Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Will Not Seek Re-Election, Still Not Resigning From Office Amid Protests - NBC 7 San Diego
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Embattled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Will Not Seek Re-Election, Still Not Resigning From Office Amid Protests

A massive protest is scheduled for Monday in San Juan

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    Protests Increase in Puerto Rico After Governor's Announcement

    Courtesy Telemundo Puerto Rico

    (Published Sunday, July 21, 2019)

    Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Sunday announced that he will not seek re-election to his office and is stepping down from his party — but will still not resign just hours after he summoned members of his cabinet amid protests that show no sign of dissipating.

    By late Sunday night, protestors were back on the street and involved in confrontations with law enforcement from the country - with several protestors suffering from tear gas used in an effort to control them.

    Rosselló made the announcement on Facebook just before 6 p.m. as thousands of protesters have descended onto the streets of Old San Juan in the past week to demand Rosselló resign after a series of online chats were leaked.

    "In spite of everything, I recognize that apologizing isn't enough, that only my work will help restore confidence ...," the governor said. "Facing that scenario, I announce to you that I will not seek reelection next year."

    Just hours after Rosselló spoke, another top official submitted his resignation from the government.

    "Unfortunately the events in recent weeks, including the attitudes reflected in the comments of officials and advisers of the current administration, do not match my values and principles," wrote Gerardo Portela, who has been principal investment officer, president of Puerto Rico's Economic Development Bank and executive director of the Housing Finance Authority.

    A march is scheduled for Monday as the president of the Utier labor union announced that protesters will gather near the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan at 9 a.m.

    High-profile Puerto Rican celebrities including Residente, Bad Bunny and Ricky Martin are expected to participate, Telemundo Puerto Rico reports.

    As protests took place in cities across America - including one in Miami on Sunday - the continuous rallies in San Juan have attracted those from the mainland.

    "I can not just stay home and watch this on TV," Maria Nieves, who flew in from Miami, told NBC 6's Sheli Muniz this weekend. "I said to myself 'I need to be there and fight for them.'"

    Officials who entered the La Fortaleza official governor's residence in Old San Juan on Sunday include Public Security Secretary Elmer Román; Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores Ortega; Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel A. Laboy; and Tourism Director Carla Campos.

    Rosselló on Tuesday held a press conference in which he promised to stay in his post to ensure "continuity in government."

    "I have not committed any illegal acts, I only committed improper acts," Rosselló said.

    In the chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rosselló calls one New York female politician of Puerto Rican background a "whore," describes another as a "daughter of a b****" and makes fun of an obese man he posed with in a photo.

    Protesters said they were not satisfied by Rosselló's concessions, and pledged to continue demonstrations that have filled the streets of Old San Juan for more than a week.

    "He's stretching things out. We had hoped he'd taken the decision to resign. He's making the people's pain last longer," said Emmarie Morales, a protester from southeast coastal town of Patillas. She said the governor's decision would not end the protests. "He's given us more strength to protest. We aren't going to sit around watching Netflix."

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    The chat also contains vulgar references to Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin's homosexuality and a series of emojis of a raised middle finger directed at a federal control board overseeing the island's finances.

    Since the chat leaked on July 13, hundreds of thousands of outraged Puerto Ricans have marched to Rosselló's official residence in the largest protest movement on the island since Puerto Ricans successfully demonstrated to demand an end to U.S. Navy military training on the island of Vieques more than 15 years ago.

    Puerto Rico's justice secretary, Wanda Vázquez, would assume the governor's role under the territorial constitution's line of succession if Rosselló should quit.

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    The upheaval comes as the U.S. territory is struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and trying to restructure part of $70 billion in debt amid a 13-year recession in this territory more than 3 million American citizens who do not have full representation in Congress or a vote for president.

    "Today, I have the great responsibility to direct my efforts, and those of my administration, to keep searching for ways and means for us, united before God, to be able to keep guiding our island," the governor said.

    But anger grew across the island after his message. A group of legislators and mayors from Rosselló's party remained stuck inside a community center in the upscale city of Guaynabo late Sunday as protesters arrived to demand that the governor resign. The politicians had met earlier with the Rossellór, who managed to leave with his bodyguards before the others became trapped.

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    Rosselló was elected governor in November 2016 with nearly 50% of the vote, and he had already announced his intention to seek a second term. A graduate of MIT with a doctorate in genetics, he is the son of former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rosselló, who flew to the island to marshal support after the chat was made public.

    The governor belongs to the New Progressive Party, which seeks statehood for the island, and he is also a Democrat. Most of his time has been spent seeking federal funds since Hurricane Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20, 2017, and battling austerity measures implemented by a federal control board that Congress set up to oversee the island government's finances.

    The upheaval against Rosselló prompted at least four cruise ships to cancel visits to Puerto Rico, and many officials worry about the impact a resignation would have on the already fragile economy as the island rebuilds from Maria, a Category 4 storm that caused more than an estimated $100 billion in damage.

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    Another concern is the recent string of arrests involving federal corruption charges targeting Puerto Rico officials, among them two former agency heads, including former education secretary Julia Keleher.