The Slatest

Inspiring Protests in Puerto Rico Show It’s Still Possible to Hold Callous, Corrupt Leaders Accountable

Protesters ahead of Gov. Ricardo Rossello taped resignation announcement July 24, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Protesters ahead of Gov. Ricardo Rossello taped resignation announcement July 24, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation Wednesday night in a recorded message, marking a dramatic fall after 12 days of escalating protests. Puerto Ricans were outraged after thousands of misogynistic and homophobic texts between Rosselló and his closest advisers were published by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism. During the leaked exchanges on the private texting app Telegram, Rosselló and his team denigrated political opponents and even joked about those killed in Hurricane Maria, the debilitating 2017 storm that deeply scarred the island territory.

The text scandal quickly became about something much more than the public outing of a jerk in office, it transformed into a lightning rod for decades of Puerto Ricans’ grievances with their leaders: government corruption, the island’s crushing debt, and the woeful recovery effort after the 2017 hurricane. The scandal touched a nerve in part because it came on the heels of an FBI corruption investigation that led to the arrest of two former government officials on corruption charges.

The callousness of the text messages coupled with Rosselló’s tepid apology and stubborn refusal to step down felt familiar in the kleptocratic era of Donald Trump, but then something extraordinary happened: Puerto Ricans decided they had had enough. On Monday, some 500,00 people took to the streets and refused to leave. Rosselló had resisted calls to step aside, even as those in his own party began abandoning him. This week, however, as the protests continued, the governor’s chief of staff and official in charge of the island’s Federal Affairs Administration in Washington both resigned, and lawmakers were openly discussing the possibility of impeachment hearings, making Rosselló’s departure appear inevitable.

Rosselló will hand over power to the secretary of justice Wanda Vázquez on August 2.