Things That Matter

Puerto Rico Governor Tries To End His Government’s Crisis By Appointing New Secretary Of State But Will It Be Enough?

The drama in Puerto Rico, at least when it comes to the governor’s office, may finally be coming to an end. With current Governor Rosselló set to leave on Friday, after massive protests demanding his resignation, he has appointed a new Secretary of State to take over for him.

Though things aren’t over yet. The new Secretary of State would still have to be confirmed by the state’s legislature and that’s proving to be easier said than done.

Just two days before he’s set to leave office, Gov. Rosselló has had to name a new Secretary of State so he can hopefully take over as governor.

Current Governor Ricardo Rosselló formally nominated the island’s former non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, as secretary of state, which would position him to take over the government if he is confirmed by lawmakers. 

“After much analysis and taking into account the best interests of our people, I have selected Mr. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to fill the vacancy of secretary of state,” Rosselló said in a statement

But some members of Rosselló’s party voiced opposition to the pick, citing Pierluisi’s role advising the federally created financial oversight board overseeing the island’s bankruptcy, which is highly unpopular with Puerto Rico residents. 

Anger over the bankruptcy, the handling of back-to-back 2017 hurricanes that killed some 3,000 people, the filing of federal corruption charges against two former administration officials and the publication of misogynistic and homophobic chat messages between Rosselló and his close advisers sparked nearly two weeks of street protests this month demanding his ouster. 

The largest protest, last week, drew an estimated 500,000 demonstrators to the streets of San Juan, capital of the island of 3.2 million people.

The man taking over as governor is Pedro Pierluisi, who actually lost the gubernatorial election To Rosselló in 2016.

A source close to the Rosselló administration told Reuters that Pierluisi’s nomination may be “dead on arrival” as a result of his connection to the oversight board. 

To be confirmed, Pierluisi will need votes that equate to a majority of the 51 members of the Puerto Rico House and of the 27 senators. Lawmakers are expected to vote on Thursday in a special session Rosselló called when he made the nomination.

Pierluisi said his goal is to transform the energy shown by Puerto Ricans into constructive actions. 

“I have listened to the people’s messages, their demonstrations, their demands and their concerns,” he said in a statement. “And in this new challenge in my life, I will only answer to the people.”

All of this had to happen because the woman next in line to be governor said she didn’t want the job.

Replacing the first-term governor became complicated after Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin, who would have been first in line to assume the office, resigned on July 13 because of his participation in the group chat. Afterward, the second in line for the top government post, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, said she did not want the position.

Even if she had wanted the job though, it doesn’t look like she’d of lasted long. Most Puerto Ricans were against her taking the office since they view her as having been too close to the governor and largely implicit in his scandals.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s First Lady is hosting some what of a farewell at San Juan’s convention center.

According to her office, the First Lady wanted to thank supporters at a small farewell event in the city’s convention center. A few dozen people showed up to the event – illustrating how little support the governor has left in the island.

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Things That Matter

Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

Puerto Rico’s famed Arecibo telescope collapsed in December after years of neglect and damage from earthquakes and hurricanes. But the island is looking to the future with the hope that the U.S. territory could become a major hub for space exploration as a potential space port.

Puerto Rico seeks to be a hub for international space travel.

Puerto Rico may best be known for its tourist packed beaches and its bankrupt finances, but as the island continues to recover from the economic disasters in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s looking to the future.

And to many officials on the island, the future is in space exploration. The Caribbean island has put out a request for information, or RFI, seeking companies interested in turning a sleepy airport at the base of the El Yunque National Rainforest into a space port.

The island’s location between North and South America and close to the Equator gives it “viable trajectories to a large range of desirable low earth orbit launch inclinations,” Puerto Rico’s Port Authority said in a notice posted Friday.

The potential base could be a major boost to the Puerto Rican economy.

The site is currently a small airport that already houses an 11,000 feet runway and offers flights to various points in the territory. But with the existing infrastructure, officials state it could easily be converted into a space port.

If the site does generate interest, it would be a major boost to Puerto Rico’s small but vibrant aerospace sector. Honeywell Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace all have manufacturing plants on the island.

Puerto Rico would also join a growing number of U.S. states and jurisdictions that are vying for pieces of the commercial launch business, which is expected to become a trillion-dollar market over the next decade.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Joel A. Pizá Batiz, believes that “The aerospace industry is one of the economic sectors that is experiencing the most rapid growth. In fact, in the midst of the pandemic it was one of the few sectors that did not receive much impact,” he explained.

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