July 29th 2019
Justice secretary, who is supposed to replace the US territory’s scandal-hit governor when he steps down this week, has announced that she does not want the job as the island’s political crisis deepens.
Wanda Vazquez said in a Twitter post on Sunday that she had informed Governor Ricardo Rossello, adding that she hoped he would appoint a secretary of state before resigning on August 2 as planned.
Former Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin would have been next in line as governor, according to the US territory’s constitution.
But he is one of more than a dozen officials who have resigned in recent weeks since the publication of obscenity-laced chat messages in which Rossello and close advisers insulted people including female politicians and victims of Hurricane Maria.
Rossello on Wednesday announced that he would step down following nearly two weeks of massive protests amid anger over the leaked chat, corruption charges against several former government officials and a 13-year recession.
In the chat, the 40-year-old Democrat and son of a governor called a female politician a “whore”, referred to another as a “daughter of a b****”, and made fun of an obese man with whom he posed in a photo.
Marin’s resignation had left Vazquez as next in line to be governor, but her statement on Sunday exacerbated uncertainty about who would be Puerto Rico’s next leader.
Protesters had opposed Vazquez, saying she was too close to the disgraced governor.
On Friday, Vazquez said there was a lot of misinformation but that she could speak publicly about certain cases.
“The vicious attacks on my personal and professional integrity continue,” she said. “The desire and agenda of some to try to undermine my credibility at this moment of transcendental importance to Puerto Rico and to destabilize the governmental order is evident.”
Rossello became the first governor to resign in the modern history of Puerto Rico, home to 3.2 million people. He is more than halfway through his four-year term.
If Rossello’s choice for a secretary of state is not approved by the island’s House and Senate, Puerto Rico’s law dictates the treasury secretary would be next in line if the justice secretary does not become governor.
But at 31 years old, Treasury Secretary Francisco Pares is too young. The constitution dictates the person would have to be at least 35, so that would leave interim Education Secretary Eligio Hernandez next in line.
He replaced Julia Keleher, a former education secretary who resigned in April and was arrested on July 10 on federal corruption charges. She has pleaded not guilty.
Another three people are in strong positions to succeed Rossello: Pedro Pierluisi, a former Puerto Rico representative in the US Congress and now a lawyer with Washington firm O’Neill & Borges; Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz; and Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s current delegate to the US Congress.