SAN JUAN – The new governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vazquez, said that began her mandate on Wednesday with the intention of remaining in the post until the general election in November 2020.
Vazquez, who became the chief executive of the US commonwealth after the resignation of Ricardo Rossello and the nullification of the inauguration of attorney Pedro Pierluisi, is Puerto Rico’s second female governor after Sila Calderon, who governed the island from 2001-2005.
Under Rossello, Vazquez served as attorney general, the 13th person to serve in that post, but she is now governor thanks to the political crisis having its roots in a case of government corruption and the publication of the extensive transcript of a private online chat among the former governor and his closest associates in which they insulted people from different social sectors.
The revelation of the chat transcript created deep unease among the population that resulted in two weeks of demonstrations that ultimately forced Rossello to resign.
The former AG said that she was assuming the post of governor “with the certainty that history (had brought her) here without any political aspirations but with the firm desire to adequately fulfill (her duty) to the people.”
“I assumed the responsibility vested in me by the Constitution for the time (remaining) in this mandate until 2020,” said Vazquez in an interview on Thursday.
Those words followed the analysis made by several media outlets that Vazquez might resign and propose as the island’s secretary of state – according to Puerto Rican law, the official who succeeds the governor should a vacancy in that office arise – the island’s non-voting representative to the US Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez, who, if confirmed by the local Legislative Assembly, would become governor.
Gonzalez expressed on Thursday her willingness to assume the governorship, replacing Vazquez.
“I’m available to do the job of secretary of state, but the person who is going to decide if she’s going to continue her work in the government is Wanda Vazquez,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez held a press conference along with the head of Puerto Rico’s Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, and the head of the island’s House of Representatives, Carlos Mendez, after meeting with almost all the lawmakers and mayors from the governing New Progressive Party (PNP) to analyze the situation after Vazquez assumed the governorship.
The representative to the US Congress said that she was available to become governor but added that that is different “from wanting something,” after emphasizing that at this time one of the most important tasks is to reestablish Washington’s confidence in Puerto Rico so that aid funding earmarked for the island after Hurricane Maria in 2017 continues to arrive.
She said that recent corruption cases have spurred US lawmakers to hold onto the funding and “will damage Washington’s view of Puerto Rico.”
Rivera Schatz, meanwhile, said that Gonzalez has the support of the entire PNP – given her efforts as the island’s representative to the US Congress – to be governor.
Vazquez’s rise to governor has not been accepted by everyone, since the former AG is seen by some as merely a continuation of Rossello’s mandate, the former governor being under suspicion in assorted corruption cases that arose during his tenure despite the fact that waging the fight against corruption was one of the strong points of his platform.