SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico
Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez became Puerto Rico’s new governor Wednesday, just the second woman to hold the office, after weeks of political turmoil and hours after the island’s Supreme Court declared Pedro Pierluisi’s swearing-in a week ago unconstitutional.
Accompanied by her husband, Judge Jorge Díaz, and her daughter, Vázquez took the oath of office in the early evening at the Supreme Court before leaving without making any public comment. “I will continue to focus on helping our people regain their way in an orderly and peaceful fashion,” she said in a statement in which she promised to assume the position with “humility and commitment.”
The high court’s unanimous decision, which could not be appealed, settled the dispute over who will lead the US territory after its political establishment was knocked off balance by big street protests spawned by anger over corruption, mismanagement of funds and a leaked obscenity-laced chat that forced the previous governor and several top aides to resign.
But it was also expected to unleash a new wave of demonstrations because many Puerto Ricans have said they don’t want Vázquez as governor.
“It is concluded that the swearing in as governor by Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi Urrutia, named secretary of state in recess, is unconstitutional,” the court said in a brief statement.
Pierluisi said that he had stepped forward to help islanders “in the best good faith and desire to contribute to the future of our homeland,” but that he would respect the court’s ruling.
“I must step aside and support the Justice Secretary of Puerto Rico, the Honorable Wanda Vázquez Garced,” he said in a statement before she was sworn in.
People began cheering in some parts of San Juan after the ruling was announced.
But late in the day, about two dozen protesters gathered outside the governor’s mansion and called for the removal of Vázquez.
“There’ll be no peace as long as there’s impunity,” yelled the crowd, which remained calm as curious onlookers including tourists took pictures and video.
Carmen Santiago, a homemaker from San Juan who joined the protest, said Puerto Ricans still have energy to organize more protests.
“Especially the young people,” she said. “It should be the people who choose the governor, not the party.”
But many Puerto Ricans are physically and emotionally exhausted and want an end to the political turmoil, said Xiomary Morales, a waitress and student who works a block away.
She praised the court’s decision, saying that those in power “are used to doing what they want.” “They should just hold fresh elections, hit restart like a PlayStation game,” Morales said.
Tita Caraballo, a retired nurse from the inland eastern city of Gurabo, disagreed with the court.
“I think they are playing with the people and, I don’t know, maybe they have someone they want and that is why they are doing this,” Caraballo said.