Puerto Rico cheers Gov. Ricardo Rosselló's ouster — but they aren't stopping there

"People are tired of the government being corrupt and the police and the justice system not doing anything ... Enough,," said a woman who attended the rally.
Image: Puerto Rico
People march in San Juan on July 25, 2019, one day after the resignation of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.Eric Rojas / AFP - Getty Images

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By Nicole Acevedo and Laura Barbosa

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An atmosphere of celebration permeated the streets of the San Juan metro area Thursday morning after embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation following two weeks of unprecedented mass protests demanding his ouster.

"I feel happy because of the people," José León, 54, a retired manager from the town of Gurabo, told NBC News.

Thousands gathered on main roads near the island's financial district, known as "La Milla De Oro" ("The Golden Mile"), in what originally was supposed to be another massive protest calling for Rosselló's ouster.

But for Puerto Ricans like Alexandra Rivera, 21, Rosselló's resignation is just the beginning of a bigger goal.

"We want to end corruption in the island," the student, from the town of Guaynabo, said. “His resignation isn’t enough for us as Puerto Ricans."

The mass demonstration — which is being dubbed as "La Marcha Somos Más" ("There's More Of Us" march) — was loosely organized by artists such as Residente and Bad Bunny, who have helped rally people for previous large protests. Other musicians including Nicky Jam and Wisin, as well as actor Julián Gil, also joined Thursday's march.

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The protests that eventually ousted Rosselló were triggered by the leaking of 889 pages of private chats involving him and some of his current and former officials, as well as close associates. The leaked chats on the messaging app Telegram, which included profanities, homophobic and misogynistic remarks and the inner details of partisan maneuvering, shocked the U.S. territory.

A legal investigation commissioned by the president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Carlos Méndez Núñez, found five impeachable offenses stemming from the chats — including illicitly using public resources and services for partisan purposes, as well as allowing government officials and contractors to misuse public funds and time for nongovernment work.

This came on top of recent arrests of former officials and government contractors on charges that include fraud involving federal funding. Investigators are looking into possible wrongdoing such as corruption and conflicts of interest.

"It’s been so many years of known corruption and no one did anything," said Yohara León, a licensed optician who attended Thursday's demonstration with her father, José. "People are tired of the government being corrupt and the police and the justice system not doing anything ... Enough.. People have had enough.”

According to Rosselló's announcement, his resignation will be effective Aug. 2.

House President Méndez Núñez said Thursday morning he plans to hold an extraordinary legislative session to officially begin an impeachment process against Rosselló in the afternoon since he's not aware that an official resignation letter from the ousted governor has been submitted.

Méndez Núñez published on Twitter Rosselló's anticipated letter of resignation, shortly before the session was scheduled to begin. His office confirmed to NBC News that the legislative session will continue as scheduled.

Controversy around Rosselló's successor

By law, the island's secretary of state would succeed Rosselló, but no one has been confirmed for that position since Luis G. Rivera Marín, who was part of the chat scandal, submitted his resignation July 13.

Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez is slated to take Rossello's place as interim governor when he steps down Aug. 2. But she's already dogged by questions about her handling of cases involving the administration.

Local news outlets reported Friday that the Office of Government Ethics will investigate conversations between Vázquez and a former top administration official over her decision not to investigate allegations about the mishandling of much-needed post-hurricane provisions.

Vázquez, who was appointed in 2017, is seen as loyal to Rosselló and the hashtag #WandaRenuncia (or "Wanda, resign") started trending on Twitter immediately after Rosselló's address ended.

On Friday, Vázquez issued a statement saying "we have always worked with honesty and integrity for the benefit of the people," adding the allegations about her conduct are "vicious attacks."

Vázquez initially described the leaked chats as "incorrect" but not illegal. She later announced that she would recuse herself from any investigation because she was mentioned in the chats.

Nicole Acevedo reported from New York and Laura Barbosa reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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