Roselló, Pierluisi, Vazquéz: What comes next?

On July 13th, 2019, Puerto Ricans woke up to news that the Puerto Rico Center Center for Investigative Journalism had published an 889-page Telegram chat that featured the governor, high ranking members of his cabinet, and other advisors. The news could not have come at a worst time; just a few days prior, Roselló’s former Secretary of Education, Julia Keleher, along with other Department of Education officials, were arrested by the FBI for their handling of over $15 million dollars in government contracts. The FBI accused them of giving these contracts to businesses they had personal ties to; in other words, corruption. In addition, five days before the massive leak, a single page that showed Roselló calling journalist Melisa Mark-Viverito a “wh***” had been leaked to the public. 

The leak sparked outrage across the island from Rosello’s political supporters and opponents alike, but, most importantly, from people who put aside their political affiliations and took a stand. In the days after the leak, millions called for his resignation; taking to the streets to express their sentiment. The profanity-laced Telegram chat included misogynistic, homophobic, vulgar, and disrespectful messages. Some examples include when Christian Sobrino (President of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Asvisory Authority or AFAF and the governor’s representative in the Financial Oversight Board) commented that Ricky Martin was the ultimate misogynist, as he has sex with men because “women don’t measure up”; Roselló’s comment about how he “fools even his own”, Roselló referring to the Miss Universe Pageant as “soft porn”; Sobrino’s death threat to the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, while Roselló responded with “You’d be doing me a favor”; their comments on Hurricane María’s victims, “¿No tenemos algún cadáver para alimentar a nuestros cuervos?” (“Don’t we have a corpse to feed our crows?”) when discussing a delay in the Office of Forensic Sciences; their comments about their political opponents and the myriad other misogynistic comments. 

In Roselló’s first apology, he assured that the chat was a place where the members could “release tensions”, thus justifying their actions. He then asked for the resignation of every cabinet member of the group. However, how could he ask for the resignation of everyone involved and not resign himself? That chat was a place where “bro culture” was evident; where misogyny, sexism, homophobia, vulgarity were tolerated; where twelve public officials mocked their political opponents, other public officials, and victims of a hurricane; where the highest executive member of Puerto Rico discussed government issues and political strategies with his “buddies” through a text messaging app. So, how could Roselló think that he was capable of finishing his term?

This chat exposed the sexism, misogyny, and homophobia deeply rooted into Puerto Rican society. More specifically, one rooted in the image of the Puerto Rican privileged white man. An image that allows them to say whatever they want without there seeming to be a consequence for those actions; the precise image that most elected public officials, most importantly Roselló, in Puerto Rico, fit. The way they portray themselves shows their entitlement, privilege, and lack of empathy. 

For days after the leak, Puerto Ricans took to the streets and marched against Roselló; demanding his resignation. Those were some of the most united times, after Hurricane María, that Puerto Ricans have ever had. Thousands spent days and nights protesting in front of La Fortaleza, even though there was a threat that the police would use tear gas against them after certain hours. The influence of artists like Ricky Martin, Residente, Bad Bunny, Karla Monroig, Tommy Torres, etc. helped get people to take the streets. One of the biggest protests was on July 17th, when an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets of Old San Juan and demanded Roselló’s resignation. They marched from the Capitol building to La Fortaleza. That same night, thousands more who couldn’t make it to Old San Juan protested in their own municipalities, supporting the others with fierce devotion.

On July 23rd, the President of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives announced that impeachment proceedings would begin the next day; as there was sufficient evidence to go forward with a political trial against him. It was this same night that all of the efforts made by Puerto Ricans taking the streets finally paid off. The entire island was glued to their phone and television waiting for Roselló’s announcement. At around 11:45pm, Roselló finally announced that he would resign as Governor of Puerto Rico, effective August 2nd at 5pm. 

Celebrations were in order, but not for long. Who would succeed a disgraced Governor who had no Secretary of State? According to the Puerto Rican Constitution, the line of succession is as follows: Secretary of State, Secretary of Justice, Secretary of Education, and so on to all the other secretaries of the executive cabinet. Since Roselló’s Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín had resigned after the scandal, and he had not appointed a new one, the person who was next in line was Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquéz. She was (and still is) an incredibly unpopular choice. For this reason, Roselló nominated former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi as his Secretary of State. 

Pierluisi is a lawyer and a democrat who served as Secretary of Justice under Pedro Roselló and was elected as resident commissioner in 2008 and 2012. Yet, he wasn’t a popular choice; he was resident commissioner when Congress enacted the PROMESA Act; his soon to be ex-wife is the sister of the President of Financial Oversight Board established by the PROMESA Act of 2016; when he was running for governor in 2016 he signed a deal with fundamentalists which would have promised to cut down on women and the LGBTQ’s community rights.  

In addition, as reported by The New York Times, in 2016, Pierluisi introduced a law in Congress that would benefit Wall Street corporations that work directly with his wife, María Elena Carrión. Carrión is a mergers and acquisitions specialist for the financial industry, as can be seen in her Linkedin. As a result of this, the family’s net worth increased dramatically. Furthermore, there was a potential conflict of interest because, after he finished his public service, Pierluisi went to work at the law firm O’Neil & Borges. O’Neil & Borges is the firm that provides the Financial Oversight Board with legal counsel. 

After his nomination, Pierluisi was interviewed and confirmed by the Puerto Rican House of Representatives on the same day. However, the Senate announced that they would not hold a vote until the week after. This created a dilemma, as Pierluisi needed to be confirmed by the House and Senate before Roselló’s resignation came into effect on August 2nd at 5pm. Against the odds, though, Roselló declared that Pierluisi would become governor, using Law 7 of 2005 as grounds for his actions, and he was sworn in during a private ceremony.

As a result, the Puerto Rican Senate filled a lawsuit against Pierluisi’s swearing in as governor; claiming it was illegitimate because he had not been confirmed by the Senate. Two days later, on August 7th, the Puerto Rican Supreme Court ruled, in Senate of Puerto Rico v. Hon. Pedro Pierluisi, that Pierluisi was sworn in as governor on unconstitutional grounds and removed him from office, effective that same day at 5pm. 

This decision meant that the next governor would have to follow the constitutional line of succession that established that Secretary of Justice, Wanda Vazquéz, was next in line to become governor. At 5pm on August 7th, Wanda Vazquéz was sworn in as governor by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Making her the third governor the island had in less than two weeks. As soon as it happened, #WandaRenuncia became a trending topic and for good reason. Previously, Vazquéz had stated that she did not want the position, but later she stated that she didn’t see herself resigning at the moment and planned to stay as governor until 2020. 

Wanda Vazquéz is another controversial figure. She’s an attorney who specialized in domestic violence and sexual abuse cases for most of public service career. In 2010, she was appointed as the head of Puerto Rico’s Office of Women’s Affairs; here, she was in charge of enforcing women’s civil rights. However, during her tenure she grew increasingly unpopular, especially amongst feminist groups. Vazquéz oversaw budget cuts to groups that provided services to abused women, drafted new requirements that made it harder for these groups to receive federal funding  , she suggested women carry guns to “protect” themselves against their abusers, and she came forward in favor of the death penalty, among other things.

In 2017, she was appointed head of the Department of Justice by Roselló. While Secretary of Justice she failed to tackle the rampant gender violence on the island by refusing to take action and declare a national emergency. Furthermore, Vazquéz refused to investigate allegations of corruption after Hurricane María; including the tons of supplies that were abandoned in fields and never distributed to survivors. More recently, she took a very slow approach when opening an investigation into Roselló’s Telegram group chat. 

Perhaps her biggest scandal, though, was in 2018 when she had to step down for a time after raising ethical concerns and facing a criminal investigation of her own. She was accused by an independent counsel of attempting to meddle in a theft investigation in her daughter’s house. However, the independent counsel concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge her and the case was dismissed. Nevertheless, the damage to her image was done.

These examples all back up her unpopularity, but a further reason for not wanting her as governor is that Puerto Ricans are tired of the same types of people. They have lost their trust in the institution that is our government. For decades, Puerto Rico has been the victim of mismanagement and corruption by its elected public officials. They have been what has caused the recession in our economy, our unpayable debt, the terrible response after Hurricane María, the Telegram group chat scandal and many other events that have worsened the situation in Puerto Rico. 

After everything that has happened in the past few months, it is yet to see if the current administration will be able to gain that trust back. Puerto Ricans have shown that they are willing to sacrifice anything in order to make sure that real change happens. They will continue to show their discontent with any future administration and they will make a real change in the upcoming November 2020 election.