By Wandy Felicita Ortiz and Emily Drooby
On the eve of Constitution Day in Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló announced via video that on August 2 he will resign as the commonwealth’s governor.
The late-night July 24 Facebook announcement came after 12 days of non-stop protests by Puerto Ricans around the world calling for him to step down. The protests were brought to a head by the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism’s publication of an 889-page private chat.
In this chat Rosselló mocked the island’s Hurricane Maria death toll and financial crisis. He also spoke ill of Puerto Rican celebrities and fellow politicians, prompting people to demand that he leave office immediately on the basis of corruption, or face impeachment.
Rosselló’s announcement marks the first time in the history of the island that a governor will resign. News of his impending exit came ahead of a culturally and politically significant day in Puerto Rico.
“Constitution Day”, also known as “Occupation Day,” falls on July 25 and commemorates the 1898 arrival of U.S. defenses on the municipality of Yauco to defend the island from the Spaniards during the Spanish-American War.
Following the war the island of Puerto Rico was no longer under Spanish rule and instead became a U.S. territory. On that same date in 1952, the commonwealth’s Constitution was signed into law by Governor Luis Muñoz Marín.
According to the Miami Herald, during the days of protest citizens gathered in front of the governor’s Old San Juan mansion La Fortaleza, and in an act of patriotism read the Constitution in unison outside his home. While waving flags and banging pots and pans, for days they stood in the city’s historic streets and waited for rumors regarding Rosselló’s whereabouts and resignation to turn out in their favor.
Since taking office in 2017 Rosselló has been at the center of post-Hurricane Maria backlash, billed by locals and political leaders as the person responsible for the island’s lack relief and funding following the natural disaster.
On July 10 the FBI had arrested several members of his administration for federal fraud, and on July 13 the private chat was made public. On July 16 Rosselló made a public apology regarding his actions with the added promise that he would not resign.
But for almost two weeks, the pressure from protestors — from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn and beyond — had been on for him to change his mind.
Before the news of his resignation broke, Puerto Ricans in Brooklyn met at Avenue of Puerto Rico in Williamsburg to voice their opinions and lend their support in the same way they did two years ago when Hurricane Maria struck the island.
“It’s because of these particular issues that we’re fighting for today that I had to leave,” said Puerto Rico native Evelis Rivera, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral who organized the protest. Rivera serves as the president of Brooklyn Gives Back, an organization that helps combat homeless, hunger and provides relief aid in times of crisis.
In 2017 the group stood at the avenue for five days straight and collected supplies for hurricane victims, something Rivera says Rosselló dropped the ball on. “I felt the need. Being from there I have to help my people. I can’t stay silent on something this important because this is affecting the future of my people.”
Rivera’s cousin, Sonia Velasquez, who founded the organization and personally advocated for over 200 hurricane evacuees said, “if we have to do it again as Brooklynites, as Puerto Ricans, as New Yorkers, we will do it again.”
Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez is next in line to become governor, but few Puerto Rican protestors have expressed faith in her or any politican’s ability to clean up the mess Rosselló is leaving behind. The hashtag #WandaRenuncia or “Wanda Resign” is already trending on social media.
“I’m sure that all the youth, the seniors are doing research and reading up on who she is, what will she bring,” said Velasquez.
“I know I speak for all Puerto Ricans. We don’t trust anyone. Anyone that we put up there, we’re not going to trust right now. This is the governor of Puerto Rico, he had my people in his hands,” Velasquez added.
For them, the protest was not based on politics, but on a humanitarian need they hope will be fulfilled with the turnover of the island’s administration.
“With the sense of not believing our people when there was a desperate need and there’s still a desperate need in Puerto Rico, there should be no politically bound people at this event,” said Cynthia Perez who completes the trio of cousins.
“I think that we should respect those in Puerto Rico right now. They’re fighting against the government there. Our government is no better because it’s the same government. All the officials knew what’s going on in Puerto Rico. You cannot tell me that you didn’t know what was going on in Puerto Rico,” Perez said.
As for Rosselló, “the impeachment process has started,” Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico Carlos Johnny Méndez confirmed to Reuters. While Rosselló is expected to leave office on August 2, confidence that he will keep his word is low.
According to an attorney commissioned by Speaker Méndez, four felonies and one misdemeanor may have been committed based upon the contents of the group chat.
Protestors moving for impeachment and a complete overhaul of the current administration — even without Rosselló in it — have vowed on social media to continue “la lucha,” the fight.