this is an island that suffered through a lot over the past decade, from financial collapse and bankruptcy to the devastation of Hurricane Maria. And this latest scandal with the governor seems to have galvanized people from all walks of life and political parties to say enough is enough. Nobody is defending this governor. The last time Puerto Rico had big protests was more than 15 years ago when demonstrations forced the U.S. Navy off the island of Vieques. And people here point to that as proof that getting out in the streets really can bring change. There is no leader to this mobilization to oust the governor. This is not a partisan fight. It's really a grassroots-level movement that swept the U.S. territory. And because this governor was a strong proponent of statehood for Puerto Rico, this - his removal would be seen as a real setback for that cause.

And reading the graffiti that covers the walls here, you can see a lot of resentment toward the U.S. whose campaign to oust the Spanish from this island began 121 years ago tomorrow. People here say they want to take back control. And while it's not clear what's coming next, I doubt things will remain the same here.

SHAPIRO: Well, who is next in line if Rossello does bow out?

WELNA: Well, there's no lieutenant governor here, and the next in line is the secretary of the interior, but he's resigned and has not been replaced. So according to Puerto Rico's Constitution, the next in line would be the secretary of justice, Wanda Vazquez. She's closely associated with the governor, though, and many here question whether she would have the legitimacy needed to replace him. It's worth noting that the person who's next in line is the treasury secretary, but he's under 35, the minimum age you have to be to be governor. And then comes the education secretary, who's tainted with things, and after him, comes someone else who's under 35. So it's a mess, and the ruling party seems to have lost all of its credibility.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's David Welna covering the tumult in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Thanks a lot.

WELNA: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.