Monday, August 19, 2019

Honoring the Office

By on July 21, 2019

Editor’s note: The following was first published in the July 18-24, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

Let’s put this in perspective. There was a time, it seems now to have been long ago, when a Puerto Rican Governor was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, recognizing him, in the words of President Lyndon B. Johnson, as a “poet, politician, public servant, patriot, he has led his people on to new heights of dignity and purpose and, transformed a stricken land into a vital society.” Those are heavy words, and Luis Muñoz Marín deserved every single one of them. Whether you supported him or not, Muñoz made all of us proud, made all of us better. But that was then.

After these past three weeks, there will be no similar accolades for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares. In the most critical moment in our modern history, when Puerto Rico needs to restore its credibility, when it must begin a long climb back to respectability, the person who represents all of us has taken his office to new lows of dishonor. In one scandal after another, the picture that emerges so far is that our country is being run by an inept and immature man.

What then is to be done? Re-electing him seems like a foregone conclusion. Ricardo Rosselló could have—and I believe quite effectively—finished out his short political career. His own party has turned against him; it appears he will not even be able to obtain the nomination. But he still has 17 months left in his term and all signs are that it will only get worse for him. (Note that in last week’s indictments neither Julia Keleher, nor Angie Ávila were charged with profiting from giving out the illegal contracts; that means someone ordered them to do so, and big questions remain unanswered.)

All things considered, it is best for Puerto Rico if the Governor is removed from office. That can only occur through resignation or impeachment. The impeachment route is protracted and will require a careful articulation of violations of law to be justified. The Puerto Rico House of Representatives would need two-thirds of its members to bring an indictment. In the current climate, that is achievable. But removing him from office as a result of the indictment would require three-fourths of the senators to find that his conduct in the chats constitutes a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. He has insulted women, denigrated homosexuals and, so, on in the most undignified manner, but whether he did so in violation of any law will be highly debatable.

In the end, the only option might be his resignation.

Undoubtedly, the Puerto Rico Constitution is on “High Alert.” We have never seen a Governor resign during his tenure nor have we ever impeached one. We have a Constitution for a reason, and we must let the Constitution lead the way. Moving beyond the outrage and disdain, our institution of government must be preserved. Governors come and go, but the institution remains. That is our obligation now—to protect and preserve the Rule of Law.

—Roberto L. Prats Palerm is an attorney with RPP LAW PSC and a 2020 gubernatorial candidate for the primaries of the Popular Democratic Party.

—The views expressed in the Opinion section are the writers’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of Caribbean Business.