Ricardo Rosselló, the embattled governor of Puerto Rico, is expected to resign on Wednesday after a series of political scandals and ten days of massive protests against the government.
Justice Minister Wanda Vázquez will take up his post as governor until the elections in 2020, according to the newspaper El Nuevo Día in San Juan. After the Constitution of the US Territory, the Secretary of State would be the next governor, but he retired days ago because of his role in a series of scandals that have shaken Puerto Rico.
Monday night riot police in San Juan fired tear gas into the crowd after hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans filled the main streets of the capital on the ninth day of the protests. Every day, the number of people calling for a resignation from Rosselló has risen. And Rosselló tried every day to make it clear that he had no intention of leaving.
But public pressure was too great. On Tuesday, one of its largest donors, which owns the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, called on Rosselló to resign.
The demonstrations have grown since investigative reporters leaked on the island Telegram app news leaked. in which Rosselló and his inner circle joked about victims of hurricane Maria and ridiculed political rivals with violent, homophobic and sexist language. Two government officials who participated in the chat – the foreign minister and the government insolvency authority representative – have since resigned, leaving two key positions vacant. Rosselló said on Saturday that he would not seek re-election in 2020, which did nothing to stifle his resignation.
But the leaked chat messages were just the second scandal: Earlier this month, the FBI arrested two former Cabinets officials in the Rosselló government as part of a corruption investigation into their handling of Post-Hurricane contracts in the amount of $ 15.5 million. The officials, former Education Minister Julia Keleher and Ángela Ávila-Marrero (former chief of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Board), are accused of forwarding government contracts to companies with which they were personally associated.
The Puerto Ricans already had a lot to do. They carry the burden of Puerto Rican bankruptcy, the ongoing economic recession and the botched reaction to Hurricane Maria. The two recent scandals have thrown them over the pile.
The incidents sparked the biggest government protests in modern Puerto Rican history and sparked decades of public anger over the island's two main political parties. Rosselló's pro-statehood party, the New Progressive Party, and its rival, the anti-statehood Popular Democratic Party, both blame it for bringing the economy of the US territory to its knees and doing nothing against widespread poverty.
What Rosselló's resignation means for the future of Puerto Rico are in the air and that much is at stake. Approximately 3.2 million Americans live on the Caribbean island, and the political upheavals could drive Puerto Rico into an economic black hole or fundamentally reform the failed policies of Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in Washington, DC are paying close attention as Puerto Rican voters will play a key role in the presidential primary elections of 2020 and parliamentary elections.
Washington's lack of trust threatens the recovery of Puerto Rico.
It's over Almost two years since Hurricane Maria shelladed homes and left millions without power. While the colonial buildings of San Juan have been restored and repainted, most of Puerto Rico has not yet returned to normal.
Jobs are scarcer than before. The storm destroyed the tourism industry, an important source of income for the island, and unemployment is 7.7 percent (almost double that of the US mainland). Approximately 30,000 families are still displaced or living in hurricane-devastated homes without suitable roofs. Most are still waiting for the disaster relief of the federal government.
Others need Congress to approve a budget to fund the Medicaid health insurance program in Puerto Rico.
"We are talking about $ 12 billion. If this is not approved in the next two months, there will be 600,000 people without health insurance, "said Carmelo Ríos, Majority Leader of the Puerto Rican Senate, on CNN en Español on Sunday. "Then there are the 30 to 40 billion dollars that [Congress] promised to send to the island two years ago, but still have not arrived."
Washington legislators shied away from publicly commenting on political issues in Puerto Rico, but the corruption scandal is hard to ignore. It raises too many questions about whether Rosselló's administration entrusts adequate federal assistance.
"I believe that the scandals emanating from the governorship endanger future federal assistance, which means that people in Puerto Rico who have done nothing wrong could pay for the corruption of the few," said Rep. Nydia Veláquez (D-NY) last week on Twitter. Velázquez, a native of Puerto Rico, is one of the first members of Congress to ask the governor to resign.
I have come to the inescapable conclusion that it is time for the governor of Puerto Rico to resign.
My full statement is below. pic.twitter.com/huC2NsD3S3
– Deputy Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) July 19, 2019
Not all democratic allies in Puerto Rico are calling for Rosselló's resignation. Deputy Darren Soto (D-FL) suggested that the legislature of Puerto Rico should first initiate an impeachment investigation.
The decision on the impeachment of Gov Rossello is the responsibility of the legislature of Puerto Rico and its citizens. I will continue to condemn the corruption and horrible remarks of the Rossello administration and respect the democratic process. I thank Sen Ldr @Carmelorios for his leadership! pic.twitter.com/8BJu7sdTcU
– US Rep. Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) July 19, 2019
The scandal gives President Donald Trump more ammunition to try to withhold state help while Rosselló is left in the office. On Monday, he enjoyed a chance to fight the Puerto Ricans:
… thrown away or wasted, never to be seen again. This is more than twice as much as for Texas and Florida together. I know the people in Puerto Rico well and they are great. But much of their leadership is corrupt and deprives the US government!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2019
To put it bluntly, the federal government has not spent $ 92 billion hurricane relief on Puerto Rico – that's just the estimate of the storm damage. Two years later, the island has not even received half as much. Future disaster relief, however, requires the approval of Congress and the signature of Trump.
Corruption arrests, however, burden more than just San Juan's relationship with Washington, DC. They disturb the business. The protests, called #ParoNacional (National Stoppage), have almost brought business in the capital to a standstill. For example, Royal Caribbean cruise ships have diverted trips to avoid stops in San Juan.
The lack of tax revenue will certainly affect the Treasury. And the governor must continue to repay the debt of Puerto Rico.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board, the nationwide regulatory body for the bankruptcy process in Puerto Rico, told Vox that Elías Sánchez Sifonte, government representative of Puerto Rico, had resigned. The Board will not change the island's latest austerity plan. (Sánchez Sifonte was one of the politicians who disseminated insulting social media chat messages.)
"The Oversight Board continues to work on pursuing tax responsibility for Puerto Rico and the Commonwealth Plan. Submitting an adjustment plan is the mandate of the supervisory board and not the government, "wrote Matthias Rieker, strategic advisor to the supervisory board, in an e-mail to Vox.
The corruption scandal has seriously weakened the credibility of Rosselló's government. Protesters have made it clear that they want to leave him now. Famous Boricuas (people with a Puerto Rican background) such as Ricky Martin, Lin Manuel-Miranda and the reggaetón icon Daddy Yankee took part in the protests in San Juan and New York City threatening Puerto Rico's fragile economic recovery and endangering the statehood movement.
The loss of public support could threaten the statehood movement.
Rosselló's greatest political achievement was to energize efforts to designate Puerto Rico as the 51st US state.
The status of Puerto Rico has been the most important political issue on the island ever since the United States annexed it in 1898 after the end of the Spanish-American War.
Over the years, the Puerto Rico Congress, now acting as a kind of state, has transferred a small amount of autonomy. It has an independent elected local government, but without all the power and benefits of a state – including a lack of real representation in Congress.
Puerto Ricans are American citizens, but do not pay federal income tax if they live on the island. They pay payroll taxes to finance Social Security and Medicare, but the island receives only limited funds for Medicaid and food stamps.
Strong political divisions in Puerto Rico over the island's future have made it easy for Congress to ignore petitions to become a US state. There is no consensus among the island's 3.5 million people on whether it is better to join the United States, remain a polity, or achieve complete independence.
The island's current economic crisis, which began around 2008, has intensified efforts to achieve statehood. If it were a state, more federal money would flow to Puerto Rico, but it would also increase federal taxes on those living there.
Rosselló's pro-state political party, the New Progressive Party, entered power control of the governor's local house, Senate and mansion in 2017. The recent scandals are bad for the party, which makes them bad for the statehood movement.
His party has built public support for Puerto Rican statehood in Washington DC, and has probably been more successful than previous efforts.
] Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, House Delegate Jenniffer González-Colón, recently presented two bills that would allow Puerto Rico to become the 51st American state – one before Hurricane Maria and the other last summer ,
The Puerto Rican Admission Act would set up a task force to immediately begin the transition from Puerto Rico to a US state, which would take place on January 1, 2021. The latest law has 53 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. While it's far from being a reality (the question is whether most Puerto Ricans want a state or not), Americans on the US mainland are more supportive of this idea than ever.
Two out of three Americans live outside Puerto According to a June Gallup poll, Rico is in favor of hosting the island as a US state.
Since then, however, nothing has happened, and the scandals could weaken support for the party per state in 2020. A key The challenge could come from Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, who gained fame and fame after hurricane Maria for her sharp criticism of the Trump administration's reaction. She reportedly wants Puerto Rico to remain a US territory. But her party also has its own share of corruption scandals.
Rios, the Senate Majority Leader and member of the Pro-Statehood Party, insists that government corruption is not systematic. Instead, he said Congress would focus on rooting out bad apples and filling vacancies with other members of their party.
"We have the talent to reinvent ourselves and maintain stability," he told CNN en Español on Sunday.
So far, this stability is nowhere to be seen. The resignation of Rosselló is an important step in regaining public confidence and could usher in much needed reforms to tackle decades of political corruption.