Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez loses primary of pro-statehood party

Who is Wanda Vázquez - the Governor of Puerto Rico: Biography, Career, Profile and Personal Life
Photo: USAToday.com

Puerto Rico – Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez on Sunday acknowledged losing the primary of her pro-statehood party to Pedro Pierluisi, who briefly served as the U.S. territory’s governor last year amid political turmoil.

With more than 66% of electoral colleges reporting, Pierluisi received more than 58% of the vote compared with nearly 42% for Vázquez.

“We have to abide by the decision of the majority,” Vázquez said in a brief speech where she warned Pierluisi that he should “aspire” to have the support of those who voted for her. She will remain as governor until the winner of Puerto Rico’s Nov. 3 general elections takes office.

Pierluisi spoke shortly after Vázquez and said the governor can count on him: “We all have to be united to push Puerto Rico forward.”

The results come one week after delayed and missing ballots led to a chaotic primary that forced a second round of voting on Sunday in which thousands of Puerto Ricans got a second chance to vote for the first time.

Voting centers in nearly 50 of the island’s 78 municipalities opened following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that stated a second round of voting would take place at centers that never opened on Aug. 9 or did not remain open the required eight hours, cites usatoday.com.

Vázquez is now the second female governor of Puerto Rico

After a series of musical chairs, Puerto Rico has a governor that may stick around for more than a few days.

Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, who was next in the line of succession after Gov. Ricardo Rosselló stepped down last week, was sworn in Wednesday afternoon. Vázquez had said she didn’t want the position, which fueled speculation that she would resign too.

But Vázquez made clear on Thursday that she plans to stay as long as possible.

“At this moment, I don’t see myself resigning,” she told El Vocero newspaper. “I took this position to fulfill my obligations and to take the destiny of our people to 2020. That is my North Star.”

Vázquez moves into the governor’s mansion after a remarkable turn of events, which led Puerto Rico to have three governors in less than a week. It all came to a head Wednesday afternoon, when the US territory’s Supreme Court invalidated Friday’s swearing-in of Pedro Pierluisi, a lawyer and former politician whom Rosselló had nominated to replace him. Rosselló decided to resign after 12 days of anti-government protests over his administration’s role in corruption and social media scandals.

The court’s nine justices ruled that Pierluisi’s appointment was unconstitutional, as he was not confirmed by the Senate (he reportedly didn’t have enough votes there for confirmation). So the next person in the line of succession to replace Rosselló, per the constitution, was the justice secretary: Wanda Vázquez, reports vox.com.

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Before she becomes governor, she is an attorney

Who is Wanda Vázquez - the Governor of Puerto Rico: Biography, Career, Profile and Personal Life
Photo: Bloomberg.com

Vázquez has more than 30 years of government experience, but she’s never held elected office. In 2017, Rosselló appointed her justice secretary, which is a similar role to a state attorney general.

Instead, the 59-year-old has worked most of her career as a prosecutor. As a district attorney, Vazquez prosecuted domestic violence and sexual abuse cases. In 2010, she was appointed as the head of Puerto Rico’s Office of Women’s Affairs, where she was in charge of enforcing civil rights laws.

However, some women’s groups opposed Vázquez during her seven years as the head of the island’s women’s affairs office (more on that in a bit). But it wasn’t until she became Puerto Rico’s top prosecutor that the real controversies began.

Vazquez is involved in her own scandals

Vázquez made history as the first justice secretary in Puerto Rico to face a criminal investigation. In 2018, she temporarily stepped down in response to ethical complaints filed by the office of an independent special prosecutor. Vázquez was accused of abusing her power when she reportedly tried to meddle in a theft investigation at her daughter’s home. The prosecutor said there was not enough evidence to charge Vázquez of wrongdoing, but the publicity was bad for her.

One of the most upsetting issues to Puerto Ricans was the alleged corruption related to the Hurricane Maria recovery. The storm devastated the island in September 2017, and many neighborhoods have yet to return to normal. Puerto Ricans want to know what happened to all the federal money, and Vázquez showed little interest in investigating it. She also angered the public for reportedly refusing to investigate why tons of hurricane supplies were abandoned in fields and never distributed to survivors.

She doesn't receive support from Puerto Rican feminists and many of the Puerto Ricans

Who is Wanda Vázquez - the Governor of Puerto Rico: Biography, Career, Profile and Personal Life
Photo: nypost.com

Vázquez has a complicated history with women’s rights groups on the island. The relationship grew tense while Vázquez was the head of the government agency in charge of enforcing women’s civil rights — a position she held from 2010 to 2017, when she left to take over the justice department.

As head of the women’s rights division, Vázquez oversaw steep budget cuts to groups that provide services to battered women. She also instituted strict new requirements for those groups to receive federal funding.

“Many of these organizations were forced to close their doors and lay off staff,” wrote prominent feminist Josefina Pantoja back in 2016, in which she argued against Vázquez’s appointment to lead the justice department.

More recently, feminist groups grew frustrated with Vázquez because she ignored calls to declare a national emergency in response to a surge of violence against women after Hurricane Maria.

But it’s not just feminists who want Vázquez gone. Many of the Puerto Ricans who took to the streets don’t have much faith in her, either. They’re worried that she represents more of the same.

Puerto Ricans have been patient through decades of government incompetence and corruption, and they’ve had enough. They’re bearing the burden of Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy, the lingering economic recession, and the botched response to Hurricane Maria. But two recent scandals sent them over the edge.

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