SAN JUAN, P.R. — Facing intense pressure to resign, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló addressed Puerto Rico on Tuesday, the morning after tumultuous street protests shook the capital of San Juan, and refused to step down despite what he acknowledged was widespread public discontent.
“I understand perfectly that this was a message against me personally,” he said in a lengthy news conference at the governor’s mansion. But, he added: “I’m going to keep working for the people of Puerto Rico.”
Lawmakers from Mr. Rosselló’s governing New Progressive Party had said they were willing to give him time to reflect amid a political crisis that has overtaken his administration. Mr. Rosselló signaled on Tuesday that he had made up his mind to stay, though he would not say whether he would run for re-election in 2020 as planned.
The ongoing political convulsions on the island, including federal corruption arrests last week, prompted the White House to contend on Tuesday that President Trump had been right in the past to call Mr. Rosselló’s administration incompetent. Puerto Rico continues to seek billions of dollars in federal funds to recover from Hurricane Maria.
“The unfortunate events of the past week in Puerto Rico prove the President’s concerns about mismanagement, politicization, and corruption have been valid,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. “We remain committed to Puerto Rico’s recovery and steadfast in protecting taxpayers and the Puerto Rico survivors from political corruption and financial abuse.”
In response to the White House, Mr. Rosselló said that corruption has plagued administrations everywhere, not just in Puerto Rico though he conceded that it has been a problem “historically” on the island.
“Corruption is a social evil,” he said. “It’s a social evil in the private sector, it’s a social evil in local government, it’s a social evil in the federal government.”
Mr. Rosselló appeared to be buying time politically to try to remain in power, perhaps hoping the public furor would die down. He brushed off questions about his possible impeachment, suggesting that that would be an overreaction.
“I have not committed illegal acts,” he said. “I committed inappropriate acts.”
He was referring to a group chat that the governor and 11 of his top aides maintained on the messaging app Telegram. Hundreds of pages of messages from the chat were leaked over the weekend.
In the Telegram chat, the men wrote derisively and often profanely about an array of people, including leaders of their party; political critics; members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; the news media; an obese young man who met the governor and a blind Cabinet secretary. The chat also revealed a cozy relationship between Mr. Rosselló and former staff members who now represent special interests.
Mr. Rosselló said on Tuesday that his executive team had conducted a “legal analysis” to determine that nothing that was discussed in the chat was illegal. But confusingly, he also characterized the analysis as one that was done for him personally, and that would not be made public.
Mr. Rosselló defended the actions of police during Monday night’s tense demonstrations, which culminated in three hours of clashes between protesters and officers, who launched tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets into an electrified crowd of several thousand people.
Several videos of the confrontations appeared to show harsh responses from law enforcement toward unarmed members of the public.
Protesters crowded in toward the mansion of the governor, who was not present at the time, and someone lit a trash fire. The demonstrators yelled, “¡Somos más y no tenemos miedo!” (There are more of us, and we are not afraid!)
The authorities said they made five arrests, and that 21 police officers were hurt.
Mr. Rosselló and his aides maintained that some protesters had thrown tear gas canisters at officers. The governor, however, did say that his police commissioner, Henry Escalera, had spoken in the heat of the moment when he declared in the middle of the face-off that officers would “defend democracy until the last drop of blood,” a statement some protesters viewed as overly aggressive.
More demonstrations were planned for Wednesday. They were expected to attract celebrity artists who have called for Mr. Rosselló’s departure.
“It’s not business as usual,” Mr. Rosselló said of the period of unrest facing his administration. “I recognize that. This is a big hit.”