Newly-sworn-in governor Pedro Pierluisi met yesterday with agencies heads at La Fortaleza, a meeting where he requested officials to deliver tomorrow reports on each agency´s important issues and asked to prevent interruptions in services.
Pierluisi reportedly did not talk about changes in the leadership of public agencies and corporations but considered the meeting as an introductory one to catch up on important issues. Subsequently, the new governor would be evaluating particular initiatives to determine any changes he deems necessary.
“Each secretary talked about the challenges and the situation in each agency. We have to submit reports detailing what we are doing and then he is going to have individual conversations with agencies´ heads,” said Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez Mercado.
This was Pierluisi’s move since he was sworn in as governor on Friday afternoon, in a process that, according to some lawyers, may have signs of unconstitutionality.
Pierluisi arrived at La Fortaleza after he was appointed Secretary of State since he became the first in the line of succession. The problem is that to hold that position, according to constitutional experts, he had to be confirmed both by the House and the Senate. The Senate, however, has not yet evaluated the nomination.
The House has already confirmed Pierluisi’s appointment as Secretary of State and successor in a 26-21 vote, with seven PNP votes against. Tomorrow, the Senate will vote for or against the official.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz has publicly expressed his opposition to the former Resident Commissioner serving as head of the Puerto Rican government.
Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, second in the line of succession and who could become governor if the Senate does not confirm Pierluisi’s appointment was at the meeting yesterday. She avoided – as has happened over the past few weeks – the press as she entered and left La Fortaleza through entrances where the press was not allowed.
Francisco Parés (Treasury Department), Eligio Hernández (Education Department), Carlos Contreras (Secretary of Transportation and Public Works), Manuel Laboy (Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce), Erik Rolón (Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation), Glorimar Andújar (Department of Family Affairs), William Rodríguez (Public Housing), Carlos Flores (Agriculture Department) and Guillermo Torruella (Medical Emergencies) also attended the meeting.
The fiscal cliff of the Government’s Health Plan, known as the Vital program, which could run out of funds in the coming months, and the return to classes in schools under the Department of Education were among the issues discussed as the heads of agencies confirmed upon leaving the meeting.
The Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce, Manuel Laboy, said they also discussed initiatives with the private sector to encourage stability amid political instability on the island, which has already impacted industries such as tourism which shows a decrease in air and sea passengers.
The meeting lasted more than three hours. Pierluisi has reportedly held additional meetings with different government leaders.
“So far, there were no talks about changes in the government. The governor has insisted on continue providing services for Puerto Rico. He (Pierluisi) understands that we voted for a work agenda (the New Progressive Party government program), and he asked us to continue implementing it,” said Rolón, who made his position as Deputy Chief of Staff available to the newly sworn-in governor.
Goodbye to Rosselló
On the other hand, agencies heads said yesterday that over the last two weeks, they said goodbye to the now-former governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares. The Health Secretary said that last week many of the secretaries and executive directors met with Rosselló and exchanged sincere impressions about what was happening on the island.
“It was an emotional meeting. Most of us have been there since the beginning of his political career and in other aspects as well. He gave us the message that we should continue working for Puerto Rico and that people come first,” Rodríguez Mercado said.
“I was at last week’s meeting. It was a good opportunity to exchange impressions with Rosselló. I saw him calm,” Laboy said.
Meanwhile, Rolón indicated that he was in contact with Rosselló Nevares until Friday when the now-former governor left office. That day, the outgoing governor worked “remotely” and did not go to the Santa Catalina Palace.
“I don’t know where he was. I know he was working remotely,” he insisted.
Thursday was the last day Rosselló Nevares was in Santa Catalina Palace, he said. “He is hurt. He worked tirelessly in recent years and made some mistakes for which he apologized publicly. That is something that can hurt anyone,” Rolón said.
Pierluisi returned to politics following a scandal of moral and administrative corruption in the government of his predecessor´s, Rosselló Nevares, who on July 24 announced his resignation set for Friday at 5 p.m.
The events that led to Rosselló Nevares´resignation began on July 10, when FBI agents arrested former adviser Alberto Velázquez Piñol, former Education Secretary Julia Keleher, and former Health Insurance Administrator Ángela Ávila, along with three others.
Two days earlier, some pages of a leaked profane and offensive chat between Rosselló Nevares and a dozen of his closest collaborators targetting journalists and political opponents, among other sectors, started to circulate.
The now-former governor, who was on vacation in Europe while this was happening on the island, returned to Puerto Rico on Thursday, July 11, and called a press conference in which he apologized for the leaked chat and swore never to repeat that.
Protests began that very same day in the streets surrounding La Fortaleza.
On Saturday, July 13, the Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 Telegram chat pages revealing more insults, mockery, and a series of additional political and partisan conspiracies that could constitute crimes, according to the analysis commissioned by the Puerto Rico Bar Association to several experts, including lawyers Eduardo Villanueva Muñoz, Yanira Reyes Gil, and Carlos Gorrín Peralta.
Yesterday, the Justice Department notified the Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel that it started a preliminary investigation into the Telegram chat.
Protests intensified and until June 24, every evening and every night, demonstrators flood the streets of San Juan to demand the resignation of Rosselló Nevares. Unions, artists, non-profit organizations, professional organizations, and even commercial organizations joined the demonstrations.
The protests, which were widely covered by international media, went from tens to hundreds, to thousands, to hundreds of thousands that on at least two occasions crowded the streets of San Juan and highways PR-18 and PR-22.
Rosselló Nevares insisted that he had no intention of stepping down from the position he was elected to in November 2016. However, public pressure led to the governor announcing his resignation on July 24. Rosselló Nevares left office on Friday, August 2 at 5 p.m.