Things That Matter

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

@rafernandezlaw / Twitter

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

Puerto Rican Art Groups Are Getting A Leg Up Thanks To This Foundation Created By The ‘Hamilton’ Family

Entertainment

Puerto Rican Art Groups Are Getting A Leg Up Thanks To This Foundation Created By The ‘Hamilton’ Family

Flamboyan Foundation / Facebook

Maintaining funding for the arts is a challenging enough task during the best of times. For Puerto Ricans, those “best of times” have long been gone. A backlog of corruption scandals coupled with the most devastating natural disaster in the island’s history has exacerbated the arts organizations resources. Two years after Hurricane Maria’s landfall on Puerto Rico, hope for maintaining the culture and arts of Boricuas has arrived.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeffrey Seller, the play’s producer, have partnered with the Flamboyan Foundation to establish an art fund for struggling arts organizations in Puerto Rico.

The Flamboyan Foundation was established just earlier this year, funded by ticket sales from “Hamilton.”

@theatermania / Twitter

Even better, the $14.7 million that was raised for the fund were all raised by Puerto Ricans. The “Hamilton” cast and crew up and went to Puerto Rico for a 17-day run. The Flamboyan Foundation, named after the flamboyán tree native to Puerto Rico, established the arts fund in 2018. “The Flamboyan Arts Fund is an extension of our deep commitment to ensuring that Puerto Rico is thriving economically and socially,” Flamboyan Puerto Rico Executive Director Carlos J. Rodríguez-Silvestre said in a statement. “We cannot be more excited to partners with our 12 inaugural grant recipients as well as the new grantees that we will welcome following this round of applications.  This is just the beginning!”

So far, at least 12 grant recipients have been named.

@ElNuevoDia / Twitter

“It’s the first time that we have funds guaranteed for the beginning of the year so it’s been very important, Lolita Villanúa, executive director of Andanza told NBC News. Andanza is a dance company and school that has been giving back to Puerto Rico since 1998, but not without struggles. “The search for funds has always been very difficult,” she said. One year, the government gave Andanza just $8,000 for a full year of operations.

Villanúa felt the grant “was like a big prize on our 20th anniversary because we [have been] working tirelessly and intensely for the country.”

The trickle-down effect goes to benefit young scholarship students.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

One Andanza dance student, Paola Morales López is just 15 years old and wants to make a career out of dancing. “I feel super grateful because I see that they support me and that they believe in me,” Morales López told NBC News. “Andanza is like my second family.” Another 18-year-old ballet student, Gabriela Arroyo, said that, “Dance has helped me. It’s a form to escape reality, and it’s also a way to stay healthy.”

Of course, the “Hamilton” funds will also go to help local theaters stay open.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

Another grant went to a collective of seven artists who started the San Juan theater company, Y No Había Luz (“And There Was No Light”) when they were just students at the University of Puerto Rico. For the last 15 years, the group has continued to stay open, using their literal theater platform to advocate for social change and to humanize Boricuas.

Without the grant, Puerto Ricans may have never witnessed a play centered around an ancient tree that fell during Hurricane Maria.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

Y No Había Luz created the play “Centinela de Mangó,” which retells the experience of the town of Orocovis, which survived Hurricane Maria only to find the tree that symbolized the island’s identity had fallen. The company has been able to bring the play to New York City, as well, where many Hurricane Maria victims were directed by FEMA. The company wants to turn the story into a children’s book, forever immortalizing the tree’s meaning into words that will be passed down for generations.

With rent paid, the art grant recipients can dream even bigger.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

“For three years I can plan and create a healthier structure for my team. I can make dreams more long-term,” Yari Helfeld of Y No Había Luz told NBC News. She added, “My dad always told us that we should do what we wanted and not let anyone tell you what to do.” Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the “Hamilton” family, dreams are being made a reality for art directors and young children alike. The arts will have a safe home in Puerto Rico for the foreseeable future.

READ: Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

Things That Matter

Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

realdonaldtrump / Instagram

When Donald Trump began his campaign for president, one — if not the most important — promise he made was that Mexico would pay for the border wall. Trump’s border wall, which would extend throughout the south as a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico, has been his No. 1 mission as president of the United States. Now, four years after making this promise, Mexico has still not paid a single cent for the construction of any such barrier that has been built or will be built. 

In order for Trump’s border wall to get constructed, he’s still very short on funds, and since Mexico is obviously not going to pay, the president is taking money away from Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery budget. 

Credit: @Nicolemarie_A / Twitter

Trump has allocated $400 million to go toward building the wall and will take it directly from funds that were intended to help Puerto Rico and their hurricane recovery. The Department of Defense announced that several hurricane-related projects in Puerto Rico would be halted because their funding would be diverted to building the border wall. Some of those projects include a National Guard Readiness Center, a Power Substation/Switching Station Building, and an Aircraft Maintenance Hangar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

According to NBC News, a senior Defense official said that people shouldn’t worry because these projects in Puerto Rico will get done, eventually. “We don’t see ourselves delaying those projects. We’re fully committed to that recovery,” the official said since many of them wouldn’t begin until 2020.

The president still needs billions more for the wall, at least $25 billion more, so he’s taking money from various military sources in the U.S. and its territories. The total amount he’s diverting is $3.6 billion.

Credit: @ChrisLu44 / Twitter

Aside from Puerto Rico, 117 other military construction projects will be halted and/or delayed now because of funds. People might assume diverting funds away from Puerto Rico’s recovery or other sources isn’t a big deal because it doesn’t seem like tangible needs. However, people familiar with the military centers and operations know that it is a huge deal and almost appears like robbery by the highest level office. 

“I visited the current RPA training facility at Holloman earlier this year. The building is falling apart, with some equipment being held together with duct tape. To say this facility, which supports training for 100 percent of the Air Force’s MQ-9 crews, urgently needs to be replaced would be an understatement,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a statement, according to NBC News. 

Other projects losing funds include $160 million of construction projects at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; $85 million operations facility at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico;  $40 million for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Facility, and much more. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is planning to file a lawsuit to prohibit Trump from taking $3.6 billion away from Puerto Rico and the rest of the country and territories. 

Credit: @ACLU / Twitter

“The fact that the government sat on these so-called ’emergency funds’ for seven months further confirms that this is nothing but an unlawful power grab,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a statement, according to The Hill. “We’ll be back in court very soon to block Trump’s latest effort to raid military funds for his xenophobic wall,” he added.

Despite claiming that Mexico would pay for the wall for years, Trump already said that he didn’t mean that literally. 

Credit: @realDonaldTrump / Twitter

In January, the president tried to backtrack four years of declarations that Mexico would pay for the wall by insisting that he wasn’t speaking in direct terms but indirectly. We know, it makes no sense.

“When — during the campaign, I would say, ‘Mexico is going to pay for it.’ Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check. I said, ‘They’re going to pay for it.’ They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made, called the United States, Mexico, and Canada USMCA deal.”

Yes, the president said he never said what he said. We feel a headache coming on. To illustrate how many times Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall, Factbase Inc. listed each of them. He has referenced the border wall at least 456 times

READ: New Border Wall Is Being Constructed In California But It Is Not The Same Border Wall Trump Promised His Voters