Puerto Rico governor says he's not resigning after private chat scandal

The release of 889 pages of derogatory and profanity-laced comments has drawn fierce public backlash, including from members of his own party.
Image: Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello holds a press conference in San Juan on July 11, 2019.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello at a news conference in San Juan on July 11.Carlos Giusti / AP

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By Sandra Lilley and Associated Press

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Monday that he has no plans to resign or give up his leadership of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party after a fierce public outcry over the release of profanity-laced and derogatory private chat messages with other officials and close associates.

Rosselló did say in a radio interview, however, that as a "tactical measure" he would think about whether he should seek re-election next year.

The messages, which included homophobic and misogynistic comments, have been strongly condemned by other officials in his party and drawn protests outside the governor's mansion in Old San Juan. Some excerpts of the chats, on the instant messaging service Telegram, were leaked to local media on July 8th. The island's Center for Investigative Journalism, which received the 889 pages from a source, published them in their entirety on Saturday.

In the chats, the group used disparaging and sexist terms to refer to San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, as well as former New York City Council President Melissa Mark-Viverito. They also belittled the death of independence movement leader Carlos Gallisá and slammed the federal control board overseeing the island's finances.

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The group used a homophobic comment in relation to international pop star Ricky Martin, who is from Puerto Rico. On Twitter, Martin urged Rosselló to step down.

The governor, Martin tweeted, “lacks the abilities of a true leader, who inspires, stimulates and guides by example so that our people attain a higher level of life.”

Over the weekend, a group of mayors and officials from the governor's New Progressive Party, including the president of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives, Carlos "Johnny" Mendez, had urged Rosselló to "re-evaluate" and reflect on his position. In a statement, they wrote that "the most recent publications of the content in the Telegram chat do not reflect in any way how our delegation or the party feels."

On Saturday, Rosselló announced that other top officials who participated in the chats had submitted their resignations. This included the secretary of state, Luis G. Rivera Marín, who would have been next in line for the governorship if Rosselló were no longer in his position.

The commonwealth's chief financial officer, Christian Sobrino, who is also the governor’s representative to the federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico's finances, also announced he was stepping down. The federal control board was a topic in the chats.

The island's justice secretary, Wanda Vázquez, announced that she was appointing a special task force to determine whether the comments in the chats broke any laws. On Monday, Rosselló said he had reviewed the chats and he said he had committed no wrongdoing.

The messaging scandal comes on the heels of the arrests of the island's former secretary of education, Julia Keleher, and five other people on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors.

It also occurs against the backdrop of the U.S. commonwealth's ongoing attempts to recover after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 as well as Puerto Rico's ongoing financial crisis.

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