Puerto Rico governor 'won't seek re-election' after mass protests

Ricardo Rossello announces he will not seek another term amid protests and mounting calls to quit over leaked chats.

    Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello has announced he will not seek re-election next year after more than a week of protests demanding his resignation following the release of compromising online chats.

    "I have listened, and I am listening to you today," Rossello said in a video posted on Facebook on Sunday. "I have made mistakes and I have apologised."

    "I admit that apologising is not enough. In this case, I announce that I will not seek re-election as governor next year," he said, adding that he will also leave the presidency of the New Progressive Party.

    The politician, who advocates statehood for the US territory of Puerto Rico, had said in March that he would seek re-election.

    His comments drew outrage from many Puerto Ricans, with social media videos showing San Juan residents leaning out of apartment windows banging pots and pans in a third day of so-called "cacerolazo" protests.

    The calls for the governor's resignation came after the Center for Investigative Journalism released 889 pages of text chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram in which Rossello and 12 other male administration members mocked women, politicians, journalists, disabled people and the victims of Hurricane Maria, one of the United States' worst disasters which struck in 2017.

    "Disrespecting the country and who we are. Laughing at dead bodies, laughing at our diversity. This is not what we need," Nair Volscio, a protester in Puerto Rico told Al Jazeera.

    "We need to have education, we need to have health, we need to have someone taking care of people. That is not what we are getting." 

    Some analysts believe the leaked messages were a catalyst for people to voice a broader series of concerns that already existed.

    "People think this is about some leaked text messages, but it's not just about that," Yarimar Bonilla, a political analyst told Al Jazeera.

    "It is within the chat that was released, you see how all these things that were already troubling Puerto Ricans [were mentioned], things having to do with the debt crisis, the death count after Maria, the broader questions of governance and democratic problems."

    "The chat became the symbol for the broader disconnect people [already] had," she added. 

    The announcement came before what was anticipated would be a major protest march on Monday morning.

    The demonstration is expected to shut down one of the island's busiest highways, and wide areas of the capital. Cruise ships will also be diverted from calling at the port on Monday.

    "The next step will be to start closing down the streets," Eric Hernandez, a protester in Puerto Rico told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

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    "We are closing down the highways, we are going to make [the government] understand what is really going on," he added. 

    Puerto Rico's non-voting representative to the US Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidates and legislators, have also called for the governor to step aside after nine days of sometimes violent protests.

    "Once again: Rossello must resign," tweeted US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in response to his video.

    The political turmoil comes at a critical stage in the US territory's bankruptcy process as it tries to restructure around $120bn in debt and pension obligations.

    It has also raised concerns among US legislators who are weighing the island's requests for billions of federal dollars for healthcare and work to recover from Hurricane Maria, which led to nearly 3,000 deaths.

    WATCH: Puerto Rico's governor vows to remain in power amid protests


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies