After weeks of scandals, corruption allegations and massive protests that weakened his administration and undermined his leadership, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares announced his resignation as governor of Puerto Rico effective August 2.
Faced with the demands from a large segment of the island’s population —which on Monday carried out the largest mass gathering in Puerto Rico’s history with upwards of 500,000 people marching in San Juan— Rosselló is stepping down after barely two and a half years in power, becoming the first Puerto Rico governor to leave before completing a first term.
Since Tuesday night, reports began to circulate indicating that the governor was preparing his exit and that his resignation was imminent.
In this manner, Rosselló leaves his post essentially alone and cornered, his reputation tarnished by a stream of corruption scandals and the leak of a private chat that uncovered intimate and controversial aspects of his character, an event that ultimately delivered a stake to the heart of his gubernatorial mandate.
Rosselló’s exit comes after a turbulent three weeks, during which private texts between him and close aides made through the messaging app Telegram got leaked revealing sexist and homophobic insults aimed at politicians and journalists, as well as conspiracies to discredit opposition leaders. The explosive 889-page also contains several instances of possible criminal activity, according to legal experts.
The Telegram scandal closely followed the arrests of top members in Rosselló’s cabinet —among them former Education secretary Julia Keleher and former executive director of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration, Ángela Ávila Marrero— by the FBI on corruption charges involving three separate schemes in which $15 million in federal and state funds were diverted to private entities and individuals.
The scandals sparked a wave of protests from a sizable segment of the island, made up mostly of young demonstrators, that did not show signs of stopping after eleven days. The daily protests in front of the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza, have received the support of Puerto Rican celebrities such as Ricky martin, Bad Bunny, Residente and Molusco, among others, who helped to spread the message on social media and actively participated in various marches throughout the sectors of Old San Juan and Hato Rey in the island’s capital.
Moreover, a report commissioned by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, to determine if there were legal grounds for an impeachment process on the governor, found on Wednesday that five criminal activities related to the Telegram chat hadbeen committed.
The governor did not make any public appearances since July 16, when at a press conference he answered questions from local and international media outlets for two straight hours and reiteratedthat he would not step down. Since then, Fortaleza had refused to provide information about Rosselló’s whereabouts.
In the Telegram chat document, various topics of a partisan and public policy nature were discussed, among them orders to damage reputations and persecute members of the political opposition, as well as federally appointed officials. The conversations, which took place between November 2018 to January 2019, were also rife with insensitive comments and mockery about the death of figures such as pro-independence leaders Carlos Gallisá and Marta Font, as well as the management crisis at the state-run forensic sciences facility, after the island was hit by hurricane Maria in September 2017.
The private chat group consisted of twelve people, all male. Apart from Rosselló, there was his former gubernatorial campaign manager, Elías Sánchez; the now former government chief financial officer and representative to the FOB, Christian Sobrino, and former Public Affairs secretary Ramón Rosario. The group also included now former chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi; Edwin Miranda, a publicist and owner of KOI, a local advertising firm; Alfonso Orona, a former legal advisor to the governor, and public relations advisors Carlos Bermúdez and Rafael Cerame. Former Department of State secretary Luis Rivera Marín and former Treasury secretary Raúl Maldonado were also part of the chat, as well as current Fortaleza Public Affairs secretary Anthony Maceira.