Wanda Vázquez (NPP, R), the former governor of Puerto Rico, has been arrested on bribery charges related to her 2020 campaign. If convicted, Vásquez could face up to 20 years in prison. She is the first former governor of Puerto Rico to face federal charges after leaving office after the Popular Democratic Party’s Anibal Acevedo Vila’s charges when he was governor.
Vázquez denies the charges, saying, “I reiterate to the people and to all of you: I am innocent. I have not committed any crime or any irregularity. Now it’s up to me to defend myself. I assure you they have committed a great injustice against me.”
The former governor allegedly received over $300,000 from two businessmen. The funds were used to pay political consultants during her campaign. The involved parties were charged with conspiracy, federal programs bribery, and honest services wire fraud.
Wanda Vázquez’s arrest corresponds with a series of other corruption cases involving political figures in Puerto Rico this year. This includes nine of the islands’ mayors.
Her time in office brought its own set of pushback, even before these bribery charges. She was accused of failing to open investigations against members of her own party. Specifically, those of Ricardo Rosselló’s administration for their mishandling of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Again in 2020, citizens gathered in the capital to call for her resignation after more than two years after Hurricane Maria, relief supplies were found in a warehouse in Ponce. She was then later investigated for mishandling hurricane relief resources.
Vázquez’ arrest shocked Puerto Rico’s citizens but did not surprise them. The crimes of the former governor have only further disrupted people’s trust in their government.
A professor of political science at the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, Mayra Velez Serrano, commented on the decreasing confidence of the people. She says, “that the former Justice Secretary … and ex-governor, who is married to a judge, that she was involved in anything like this and that she was arrested is still shocking,” Velez said. “This continues to undermine the public’s confidence in the political system and their politicians and the two main parties”.
The actions of political figures meant to protect the interests of its people, like Ms. Vázquez, have a great effect on their perspective on political systems. Her alleged crimes will create a further disconnect between the people and the people with the power. The people will be much more cautious in whom they vote for.
This will directly cause some difficulties for Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party, the party the former governor belongs to. People could be apprehensive to support and vote for a party that has proven to be distrustful, despite it being an issue with one of its members rather than the group as a whole.
Wanda Vázquez was originally instated as governor after former governor Ricardo Rosselló resigned. Rosselló resigned amid mass protests after offensive app messages, between his male associates, were released. The messages included hateful words against women, a gay pop star, an obese man Rosselló previously took a photograph with, as well as jokes about killing fellow political opponents.
Rosselló and Vázquez’s misconducts haven’t been the NPP’s only leadership issues. They have struggled with a long string of corruption scandals since the 1990s.
Scandals seem to be haunting the members of the New Progressive Party. This image has tainted the party’s public image. With a pattern of unethical behaviors, the people of Puerto Rico will have a difficult time trusting anyone attached to the NPP. It is vital, for the party’s future, to mitigate future issues and regain the public’s trust.
The current governor, Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D), belongs to the same party as Vázquez and defeated her in the 2020 election. He commented on this situation, saying, “nobody is above the law in Puerto Rico.”
Recognizing the dwindling trust in the party, the governor states the arrest “certainly affects and lacerates the confidence of our people…I reiterate that in my administration we will continue to have a common front with the federal authorities against anyone who commits an improper act. Wherever it comes from and whoever it may implicate, as well as promoting initiatives and following up on the bills that I have presented to combat corruption”.