“You do not resign from a job that has already started.”
With these words, Ricardo Rosselló insisted yesterday in keeping his position as Puerto Rico governor, despite widespread calls for him to step down and moves in his own New Progressive Party (NPP) to find a suitable replacement.
The political scandal involving Rosselló, among the worst in the island’s history, stems from a leak Saturday morning of a private group chat detailing efforts by high-ranking officials and collaborators to manipulate the public’s perception of the administration through mass media and operate a “troll network” to discredit negative press coverage and criticism from opposition leaders.
The 889-page document, which reveals conversations made between Rosselló and eleven close collaborators through the messaging app Telegram from November 2018 to January of this year, is also filled with profanity-laced attacks —most of them sexist, misogynistic and homophobic in nature—against opposition leaders, fellow party members, journalists and activist groups.
Two top officials who participated in the chat, including Department of State secretary Luis Rivera Marín, have resigned from their posts following the scandal.
In his statement, Rosselló said he plans to spend the following days presenting initiatives to improve accountability and transparency in his administration, as well as meet with officials and possible candidates to fill vacancies in his cabinet.
During the weekend, NPP leaders —including Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz, and House speaker Carlos Méndez— met to discuss the party’s options in light of the scandal.
Chief among the issues discussed was the appointment of a replacement for the outgoing State secretary, according to sources. In the event of the governor’s resignation, the State secretary would take over the gubernatorial chair, as dictated by the Puerto Rico Constitution.
The most oft-mentioned candidates for the position are Bayamón mayor Ramón Luis Rivera, former resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, San Sebastián mayor Javier Jiménez and former San Juan mayoral candidate Leo Díaz.
Before the meeting, House speaker Méndez said the party is giving Rosselló a deadline for him to reach a decision about his political future. “We are giving him the opportunity this week to talk to mayors and legislators; we must give him that space,” said Méndez.
Regarding the possibility of starting an impeachment process on Rosselló, an action that opposition leaders have pushed for during the last few days, Méndez said the option “is not yet on the table”.
On Sunday, hundreds of citizens took to the streets in Old San Juan, the capital’s historic district to demand Rosselló’s resignation, eventually reaching the gates of the governor’s mansion. During the protests, several violent incidents were reported involving police officers, protestors, and Old San Juan residents.