Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, resigned last night. His decision was made after thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding he step down in the wake of a text-message scandal that revealed the petty, crude, homophobic, and misogynistic words used by Rosselló and 11 of his (male) aides and advisers. The governor worked his way through the stages of political grief: He apologized for his locker-room talk, sought forgiveness at church, left his political party, and offered to not seek reelection in 2020.
But ultimately the people of Puerto Rico made it clear that his services are no longer needed. His resignation will take effect on August 2, and Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez will succeed him as governor, although that succession is controversial and not guaranteed.
Whoever succeeds Rosselló has their work cut out for them. The governor’s resignation comes at a fraught time for Puerto Rico, which has been fighting to recover from the brutality of Hurricane Maria, the fifth-strongest storm ever to hit the United States. The storm caused more than $100 billion in damage, destroyed homes, flooded streets, decimated the power grid, knocked out the internet, and led to the death of at least 1,427 people. To make matters worse, the island was already facing bankruptcy and a staggering debt load, $73 billion by some estimates.
In a bid to rebuild the island’s economy, one of Rosselló’s first acts as governor was to set up Puerto Rico’s destination marketing organization (DMO), Discover Puerto Rico, an outside, nonprofit organization tasked with drawing visitors to the Caribbean island. It was all part of the island’s rebuilding plan. As Manuel Laboy, secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, told Fast Company last year, “You want to help Puerto Rico? Go on vacation there.”
It was working, too: Tourism, particularly arts-fueled tourism, was playing a significant role in Puerto Rico’s recovery. The island employs 83,000 people in the tourism industry, and visitors were spending money, as well as posting on Instagram to spread the word. But now, as political turmoil wracks the island, Discover Puerto Rico’s job just got a little bit harder.
The DMO sent out a press release today assuring would-be tourists that despite the political upheaval, Puerto Rico is still very much open for business and leisure. The release explains that “flights, ports, hotels, airports, restaurants, shops, attractions and taxis are operating normally” and that “businesses that closed during protests have reopened.” However, strikes are planned, so “travelers should check with area businesses and travel providers regarding operations and should allow additional time for travel.”
While that doesn’t sound like the most promising vacation, the press release ends with a plea: “Tourism plays an integral role in strengthening the economy and creating jobs, and we’re confident Puerto Rico’s tourism will continue to thrive in the months ahead, and will not be impacted by the events of the last two weeks.” In short, now more than ever, Puerto Rico needs the world’s support—and its tourists.