Following in the path of the massive ongoing protests in Hong Kong seeking the ouster of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, last week hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets in a continuing series of justly motivated demonstrations against Gov. Ricardo Rosello. Gov. Rosello should step down immediately.
The demonstrators in Hong Kong are protesting Chinese moves to erode the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents. Those in San Juan are fed up with incompetence and corruption in the administration of the commonwealth. There is plenty of evidence to support both charges.
Ms. Lam has offered to resign, but she serves at the pleasure of the Chinese government and it has refused to accept the resignation. Mr. Rosello has so far refused to step down, although there were rumors Wednesday that he was prepared to resign.
In response to the protests, the governor announced last week that he would not seek re-election and would resign as the leader of his New Progressive Party.
Mr. Rosello said he would continue in office to fight corruption, a statement greeted with scorn and renewed cries for his departure. In June, he fired Treasury Secretary Raul Maldonado for complaining publicly that employees of the department were an “institutional mafia” that extorted funds.
The spontaneous protests in San Juan and elsewhere on the island of Puerto Rico erupted with the disclosure that Mr. Rosello and his inner circle had carried on a blasphemous and insulting discussion of their political opponents, and came just as two of his former Cabinet officers, Julia Keleher, former education secretary for the island, and Angela Asia-Marrero, head of its health insurance administration, were arrested by federal authorities and indicted for corruption in the issuance of government contracts.
Puerto Ricans are rightly fed up with their government’s ineffective and allegedly corrupt efforts to rebuild the economy after the island’s 2017 default on its bonds and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in the same year. Allegations of corruption, and proven cases, are nothing new on the island. They date back decades and have largely been considered the price of doing business in Puerto Rico. The protests suggest that Puerto Ricans are sick of this.
Mr. Rosello’s private messages with his inner circle, 890 pages of which were obtained and published by the Center for Investigative Reporting, revealed the populist governor as deeply contemptuous of not only his political opponents but also of the Puerto Rican people. The deep pubic anger caused by the disclosure of his messages has been the propellant of the protests.
Mr. Rosello’s departure could play a positive role in helping Puerto Rico get back on its feet. As governor, Mr. Rosello has been outspoken in his opposition to the Fiscal Management and Oversight Board established in 2016 by Congress to control Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy, blaming the board for austerity measures he had to implement because of a huge budget deficit.
The oversight board, modeled on the successful boards that imposed limits on spending in New York City in the 1970s and Washington, D.C., in the 1990s, was made necessary by decades of reckless borrowing by Puerto Rican governments, leading to a debt burden that by 2015 was deemed unsustainable. A governor willing to work closely with the board to rebuild the island’s creditworthiness without damaging its most vulnerable citizens would be a major improvement.