Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello resigned late Wednesday after two weeks of furious protests, throwing the leadership of the U.S. commonwealth into uncertainty as it struggles back from a ruinous hurricane and navigates a $74 billion bankruptcy.
Mr. Rossello, 40, said in a video on Facebook that he would leave office Aug. 2. He was undone by popular fury after the publication of profane, vengeful and misogynistic text messages among him and his aides that disparaged foes and ordinary residents of the island. The stage was set by corruption investigations that have resulted in the indictment of two former administration officials. But Rossello's exit plunges the island deeper into uncertainty as it tries to revive a recession-scarred economy, pull itself out of bankruptcy and rebuild from 2017's devastating Hurricane Maria.
"I was ready to face any challenge, fully understanding that I would prevail in the face of any accusation or legal process," Mr. Rossello said in his pretaped speech. "Despite having the mandate of the people who democratically elected me, today I feel that continuing in this position would impede the success of the past from lasting."
According to Puerto Rico's constitution, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez will be the next governor, as there is no confirmed secretary of state following an exodus of top officials. Ms. Vazquez, 59, has worked in public service more than 30 years, according to spokeswoman Mariana Cobian. But she has been embroiled in the commonwealth's fractious politics and faced her own scandals.
Mr. Rossello "made the right decision, for the good of both his family and for Puerto Rico," Ms. Vazquez said in a statement. "Once the resignation is official, if necessary, I will assume the historic mandate."
The next election will be in 2020. Rossello's decision to depart before that vote was an abrupt about-face after he vowed to remain despite the furor set off by the messages disclosed two weeks ago by Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism.