Stop us if you’ve heard this one, but Puerto Rico has a new governor. After a constitutional snafu Wednesday, Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez— not Secretary of State Pedro Pierluisi— became the U.S. commonwealth’s third governor in a week. Seen as a loyalist to the disgraced former chief executive, Ricardo Rossello, Vazquez is the woman nobody wanted to become governor, including the woman herself. Instead, she assumed office Wednesday as the world’s newest, and most reluctant, head of government.
Who wants to be Governor of Puerto Rico? With embattled incumbent Ricardo Rossello having resigned the office over the “Rickyleaks” text messaging scandal, and set to leave office August 2, the woman who would be next in line doesn’t want the job. The people who chased him out of power don’t seem to want her either. This has sparked a minor succession crisis on the island and U.S. Commonwealth, and given all of us a lesson in Puerto Rican civics. Meanwhile, more details are emerging about what happened behind the scenes of the Rossello administration and his pro-statehood New Progressive Party.
The political crisis on the Caribbean island is far from over. Even after Governor Ricardo Rossello resigns, outrage at the political establishment continues to drive thousands of people to the streets.
“Hot dogs! Hot dogs! It costs nothing,” shouts a man toward the protesters. Right next door, water is distributed free of charge. Even after the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello, thousands gathered again in San Juan. Singing and dancing, they cross the streets of the capital to the Hiram Bithron baseball stadium.
Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello announced his resignation Wednesday after two weeks of mass protests following his exposed abusive remarks about women, gays, and victims of the Hurricane Maria. “After hearing the charges and [speaking] with my family…I took the following decision selflessly: Today I announce that I will resign from the post of the governor with effect from Friday, August 2 at 1700hrs,” said Rossello in a video released by the government.
What had initially looked like a minor, unrelated detail in a story about a massive corruption scandal has erupted in to a full-blown political crisis in Puerto Rico. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of San Juan Saturday to demand the resignation of embattled Governor Ricardo Rossello, with even bigger protests planned for Monday. The protests were sparked in part by last week’s revelation of offensive text messages— now dubbed “Ricky Leaks”— between Rossello and his inner circle. However, for residents of the U.S. commonwealth— themselves American citizens— the uprising is about much more on an island unaccustomed to seeing them.
Two former government officials were arrested Wednesday as a massive corruption indictment was unsealed by U.S. authorities. Julia Keleher, former secretary of education on the island, and Angela Avila-Marrero, who managed Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration, were arrested by FBI agents, along with four other people. The two are accused of directing $15.5 million in government contracts to businesses with which they had ties. Corruption has plagued the island for years, and could complicate matters as it asks for disaster assistance and money to fund basic services.