Embattled Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló, facing persistent public demands that he step down, said Sunday he will finish out his current term, but is withdrawing his name from the ballot for the island’s 2020 election.
He also said he welcomes a political judgment “process started by the Puerto Rico legislative assembly” for potential impeachment, as calls for his resignation continue to rage on the island.
“The priority must be the people of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said in a recorded message streamed live on his Facebook page. “The executive branch will continue working to guarantee that all of the government’s operations continue providing services to our people.”
Rosselló is also stepping down as president of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, leaving the door open for other members to seek their own candidacy. Former governors, members of U.S. Congress, and members of his party on the island — including his 2016 running mate Rep. Jenniffer González — have called for Rosselló to step down.
The announcement Sunday came after reports that the governor spent the day meeting with members of his cabinet at the Fortaleza mansion in Old San Juan and with mayors of his party on the island. The meeting with mayors, in the nearby town of Guaynabo, was held on Sunday evening behind closed doors, as security guards blocked the doors to the press. Inside, officials could be seen laughing and hugging Rosselló.
In Guaynabo, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the mayors’ meeting, calling for Rosselló to leave office. Tensions rose when a group of protesters tried to block the governor’s motorcade, prompting motorcycle cops and other officers to line up and clear the road. The demonstration continued for at least an hour after the meeting ended.
Legislators and mayors of the NPP, including the mayor of the town of San Sebastián, Javier Jimenez, and Puerto Rico Sen. Carmelo Rios, told reporters outside that Rosselló had already done what the party had asked of him. Protesters, they said, had a right to express themselves, but the governor would continue his term.
Thomas Rivera Schatz, the island’s senate president and a member of the NPP, said in a statement on social media that Rosselló’s resignation as party president “concluded some of the controversies and trauma that shook our people,” but there were some lingering issues that would be resolved.
“Despite everything, I recognize that apologizing is not enough, and only my work will help restore the confidence of these groups and lead the road to reconciliation,” Rosselló said. “Today I have the great responsibility of focusing my administration’s energies to continue finding alternatives and tools... to achieve excellence.
“To every Puerto Rican out there, I have heard you, and I continue to hear you,” he added.
The recent unrest was triggered by a leaked group chat that showed the governor with 11 other close aides and allies making sexist, homophobic and other insulting comments toward political opponents, journalists and celebrities. The private messages were leaked days after the federal indictment of six former government officials and contractors on July 10 on a slew of corruption charges, increasing the frustrations of Puerto Ricans with economic recession and the aftermath of a devastating hurricane in 2017.
A mass protest march is scheduled for Monday that is expected to shut down a main highway and close down several malls along the route, local media reported.
Outside the Fortaleza mansion, where protesters have gathered over the last 10 days for daily demonstrations, a chaotic scene roared on over new outrage at the governor’s statement late on Sunday.
“If we wanted him gone tomorrow, it was obvious we didn’t want him four more years,” said 30-year-old Michael Vazquez, who said he had been attending the last four days of protest. “What we want is his resignation, and that’s clear, and that’s what we will continue to fight for.
“It’s a show of total disrespect and complete disregard to what’s happening out here,” Vazquez said.
Marta Ortiz, 70, of the town of Carolina, said she felt the governor would eventually have no choice but to resign.
“We’re outraged with the statement the governor just gave out, because his people are fed up and tired. We need peace, we need our people to keep moving forward, and as long as he remains there, this will continue,” Ortiz said “He’s already done so much harm. Stop this and leave. That’s what people want.”