Puerto Rico still facing a political crisis and uncertainty

Puerto Rico has a new governor — sort of. But its political crisis is far from over.

As promised, Ricardo Rosselló quit the governorship late Friday, forced out by massive public protests triggered by the release of shocking internal communications on top of a major corruption scandal, all exacerbated by the commonwealth’s bankruptcy, the wildly unpopular demands of the fiscal control board, the damage done by Hurricane Maria and a preceding decades-long economic malaise.

With his constitutionally mandated successors also tainted and/or unpopular, Rosselló in his last days tapped Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s former nonvoting representative in Congress, to fill the vacant secretary-of-state job and so be the next governor.

But only the House confirmed the appointment; the Senate won’t act on it ’til this week. One legal opinion declared the move kosher, but a court fight is guaranteed.

At this point, any successor would face protests; the coming ones will be larger, since Pierluisi until Tuesday worked for a law firm that represents the control board and his brother is its chairman.

Thing is, the board was created to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances even before Maria and bankruptcy; the island’s government is more than $70 billion in debt. The board is the messenger, not the villain.

That said, the island’s entire political establishment from left to right helped bring things to this state. The public is right to be outraged at the corruption and cronyism, but it’s still not facing the ugly fact that the politicians kept the peace and their power by borrowing Puerto Rico into the gutter.

Pierluisi may well be the best available governor. As Justin Vélez-Hagan, founder of the National Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, notes: He “hasn’t ruffled too many feathers; or better said, he has ruffled enough feathers equally that he is likely perceived as the ‘least bad’ option for the current job that will not encounter as much resistance as others.”

At the end of the day, someone has to govern until the November 2020 election, when Puerto Rico’s people get another chance to choose.

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