Puerto Rico’s speaker of the House called for a special legislative session to begin impeachment proceedings for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Wednesday, after an expected announcement of his resignation did not materialize.
Rosselló “made a commitment” with lawmakers to make an announcement around 5 p.m., Puerto Rico Rep. Jose Melendez told CNN en Español. Rosselló had been expected to resign Wednesday after more than a week of protests, according to a source familiar with the situation.
“It’s after 8 p.m. and the governor has not kept his word,” Melendez said.
About an hour after the announcement was expected, Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira told reporters outside the governor’s official residence that Rosselló was getting ready to make an announcement “directly to the people of Puerto Rico.” He has not yet spoken.
A team of legal experts was commissioned last week by Speaker of the House Carlos Johnny Méndez to review messages from the governor’s group chat and determine whether any crimes were committed.
Edgardo Roman Espada, president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, said the trio of experts believe there’s evidence of five possible crimes, including illegal misuse of public office for personal gain, embezzlement, negligence as pertaining to fulfilling the duties of public office and violations of the government ethics law.
Enrique Colón, one of the lawyers Mendez appointed to deliver the report, said the legal group’s recommendation “effectively” is to proceed with impeachment.
Melendez, a member of the governor’s New Progressive Party, said earlier on Wednesday that if it’s determined there were “illegal acts in the chats” and the governor does not resign, legislators would begin the impeachment process.
Thousands have jammed the streets of San Juan calling for the governor’s resignation after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published a series of group messages between the governor and his inner circle that included homophobic and misogynistic language and jokes about Hurricane Maria victims.
Earlier Wednesday, Maceira declined to confirm the report that the governor was planning to step down and restated Rosselló’s Tuesday remarks that “he is in a process of reflection and listening to people.”
“The governor has not resigned,” he said. “Whichever decision he makes will as always be communicated officially. There’s a frenzy right now and a lot of incorrect rumors being spread, even by some media outlets.”
Demonstrators have said they’re determined to stay on the streets until Rosselló steps down. They’re fed up with years of government corruption, high poverty rates, crushing debt and a painfully slow recovery since the 2017 disaster, they say.
Early Wednesday morning, an energetic crowd filled the streets outside the governor’s mansion waving flags and banners after news of the governor’s anticipated announcement broke.
The person expected to take Rosselló’s place is Puerto Rico Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez.
His chief of staff resigned
The news comes a day after Rosselló’s chief of staff submitted his resignation, effective July 31.
Ricardo Llerandi Cruz wrote in his resignation letter: “The last few days have been extremely difficult for everyone. At this historical juncture it is up to me to take the welfare of my family into consideration. The threats we’ve received can be tolerated as an individual, but I will never allow them to affect my home.”
Protests on the US territory have been ongoing for more than a week — and older protesters said Monday’s demonstrations were among the largest they’ve ever seen.
Rosselló said Sunday that he would remain in his position, but would not seek reelection in 2020. He also resigned from his position as president of the new Progressive Party.
A federal corruption investigation
Demonstrators said the leaked messages were just one of many reasons why Puerto Rico’s leadership needs to go.
“I am fed up with the thieving government,” protester Maristella Gross said at Monday night’s protest. “I am fed up with corruption. I am fed up with lack of integrity.”
The leak, published July 13, came the same week the FBI arrested two former officials from Rosselló’s administration as part of a federal corruption investigation.
Education Secretary Julia Keleher and Angela Avila Marrero, executive director of the island’s health insurance administration, had resigned prior to their arrests.
Corruption ran deep in the territory years before this administration.
Many Puerto Ricans remember the scandal-plagued tenure of the governor’s father, Pedro Rosselló, who served as governor in the 1990s.
“We march for all Puerto Ricans,” said Mariana Rivera, 77, as four of her teenage grandchildren pushed her wheelchair under a blistering sun along Las Americas expressway Monday. “What will we leave for our children?”AlertMe