Thousands of Puerto Ricans won’t rest until embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resigns and they are prepared to fill the streets of San Juan Monday morning for another massive protest.
His announcement Sunday that he will not run for reelection next year and is resigning as the president of the New Progressive Party was not enough. Rosselló’s refusal to step down was like benzene for a crowd already ablaze.
Organizers say they’re expecting hundreds of thousands of people at Monday’s protest.
For days, crowds demanding Rosselló’s resignation have packed the capital and clashed with police. The scandal was the final straw, as residents say they’re fed up with years of corruption and economic instability.
One church has shut its doors in preparation for protesters, businesses are warning tourists of heavy traffic and the Department of Justice is ordering all employees to report for work in the morning despite a “massive protest planned.” The department urged employees to stay in touch with their supervisors if they have any issues and to “not put yourself or your property at risk.”
Demonstrators have rallied since Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published a series of profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages between Rosselló and other members of his inner circle.
The leaked messages show Rosselló and others in the chat took jabs at political figures as well as joked about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told CNN the governor’s refusal to step down has “added fuel to the fire.”
“We are prepared here at City Hall with a makeshift emergency unit with medics and doctors and nurses to take in anybody that receives tear gas or has a cut in their body or potentially been shot,” she said.
Rosselló is a little over halfway into his four-year term.
“I have made mistakes and I have apologized,” he said. “I am a good man who has a great love for my island and for everyone.”
Following the governor’s announcement Sunday, a crowd gathered outside his mansion urging him to resign “or else,” Cruz said.
“We’ve never seen, in the political history of Puerto Rico, something like this,” she said.
Singer Ricky Martin — one of the people targeted by Rosselló’s messages — said on Twitter he will arrive in Puerto Rico early Monday morning to join the protests and urged legislators to begin the process of impeachment.
“The only thing you (Rosselló) just did is mess with the mental health of Puerto Ricans,” the artist said. “If he doesn’t want to leave, (impeachment) is the only option we have.”
Refusing to step down
Despite calls to step down, Rosselló said Sunday he will continue fulfilling his responsibilities as governor until he can hand the work “over to my democratically elected successor.”
“I leave aside any personal interest by not running for re-election to the governorship next year,” he said.
“At the same time, the executive branch will continue to work to ensure that all government operations continue to provide services to citizens and continue to implement the multiple projects aimed at improving the quality of life of our families.”
But protesters have been clear about what they want.
Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico and Vice President of the New Progressive Party Jenniffer González-Colón, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera the announcement was the “first step toward getting him to step down.” She said on a social media post the governor should resign “and allow another to finish the term.”
The territory, she said, needs stability in order to continue with reconstruction and the protests of the last week have “worsened the situation in Puerto Rico.”
The New Progressive Party said in a statement they will work to fill the vacancies that Rosselló’s resignation brings to the party.
Steps toward impeachment
In his Sunday announcement, the governor said he welcomes “the process begun by the legislative assembly which I will face with all the truth, strength and in a responsible manner.”
The president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, created a special committee Friday to advise him on whether the governor committed impeachable offenses.
The impeachment research committee includes three attorneys who will have 10 days to provide Méndez with a detailed report, according to a news release from his spokesman, Raúl Colón.
The committee will evaluate the content of the leaked messages between Rosselló and Cabinet members and determine if there’s proof Rosselló committed a crime, Méndez said.
“We are here to order this evaluation, one that will be transparent and responsible,” he said. “I thank this group of lawyers for giving a step forward in this historic moment for Puerto Rico. We will thoroughly evaluate the conclusions of this committee so we can proceed.”
If it is found that the governor did commit impeachable acts, and a vote to impeach passes the House, it goes to the Senate and a trial presided over by the head of the Supreme Court, with the senators as jurors. A two-thirds vote is needed in both chambers for the impeachment to go through.
Days of protests
As protesters jammed the streets of San Juan last week, they said they’re determined to get Rosselló out of office.
While many focused on the leaked messages, there were other driving factors behind the protests. Demonstrators have also alleged government corruption, as the island battles high poverty rates, crushing debt and a painful recovery from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria.
Layzne Alvez told CNN the territory’s government had been “left to run wild with our economy, with our money, with all the federal funds the government are sending here.” She added that Puerto Ricans weren’t a violent people so they did not plan to bring Rosselló down by force.
“We are going to stay here no matter what,” Alvez said. “We are going to force our local leaders, representatives, senators, whoever we need to, to get him out. We are going to stay here.”
On Saturday, Rosselló’s longtime family friend and business partner, Yosem E. Companys, claimed in an interview with news outlet NotiCel that the governor had accepted money from the island’s legislature for access to his father, a former governor. Companys claimed Rosselló told him he kept up to a million dollars in bank accounts, according to the report.
Rosselló said on Twitter that the allegations were “totally false.”
“Unfortunately, there is always corruption in the government,” said Pamela Calderón, the owner of a small restaurant on Calle San Jose. “But with the publication of the chats, people in Puerto Rico saw how the corruption affected the response to the hurricane. There’s a sense of, ‘You left us to die.'”