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Who Is In Line To Take The Place Of Puerto Rico's Resigning Governor?


Who will be the next governor of Puerto Rico? The island begins this week with one governor prepared to leave and no one yet prepared to take his place. Wanda Vazquez, the island's current Justice secretary, had been expected to replace current governor Ricardo Rossello. But Vazquez says she does not want the job. Let's talk about this with Luis Trelles, who's been following this from Puerto Rico. He is an editor for the NPR podcast Radio Ambulante, and he joins us now. Good morning.

LUIS TRELLES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do the rules say about who takes over?

TRELLES: Well, I'm going to try to make this as succinct as possible. But it's a complicated game of musical chairs. Next in line to take over the governor's job would be the local secretary of state. But that position has been vacant for the past two weeks because the former secretary of state resigned his position because he was involved in the original leaked chat that led to the governor's resignation.

INSKEEP: Oh, the same scandal got the next - the second in line before it got the first guy. OK, go on.

TRELLES: Right. And then it would be Wanda Vazquez's turn. But as we've seen, she's a controversial figure, and she has already expressed her desire that she doesn't want the job. After that, it would be the Treasury secretary's turn. But he's been in his post for less than a month after Governor Rossello fired his predecessor for publicly denouncing corruption schemes within the Puerto Rican Treasury without first consulting with the governor's office. So the problem with the current Treasury secretary is that he's 31 years old and doesn't meet the minimum age requirement to be governor...


TRELLES: ...Of Puerto Rico. (Laughter) So that would leave the secretary of the Department of Education fourth in line. And he took over that agency from Julia Keleher, who is facing corruption charges in federal court.

INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness.

TRELLES: And I think it's important to remember that the arrest of the former Department of Education secretary almost three weeks ago initiated this head-spinning series of events that has led to Governor Rossello's announcement last Wednesday that he was resigning.

INSKEEP: Mr. Trelles, I just want to know because we're going so far down the line of succession, is there some point in the rules where the governorship just falls to you, that it's the editor of Radio Ambulante who becomes governor of Puerto Rico?

TRELLES: (Laughter) It is quite possible at this point. It seems that it all depends still on who Governor Rossello may name as the secretary of state in his last days in office. He leaves Friday. And if he names someone that is acceptable for the local legislature, then that person would take over the job.

INSKEEP: We get the impression from the reporting of our colleague Adrian Florido in Puerto Rico that this was - the protests that drove out the governor, they were a protest against the governor but really against the whole political system. And the descriptions you've just given of the various positions would seem to back that up. Does anybody have credibility to take the job?

TRELLES: I think there are people that do have the credibility and that have the experience. But I - it's not clear to me that political leadership has heard the message that has been delivered loud and clearly by the thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans that took to the street to let, you know, their distaste and their indignation known.

INSKEEP: What do you mean they haven't heard the message - meaning that the political leadership doesn't understand how angry people are?

TRELLES: I think that that could be the case, and it is demonstrated by the fact that there are reports of backroom dealing over who could be that next secretary of state that could take over the governor's position.

INSKEEP: Luis, thanks so much.

TRELLES: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Luis Trelles is the editor of the NPR podcast Radio Ambulante. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Luis Trelles
Luis Trelles is a senior editor on NPR's Enterprise Storytelling Unit, where he helps shape international stories that hit close to home for the Rough Translation podcast.