Puerto Rico Gets Another New Governor

Aug 8, 2019
Originally published on August 8, 2019 7:48 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, in just one week, Puerto Rico has had three different governors. Wanda Vazquez was sworn into office last night. She was the island's secretary of justice, and she had said that she actually had no interest in this role at all. Adrian Florido from NPR's Code Switch team is in San Juan. He's going to talk to us about how on earth we got here. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: OK. Let's take - take us back to the beginning for a second, if you can. There were all these weeks of demonstrations that led to the previous governor, Ricardo Rossello, resigning.

FLORIDO: Right. And once he decided that he was going to resign, the next in line to become governor was Wanda Vazquez, the secretary of justice. And that's because the post of secretary of state, which is the post that generally replaces a governor, should the governor resign, that post was vacant. But because Vazquez said that she didn't want to be governor, she asked Rossello to appoint a secretary of state so that that person could take over when he did resign. Rossello did that. He appointed a veteran politician, named Pedro Pierluisi. And when Rossello stepped down this last Friday, Pierluisi took the oath of office.

But yesterday Puerto Rico's Supreme Court said, no, you were not confirmed as secretary of state by the legislature as the Constitution requires so you can't be governor. You took the oath of office unconstitutionally. So he had to step down, and Wanda Vazquez, who didn't want to become governor, became governor, anyway.

GREENE: So she's governor even though she didn't want the job at all. Well, I mean, even though we have this mess at the moment, what are Puerto Ricans thinking? I mean, since Rossello is gone, do they feel like - that their demands in general are starting to be met?

FLORIDO: It's been a really intense week for - intense several weeks for protesters because, you know, these protests against Rossello started over these leaked private text messages that were published that showed the governor engaging in really offensive conversations with members of his inner circle. They evolved into these broader protests against corruption and against what a lot of people here view as a corrupt political establishment, an establishment that Rossello they viewed as part of, that Pedro Pierluisi is a part of, and that they say Wanda Vazquez, the now governor, is a part of. And so, you know, yesterday I went outside of the governor's mansion to speak with protesters. One of them was Yanita Arias (ph). She was there calling for Wanda Vazquez to resign. Listen to what she said.

YANITA ARIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: She said people are tired of leaders who don't have answers to all of Puerto Rico's problems - its economic crisis that's forced so many people to leave the island, its high rates of poverty, its debt crisis. And so they look at people like Wanda Vazquez, who has close ties to Governor Ricardo Rossello, and who also has never wanted to be a politician, has no policy platform, and just don't see a situation in which things are going to get better. Because she doesn't even really have policies that she has tied herself to.

GREENE: OK. This is just crazy. You have protesters who don't want Vazquez to be there. You have Vazquez, who doesn't have a policy platform and doesn't want the job. What happens now? Is she going to be forced to try and lead Puerto Rico, or is there a long-run plan that would have someone else in the position?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, she, Wanda Vazquez, went on Puerto Rico's public television last night to give her first address as governor. And though she said that she had never had any political aspirations, she also didn't seem to indicate that she planned to resign. There's been a lot of talk here on the island about whether she might appoint another secretary of state who could replace her and then step down. You know, the leadership vacuum that this whole political crisis has created has set up this big power struggle within Puerto Rico's ruling party with a lot of apparent negotiations going on behind the scenes. And so it's impossible to say exactly what's going to happen. But for now, Wanda Vazquez is the governor.

GREENE: NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan. Thanks, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.