What’s Next for Puerto Rico


Outgoing Gov. Ricardo Rosselló chats with Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez as part of the administration’s transition of power. Vázquez is next in the line of succession but protestors an others already have rejected her. /Fortaleza de PR

It’s going to be a long week for Puerto Ricans aquí y allá as they eagerly await news of who will succeed Ricardo Rosselló as the 13th governor of Puerto Rico on August 2 after 5 p.m., when he is scheduled to exit stage right.

ICYMI, Rosselló resigned on July 24 just minutes before midnight in a rambling speech that began as a state-of-the-state address before segueing into his resignation. The legislature was closely on his heels threatening to impeach Rosselló after nearly two weeks of street demonstrations demanding he step down.

Rosselló was dogged by FBI corruption investigation and arrests of six former and current administration officials and advisors, with supposedly more arrests to come. His tenure became even more tenuous after the publication of #Rickyleaks, nearly 900 pages of profane and disdainful text messages among Rosselló and his inner circle, including his Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín.

Rivera Marín would have been next in the line of succession, but he resigned after #Rickyleaks. Absent a secretary of state, the governorship goes to Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, who is carrying baggage of her own, making it unlikely she will be the next governor. Already there are protests proclaiming “Wanda renuncia,” echoing earlier calls for Rosselló’s resignation.

Unchartered Waters

These are unchartered waters for Puerto Rico, never before confronted with such a situation. The twilight zone chapter of Puerto Rican history is compounded by the fact that Rosselló may have resigned but he is not yet gone. He retains full powers of the governor in his remaining week in office.

During that time, he could name a new secretary of state, which then would be vetted by the legislature. And, boy, do legislators want a say in the choice of the island’s next governor. (In Puerto Rico both the House and Senate approve the secretary of state.)

The vacuum of leadership caused by corruption at the top is forcing leaders to dig real deep for Mr. or Ms. Clean who could wipe the slate and help carry the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) banner in the 2020 elections because, of course, party politics is never far out of mind.

Unlike in the states, in Puerto Rico everybody is up for re-election every four years, so there is plenty at stake, most notably the current NPP legislative majority.

Create a Vice Governor

Legislators, spotting an egregious error in Puerto Rico’s Constitution, are talking of creating a vice governor or lieutenant governor position, as there is in Florida, for instance, a person vetted and duly elected by the people who could step in at times like this. Assuming, of course, that person is not ensnared in a scandal as was Rivera Marín.

Elected officials will be looking over their shoulders as they attempt to solve the succession dilemma, as protests continue in San Juan because demonstrators are having none of it. They want a say, too.

Having awakened to their true power as voters and constituents – to a government by and for the people – they are ever vigilant and are not going away.

New, Powerful Voices

Their newfound voice may be a force to reckon with in the 2020 elections after nearly a fortnight of peaceful but forceful demonstrations in Puerto Rico – but also in Orlando and other stateside cities – ousted a sitting governor, himself a son of a former governor, thereby ending the Rosselló political dynasty.

Not to be overlooked is the long hand of the federal government, which has been slow to release Hurricane María recovery funds. Reports indicate Puerto Rico has received about $14 billion in disaster recovery funds even though the hurricane wreckage is estimated at over $90 billion.

This week FEMA announced it would directly approve any payment of funds to Puerto Rico.

“Given the ongoing leadership changes within the Puerto Rican government, combined with continued concern over Puerto Rico’s history of fiscal irregularities and mismanagement,” the agency stated, “FEMA decided it is prudent to take additional steps to protect its share of the federal investment by reinstating the manual drawdown process.”

More Oversight

What’s more, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, along with Florida Sen. Rick Scott, have asked the federal government to install a coordinator to oversee the island’s hurricane recovery – on top of the financial control board appointed by Congress that oversees Puerto Rico’s fiscal management and repayment of over $70 billion in debt.

In other words, not one, but two potential oversight entities. Not sure how protestors will swallow that, considering that they pushed Rosselló to resign and “take the fiscal control board with him.”

As for Rosselló, what happens to him next is anybody’s guess. The Puerto Rico commentariat is saying he cannot stay on the island, an indication of his state of pariah. Perhaps he may recuperate from the political disaster at his father’s million-dollar home in Vienna, Virginia.

But who Rosselló designates to take his place is of concern to all.

˜˜María T. Padilla, Editor

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