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Puerto Rico Swears in Third Governor in Less Than a Week

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  • Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez has been sworn in as the Governor of Puerto Rico.
  • Vázquez is the third governor Puerto Rico has had this week, including former Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who stepped down amid a scandal involving leaked messages.
  • Rosselló had originally appointed Pedro Pierluisi to be next in line for governor, but just days after he was sworn in, the Supreme Court ruled his appointment was unconstitutional.
  • Vázquez, who was the third in line, is highly unpopular and had previously said she does not want the job. She has already been the subject of protests and backlash, and more are expected to come.

New Puerto Rican Governor Sworn In

Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez was sworn in as the Governor of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, marking the third governor that the island has had in less than a week.

Vázquez’s swearing-in comes after the Puerto Rican Supreme Court ruled that Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in as governor on Aug. 2 to replace Ricardo Rosselló, had come to power unconstitutionally. 

Pierluisi had been appointed to secretary of state by then-Governor Rosselló, who stepped down from his position. Rosselló was pushed to resign following massive protests against him after hundreds of pages of messages were leaked revealing conversations between the then-governor and some of his top-ranking officials.

In the messages, the men used sexist and homophobic slurs and joked about people who died in Hurricane Maria.

Following Rosselló’s resignation, the next in the line of succession for the governorship was the secretary of state. However, Puerto Rico’s secretary of state has just resigned as well, as he also was involved in the message scandal.

Line of Succession Problems

The lack of a clear successor left Rosselló with two choices: either nominate a new secretary of state and hope that that person got approved by Puerto Rico’s House and Senate before he left office on Aug. 2, or simply continue down the line of succession.

The third in the line of succession was the Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez. However, a few days after Rosselló announced his resignation, Vázquez said in a tweet that she did not want to be the governor.

@WandaVazquezg

The next in line was the treasury secretary, but he could not be governor because he was 31, and Puerto Rico’s constitution mandates that the governor must be at least 35.

The fifth in the line of succession was the secretary of education, a career bureaucrat with very little political experience who had only been serving for a few months after the previous secretary of education was arrested for illegally directing $15.5 million in federal contracts to business friends.

Constitutional Challenges

Amid the political turmoil, Rosselló announced on July 30, three days before he was set to leave office, that he had nominated Pierluisi as secretary of state.

Pierluisi, a lawyer who previously served as Puerto Rico’s non-voting member in Congress and as their secretary of justice, was approved by Puerto Rico’s House, but not the island’s Senate.

Reportedly, the Senators were wary of Pierluisi because he had spent the last few years working for a Washington D.C.-based law firm that gave legal counsel to the federal oversight board that monitors Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy.

That board is largely disliked by Puerto Ricans because it has imposed strict austerity measures on them. As a result, the Senators were concerned he would still try to push the board’s agenda.

However, Rosselló still chose to swear-in Pierluisi, and the next day Puerto Rico’s Senate filed a lawsuit arguing that it was unconstitutional for someone in the line of succession who had not been confirmed by the Senate to step up as governor.

Pierluisi defended himself, citing a 2005 law that says a secretary of state does not need to be approved by both the House and Senate if they need to assume the position of governor in an emergency.

However, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a secretary of state had to be approved by both the House and Senate in order to step up as governor and that as a result, Pierluisi’s appointment was unconstitutional and he had to step down immediately.

Wanda Vázquez 

After serving for a total of 120 hours, the shortest period of time any Puerto Rican governor has been in office, Pierluisi stepped down, and Vázquez was sworn in.

Speaking during a televised speech last night, Vázquez said that while she was not chosen by the people, she would try to create dialogue and build consensus.

“We will work together on all that unites us, and we will look for consensus where we disagree,” the new governor told the people of Puerto Rico. “I will remain focused on resuming the course for our people in an orderly and peaceful fashion.”

However, Vázquez’s future as the governor may be short-lived. Even after Vázquez had said she did not want the job, protestors took to the streets to oppose her possible appointment, and a hashtag calling for her to resign was reportedly shared Twitter more than 60,000 times.

After her swearing-in, a small group of protestors gathered in front of the governor’s mansion to call for her resignation and reportedly chanted, “There’ll be no peace as long as there’s impunity!”

Already, Puerto Rico is expecting a new wave of much larger protests calling for Vázquez to step down.

Vázquez, who has never held elected political office, is highly unpopular among Puerto Ricans for a number of reasons. At the very top level, many simply view her as an extension of Rosselló’s corrupt administration.

Critics have accused her of not being aggressive enough in launching corruption investigations into members of her own party during her tenure as secretary of justice. 

She has also been criticized for not prioritizing gender violence cases while serving as the head of Puerto Rico’s women’s affairs office, as well as for making controversial statements about abuse victims and for not investigating a recent rise in violence against women in Puerto Rico.

More recently, she came under fire for refusing to investigate trailers full of unused hurricane supplies that were found abandoned in fields a year after the hurricane, despite the fact that leaked messages revealed that she had discussed looking into it with the governors chief of staff before declining to do so.

Additionally, last year, Vázquez was suspended as justice secretary for a brief period after she was accused of intervening in a case involving her daughter who was the alleged victim of a burglary, though she was later cleared by a judge and resumed her post.

On top of everything, Vázquez has made it quite evident she does not want to be the governor. 

On Wednesday, Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día newspaper reported that sources told the publication that Vázquez plans to resign after nominating Jenniffer González, the islands current non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (AP News) (NBC News)

International

China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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International

India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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