SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation drew cheers on Thursday from protesters, politicians and financial stakeholders, but his tapped replacement – Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez Garced – has not elicited the same excitement.
People in a conference room watch a television broadcast of Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello, as he resigns after days of protests calling for his resignation in San Juan, Puerto Rico July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello
A key vacancy in the U.S. territory’s chain of succession makes Vazquez, a 59-year-old former district attorney, next in line for the island’s highest office.
Rosselló said on Wednesday he would carry on working until Aug. 2 to allow Vazquez to have an orderly transition into her new role as governor.
When reports of Rosselló’s possible resignation first circulated outside the governor’s mansion on Tuesday night, crowds erupted in cheers.
They switched to boos when rally leaders reminded them Rosselló’s replacement would be Vazquez. Some protesters said the rallies would not stop if Vazquez takes office.
“I’ll try to keep on fighting, even if I just end up feeling like I’m a crazy person screaming in the street,” said Zoe Alva, 32.
“We need to clean house entirely.”
More protests were expected on Thursday, to signal activists’ anger about the replacement.
Some protesters and opponents view Vazquez, essentially Puerto Rico’s attorney general, as too close to Rosselló, whose administration has been marred by accusations of corruption.
Federal investigators this month arrested a handful of officials in a contract-steering probe, including Education Secretary Julia Keleher.
Then, thousands of pages of texts were leaked in which the governor made a string of vulgar and sometimes violent statements about female political opponents and gay singer Ricky Martin.
A career public servant, Vazquez has been a lightning rod for controversy. She worked at Puerto Rico’s Department of Housing before spending 20 years as a district attorney for the island’s Department of Justice.
In 2010, she took over the Puerto Rico Office for Women’s Rights, until Rosselló nominated her for justice secretary in 2016.
Even as the island’s top women’s rights advocate, she faced pushback from some women’s groups who said she did not do enough. As justice secretary, she clashed publicly with Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, a member of the governor’s party who had nonetheless called for Vazquez’s resignation.
After revelations of Rosselló’s text exchanges with members of his staff, some critics said Vazquez dragged her feet on subpoenaing phones of those involved in the chat.
“We see her as being slow to prosecute people in her own administration,” said Puerto Rico Representative Luis Vega Ramos, a member of the opposition party.
It is also unclear if Puerto Rico’s creditors, as well as the federally appointed board that manages its finances, see Vazquez as a better option than Rosselló.
A source familiar with the board’s thinking said she would not be a “confidence-inspiring” replacement.
One creditor source said Wall Street might prefer Rivera Schatz, who, due to his role as Senate president, might be better able to push legislation necessary to enable the island to restructure its $120 billion in debt.
Timing would make that move difficult. Rosselló would have to nominate Rivera Schatz as secretary of state — the second in line to become governor — and he would have to be confirmed by the island’s legislature, all before Rosselló leaves office.
Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski