Puerto Rico Governor Won’t Seek Re-election, Leaves His Party, but Refuses to Resign

July 21, 2019 Updated: July 21, 2019

Puerto Rico’s embattled governor says he will not seek re-election but will not resign as the island’s leader, though he will step down as head of his pro-statehood party.

Ricardo Rosselló made the announcement on Sunday, July 21, via a brief Facebook video as hundreds of viewers posted angry messages. He also said he is looking forward to facing the process of impeachment, whose initial stages have begun in Puerto Rico’s legislature.

“A huge portion of the population is unhappy and I recognize it,” Rosselló said on Facebook Live. “I’ve heard you, I love the island and people. … Today I have the responsibility to direct my strengths to try to find alternatives so that with God we may be able to move forward.”

“I’m going to be looking forward to turning over power to the person elected democratically,” he said.

Rosselló is two and a half years into his four-year term.

Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello
Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello holds a press conference, almost two days after federal authorities arrested the island’s former secretary of education and five other people on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors, in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 11, 2019. (Carlos Giusti/AP)

Rosselló is facing public furor over an obscenity-laced online chat that showed the governor and his close advisers insulting women and mocking constituents, including victims of Hurricane Maria.

Public outrage over the leaked chats sent hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans marching to Rosselló’s official residence in colonial Old San Juan in recent days demanding his resignation.

Protesters clash with police in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 17, 2019. (Eric Rojas/AFP/Getty Images)

Rosselló Apologizes

Rosselló apologized late Thursday, July 11, for profanity-laced comments he made in a private chat to describe a former New York City female government official and a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances.

Rosselló said he was working 18-hour days and releasing tensions when he called former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito the Spanish word for “whore” and in English told the board “go [expletive] yourself” followed by a string of emojis with the middle finger raised.

“None of this justifies the words I’ve written,” he said in reference to excerpts from a chat extracted from a messaging system used by government officials that were published by local media. “My apologies to all the people I have offended… This was a private chat.”

The comments drew the ire of many Puerto Ricans who said they were ashamed of his language and of how this might affect the reputation of the U.S. territory, which had already come under scrutiny earlier this week with the arrests of former government officials including the island’s education secretary.

Puerto Rico Protests 3
Citizens carrying a banner that reads in Spanish “Ricardo Rosello, renounce” protest near the executive mansion denouncing a wave of arrests for corruption that has shaken the country and demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosello, in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 11, 2019. (Carlos Giusti/AP)

Rosselló posted a lengthy statement on Twitter that read in part, “A person who uses that language against a woman, whether a public figure or not, should not govern Puerto Rico …this type of behavior is completely unacceptable.”

In the chat, Rosselló wrote that he was upset Mark-Viverito had criticized Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, for supporting statehood for Puerto Rico.

Those who participated in the chat included Ricardo Llerandi, Puerto Rico’s Chief of Staff, Christian Sobrino, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority; and Ramón Rosario, former public affairs secretary. Rosselló said the entire chat, which has not been released publicly, has since been erased and that he does not know who leaked part of it.

Rosselló spoke a day after FBI agents arrested Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s former education secretary, and five other people on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors.

Puerto Rico Protests 4
Dozens of citizens protest near the executive mansion denouncing a wave of arrests for corruption that has shaken the country and demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosello, in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 11, 2019. (Carlos Giusti/AP)

Officials said the alleged fraud involves $15.5 million worth of federal funding issued between 2017 and 2019. They said $13 million was spent by Puerto Rico’s Department of Education while Keleher was secretary and another $2.5 million spent by Ángela Ávila Marrero when she was director of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration. Ávila Marrero was charged along with businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velázquez-Piñol, and education contractors Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters.

By Danica Coto

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.

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