Fabiola Santiago

Puerto Rico governor could end political crisis with two words: I resign. Then what?

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló could end the island’s political crisis with two little words: I resign.

He should have already done so, but he’s rejecting growing calls for him to step down.

It’s only a matter of time.

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Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló Carlos Giusti AP

He’s unlikely to survive any more mismanagement of a U.S. commonwealth that has been in a recession for a decade, and despite Rosselló’s unpopular austerity measures, is still billions of dollars in debt.

He’s unlikely to survive his administration’s latest corruption scandal — the funneling of $15.5 million in contracts to politically connected consultants — and his employees’ use of private communication channels to conduct public business.

And he’s certainly not going to survive what 889 pages of leaked group chat exchanges with close associates reveal about his integrity, his character — his use of words so offensive they surpass even President Donald Trump’s vulgarity.

His favorite word in Spanish to refer to female critics of his administration: whore.

His disdain for the LGBTQ community — and in the same breath again, for women — comes through in a gratuitous and contorted homophobic swipe at singer Ricky Martin’s sexual orientation.

“Dear Oversight Board, Go F--- Yourself,” Rosselló wrote about the federal board overseeing Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.

The profanity-laced messages between Rosselló and 11 of his Cabinet members and top aides on the messaging app Telegram (his “brothers,” he calls them) were published by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism. Bravo.

Rightly so, Puerto Ricans on the island and the mainland are demanding Rosselló’s resignation — #RickyResign — during massive protests that included celebrities like Martin and rapper Bad Bunny in San Juan and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda at a rally in New York.

Some protests on the island have turned violent and destructive, and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators gathered Wednesday night in front of the official governor’s residence, La Fortaleza.

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Other protests are small but poignant, as was that of a woman who walked into a municipal office, took down Rosselló’s photograph, and placed it on the floor face down.

Young and old, whatever the political party, they’re sickened by their governor’s behavior.

But their grievances are more profound than just about the titillating chats.

The violence and clashes with police are the expression of unaddressed anger and frustration at the lack of solutions to deep-rooted problems on an island that is neither sovereign nation nor U.S. state.

Historic corruption and incompetent governance are chief among the issues.

It was bad enough that Rosselló’s response to the devastation of catastrophic Hurricane Maria in 2017 was slow and inept, allowing Trump to mock his government and get away with giving Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens, less aid than they needed and deserved.

It took Rosselló an entire year to acknowledge the 4,625 deaths in the aftermath of Maria, charted in a Harvard University study. His idea of recovery included covering up the extent of the problems.

Darkness only breeds more corruption — and we’re seeing the results with the FBI arrests of Rosselló’s head of Health Insurance Administration and the Secretary of Education on corruption indictments.

Rosselló’s tunnel vision and gross ingrained machismo — the latter, displayed in the leaked conversations with close associates that have amplified the outrage — may not let him see that the turmoil isn’t just about those chats and that he needs to resign.

If Rosselló had a higher sense of dignity, the governor would have taken full responsibility for what’s happening instead of issuing a tepid apology for his use of offensive, misogynistic and boorish words to talk about foes and friends (yes, he’s that clueless).

“I apologize for what I’ve done, but I’ve got to move forward and continue the work we’re doing,” he said at a press conference.

There he goes again, putting himself first — before his people and Puerto Rico’s well-being — his need to move on while the island reels in outrage.

He should leave his post for the sake of his people, who deserve better, and his country’s economy, which heavily relies on tourism. Cruise ships don’t stop when they see the smoke from unrest in the streets.

Yes, sooner or later, Rosselló must go.

But, after Rosselló is gone, then what?

For the long run, more important than his leaving is ensuring that he’s not replaced by another political opportunist — and a cast of public servants using public money to line the private pockets of a few.

It’s not about ending a moment of political crisis for Puerto Rico but about creating lasting change and demanding accountability of elected officials.

Carry on, Puerto Ricans, until he’s gone.

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Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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