Puerto Rico’s New Governor Hit With Ethics Probe One Day After Rossello’s Resignation

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The hundreds of thousands of protesters who rallied across Puerto Rico (and in Puerto Rican communities across the US) will love this: On her first day as the commonwealth’s governor-in-waiting, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez has become the target of an investigation by the Office of Government Ethics, which announced a “review” of her conduct as the island’s top law-enforcement official.

Many of the Puerto Ricans who rallied against Ricardo Rossello, the island’s deeply unpopular governor, who resigned in disgrace earlier this week, would welcome this investigation. Vasquez has a reputation for being a corrupt official who will carry on Rossello’s policies, and marches had been planned to demand that she also resign, and that the island allow the people to select a new leader.

Wanda Vazquez

The job would have fallen to the territory’s secretary of state, but Luis Rivera Marín had resigned earlier this month over the texting scandal, and no replacement had yet been named. It’s unclear when, exactly, that might happen: Whether Rossello plans to appoint another secretary before leaving office is an open question, Bloomberg reports.

Zulma Rosario, executive director of the OGE, directed her staff Thursday to investigate accusations that Vazquez ignored evidence of corruption in disbursing the Hurricane Maria relief funds.

“What we’re investigating is her alleged denial or refusal to investigate these claims as secretary of justice,” Rosario said, adding that she didn’t know how long the investigation would take.

Thousands celebrated in the streets on Thursday when Rossello said that he would leave office on Aug. 2, finally caving after weeks of massive protests driven by a scandal: hundreds of pages of text messages between Rossello and members of his inner circle that included rude and offensive remarks and homophobic slurs. 

The texts were the last straw for many Puerto Ricans, as the island has struggled under a string of corrupt, unpopular governors who helped drive it into bankruptcy.

But because of her links to Rossello, Vazquez isn’t what they had in mind for a replacement.

Vazquez has already survived one ethics investigation. Back in 2018, she was probed over whether she improperly intervened in a case involving a robbery at her daughter and son-in-law’s home. She temporarily stepped down because of the investigation, but was reinstated after it concluded that she had done nothing wrong.

Whether Vazquez makes it a year remains to be seen. On Thursday, BBG reported that graffiti artists were spray painting messages around San Juan: ‘Vazquez, we are coming for you next’.

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