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Puerto Rico’s Governor Resigns in Face of Protests

2019-7-25

The governor in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico says he will resign from office on August 2.

Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation announcement comes after nearly two weeks of massive protests on the island. They began after the publication of private online messages between Rosselló and his top advisers.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans have been demonstrating outside the governor’s official home in Old San Juan. They shouted and cheered after his announcement appeared on Facebook Wednesday night.

Businessman Daniel López took part in the protests. He pushed back tears from his eyes as people jumped into the air, beat drums and waved flags. He cried, “We did it!”

“This is for the future of my family,” López said. “It’s big, what’s happened.”

Rosselló is in the third year of a four-year-term as governor. He is the first chief executive to resign in the modern history of Puerto Rico. The Caribbean island is home to over 3 million U.S. citizens.

In this Nov. 13, 2017, photo, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello speaks during a news conference, in Washington. Rosello said on Jan. 22, 2018.
In this Nov. 13, 2017, photo, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello speaks during a news conference, in Washington. Rosello said on Jan. 22, 2018.

Early in his term, two powerful storms struck the island in 2017. An estimated 3,000 people died because of the back-to-back hurricanes. The storms left widespread destruction, just months after the territory declared it was unable to make debt payments.

Many Puerto Ricans were already angry about Rosselló’s actions following the hurricanes. They were also unhappy about reports of corruption in his administration and with the bankruptcy process.

But the recent publication of sexist and homophobic messages between Rosselló and his aides pushed Puerto Ricans’ patience to the limit. Some of the messages are said to have joked about hurricane victims.

This week, a judge approved search warrants for the phones of Puerto Rican officials involved in the messages with the governor. One of the warrants said the officials may have illegally discussed secret government information.

Several top officials have resigned since the messages were leaked.

Under the Puerto Rican constitution, the territory’s secretary of state would normally take office as governor. Because that position is empty, Justice Secretary Wanda Vasquez will serve the rest of Rosselló’s term.

Vasquez is a former government lawyer and has limited experience in leading government agencies.

After Rosello announced his resignation, she released a statement. It said, “I understand he made the right decision, for the good of both his family and for Puerto Rico. We will be working together to have a responsible and transparent transition process.”

Early this week, Rosselló announced he would not seek re-election as governor or continue as head of his political party. His continued refusal to resign, however, angered many Puerto Ricans.

The political disputes come as the island tries to restructure part of its $70-billion debt. The local economy has been in recession for 13 years. The recession has caused almost 500,000 Puerto Ricans to seek jobs on the U.S. mainland.

The economic crisis is, in part, a result of earlier administrations. Excessive spending and borrowing put the island deeply into debt.

Hurricane Maria caused more than $100 billion in damage across the island. Rosselló, a 40-year-old Democrat, spent much of his time as governor fighting austerity measures and seeking federal money for rebuilding efforts.

Nearly two years later, 30,000 homes have yet to be fully repaired. They still have temporary covers to keep out rain. Power outages remain common in Puerto Rico. And the territory has received less than one-third of the estimated $40 billion in aid promised by the U.S. government.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Ashley Thompson adapted this article based on reports by The Associated Press and the Reuters news agency. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

online - adj. involving or connected to a computer system or the internet

bankruptcy - n. a condition of financial failure caused by not having the money that you need to pay your debts

homophobic - adj. a person who hates or is afraid of homosexuals or treats them badly

search warrant - n. a legal document that gives the police permission to search a place for evidence

transparent - adj. honest and open : not secretive

transition - n. a change from one state or condition to another