- 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.
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.
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.
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.
100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says
- On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
- Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
- Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard.
- The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.
Some Americans Left Behind
A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.
When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.
While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.
The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.
On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”
“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.
“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.
The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.
The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.
The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.
While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.
While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.
Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.
Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition
- At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
- Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
- The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Growing Violence Across Myanmar
Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.
According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.
The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.
Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.
Sanctions May Not Work
The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.
At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.
Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”
“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”
While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.
See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
- The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
- Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
- Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.
For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.
In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.
Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy
Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.
Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,
While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.
The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.
While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.