Puerto Rico Supreme Court Says Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Must Resign

Aug 7, 2019
Originally published on August 7, 2019 7:36 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Three governors in less than a week - Puerto Rico's new governor, Wanda Vázquez, has just been sworn in. The Supreme Court ordered the island's former governor, Pedro Pierluisi, to step down today. Pierluisi had been tapped to replace the former former governor Ricardo Rosselló, who resigned last Friday after widespread protests. NPR's Adrian Florido joins us from San Juan, outside the governor's mansion.

And, Adrian, things are moving so quickly down there. Break it down for us. Why did the island's high court order Pedro Pierluisi to resign today?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Well, to answer that question, it's important to understand how Pierluisi took office. So last week, Governor Ricardo Rosselló appointed Pierluisi to the vacant post of secretary of state. Under Puerto Rico's constitution, that made him first in the line of gubernatorial succession. Two days later, Rosselló left office, as he promised to do after those massive protests. And as soon as he did, Pierluisi took the oath of office. The issue is that he had not been confirmed as secretary of state by both Puerto Rico's House and Senate. The Senate president said that made him an illegitimate governor. He petitioned the Supreme Court to remove Pierluisi from office. And this afternoon, the Supreme Court agreed.

SHAPIRO: So after just five days, Pierluisi is out. And the new governor, Wanda Vázquez, was just sworn in this evening. You were there as it happened. Who is she?

FLORIDO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: And what did she have to say?

FLORIDO: So Wanda Vázquez is - was, I guess - Puerto Rico's secretary of Justice; the equivalent of the island's attorney general. She was the next in line of constitutional succession. It's worth noting, Ari, that Vázquez said just last week that she did not want to become governor. And today, she said that out of respect and deference for the Supreme Court's ruling, that she would fulfill her constitutional obligation and take the governor's oath. She did that. She said that Puerto Rico needs certainty and stability right now. It's also important to know that Vázquez is highly unpopular among the protesters who took over the streets in huge numbers over the last few weeks to force Governor Ricardo Rosselló from office.

SHAPIRO: And remind us of why those protesters were marching in the streets for so many days. This was a long saga of alleged mismanagement and corruption. Tell us the story.

FLORIDO: Yeah. Well, what set this off was the publication, a few weeks ago, of leaked private text messages between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his top advisers. These were messages that were vulgar and offensive to many Puerto Ricans. They mocked everyday Puerto Ricans, and they drove people to the streets to call for his resignation, both over the text messages and the broader frustrations that Puerto Ricans say they have with corruption and the island's political establishment. Remember that Puerto Rico has been hit hard over the last decade by an economic crisis, massive debt, drastic budget cuts, two hurricanes and a bungled recovery effort. So when these text messages were published showing the island's leaders were often making light of these issues, that sort of tapped into this deep reservoir of frustration. And the resulting protests eventually forced Rosselló from office.

SHAPIRO: And do you expect the protests to continue? I mean, what are people outside of the governor's office today saying about the new appointment of Vázquez as governor?

FLORIDO: You know, it's interesting. I'm at the governor's mansion now, and protesters have started to gather outside of the gates here and are already calling for Wanda Vázquez to resign because, as I said, she is very unpopular and seen as part of the kind of existing sort of political establishment here that people are fed up with. So it's - I mean, that's number one. We don't yet know whether the protests will swell the way that they did to - in response to those text messages that eventually forced Governor Rosselló to resign. But that was a sort of spontaneous and leaderless protest that people weren't expecting to get as big as it did. So, you know, it's unclear exactly what's going to happen next. But I guess I'll leave you with an image, which is that, you know, for almost two weeks, the slogans on the sign and the political graffiti that was painted on the walls of old San Juan - those were calling for the resignation of Governor Rosselló. As soon as he resigned, the names on that graffiti changed. They started calling for the resignation of Wanda Vázquez. And now these protesters are starting to gather outside the mansion of the governor. And I will see - I'll keep monitoring how big they get.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Adrian Florido on another day of political upheaval in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Thank you.

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