Things That Matter

The Drama Continues: Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court Says New Governor’s Oath Was Unconstitutional

It’s been five days since former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resigned following massive protests against scandalous and incriminating chats, and the archipelago still does not have a lawfully recognized successor in La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion.

Upon stepping down on Friday, August 2, the embattled politico nominated Pedro Pierluisi.

Peirluisi was to fill the secretary of state vacancy left by Luis G. Rivera Marín, who resigned last month for his own part in the leaked messages. As secretary of state, Pierluisi would have been next in line to become governor. However, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Wednesday that part of the law used by Rosselló to name Pierluisi his successor is unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court ruled against that part of the law Rosselló used to appoint Pierluisi was unconstitutional.

“The governor’s oath of office was unconstitutional,” Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court said, as reported by NBC News. “Therefore, Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi Urrutia can’t continue his work as Governor after this Opinion and Sentence becomes effective.”

The decision, which takes effect at 5 p.m. EST, follows a lawsuit filed by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz on Monday. In the litigation, Rivera Schatz asked the courts to immediately remove Pierluisi from the position because his governorship was unlawful according to Puerto Rico’s constitution. 

While the social codes do say that the island’s secretary of state should be the new governor if the position is vacant, it requires the person nominated to the post to be confirmed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, Pierluisi had only been confirmed as secretary of state by the House when he took his oath as governor on Friday.

“It’s unconstitutional to allow a Secretary of State to become Governor without having been confirmed by both legislative chambers,” the Supreme Court said in a press release.

The Senate postponed its vote for this week, days after Rosselló’s resignation became official, meaning that Pierluisi’s governorship was unofficial and that the Caribbean island hasn’t yet filled the top seat. 

This week, instead of voting on the matter, Rivera Schatz went to the courts to argue that Pierluisi did not “occupy the position of secretary of state in property” because he wasn’t confirmed by both Houses.

In response, Pierluisi contended this wasn’t the only way that the secretary of state could be ratified, citing the law of succession of 2005, which included a recommendation by Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice to waive a secretary of state’s confirmation requirement in case of an emergency.

He is expected to be making a comment later today.

Puerto Ricans are celebrating the ruling.

Since Rosselló nominated Pierluisi as secretary of state, many have taken to the streets for “¡Pierluisi, renuncia!” demonstrations. Opponents have several issues with Pierluisi, a former resident commissioner and an attorney, but predominantly condemn his ties to the unelected fiscal control board, known on the archipelago as “la junta.” 

In the historic protests that removed Rosselló, demonstrators called for both his resignation and the disbanding of the largely-loathed Obama-appointed board that has slashed needed public services on the island. “Ricky renuncia, y llévate a la junta,” went one of the most popular chants of the rallies. Pierluisi has a long history with the board, representing Puerto Rico in Congress when the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, was passed, which created la junta; his brother-in-law is the chair of the board; and Pierluisi has been working for the law firm that does consulting for the board — a post he resigned from to take on the role as governor.

But the drama isn’t over yet since the woman next in-line still doesn’t want the island’s top job and Puerto Ricans don’t want her.

According to the Puerto Rican constitution, next in line to fill the governorship seat is Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, who has said repeatedly that she is not interested in the job. Puerto Rican media are reporting that Vazquez, who has also faced public disapproval for her defense of the leaked chats and her own problematic history as an attorney, will nominate Jenniffer Gonzalez, the U.S. territory’s representative in Congress, as secretary of state, who would then takeover as governor if Vazquez steps down.

When questioned about this scenario, González told local newspaper El Nuevo Día, “that is decided by the bodies and the governor. I will support whomever they choose. That has been my position since day one.”

Even more, Puerto Rico Sen. Zoe Laboy told Central Florida cable news outlet Spectrum News 13 that should Gonzalez be nominated as secretary of state by Vazquez, then she hopes both the House and Senate would have the chance to ratify the nomination.

This would pose an even greater challenge for Puerto Ricans fighting for a just and free future for their island, as Gonzalez is not only a member of the same pro-statehood party of the Rosselló administration but is also a Trump-supporting Republican.

Vázquez is expected to be sworn in as Puerto Rico’s new governor on Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST.

Read: The Governor Of Puerto Rico Was Caught In A Chat Using Grotesque Homophobic And Sexist Language And The Entire Island Is Calling Him To Resign In Massive Protests

Anti-Mask Tourists Are Traveling To Puerto Rico And The Island’s Residents Have Had Enough

Things That Matter

Anti-Mask Tourists Are Traveling To Puerto Rico And The Island’s Residents Have Had Enough

Ricardo Arduengo / Getty Images

Despite the pandemic that began impacting travel as far back as February, tourists never stopped coming to Puerto Rico. The island’s government has never restricted travel to/from the island and that has come at the cost of local health care systems and the safety and health of local residents.

This means that delusional anti-maskers from the mainland have been able to visit the island, disregard local rules regarding social distancing and face coverings, and put locals at risk. Now, as the island grapples with an explosion of Covid-19 cases, many locals are demanding the island shut down to nonessential travel.

Protesters in Puerto Rico are calling for an end to irresponsible tourism from the mainland.

In Puerto Rico, protesters have been calling for San Juan’s International Airport to shut down all nonessential travel, as tourists continue to vacation on the island despite rising Covid-19 cases and are often seen not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

Ricardo Santos, who organized a protest and is a member of the Socialist Workers Movement, told Democracy Now: “We’re not backing down. We’re going to continue this caravan and this struggle, because this is a life-or-death situation, and this governor has not been addressing this issue. So, as we’ve done in the past, the people are going to take matters into their own hands.”

The move comes as many locals say that tourists come to the island with certain attitudes and disrespect local rules.

Whether it’s because they believe in silly conspiracy theories or complain that it’s ‘too hot’ to wear a mask, tourists without masks have arrived in droves to the island – where many locals see them as an extension of a long history of brutal colonialism. Many tourists to the island have little to no regard for the health or well-being of those who call the island home and they’re even less conscious of the fact that the island’s health care system is still in shambles since Hurricane Maria.

Although face masks are technically required in all public areas, few tourists seem to follow the guidelines. In fact, a fine of up to $5,000 can be slapped on anyone who isn’t wearing a covering on their mouth and nose. Not only are many tourists ignoring the rule, it’s often leading to violent confrontations.

A few weeks ago, a group of women visiting San Juan’s biggest mall allegedly retaliated against a Zara employee’s request that they wear masks by damaging at least $2,000 in merchandise.

Later in July, a man – a resident of the island but from the mainland – spat in the face of a grocery store worker who asked him to put on a mask.  In a video circulating online, the man said a security guard retaliated by hitting him with a golf club. The following day, a woman was reportedly physically struck after refusing to wear a mask in La Perla, the historic neighborhood that runs alongside Old San Juan, which has become a tourist destination since the 2017 video for Justin Bieber’s remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s runaway hit “Despacito” was filmed there.

Many local workers who serve the tourist economy said that visitors are irritated by the mandatory touchless temperature scan and hand sanitation policy. 

“They have attitudes when they get here,” one worker told the Daily Beast. “One said she was going to ‘die of retardation’ for taking her temperature. Another complained about the sanitizer: They said, ‘Ew, what is that?’” 

Tourism is big business for Puerto Rico – but many say now is not the time.

Credit: Jose Jimenez / Getty Images

Tourism in Puerto Rico is a $1.8 billion industry annually, and though the island never closed its borders, officials had announced a formal “reopening” date of July 15, when visitors were welcome to return. But thanks to rising cases of Covid-19, that ‘reopening’ date has since been pushed back a month to August 15.

To help facilitate the reopening, a new order will require all visitors show a negative Covid-19 test at the airport in order to enter the island, or be tested voluntarily at the airport by a National Guard team. The curfew, which was previously set to end on June 22, is still in place from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night. 

But for residents, none of this makes sense. Police have threatened Puerto Ricans with exorbitant fines and even arrest for being out past curfew. Alleyways that would usually be teeming with people dancing to live salsa were barren. Yet locals continue to see tourists step out the door of their Airbnb, hand in hand, no mask, to take in a sunset or grab something to eat. Locals feel like they’re on lockdown while visitors are on a worry free vacation.

Like many places across the U.S., Puerto Rico has been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Ricardo Arduengo / Getty Images

As of July 29, the island has seen more than 16,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 211 people have died of the virus. These numbers have been rising in recent weeks as

Puerto Rico was initially praised for being one of the first U.S. jurisdictions to put drastic measures in place, such as implementing an islandwide curfew and banning cruise ships, as well as closing schools and all nonessential businesses, to avoid overwhelming the island’s fragile health care system in March.

But a recent surge in COVID-19 cases has coincided with Puerto Rico’s efforts to reopen nonessential businesses and tourist attractions. Over the past week, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped by more than 1,000, while the number of probable cases increased by almost 1,300.

Puerto Rican Activists Are Leading The Fight For The Removal Of Colonial Monuments On The Island

Things That Matter

Puerto Rican Activists Are Leading The Fight For The Removal Of Colonial Monuments On The Island

Joe Raedle / Getty

As activists across the United States continue to rally behind the removal of Confederate statues and symbols of racism, many are doing their part to ensure monuments honoring those who led the genocide of Indigenous people are being toppled as well. In Puerto Rico, a similar call for the removal of such monuments are highlighting the current population’s fight to dethrone tributes to colonization.

In Puerto Rico (and other regions of the United States affected by Spanish colonialism) protests are pushing for the removal of colonial figures.

Statues, public plazas, and roads paying homage to colonizers like Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de León can be seen all over Puerto Rico and areas of Florida. Historically both figures have been touted for being “explorers” but their cruel treatment of Puerto Rico’s indigenous Taíno people has only recently being examined. Historical evidence shows that, like other colonizers of the Americas, both men contributed to the near extermination of indigenous populations including Tainos. Columbus in particular is noted for having led a brutal regime that crushed and enslaved these populations.

Activists are speaking out about the statutes and monuments attributed to Columbus and Ponce De Léon.

“It is an act of violence to even have the statues in our homelands,” Elena Ortiz, chair of the Santa Fe Freedom Council of The Red Nation, explained in an interview with USA Today. “It’s not just the statue, but it’s what it represented: the celebration of our genocide.”

“[The conquistadors] brought with them not only these weapons of mass destruction but also the imposition of the Catholic Church and the imposition of a patriarchal government on peaceful matrilineal societies,” Ortiz went onto explain. “Those colonially imposed systems exist to this day, and have impacted generations.”

Across Puerto Rico statues of these historical figures have been toppled in protests responding to the current widespread call to end the support of police brutality and the oppression of minorities.

As USA Today points out, similar actions are taking place in Los Angeles and San Francisco where statues of Junípero Serra have recently been removed or destroyed by protesters. “Without liberation for all, there’s no liberation for any of us,” Ortiz concluded. “Every movement from Black Lives Matter, to defund the police, to tearing down these statues shows a deep, deep dissatisfaction with the state of the world right now.”