Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Resigns Following Mass Protests

Celebrations were held throughout the night in Puerto Rico after Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced he would resign, following 12 days of mass protests. This came two days after more than 500,000 Puerto Ricans took to the streets in one of the largest protests in Puerto Rico’s history. The protests began after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published close to 900 pages of shocking text messages between Rosselló, staffers and advisers. The group chat messages were riddled with misogyny, homophobia, profanity and violence. Some of the messages mocked victims of Hurricane Maria and joked about shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. For more on Rosselló’s resignation and what lies ahead for the island, we speak with journalist Ed Morales, author of the forthcoming book, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico.

TRANSCRIPT

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Puerto Rico. Celebrations were held throughout the night in Puerto Rico after Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced he would resign, following 12 days of massive protests. The demonstrations began after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published close to 900 pages of text messages between Rosselló, staffers and advisers. The group chat messages were riddled with misogyny, homophobia, profanity and violence. Some of the messages mocked victims of Hurricane Maria and joked about shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

AMY GOODMAN: Throughout the day Wednesday, Puerto Rico was on edge over whether Rosselló would resign. Thousands of protesters had gathered outside the governor’s mansion, Fortaleza. The Puerto Rican Legislature threatened to impeach Rosselló if he did not step down. But until just before midnight, there was no news. Then Rosselló posted a prerecorded video message on Facebook.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: [translated] Despite having the mandate of the people, who democratically elected me, today I feel that to continue in this position represents a difficulty for the success of the country. After listening to the demands, speaking to my family, thinking about my children, and prayer, I have made the following decision: With sadness, I am announcing that I will be resigning from the position of governor, effective on Friday, August 2nd, 2019, at 5:00 in the afternoon. In these coming days, I will be attending to pending issues to facilitate an orderly transition. …

The person who will assume the weight of the office, who will have the privilege to occupy it, will need the support of the people and for each person to work tirelessly for democracy. At this time, in accordance with the legal framework, this person will be the current secretary of the Department of Justice, Wanda Vázquez.

I am confident that Puerto Rico will continue united and move forward, as it has always done. I hope that this decision serves as a call for the reconciliation of the people, which is what we need to continue moving forward for the well-being of Puerto Rico.

AMY GOODMAN: The Facebook video was broadcast just before midnight throughout the area, as thousands cheered when they watched it. The governor had quietly left the mansion a few hours before. Celebrations broke out across San Juan. Many stayed in the streets late into the night.

DEMONSTRATOR 1: [translated] It’s completely fair; late, but he finally did it. We are celebrating. We are superhappy. The people can do it when they unite. They can.

DEMONSTRATOR 2: [translated] Ricky is leaving not just for all the obscenities and insults on chat, but also for corruption. Good that he is going.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Puerto Rico, we’re joined by longtime journalist Ed Morales, author of the forthcoming book, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico.

Well, you look tired. I think you were probably up through the night. Right around midnight, this announcement came. And no one knew whether the governor was going to come out and speak or what he would do at that point, apparently breaching some agreement he had made with the Legislature that he would speak before 5:00. They were going to begin impeachment hearings, they said, today at 2:00. The significance of the governor of Puerto Rico resigning, again, effective next Friday, August 2nd, Ed?

ED MORALES: Well, I think there are two really important levels of significance. First, it represents a victory for the people of Puerto Rico, which is extremely important. You know, it’s an intersectional coalition of people who have fused, somehow, identity politics and class conflict, struggle. So, that is really important for Puerto Rico, moving forward.

But on the other hand, it also represents a real weakening of the Puerto Rican government. There are all of these Cabinet positions to be filled. Even the judge, Taylor Swain, who oversees the bankruptcy proceedings in the PROMESA court, has suspended all activity for 90 days, because she wants to see how things settle down. And it’s also — you know, as much as we dislike what was going on with Rosselló, it’s a difficult moment that the government, which is basically the vessel for democracy in Puerto Rico, is right now staggering, and there’s a Fiscal Oversight and Management Board that is poised to take more control.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, could you give us some background — I mean, the reasons, the many reasons, for the opposition to Rosselló which preceded these text messages, the revelation of these text messages?

ED MORALES: Yeah. Well, about two weeks before the text messages came out, his secretary of finance, Raúl Maldonado, resigned, and then he gave an interview to El Nuevo Día, the newspaper, that said that there was institutional corruption. And then, after that, his son came out and said that he had this stuff on the governor and that he was going to be — something was going to happen soon.

You know, we don’t know who the source was for releasing the chats. I think it’s interesting to take a look at the fact that Raúl Maldonado had already been cooperating with the FBI, and these revelations by his son, who’s supposed to be a tech guy, you know, then, two weeks later, result in the release of these chats. Also, Julia Keleher, the secretary of education, and the secretary of health insurance, in charge of health insurance, were also arrested by a Department of Justice operation. So, you know —

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Keleher?

ED MORALES: Yeah. Well, I mean —

AMY GOODMAN: Who actually made more money —

ED MORALES: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — than Betsy DeVos —

ED MORALES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — the federal secretary of education, though, of course, doesn’t have anything like her wealth.

ED MORALES: Yeah. You know, she was hell-bent on doing massive privatization of schools. She closed many schools. But she was involved in these plans of granting contracts, which is endemic to the whole administration, this pay-for-play stuff and taking contracts that did not go through a fair, a request-for-proposal procedure.

So, I mean, there’s an enormous amount — you know, there are also two major figures: Elías Sánchez, who is this mysterious lobbyist and consultant, who was in on the chats, and that possibly violated law, because he was not contracted by the government, and he was in on all these government maneuverings, which were being done in the chat, and this other guy, Edwin Miranda, who was a huge public relations figure in Puerto Rico.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And can you talk about — you mentioned earlier the fiscal control board. What do you anticipate happening now?

ED MORALES: Well, you know, since the bankruptcy procedure is temporarily — you know, it’s a pseudobankruptcy procedure. It’s temporarily suspended. The Fiscal Oversight and Management Board is, I guess, waiting to see who they’re going to be working with, because another thing about Rosselló leaving is, not only is he not advocating for Puerto Rico from his office, but also his nonvoting representative, Christian Sobrino, also had to quit. He made the most offensive chat referenced, the one talking about cadavers and vultures going to eat them. So, there’s absolutely — you know, the thing is, there’s no Puerto Rico government involvement right now with the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, so there is no one to talk about the next economic plan. They have to fill out the entire government to be able to resume these kind of activities.

And, you know, the government — one of the reasons this happened is because the government had been put in this position of having almost no power because of the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board. They could suggest economic plans, but they ultimately had to be approved by the economic — by the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, ”la junta.” And they often sort of fought back in this sort of theatrical way that was — you know, didn’t make any sense. It was, they were just playing a role, which I think you can see a lot in the chats, too. They thought the whole thing was a joke. They would fight back and say, “No, we’re not going to cut the pensions.” In fact, they were advocating for not cutting the pensions. But in the end, they would always give in to the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board. So —

AMY GOODMAN: And the vulture capitalists who profited off of the hurricane and the money that came in, the money not actually going to the victims of Hurricane Maria, the frustration of the people before.

ED MORALES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, this didn’t start 12 days ago. Perhaps the mass visual manifestation of the protests —

ED MORALES: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — of the thousands and then hundreds of thousands. There were many protesting even in the streets before. And even those who didn’t, the terrific pain and discontent in Puerto Rico.

ED MORALES: Yeah. I would say you had a hard core of demonstrators that go back to 2010, 2011, when Fortuño, who was the first governor who tried to implement austerity measures, was really pushed back against by university students and labor unions. That formed a kind of a hard core of resistance in Puerto Rico. And then, yes, the emotional weight of dealing with the hurricane and not having electricity for months and not being able to take a shower and worrying about your loved ones and worrying — having the demoralizing feeling that everyone wanted to leave, really, it came out in a burst of emotion.

That was the huge amount of people who joined this core of resistance, some of which was formed by people who were in this group called Victoria Ciudadana, which is — the major figures are Rafael Barnabe, who you’ve had here before, and Alexandra Lúgaro and Manuel Natal, who has done a lot of — he’s a state representative who had done a lot of investigative research about both the Elías Sánchez and the Edwin Miranda scandal. These people are advocating for a new politics in Puerto Rico that isn’t just concerned with status, but wants to really deal with the —

AMY GOODMAN: Status being commonwealth, statehood or independence.

ED MORALES: Right, exactly — new forms of making democracy, new kinds of politics for Puerto Rico. And they might emerge in the 2020 election.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And who do you think is likely to succeed Rosselló? I mean, a number of the issues that you point out are, of course, structural ongoing issues, so whoever succeeds him will also confront the same.

ED MORALES: Yes. Well, you know, that’s a big battle. You know, I mean, Wanda Vázquez, who is the secretary of justicia, of justice, she is in the succession for — you know, according to the Constitution, who will become governor. However —

AMY GOODMAN: Because the secretary of state resigned already, last week.

ED MORALES: Right. But since Rosselló said he would be leaving at 5 p.m. on August 2nd — and I doubt he’s going to make it by 5 p.m., considering all the lateness that’s been happening — there is a lot of speculation that he will be naming the secretary of state, which is actually ahead of the secretary of justice. And that person will become —

AMY GOODMAN: So, he would appoint that person, and then they would become the governor.

ED MORALES: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: Already in social media, it was atwitter last night —

ED MORALES: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — with calls for Wanda Vázquez to resign.

ED MORALES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, also an appointee of Rosselló.

ED MORALES: Right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: This dangerous moment in Puerto Rico, both an incredible opportunity —

ED MORALES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — but, you know, when you have a moment like this, the question is: As all the powers realign, who comes forward? Our colleague, Democracy Now!’s Juan González, yesterday was raising this issue, in times of regime change.

ED MORALES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein has written extensively about disaster capitalism —

ED MORALES: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — and who moves in. You’ve written about the intersectionality of the protests. You’ve talked about the importance of the different movements that have come together to force out the governor. But what do you think about that? And especially going back to the issue of the vulture capitalists have to be positioning themselves right now.

ED MORALES: Yes. Well, yes, it’s dangerous. And yesterday, actually, Jenniffer González, who is the pro-Trump resident commissioner, announced that she and Sean Duffy, who’s one of the architects of PROMESA, and, I think, one of the senators from — I forget — they are considering asking Trump to name a kind of a government fund czar, which I think, to me, it harkens back to days of military — appointed military governors in Puerto Rico. This czar would probably have the ultimate power, even — maybe even over the — it’s actually an interesting fight between the executive branch and Congress, because Congress controls most of the affairs of Puerto Rico, and the PROMESA act and the oversight board is a creation of Congress.

So, all of that is very threatening, but I do think that the people of Puerto Rico are really — you know, they’re together now. And they’re intent. There’s going to be another march today. They’re trying to show that they are united. And it’s going to be an interesting thing to see what happens with this people power.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much, Ed Morales, for joining us, longtime journalist, author of the forthcoming book, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico. We hope to have you back when it comes out —

ED MORALES: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: — in mid-September. When we come back from break, we look at Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill with Ryan Grim of The Intercept. Stay with us.