Puerto Ricans ask ‘What’s next?’ as political limbo deepens

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s streets have remained so quiet since Wanda Vázquez took over as governor following weeks of turmoil that one can again hear the island’s famous coquí frog singing at night.

The protests that led to the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló just a week ago and continued on a smaller scale until the Supreme Court removed his chosen successor have dissipated. Also gone are the sounds of cow bells and whistles, as well as most of the angry graffiti that covered streets in the colonial district of Puerto Rico’s capital that was ground zero for the demonstrations.

People who took to the streets to express disgust with government mismanagement and corruption were united in focussing their anger on Rosselló, but now he is gone and there isn’t a common thread on how to proceed. Some Puerto Ricans are urging more protests. Others say people should take a step back and analyse what they want from officials. Yet others wish for stability and say Vázquez should be given a chance. Some worry about who might replace her.

“Many people rose up, and after they accomplished what they did, they’re asking, ‘Now what?’” said Mario Negrón Portillo, retired head of the school of public administration at the University of Puerto Rico. “In the next few weeks, we’ll really see if that sense of consciousness that was generated … is sustained and how it will be sustained.”

Only a handful of people showed up for a planned protest early Friday evening in front of the governor’s mansion, though Vázquez has said she would not live there, preferring to stay in her own house. Such conciliatory statements — and her earlier insistence that she was not interested in becoming governor — have led many Puerto Ricans to go into wait-and-see mode, activists said.

Protesters gather outside the government mansion La Fortaleza in San Juan, Puerto Rico calling for the removal of the island’s newly sworn-in governor. – PHOTOS: AP
A demonstrator holds up a sign with a message that reads in Spanish, ‘We demand transparency’

Some of those protesting politics as usual are also more worried about the alternative. Leaders of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party have suggested replacing Vázquez with Puerto Rico’s congressional representative Jenniffer González, a heavyweight in the PNP as well as being head of the territory’s Republican Party.

While Vázquez is also a member of the PNP, she’s a less prominent figure who entered the territory’s cabinet only two years ago as justice secretary. The governorship dropped on her almost accidentally because others in line to succeed Rosselló had resigned or were disqualified by the court.

González said on Thursday that she was available for the governorship if Vázquez decides to step down, even as Vázquez said she would not do so.

“There’s somewhat of a hiatus in the fight because there is still speculation whether Wanda Vázquez is passing through as governor or actually plans to finish the term (which ends next year),” said Ricardo Santos Ortiz, spokesman of the Socialist Workers’ Movement, which helped organise some of the demonstrations.

“As that becomes more defined, people will be reacting in the streets.”

“It was unrealistic to think we were going to spend one month, two months, three months with the same intensity,” Ortiz said. “There’s a tense calmness, but people have not checked out.”

Rosselló and more than a dozen other officials resigned following anger over corruption, mismanagement of funds and the leak of an obscenity-laced chat in which they mocked women and victims of Hurricane Maria, among others.