Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation Wednesday drew cheers from protesters, politicians and financial stakeholders, but his tapped replacement – Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez Garced – has not elicited the same excitement. 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.”
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.
The woman set to become Puerto Rico’s next governor has been criticized for her reluctance to confront problems in Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration during her nearly two years as the territory’s top law enforcement official.
That criticism is likely to complicate Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez’s ability to complete Rosselló’s term in the face of widespread public anger toward the departing governor and some of his male aides over a leaked online chat in which they mocked their constituents and made insulting remarks about women.
Vázquez, a 59-year-old former prosecutor, has limited experience in leading government agencies, let alone an entire administration.
Early Thursday, she issued a statement shortly after Rosselló announced his resignation.
“I understand he made the right decision, for the good of both his family and for Puerto Rico,” she said. “We will be working together to have a responsible and transparent transition process.”
Before she was sworn in as justice secretary in January 2017, Vázquez worked as a district attorney for two decades at the island’s justice department and in 2010 was appointed director of the Office for Women’s Rights.
After she became secretary, she was criticized by some for not being aggressive enough in pursuing corruption investigations involving members of her pro-statehood New Progressive Party, of which Rosselló also is a member.
Critics also said Vázquez, who once handled domestic and sexual abuse cases as a prosecutor, did not prioritize gender violence cases as secretary.
Nearly two years after she became justice secretary, Vázquez became embroiled in a high-profile court case that turned some Puerto Ricans against her.
Last November, the Office of Government Ethics said it had received a complaint about possible ethical violations involving Vázquez, who was accused of intervening in a case involving a suspect charged with stealing government property at a home where Vázquez’s daughter lived.
Vázquez appeared in court to face charges that included two violations of a local government ethics law. In December, a judge found there was no evidence to arrest her.
Vázquez becomes Puerto Rico’s second female governor. Under the island’s constitution, the secretary of state is first in line to take over if the governor resigns. But Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín, one of the 12 men who took part in the chat, resigned July 13 in the uproar over the leak.
Shortly after the 889-page chat was leaked, Vázquez issued a statement stating she was “profoundly affected and saddened” by the remarks.
“I recognize that the frustrations and pressures of the day-to-day can be expressed in an incorrect way within the privacy of a friendship,” Wanda Vázquez Garced said. “But I have to express the deep regret this causes me as a woman, as a mother, as a professional and as a citizen of this beautiful island.”
Earlier this month, Vázquez vowed to cooperate with U.S. authorities to fight corruption and oust all those accused of wrongdoing after federal agents arrested the island’s education secretary, Julia Keleher, and other government officials on corruption charges.