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Puerto Rico gets third governor in a week, braces for more turmoil

Wanda Vázquez might not last long in the job, either.

People march in protest in San Juan on July 29, 2019, against Puerto Rico's current Wanda Vazquez, who is now Puerto Rico's governor. CREDIT: Ricardo ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images.
People march in protest in San Juan on July 29, 2019, against Puerto Rico's current Wanda Vazquez, who is now Puerto Rico's governor. CREDIT: Ricardo ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images.

After a third governor took office within just one week’s time, Puerto Rico remained on edge Thursday, bracing for more political churn and possible protests.

Wanda Vázquez, who had been the justice secretary, was sworn in Wednesday despite initially saying she was not interested in the post. Her policies are seen as being the same as those of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who was forced to resign after weeks of protests on the island of 3.2 million people.

The man Rosselló had chosen as his successor, Pedro Pierluis, was disqualified when Puerto Rico’s highest court decided unanimously that he had been placed in the job unconstitutionally, without Senate confirmation.

“We have all felt the anxiety provoked by the instability and uncertainty. Faced with this enormous challenge and with God ahead, I take a step forward with no interest other than serving the people as I have done my whole life,” Vázquez said Wednesday night in a televised statement.

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Vázquez might not last long in the position, as some key players — including Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz — have already declared their support for others to fill the role. Vázquez would have to resign if another candidate is nominated and then confirmed.

It is estimated that roughly a third of Puerto Rico’s population turned out in protest after corruption charges were leveled against two former members of Rosselló’s administration. Messages between Rosselló and members of his inner circle mocking women, gays, victims of Hurricane Maria, and others contributed to public ire.

Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017. Already an economically-struggling U.S. territory, Puerto Rico was plunged into chaos, as massive swaths of the island dealt with water and power shortages for months after the hurricane.

The former administration officials were arrested in July on charges of paying unqualified contractors, favored for political reasons, with federal funds.

Vázquez has her share of critics. Her detractors say that as justice secretary, she failed to pursue those who mismanaged funds intended for hurricane relief and looked the other way when she should have been pursuing corruption investigations against officials.

She knows how precarious her position is, and in her address Wednesday night told Puerto Ricans that she’s aware she was “not chosen by the people for this position.

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“But I came from those same people. I am a product of public schools … I know what it is to come from nothing. I know what hard work is,” she added.

Late last year, Puerto Rico’s Office of Government Ethics received a complaint accusing Vázquez of ethics violations, although in December a judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence against her.

Protesters took to the streets last week when they heard Vázquez was being considered for the position.