By Thais Carrero and Patricia Zapata
For Puerto Ricans, September 20th, 2017 will forever be remembered as one of the most anguishing days of our lives. Almost two years ago we lost over 4,000 loved ones; spent a year without drinking water and electricity; were ignored and belittled by the federal and local governments.
We thought that nothing worse could happen to Puerto Rico. But we were very wrong. Ricardo Rosselló was in power. Before assuming office in January 2017, he promised to end the crippling debt that has the island in an economic abyss. He said that people were going to count; that he would fight to make Puerto Rico the 51st state.
But Rosselló only cared to make his friends count. The powerful, rich and corrupt.
An extensive 900-page chat revealed Rosselló’s true intentions. While “releasing tensions” the now former governor mocked opponents, using misogynist, homophobic and obscene language. A portion of the chat made fun of those who died during and after Hurricane Maria.
After weeks of protests, Rosselló finally announced his resignation effective on Friday, August 2nd, 2019. But now our island faces new threats–Wanda Vázquez, Pedro Pierluisi and Thomas Rivera Schatz.
According to Puerto Rico’s constitution, the first in the line of succession in case the governor resigns would be the Secretary of State. However, one of the chat participants happened to be Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin. He resigned from his position on July 13th.
The next in the line of succession is Secretary of Justice, Wanda Vázquez. Vázquez’s tenure as Secretary of Justice has been filled by corruption and ethical violation allegations.
Last November, she was investigated by the Government Ethics agency for possibly intervening in a case in which theft of government property was suspected in a home where her daughter resided. She has also refused to investigate corruption within Rosselló’s administration and refused to challenge the offensive chats.
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Boricuas quickly brought the unity and people power that resulted in the Rosselló resignation to bear against Vázquez. She urged Rosselló via Twitter on July 28, to appoint a Secretary of State as she was not interested in becoming the island’s governor.
On July 31, Rosselló announced he was appointing Pedro Pierlusi as Puerto Rico’s next Secretary of State; or the next governor.
Pedro Pierlusi, the former resident commissioner for Puerto Rico in Congress from 2009 to 2017, has served as counsel through his law firm O’Neill & Borges to what Puerto Ricans refer to as la Junta, the broadly despised fiscal oversight and management board that starved the Puerto Rican people of basic services to provide corporate windfalls to investors.
La Junta forced the closing of almost 500 schools over the last two years and slashed the pensions of our elderly.
La Junta promotes “financial austerity” for an Island where families still live with blue tarps on their roofs from Hurricane Maria while its members get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. Pedro Pierlusi provided legal counsel to a board that fights for special interests no matter the cost to everyday Puerto Ricans.
Pierluisi was sworn on Aug. 2 to be Puerto Rico’s next governor ignoring a constitutional mandate that he needs approval from both chambers to be recognized as the lawful governor.
Cue in, Thomas Rivera Schatz, the president of the Senate of Puerto Rico, currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a “ghost employee” financial scandal where no-show friends and family members drew public paychecks. Always interested in becoming governor, he is now seizing the opportunity. He intentionally delayed the process of confirmation of Pedro Pierluisi as governor and filed a lawsuit to challenge the legitimacy of Pierluisi’s oath.
Schatz’s objective was achieved on Aug. 7, when Puerto Rico’s supreme court ruled that Pedro Pierluisi’s appointment as governor was unconstitutional and that Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez should be sworn in as the islands next governor.
Moments later Vázquez issued a press statement confirming she would accept the position. And was sworn in subsequently.
So, what now?
The people have spoken. We do not want the few rich and powerful to select a governor for us. In countries around the world, when something like this happens, the government calls for an emergency election within 90 days. But the Puerto Rican constitution does not allow that, and we must change it. This would require the constitution to be amended.
Because of people like the Rosselló political dynasty, Wanda Vázquez, Pedro Pierluisi and Thomas Rivera Schatz, we are submerged in the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. But that’s their plan, as one of the lines on the chat said: “I saw the future. There are no Puerto Ricans.”
To the participants in the chat and to all others who have taken advantage of Puerto Rico for decades: we are coming for you, too.
We demonstrated we are a force to be reckoned with during massive protests to force the governor to resign–the power belongs to the people. We will continue fighting in Puerto Rico, the mainland and around the world, until we eradicate corruption and build a government that is from the people, by the people and for the people.
Thais Carrero is an active CASA in Action member and a pillar of the York Puerto Rican community. Patricia Zapata moved to York following Hurricane Maria and is the Program Assistant for CASA in Action.
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