Puerto Rico Governor Under Increased Pressure to Resign

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló during better times at a town hall in Kissimmee.
It’s hard to see a path for Rosselló to remain in office after the text chat scandal. / María Padilla

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is living a Nixonian moment, isolated and angry in La Fortaleza, as the clamor rises outside the gates calling for his resignation.

The publication of over 800 pages of obscenity-filled text chats among Rosselló, advisors and cabinet members have boxed him in – more than the outcry provoked by the 3,000 to 5,000 Hurricane María-related deaths due to commonwealth government incompetence, which didn’t appear to dent his reputation.

But the chats have pulled the mask off the Rosselló administration, which is not above ridiculing the hurricane dead in a chat in which the island’s former chief financial officer and chat member Christian Sobrino writes, “Now that we’re on this theme, do we have a corpse we can feed the vultures? Clearly [the vultures] need our attention. Attention and recognition for the great job they do of picking up what’s on the ground. Vultures are like that. You give them an eye and they want the other. This is a tough situation.”

Unprecedented and Damning

In fact, the situation is unprecedented and so damning that Rosselló’s New Progressive Party has abandoned him, thrown him to the vultures. The governor is up for re-election in 2020 and no NPP colleague wants to stand with Rosselló. Not the Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, not the mayors in the NPP-backed Federation of Mayors, not the House Speaker Carlos Méndez nor Senate leader Thomas Rivera Schatz.

The circular firing squad, which includes Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Az.) who oversees Puerto Rico affairs in Congress and was the first to call for Rosselló’s resignation, means it’s over for Rosselló. Just as President Richard Nixon lost Republican support during the darkest days of Watergate, the NPP’s rush to the exits is no small thing.

I predict that Rosselló will opt not to run for re-election in return for being allowed to complete his term in office. But even this is hard to imagine given the misogynistic and homophobic slurs contained in the chats, which also ridicule or lambaste many NPP leaders. Not to mention San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who is running for governor, and former president of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito, who Rosselló called a “puta”or whore.

2020 Elections at Stake

Puerto Rico elections come only every four years. Officials from the governor on down are up for re-election, meaning it’s make-or-break time for political parties. About 72 percent of Puerto Rico voters mark a straight party-line ballot, placing an X under the party name, indicating a vote for all in the column. This is known as a voto integro, and political parties count on it.

In the 2016 elections, 51 percent of NPP voters marked a voto integro, according to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission, but it’s hard to imagine half of NPP voters doing so in 2020 after this debacle.

Rosselló apologized for the text chats, disclosed just before the FBI arrests of six administration-related people, including the former education secretary and health care administrator, for alleged corruption in a raid that reportedly is likely to continue.

Administrator of the Chat

He has issued a public apology and accepted the resignations of Sobrino and former Secretary of State and chat-mate Luis Rivera Marín, among others. However, who is likely to forget that Rosselló himself was the administrator of the chat? If the others had to go, why not the administrator, too?

Despite the public display of humility, behind closed doors Rosselló is arrogant. In news reports, the mayor of the mountain town of Ciales said that in a meeting with NPP mayors the governor demanded, “Are you standing with me or not?”

Son of a Governor

Rosselló is the son of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló who governed the island for two terms during the 1990s. The father gained a reputation for being combative, arrogant and for waging a war against the press, including stripping government ads from El Nuevo Día over coverage he disliked, a pre-Trumpian move that later was challenged in court on First Amendment grounds.

Ironically, one chat revealed Rosselló’s attempts to plant stories with friendly journalists and to push for stories or rumors to go viral on social media. Other chats insult El Nuevo Día journalist Benjamín Torres Gotay, calling him a “cabrón,” among the things.

Rosselló senior, who also had scandal-plagued administrations, was behind the rise of Rosselló son and he must be apoplectic over the fire that has engulfed the son. In an Orlando appearance years ago – because, of course, everybody visits the island’s 79th municipality – the former governor acknowledged he had to hold his tongue because he now had a son in politics.

Current Gov. Rosselló was not overly popular to begin with. He won the governorship in 2016 with a plurality of votes, about 42 percent, the lowest in Puerto Rico gubernatorial history, according to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission. In an El Nuevo Día poll, conducted earlier, support for Rosselló fell below 40 percent if the election were held now.

Who’s Gone*

  • Luis Rivera Marín, secretary of state
  • Christian Sobrino, chief financial officer and liaison to the fiscal control board
  • Carlos Bermúdez, communications advisor to Rosselló and Resident Commissioner González
  • Ramón Rosario, public affairs secretary
  • Rafael Cerame, communications advisor
  • Alfonso Orona, legal advisor
  • Edwin Miranda, advertising agency president and advisor to the governor

Who Stayed

  • Ricardo Llerandi, secretary of the interior
  • Anthony Maceira, secretary of public affairs.

*List may be incomplete.

˜˜María Padilla, Editor

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