Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo “Ricky” Rossello has already faced challenges during his first few months as governor, but the 38-year-old son of a former governor is facing natural disasters. Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria is battering the island.
Puerto Rico is home to over 3.3 million U.S. citizens. Before the hurricanes, the island’s biggest concern was its crippling debt crisis and Rossello has lobbied Washington D.C. to make its problems a priority. But now his focus is to help citizens make it through the worst hurricane to make landfall at the island in decades.
Here’s what you need to know about Rossello and his response to Maria.
1. Rossello Called Maria The ‘Potentially Most Catastrophic Hurricane to Hit Puerto Rico in a Century’
Rossello urged Puerto Rico’s residents to seek shelter before Hurricane Maria struck the island on Wednesday morning. As ABC News notes, he described it as “the biggest and potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century.”
Rossello also tweeted that he has asked President Donald Trump to declare Puerto Rico a “Disaster Zone.” This will free up federal funds to help the island.
In a public advisory Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center reported that Maria has maximum sustained winds at 140 mph, making it a Category 4 hurricane. Maria is bringing “destructive winds and flooding” to the island.
As CNN notes, the last time Puerto Rico faced a storm of this scale was in 1932, when the San Ciprian hurricane made landfall. At the time, Puerto Rico only had 1.5 million residents. Over 3,000 people were injured and 225 people died.
Although Irma did not make a direct hit in Puerto Rico, Bloomberg reports that Irma caused as much as $1 billion in damage to the island. Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler for Enki Research, told Bloomberg that Maria could cause as much as $30 billion in damage to Puerto Rico and the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands.
2. He Is Strongly In Favor of Puerto Rico Becoming a State
Although Rossello is affiliated with the Democratic Party, he is also a member of the New Progressive Party, which pushes for Puerto Rican statehood. As a territory, the island’s residents are U.S. citizens, but they do not get to vote in the presidential election and they do not have a voting member of Congress. In June, Rossello traveled to Washington D.C. to push for more interest in Puerto Rico’s situation in Congress.
He told NBC Latino that he believed becoming the 51st state would help Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
“We recognize there is a debt problem, we’re dealing with it,” Rosselló told NBC Latino. “But trying to say, ‘Hey guys, work on that and come back to us,’ is kind of ignoring the root cause of the problem, which is colonialism.”
Rossello’s comments followed the June non-binding vote on Puerto Rico statehood. Although 97 percent of those who voted approved, the turnout was historically low. Only 500,000 votes were cast, making up about 23 percent of registered voters. The reason for the low turnout was a boycott led by the two other political parties in Puerto Rico, who oppose statehood.
“Eight out of 10 voters went to the beach, went to the river, went to go eat, went to go hang out, went to church, but they sure didn’t go out to vote,” Popular Democratic Party president Héctor Ferrer said after the vote. “Gov. Rosselló is now going to go to Washington and say this (statehood) is what people wanted. But we’re going too to say no, that’s not true and the numbers speak for themselves.”
3. Puerto Rico Faced a $74 Billion Debt Crisis & 45 Percent Poverty Race When Rossello Took Office
When Rossello took office after winning his first ever election in November, he already had a major crisis on his hands: Puerto Rico’s crippling debt. As the Financial Times notes, the island is $74 billion in debt. When he showed up in Washington this summer, the governor tried to downplay the issue and insisted he had a plan.
“We have a fiscal plan with a clear direction,” Rossello told the Washington Examiner in July. “We’ve identified what moneys are available for debt service. Those are — that’s what’s going to be used to pay our creditors.”
Rossello told the Examiner that his plan includes public-private partnerships and leasing public properties for 25 to 30 years. But he insists that selling public property isn’t in the cards.
“That is not to say that we are selling assets,” Rossello said. “We are actually arriving at arrangements with the private sector so that they can have access to either generating infrastructure, gaining some money, but the actual assets become part of the state.”
He said an immediate concern is raising $800 million to fix energy infrastructure. He also proposed a $9.6 billion 2018 budget. He internists that all these problems shouldn’t put a hurdle on Puerto Rico’s road to statehood, since the U.S. is already $19.9 trillion in debt itself.
Another issue is a 45 percent poverty rate and an unemployment rate that’s twice the rest of the U.S., notes the Fiscal Times.
4. He’s the Son of Pedro Rossello, Who Was Governor from 1992 to 1996
Rossello, who had never held elective office before becoming governor, is the son of Pedro Rossello. His father was Governor of Puerto Rico from 1992 to 1996. He also has two older brothers.
When Rossello put together a delegation to lobby for Puerto Rican statehood, he included his father as one of three Democrats on the board, Roll Call reports. The other members of the group included another former Governor, Romero Barcelo; Republican Zoraida Fonalledas; former Puerto Rico Senate President Charles Rodriguez; former baseball star Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez; Republican Louis Fortuno; and Ret. Army Maj. Gen. Felix Santoni, a Republican.
Pedro Rossello is also the last Governor to serve more than one term. After his time in office, he made a political comeback in 2003 and served in the Puerto Rico Senate from 2005 to 2009.
Pedro Rossello’s time as governor was tarnished by corruption scandals. In 2002, one of his aides was convicted of extortion and conspiracy charges by a federal jury. Many of Rossello’s critics blamed his father for causing the mess and even he admits that his father didn’t leave behind a great legacy.
“The mess we have is because of the ideology of his father,” Rafael “Tatito” Hernandez, a congressional representative from the opposing Popular Democratic Party, told Bloomberg in April. “That is the same ideology of his son.”
5. Rossello Has 2 Children With Wife Beatriz Rivera
Rossello is married to Beatriz Rivera and they have two children. Beatriz is a former Miss World of Puerto Rico contestant, as she revealed in an Instagram post last year. She represented the town of Humacao.
Before Rossello went into public life, he was a scientist. He has a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan. He completed his postgraduate work at Duke University. He’s also the co-founder of Beijing Prosperous Biopharm.
Rossello entered public life in 2010, when he launched Boricua ¡Ahora Es!, a group pushing for Puerto Rico becoming a state.