Puerto Ricans get their 3rd governor in 6 days

Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez is sworn in as governor of Puerto Rico by Supreme Court Justice Maite Oronoz in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)
Updated 08 August 2019

Puerto Ricans get their 3rd governor in 6 days

  • New governor installed after island’s Supreme Court declared Pedro Pierluisi’s swearing-in unconstitutional
  • Previous gov forced to step down amid big street protests against corruption, mismanagement of funds and a chat scandal

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez became Puerto Rico’s new governor Wednesday, just the second woman to hold the office, after weeks of political turmoil and hours after the island’s Supreme Court declared Pedro Pierluisi’s swearing-in a week ago unconstitutional.
Accompanied by her husband, Judge Jorge Díaz, and her daughter, Vázquez took the oath of office in the early evening at the Supreme Court 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.”
The high court’s unanimous decision, which could not be appealed, settled the dispute over who will lead the US 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.
Carmen Santiago, a homemaker from San Juan who joined the protest, said Puerto Ricans still have energy to organize more protests.
“Especially the young people,” she said. “It should be the people who choose the governor, not the party.”
But many Puerto Ricans are physically and emotionally exhausted and want an end to the political turmoil, said Xiomary Morales, a waitress and student who works a block away.
She praised the court’s decision, saying that those in power “are used to doing what they want.”
“They should just hold fresh elections, hit restart like a PlayStation game,” Morales said.
Tita Caraballo, a retired nurse from the inland eastern city of Gurabo, disagreed with the court.
“I think they are playing with the people and, I don’t know, maybe they have someone they want and that is why they are doing this,” Caraballo said.
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.
Some critics say that as justice secretary that she was not aggressive enough in pursuing corruption investigations involving members of her New Progressive Party and that she did not prioritize gender violence cases.
William Gónzalez Roman, a retiree also from Gurabo, wasn’t bullish on the idea of Vázquez as governor.
“We will see. You have to give everyone a chance, right?” González said. “Let’s see what decisions (she makes), but I tell you that job is big with a lot of responsibility.”
Rosselló’s resignation followed nearly two weeks of protests after the public emergence of the chat in which he and 11 other men including government officials mocked women, gay people and victims of Hurricane Maria, among others. More than two dozen officials resigned in the wake of the leak, including former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín.
“NOW is when that detestable group from the chat that lied, mocked, machinated, conspired, violated the law and betrayed Puerto Rico is truly ended and will leave government,” Rivera Schatz, the Senate president, said Wednesday.


Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.