The Slatest

Puerto Rico Just Swore in Its Third Governor in Less Than a Week

Wanda Vázquez Garced writing at a desk
Wanda Vázquez Garced after being sworn in as governor of Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
Gabriella N. Baez/Reuters

Wanda Vázquez Garced said she had “no interest” in leading Puerto Rico. But on Wednesday, she was sworn in as governor of the territory—the third person this week to occupy that position.

Last Friday at 5 p.m., Ricardo Rosselló walked down the steps of the governor’s residence for the last time, following 12 days of tumult set off by a texting scandal. The disgraced former governor and other top officials sent sexist and homophobic Telegram messages within their inner circle, including ones that mocked Hurricane Maria survivors. Before stepping down, Rosselló ignited a final controversy: He handed the keys to La Fortaleza to a handpicked successor, former lawyer and politician Pedro Pierluisi.

That decision did not go over well. Senate Majority Leader Thomas Rivera Schatz, a staunch opponent of Rossello’s with an eye on the governorship, filed a lawsuit with the Puerto Rico Supreme Court alleging that Pierluisi’s appointment was unconstitutional. The court agreed, ruling that he couldn’t be governor without Senate confirmation, and booted him, effective immediately. Pierluisi was in power for just five days—the shortest-serving governor in Puerto Rican history.

The next in line to the governorship would have been Secretary of State Luis G. Marín, but he was one of two-dozen officials embroiled in the scandal that took down Rossello. Marin’s resignation meant that the governorship passed to the justice secretary, Vázquez.

It seems she was just as dismayed about this turn of events as many Puerto Ricans. On July 28, Vázquez tweeted, “I reiterate, I have no interest in the position of governor. It’s a Constitutional judgment.” She went on to urge that Rossello appoint a secretary of state to fill Marín’s vacancy. Some even suspected that she would resign before she could be tapped for the governorship. However, Vázquez stayed the course, becoming the second woman to hold the governorship after she was sworn in in San Juan on Wednesday.

It’s unlikely that Vázquez will be able to do much to placate Puerto Ricans who have been dissatisfied with mismanagement and incompetence in government well before Rossello’s scandal rocked the island. Vázquez, far from having a sterling reputation, has weathered scandals of her own. In November, she came under investigation her for two violations of government ethics laws after she intervened in a case involving her daughter. She was not charged. Vázquez has also been criticized for going easy on corruption investigations within her New Progressive Party and failing to pursue gender violence cases.

Vázquez has been branded with a hashtag similar to the one that critics lobbed at Rossello: #WandaRenuncia. Some suspected she would nominate buzzed-about U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón to the secretary of state vacancy then resign, making González-Colón governor No. 4 for the year. But Vazquez has so far refused. She reportedly told media outlets on Thursday that she would not be stepping down and plans to govern to the end of Rossello’s term in January 2021.

In her speech after being sworn in, Vázquez imparted a message of unity. “I want to be clear that the only motivation I have had during this time, as always, has been the well-being of Puerto Rico,” she said, also asking Puerto Ricans to “[leave] behind any partisan, ideological, or personal agendas.”

Given the recent scandals and #WandaRenunica, Vázquez’s request seems improbable. The past week should tell her that making it to 2021 won’t be easy.