Defying Protests, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico Says He Will Stay On
SAN JUAN, P.R. — Facing an angry public uprising against his administration, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló of Puerto Rico announced on Sunday evening that he would not seek re-election in 2020, and would step down as president of his political party.
But Mr. Rosselló did not resign the governorship, as tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have demanded.
“I am aware of the dissatisfaction and discomfort you have,” Mr. Rosselló said in a brief address on Facebook Live. “I have heard you, and I hear you today. I have made mistakes, and I have apologized.”
“All of my time must be dedicated to the responsibilities that I took on as governor,” he added.
Far from quelling the furor that has led to more than a week of mass protests in San Juan, the governor’s announcement seemed to have the opposite effect: People quickly gathered on the street outside the governor’s official residence in the Old San Juan neighborhood and said they were even more determined than ever to oust him.
The demonstrators banged on drums, blew whistles and screamed through blaring loudspeakers. Drivers honked their car horns as people of all ages waved flags through the streets.
The announcement came the day before what is expected to be a major protest march on Monday morning along a major highway in San Juan. The demonstration is expected to shut down not just the highway and a nearby shopping mall, but wide areas of the capital. Cruise ships will again be diverted from calling at the port on Monday, keeping thousands of tourists away from small businesses in Old San Juan that depend on them.
“He thinks this is going to calm the people, but what it will do instead is energize even more people to hit that march tomorrow,” said Meiling Villa, 57, who drove three hours from Mayagüez to be in San Juan for the march on Monday.
“I made that drive because I have children, and they live in the United States because they see no future here,” she said. “I could be home in my house with the air-conditioning. But I am here for my children, my grandchildren and my 83-year-old mother, who would give anything to be able to be at that march.”
Mr. Rosselló’s administration, bogged down by a debt crisis and the slow recovery from Hurricane Maria, has recently been plagued by a corruption scandal and by revelations of crude and offensive messages shared in a private group chat by the governor and his inner circle. Publication of those leaked messages last weekend touched off protests that have unified people of various political parties and those who normally ignore politics.
Protesters said the governor seemed to have miscalculated his ability to govern for what remains of his term, which runs through 2020.
“It was a good step, but it’s not what we are looking for,” said Heriberto Marín Centento, 58. “He is trying to fool the people. The people lost confidence in him, and he trying to do what he can to win time. He does not seem to realize that he cannot govern effectively.”
Mr. Rosselló said he was prepared to face possible impeachment. Some lawmakers in Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives have already taken steps to begin impeachment proceedings. But leaders of the governing party, the New Progressive Party, have been slower to embrace the idea, perhaps waiting for Mr. Rosselló to leave on his own.
After the announcement on Sunday evening, Mr. Rosselló held an emergency meeting with several New Progressive Party mayors.
Sunday’s announcement may mollify some New Progressives. Thomas Rivera Schatz, the president of the island’s Senate, wrote on Facebook shortly after the governor’s address that Mr. Rosselló’s moves “put an end to part of the controversies and trauma that shook our people.”
“Other issues still pending will also be attended to,” he added.
But other high-profile members of Mr. Rosselló’s party, including Representative Jenniffer González-Colón, the island’s nonvoting resident commissioner in Congress, have already called for the governor to resign. In an open letter on Friday, Ms. González-Colón argued that a governor who had lost credibility could not remain in office while so much federal money for Medicaid and for the recovery from Hurricane Maria was at stake in Washington.
“The events of the past two weeks have worsened, even more so over the last six days, paralyzing economic activity and government activity, portraying an anarchic Puerto Rico to the rest of the world,” Ms. González-Colón wrote. “This is not sustainable.”
Puerto Rico’s political parties, which are divided over whether the island should remain a commonwealth, become a state or seek independence, do not match up neatly with those on the mainland. Though they are both New Progressives and support Puerto Rican statehood, Ms. González-Colón is a Republican in national politics, while Mr. Rosselló is a Democrat.
The resignation chorus outside of Puerto Rico has grown to include two New York Democrats: Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, the longest-serving Puerto Rican in Congress, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent and has become an icon for young progressives. Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have also said that Mr. Rosselló must go.
On Friday, the Puerto Rican Bar Association released a report outlining the legal grounds for lawmakers to pursue impeachment. El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, published an editorial accusing legislative leaders of slow-walking impeachment and letting the political crisis continue. The governor’s press secretary, Dennise Pérez, resigned on Friday, saying she drew the line after someone called her “corrupt” in front of her son.
In his address, Mr. Rosselló said demonstrators’ right to free expression would be protected, and he promised to work to regain their trust.
“I recognize that apologizing is not enough,” he said. “Only my work will help restore the confidence of those sectors and get us on the path to true reconciliation.”
Saadi Rosado of the Feminist Collective, a women’s rights group that has been protesting the administration for months, said that while the governor’s announcement may have been intended to defuse the protests planned for Monday, it would actually make things worse for him.
“On the one hand, he has already begun to recognize the strength of the movement, and on the other hand, he is adding fuel to the fire, because we are not going to stop until his resignation,” Ms. Rosado said. “That message continues to nourish this movement, and the indignation is already felt here in the streets because of that message.”
Edgar Figueroa, 24, was doing brisk business a few blocks from the governor’s mansion on Sunday evening, selling black T-shirts asking for the governor’s resignation.
“He’s finally feeling the pressure,” Mr. Figueroa said. “At first he was saying ‘no’ to all the demands. That was the first ‘yes.’ It will be the first of many.”