After Gov. Rossello's Resignation, Political Turmoil In Puerto Rico Continues

Jul 27, 2019
Originally published on July 27, 2019 9:53 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And impeachment proceedings were all set to begin in Puerto Rico against the governor there. But just before midnight Wednesday, after days of protests, the governor announced his resignation. Governor Rossello will leave office next week.

NPR's David Welna is in San Juan. David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Remind us how this remarkable turn of events came about.

WELNA: Well, Governor Rossello had already come under a lot of criticism for graft in his administration and how poorly he handled the Hurricane Maria disaster a couple of years ago.

But what really detonated this grassroots movement that pushed him from power was the publication two weeks ago of nearly 900 pages of a private online chat group that he was part of. Now, the governor's nickname is Ricky, so, of course, these quickly became known as the Ricky Leaks. And they were filled with sexist, homophobic remarks and even jokes about hurricane victims. The daily demonstrations kept growing. And this week, Congress announced impeachment proceedings. And then he announced his resignation.

SIMON: We've seen the protest. What's been the even larger public reaction to Governor Rossello's resignation?

WELNA: Well, you know, this place just exploded with rejoicing when he announced that. And many here see this as a real show of people power, a popular uprising that had no clear leaders but still got the job done.

I talked with Deepak Lamba-Nieves, an economist who took part in the protests, about what it means that Rossello is bowing out. And here's what he had to say.

DEEPAK LAMBA-NIEVES: I think it opens up a window for us to say, when we get tired of being put down, when we are mocked at, when we are disregarded, we have the power to take to the streets. We have the power to raise our voice and to make ourselves heard and take action and make things happen.

SIMON: David, who is likely to be the next person to occupy The Fortress, as the governor's mansion is known, in San Juan?

WELNA: Well, by law, next in line to be the governor would be the secretary of state, but he quit after the Ricky Leaks scandal broke. So after him comes the Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez. She says she's ready to be sworn in as governor next Friday, which is when Rossello says he'll step down. But the people who wanted Rossello out say she'd just be more of the same.

I asked a university professor named Lida Orta Anes at a street rally if she and her friends were on board with Vazquez becoming the second woman to serve as governor here. Here's what she told me.

LIDA ORTA ANES: We're not. We're not. This woman has been a defender of multiple controversies. As secretary of justice, she really has not done the type of job that the position requires.

WELNA: And what's more, this woman, who would appear to be Rossello's successor, is now implicated in a new bunch of chats leaked this week. They have her declining, as secretary of justice, to investigate reports of missing hurricane relief containers. The governor's wife had been in charge of distributing the contents of those containers, and this is being seen as an effort to protect her from being investigated.

The justice secretary calls this all false and defamatory. But the Office of Government Ethics here said yesterday it's looking into her actions. And there's a lot of speculation that the governor may, before stepping down, appoint a new secretary of state, and that would be who'd succeed him. Just who that person might be nobody knows for sure, but it seems like anyone the governor picks would be tainted by the hand that chose him.

SIMON: Yeah. NPR's David Welna from San Juan, thanks so much for being with us.

WELNA: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.