July 30, 2019 / 6:36 PM / 5 months ago

Puerto Rico's U.S. congressional representative calls for swift action to replace governor

SAN JUAN, July 30 (Reuters) - Puerto Rico’s representative in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday called on the bankrupt island’s government to quickly nominate and confirm a secretary of state, who would succeed current Governor Ricardo Rossello when he leaves office on Friday.

Jenniffer Gonzalez, a non-voting member of Congress, said the position must been filled “as soon as possible in order to have a person who can hold the position, give direction, stability and credibility to the island.”

Rossello said last week he would step down this Friday in the face of mass street protests and public outrage over the release of profane chat messages and federal corruption charges against two former administration officials.

Replacing the first-term governor became complicated after Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin, who would have been first in line to assume the office, resigned on July 13 because of his participation in the group chat. Afterwards, the second in line for the top government post, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez, said she did not want the position.

A spokeswoman for Vazquez clarified on Monday that she would assume the governorship if it gets to that point, in accordance with the Puerto Rico Constitution, according to The New York Times.

Protesters staged a demonstration against Vazquez becoming governor on Monday outside the building that houses Puerto Rico’s Justice Department, local media reported. In a local radio interview earlier on Tuesday, Gonzalez said she would endorse Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, a fellow member of Rossello’s New Progressive Party, if Rivera Schatz was chosen for secretary of state.

In a subsequent statement, Gonzalez made it clear she was neither endorsing nor recommending any candidate.

“I am out of the entire evaluation or nomination process. I have not been asked, nor consulted anything about that succession,” the statement said.

So far, Rossello’s office has been silent about a transition plan. A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond on Tuesday to emailed questions.

The political turmoil in the U.S. territory comes at a critical point in its bankruptcy, as it seeks to restructure about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

The turmoil has also fanned concerns among U.S. lawmakers, who are weighing the island’s requests for billions of federal dollars for healthcare and recovery efforts from 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which led to nearly 3,000 deaths. (Reporting By Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Tom Brown)

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