BY MARISA GERBER AND MILTON CARRERO GALARZA
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The streets of San Juan were quiet Thursday morning.
Tourists roamed the city, looking for coffee, and many protesters slept in for the first time in the more than 10 days since thousands of people began packing the streets of the capital demanding the resignation of their governor.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello — who had fallen under intense scrutiny since local journalists published a trove of insulting group-chat messages between him and his aides — announced his resignation late Wednesday.
According to the line of succession, Rossello said in his recorded message, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez was poised to take over when his resignation takes effect on Aug. 2.
The thousands of people who had gathered just outside of the governor’s official mansion, known as La Fortaleza, screamed and pumped their fists in the air at the news that Rossello would step down. Many protesters said it felt like a vindication for victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in September 2017.
SEXIST, HOMOPHOBIC MESSAGES
In the group-chat messages, which were leaked a little more than two weeks ago, the governor and his aides not only used sexist and homophobic language, but also joked about bodies piling up after the hurricane.
A few days before the messages were leaked, FBI agents arrested two former top officials on the island, who are accused of directing millions of dollars in lucrative contracts to people with political connections.
Many in the crowd in the early hours of Thursday morning said they were ecstatic that Rossello would step down, but were also worried about Vazquez, who critics say didn’t forcefully tackle corruption investigations.
Even before Rossello announced his resignation, #WandaVazquezRenuncia (#WandaVazquezResign) had started trending on Twitter in Puerto Rico. The hashtag — a modified version of the one protesters used to call on Rossello to resign — stood as a sign that people’s frustrations didn’t end with him.
Before Rossello’s announcement, the crowd outside La Fortaleza grew antsy. Earlier in the day, rumors had swirled that he was going to step down momentarily. But around 1 p.m. local time, a government spokesman released a statement saying Rossello had not yet resigned.
People gathered outside of LA Fortaleza said they had a bad feeling about what would happen if Rossello didn’t resign within the next few hours. Nearby, dozens of police in riot gear stood staring into the crowds.
Several more hours passed and the crowd grew increasingly frustrated.
But, finally, Rossello appeared on television to announce his resignation.
CHANTS OF JOY
Outside La Fortaleza, where many protesters listened to the address by plugging their left ear with their hand and pressing their cellphone against their right ear, the crowd shouted in unison. Car horns blared and fireworks exploded in the distance.
A woman picked up a can of black spray paint from the ground, scrawling “LIBERTAD!!!!” (“Freedom”) in big letters on the wall of an Italian restaurant, whose windows had been covered in wood slats.
Nearby, someone else had painted a red anarchy symbol next to the phrase “Adios Wanda!” bidding the incoming governor adieu.
The crowd chanted, “Ricky renunció!” modifying their earlier chants commanding that the governor resign with a joyous, past-tense one acknowledging their success. But even as they celebrated, many acknowledged that the fight for Puerto Rico — and for a truly transparent, honest government — was far from over.
“This is huge!” said protester Cristofer Rodriguez, 26. But if the next governor doesn’t do a good job, he said, protesting will continue.
“We will do the same thing again,” he said. “The pueblo is in charge.”
‘A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION’
Former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — whom Rossello personally insulted in the group-chat messages — described Rossello as the symptom of a much deeper, much older problem.
“It’s about corruption in general, it’s about the government not functioning for those that it’s supposed to represent,” said Mark-Viverito, whom the governor referred to using the Spanish word for “whore” in the messages.
Mark-Viverito said she was deeply proud to see so many Puerto Ricans dedicated to fighting for a better future — “a peaceful revolution,” she called it.
Mark-Viverito tweeted Thursday morning that the date, July 25, was deeply symbolic. On July 25, 1898, as part of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. invaded and seized Puerto Rico. And now, Mark-Viverito said, it signified a new chapter.