Monday, June 21 2021, 1:42 pm

Puerto Rico gets third governor in a week

In Puerto Rico, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez has become the country’s new governor after weeks of political turmoil and hours after the island’s Supreme Court declared Pedro Pierluisi’s swearing-in a week ago unconstitutional.
She became just the second woman to hold the office. Accompanied by her husband Judge Jorge Díaz, and daughter, Vázquez took the oath of office at the Supreme Court recently before leaving without making any public comment.
“I will continue to focus on helping our people regain their way in an orderly and peaceful fashion,” she said in a statement in which she promised to assume the position with “humility and commitment.”
According to AP report, the high court’s unanimous decision, which could not be appealed, settled the dispute over who will lead the U.S. territory after its political establishment was knocked off balance by big street protests spawned by anger over corruption, mismanagement of funds and a leaked obscenity-laced chat that forced the previous governor and several top aides to resign.
But it was also expected to unleash a new wave of demonstrations because many Puerto Ricans have said they don’t want Vázquez as governor.
“It is concluded that the swearing in as governor by Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi Urrutia, named secretary of state in recess, is unconstitutional,” the court said in a brief statement.
Pierluisi said that he had stepped forward to help islanders “in the best good faith and desire to contribute to the future of our homeland,” but that he would respect the court’s ruling.
“I must step aside and support the Justice Secretary of Puerto Rico, the Honorable Wanda Vázquez Garced,” he said in a statement before she was sworn in.
People began cheering in some parts of San Juan after the ruling was announced.
But late in the day, about two dozen protesters gathered outside the governor’s mansion and called for the removal of Vázquez.
“There’ll be no peace as long as there’s impunity,” yelled the crowd, which remained calm as curious onlookers including tourists took pictures and video.
Pierluisi was appointed secretary of state by then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló while legislators were in recess, and only the House approved his nomination. Pierluisi was then sworn in as governor Friday after Rosselló formally resigned in response to the protests.
Puerto Rico’s Senate sued to challenge Pierluisi’s legitimacy as governor, arguing that its approval was also necessary, and the Supreme Court decided in favor of the Senate.
The Senate had also asked the court to declare unconstitutional a portion of a 2005 law saying a secretary of state need not be approved by both House and Senate if they have to step in as governor. Puerto Rico’s constitution says a secretary of state has to be approved by both chambers.
The court agreed that the law’s clause was unconstitutional.
“Today this Tribunal speaks with a single voice, loud and clear,” Justice Roberto Feliberti Cintrón said in his written opinion. “The constitutional norms do not allow for absurdities and legal technicalities to contravene our Democratic System of Government.”
In a separate opinion, Justice Erick Kolthoff Caraballo said Puerto Rico has suffered upheaval “like never in its modern history” and “the People need calm and security that things will soon return to order.”
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz praised the court ruling in a triumphant statement.
“With absolute LEGITIMACY, we will seek TRUE PEACE and STABILITY,” he said.
Six of the court’s nine judges were appointed by governors from the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, to which both Pierluisi and Rivera Schatz belong.
Vázquez, a 59-year-old former prosecutor, is to serve out the remainder of Rosselló’s term, with the next election scheduled for 2020.
Vázquez became justice secretary in January 2017. She previously worked as a district attorney for two decades at Puerto Rico’s justice department, handling domestic and sexual abuse cases, and in 2010 was appointed director of the Office for Women’s Rights.

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