Protesters converge on Puerto Rico Capitol to oppose Pierluisi nomination
As well as the naming of the Senate’s president, who postponed the hearing until Monday
SAN JUAN — Dozens of protesters converged on Puerto Rico’s Capitol Thursday, rejecting both Pedro Pierluisi and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz as possible replacements for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and calling on lawmakers to approve special legislation to allow the selection of the governor’s replacement either by means of a multisector citizens’ commission or a special election.
The island’s legislature began a special session Thursday to consider the departing governor’s nomination of Pedro Pierluisi to the post of secretary of State, which would make him next in line to occupy the La Fortaleza executive mansion when Gov. Rosselló’s resignation takes effect Friday at 5 p.m.
After a caucus meeting of New Progressive Party (NPP) majority senators and the filing and subsequent withdrawal to vote on Pierluisi’s nomination, Rivera Schatz said the upper chamber would hold hearings on Pierluisi’s nomination Monday at 11 a.m. The House was scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday afternoon.
Pierluisi, who was sworn in as secretary of State on Wednesday, hinted to reporters at the Capitol that he expects to become governor on Friday. The Senate president maintained throughout the session that the island does not have a constitutional crisis.
“We’ll see how events develop. The president of the said so,” said Pierluisi, who said his was a recess appointment. “This matter will be under legal review, and then we’ll take it from there.”
Rivera Schatz, who took over as NPP president when Rosselló stepped down, has opposed Pierluisi and has been building up support behind the scenes for his own nomination as secretary of state and likely next governor.
“Pedro Pierluisi enriches himself with the crisis, from afar you will not take us as suckers,” chanted protesters gathered on the north side of the Capitol. They also made reference to Rivera Schatz’s political nickname, calling him the “shark of corruption.”
Otilio Rosado, the spokesman for the retirees’ chapter of the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation, said he was “very concerned” that Pierluisi could become the next governor, saying the former two-time resident commissioner is out of touch with the struggles of ordinary islanders and has, instead, served the interests of “big industries.”
Pierluisi, who is a registered lobbyist, served until this week as an attorney at O’Neill & Borges, which represents the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB), which is recommending cuts to public employee pensions to balance the commonwealth’s budget.
Rosado called on lawmakers to approve special legislation creating a “citizen commission” that includes diverse components of Puerto Rican society to elect a governor that reflects the current state of opinion and not just of the party in power. He said the massive protests held for days in the past weeks calling for the governor’s resignation were not only a rejection of Rosselló but also of his policies.
“We have had experiences with fast-track measures involving commissions to solve conflicts in government,” said Rosado, when asked if such a method could be considered outside what the island’s Constitution establishes. He said he supports the creation of the elective post of lieutenant governor to avoid a repeat of the current crisis.
For his part, Roberto Pagán Rodríguez, president of the Puerto Rican Workers Syndicate, said that while he considered the citizens’ commission a “good idea,” he preferred that a special election for governor be held to determine Rosselló’s replacement.
“We need to choose a candidate that actually represents the will of the people and uncovers the filth and corruption [in La Fortaleza],” he said. “Neither Rivera Schatz nor Pierluisi is that candidate.”
Pagán Rodríguez said that while such a special election is not established in the Constitution, it is “not prohibited either.”