Puerto Rico governor plans statement amid rumors he will resign

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló prepared to make an announcement to the people on Wednesday as the legislature began an impeachment process against him amid mass protests and rumors that the governor would resign.

Rosselló, a first-term governor for the U.S. territory, has resisted calls to step down over a scandal local media have dubbed “Rickyleaks.” Media, including El Nuevo Día newspaper, cited unnamed sources as saying his resignation was imminent.

“The impeachment process has started,” said Johnny Mendez, speaker of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and a member of Rossello’s party.

Nearly two weeks of protests were spurred by the publication on July 13 of chat messages in which Rosselló and aides used profane language to describe female politicians and gay Puerto Rican celebrities, including singer Ricky Martin.

The 40-year-old governor, who is serving in his first elected office, is weighing his political future and planned to make an announcement on Wednesday, Rosselló spokesman Anthony Maceira said.

“Today, Governor Ricardo Rossello will address the people of Puerto Rico directly in a message that he is preparing at the moment,” Maceira told reporters. “I don’t know at what time.”

An independent panel of lawyers commissioned by Mendez to investigate the offensive messages found four felonies and one misdemeanor may have been committed during the Telegram message group chats, one of the lawyers, Luis Rodríguez-Rivera, said in an email.

Thousands of protesters outside the powder-blue and white governor’s mansion grew ever more impatient for news from Rosselló, who has not been seen in public for days.

“The people, united, will never be defeated,” they chanted, banging pots and pans, blowing horns and waving Puerto Rican flags.

Rows of riot police marched past the residence, named “The Fortress,” in preparation for what some thought could become a night of confrontation if Rosselló did not step down.

​ Protesters were cautiously optimistic he would resign, but said the fight wasn’t over.

“I am still fighting no matter what because whoever replaces him is just as bad as him,” said Jennifer Peña, 42.

Ariel Hernandez, 54, said he was confident Rosselló would leave office. “If he doesn’t resign tonight, we are still confident. We’ve never felt so confident in our history,” said Hernandez.

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The island of 3.2 million people has been rocked by multiple crises in recent years, including a bankruptcy filing and a devastating hurricane in 2017 that killed about 3,000 people.

If Rosselló steps down, his replacement as the U.S. territory’s leader would likely be Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, whom many protesters reject because of her ties to the governor.

A string of Rosselló’s closest aides have stepped down as prosecutors investigated the scandal. The governor’s chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi resigned on Tuesday, citing concerns for the safety of his family.

Reporting by Nick Brown in San Juan; Additional reporting by Marco Bello and Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan, Karen Pierog in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay; Editing by Leslie Adler, Matthew Lewis and Cynthia Osterman

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