Pedro Pierluisi
Pedro Pierluisi Image Credit: AFP

Miami: Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello stepped down as planned on Friday after being pushed out of office by massive street protests, though uncertainty clouded over his replacement.

With hundreds of people in the streets ahead of Rossello's exit, the House of Representatives confirmed Pedro Pierluisi as secretary of state, making him the US territory's interim leader.

Rossello had nominated Pierluisi, a member of his New Progressive Party (PNP), as secretary of state on Wednesday, lining him up to serve as governor until the next elections in November 2020.

"I accept this responsibility with the greatest respect for our people and our system of government," Pierluisi said at a small swearing-in ceremony.

"The Puerto Rican people can rest assured that its government is in good hands," he stressed.

However, Pierluisi's appointment as secretary of state had not been confirmed by the Senate, which was in recess. It is scheduled to consider the matter next week, leaving Pierluisi's status open to legal challenge.

"If I am not confirmed in my post, then Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez will be in line to take over as (interim) governor," Pierluisi said.

Protests in Puerto Rico started July 13, when the Center for Investigative Journalism released 889 pages of leaked text chats.

Homophobic jokes

In the texts, Rossello and 11 other male administration members made fun of women, gays, victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017, journalists and other politicians.

Among those they made homophobic jokes about was San Juan native pop star Ricky Martin.

The messages were widely seen as the painful last straw for people fed up with years of economic stagnation, corruption, government mismanagement and a slow and sloppy recovery effort after Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people in September 2017.

Three days before the release of those chats, prosecutors charged six former government officials with embezzling $15 million (Dh55 million) in hurricane reconstruction money.

Rossello announced last week that he would resign on Friday, capping two weeks of popular anger.

While Puerto Ricans are delighted at Rossello's departure, many said they wanted completely new leadership for the territory, whose residents are US citizens.

The Caribbean island of 3.2 million residents has a representative in Washington but no voting powers in Congress. The PNP wants the island to become the 51st full US state.

The island has been gripped by recession for a decade, and lost almost a quarter of its population in just the past several years.