Puerto Rico’s New Governor Challenged as ‘Unconstitutional’

By Ayana Byrd Aug 05, 2019

Days after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced his resignation, the island is facing another political crisis: the Puerto Rican Senate has declared his successor’s administration unconstitutional.

On Friday (August 2), Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s former resident commissioner, was sworn into office by Rosselló. According to the Miami Herald:


But Pierluisi’s path to power was challenged from the start. Pierluisi was appointed to secretary of state—and therefore the first in line of succession—on Wednesday. But under Puerto Rico’s constitution he needed approval from both chambers of the legislature to take office. On Friday [the Puerto Rican House of Representatives] approved him, but the Senate delayed its vote this week.

Instead of voting for him over the weekend, the Senate instead filed a lawsuit on Sunday (August 4) questioning the validity of the 1952 law that Rosello used to bypass its vote.

“Although it is regrettable that this matter has to be dealt with in our courts, I hope that it will be treated with the greatest urgency and diligence for the good of the people of Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi reportedly said in response to the lawsuit.

Pierluisi became governor as a result of Rosselló’s resignation on July 24. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans demanded that he step down after the Center for Investigative Journalism published messages from a private group chat where he made misogynistic and racist remarks about his constituents and joked about the thousands who died in 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

While the case moves through the courts, the Senate can still vote on his succession. Reuters reports that a vote is expected on Wednesday (August 7). If Pierluisi is not voted in, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez will become governor, though she has said she has “no interest” in taking the position.

Adding to political problems on the island, on Thursday (August 1), the Trump administration said fear of corruption could lead to new restrictions on $8.3 billion in federal aid earmarked for Puerto Rico as part of a United States Housing and Urban Development disaster mitigation program. The restrictions are in line with the federal government’s record of providing aid to the predominantly Latinx island. Reports The Washington Post:


A 2019 study by the University of Michigan found that the federal response was both faster and more generous after hurricanes struck Florida and Texas than it was for Puerto Rico. Congress also let expire emergency food stamp aid for Puerto Rico in March, causing reductions in critical federal help for more than 1 million island residents.

Pierluisi, who for eight years was Puerto Rico’s non-voting member in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he will use his connections on Capitol Hill to mitigate the funding problem, reports the Miami Herald

“We don’t have time to lose,” he reportedly said. “The hard work of rebuilding our island after the onslaught of Hurricane Maria, improving the fiscal situation of our government, making our economy continue to grow and restoring the credibility of Puerto Rico cannot stop.”