Wanda Vázquez is now the governor of Puerto Rico, but she’s had to tread a fraught path to get to that position. She, alongside many, endured the events that quickly transpired several months ago in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has had quite the year, after all. At least in terms of politics.
This past summer, we witnessed Puerto Rico’s former Secretary of Education Julia Keheler and others around her be arrested for their mishandling of federal money. A few days later, scandalous messages from the Telegram app were leaked, revealing derogatory remarks to Puerto Ricans and many politicians. The most concerning part of this was that Puerto Rico’s former governor, Ricardo Rosselló, was an avid participant in these chat messages. Subsequently, protestors filled the streets of Puerto Rico demanding Rosselló’s resignation. To much surprise, the desperate pleas of Puerto Ricans were acknowledged. Ricardo Rosselló ended up resigning through a Facebook Live video on July 24th, notifying the people of Puerto Rico that his last day as governor would be August 2nd. Rosselló’s resignation was historic as this was the first time a Puerto Rican governor had ever resigned due to the vast disapproval of the public. Without a doubt, this brought immense joy to Puerto Ricans.
Rosselló’s abrupt, yet much longed for, resignation left his seat vacant. During the days leading to his official removal from office, public officials rummaged to find the perfect candidate. There were many hopefuls, but only one came out on top. That person was Wanda Vázquez. She was sworn into office on August 7th.
Governor Wanda Vázquez is only the second woman to ever hold the governor’s position in Puerto Rico. It is important to note that the governor is the top governmental figure in Puerto Rico — so, this is a big deal. Not only that, but Governor Vázquez is part of the small yet growing percentage of women leaders around the world. She was given the chance to govern Puerto Rico during the remainder of Rosselló’s term, which amounts to a bit over a year.
However, since Governor Vázquez took office in such an atypical way, there are still many questions lingering about her. It is understandable to have different opinions on someone, but we wanted to hear what she had to say. This is why BELatina took initiative and went into La Fortaleza to interview governor Wanda Vázquez. The following is a BELatina exclusive interview with the governor. We’re pleased to provide insight on some of the thoughts Governor Vázquez wanted to share with the world.
Have you encountered any situation or event you weren’t expecting after taking your position?
Well, I used to be the Secretary of Justice, so I was immediately faced with a lot of challenges once I was sworn in. I will say that it has been very intense, but I think we have been managing these challenges adequately. Through these challenges, I have been able to prepare myself to decipher issues that weren’t actively being worked on before I entered office. I’ve not allowed anything to deter me from doing my job. As a woman, I’m accustomed to accepting any obstacle that comes along my way, as many other women do. I feel as though I embody many traits of a strong Latina, which has helped me along the way. That means I don’t fear any difficult task. As with most strong Latinas, I stand my ground, I’m a hard-worker, and overall, I’m a fighter.
Which area do you consider the most important, or which area are you prioritizing, during the remainder of your governance?
My greatest focus, without a doubt, will be in the economic area of Puerto Rico. As many people know, Puerto Rico is under a financial oversight board (The Financial and Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico) and they oversee a lot of elements of Puerto Rican society. They control the budget, the ability to allow Puerto Rico to participate in public, political matters established by the government, and help in all the developmental matters, such as economic, social, and security. However, we are deeply challenged when it comes to the budget because it is too limited. On the other hand, we have learned to have more financial responsibility and how to accomplish more with less.
Also, we have filed a project that may become law, which outlines the importance of managing debt properly. With that, Puerto Rico won’t have to deal with what it has been dealing with in terms of debt in the future. So, there has been a bit of preoccupation in the fiscal part of Puerto Rico, but I am confident that we are going to be able to successfully overcome this.
What has been the best and the worst part of your position?
The best is that I get the opportunity to serve the people. I now get the chance to hear out vulnerable people, regular laborers, and those people who at some point thought that they were not being heard. I feel that I have been able to focus on a lot of groups recently. Perhaps, in the beginning, time wasn’t giving us the opportunity to acknowledge many people since we were just focusing on specific groups, such as labor leaders, feminist groups, the private sector, and the banking industry. But, from then on, I’ve made it a point to listen to many more groups. I’m paying attention to what the people of Puerto Rico actually need and am taking that into consideration.
As for the worst part, I’d say it’s maneuvering through the political agendas of other people. This can be a tough task since I’m often trying to properly serve the people of Puerto Rico, despite how it may affect the political agendas of others.
I’ve read in some places that you are not planning to run for governor in the upcoming elections. I also saw that a recent poll published in Nuevo Dia placed you with a high percentage of approval. After knowing all of this, are you still not considering a run for the next elections?
Well, when I took over the governor’s seat in August, I vouched to take only the remaining term. That was my commitment to the people of Puerto Rico, allowing them to trust me, even though I took the position in an atypical manner. Also, I wasn’t sworn in to have any political weight. However, this doesn’t mean that I’ve sat down and decided one way or another. Honestly, the ideal thing would be for Puerto Rico to experience continuity in the next election. What I mean by continuity is that Puerto Rico deserves to continue with the plans created for the people of Puerto Rico. For example, we have plans in motion that deal with the restructuring of the debt and public corporations. I feel as though a lot of the times when there’s a change of government, too much time is wasted in changing things from the previous government.
But, that’s the thing. Puerto Rico doesn’t have the luxury to misuse its time. So, when it comes to me running, I wouldn’t say I have anything set in stone. In fact, so many unexpected things have happened to me recently, that I really wouldn’t know what to tell you. Even though it hasn’t been my purpose to run again, I can’t say that for sure. I’ve experienced many unexpected things recently, so it’s hard to tell. I mean, I would have never imagined last year that I’d be governor, but here I am. Ultimately, I believe that only God knows what is in store for me. Therefore, I don’t know what will happen next year, but I’ll definitely be leaving that door open. Not necessarily because I have a hidden agenda, but because it is impossible to know what will happen in the future.
Since this was a position that you hadn’t expected, I can imagine that it must’ve been quite the adjustment with your already set routines. So, how do you manage all your responsibilities, plus the new responsibility of your new job?
It was a bit difficult. The good thing is that my daughters are already older and married. As for my husband, he’s always supported me, so that helped in the transition. I will say that at first, I didn’t want to live in La Fortaleza. I only saw it as my workplace. But, with the long hours, the commute, my husband having to wait for me, and more, I decided it was best to live here part-time (from Monday through Friday). This allows me to schedule my life a bit better. I still go to my house every weekend, though. It gives me peace, especially since there’s nothing like the space you’ve created.
From what is understood, you’re not someone who comes from the political world, something that is usually deemed indispensable for someone in your position. With that, I must ask, how did you learn to manage the political aspects of your position?
I think that the trajectory I took in which I developed into a district attorney has given me the necessary characteristics to be able to deal with the challenges brought by the political world. Those characteristics have given me the ability to present what is in the best interest for the people of Puerto Rico, rather than being influenced by political interests. Oftentimes, I’ve been able to persuade other politicians when I present them my views. Being that I was a district attorney, I was trained to lead discussions, so I use that to manage the political aspects of my position.
Although many people often forget that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, people have witnessed your strong communication with federal issues. How have you accomplished to manage federal matters, such as working with Congress, the fiscal board, and other federal agencies?
As soon as I was sworn in, I knew it was important to visit Congress and the White House. I found it was necessary due to the situations that had transpired. Since Puerto Rico had been headlining in terms of mismanagement of funds and debt, I wanted them to see that I was different. I wanted them to understand that I come from the legal field and I’d be managing everything more responsibly. By doing this, they could get a better understanding on how I’d be managing Puerto Rico. The hope was to allow them to see that not all Puerto Ricans are corrupt and that there is hope for the island. I believe this has allowed for strong communication with the United States.
It is known that throughout your life you have held many positions concerning leadership and power. In fact, it has been noted that you have continuously taken jobs that are typically filled by men. Since you are someone who has experience in earning high positions, what advice can you give other women trying to get into powerful positions?
It is very crucial that women understand that education is very important. We must educate ourselves. After all, we achieve empowerment through education. Women should persevere. I know that many times women can encounter situations that can hinder their goals, but women must stand firm. I do know that the women of this generation are willing to fight for their place in the world. So, no matter what field a woman is interested in, whether it’s technology, education, or finances, it’s fundamental to their growth to develop skills education can provide.
What do you think about this recent political wave where women, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris, are solidifying their prominence in politics?
I find it excellent. I think women need to have voices in Congress and in all scenarios for that matter. I’ve noticed many of these women advocate for minorities, something that I find important and necessary. I also believe that the more women we have in positions of power, the closer we can get to changing underlying perspectives in a positive manner. This, in turn, would ultimately be for the better of both women and men. Truly, they can be the voices needed for equality, which is something I think they’ve been succeeding in so far.
From what I’ve learned, it is known that you come from humble beginnings. It’s very admirable that you have gotten to where you are, despite whatever struggles you may have faced. With that being said, how have you been able to successfully insert yourself in a world that is generally ruled by people who have been provided certain privileges? In other words, as someone who didn’t grow up having many privileges, how have you learned to steer yourself in the world of the privileged?
Sometimes it’s difficult to speak of one’s self, but I know it’s important. Even though my parents came from a working-class society, they provided me with the necessary tools to succeed and deal with any situation. This is why I find myself having a lot of satisfaction knowing that I was taught the best values by my parents in order to succeed, such as honesty, integrity, and the opportunity to be sensible. At the end of the day, I came from humble beginnings, which means I felt certain struggles during many moments in my life. However, this equipped me with everything I needed to maneuver through life, including situations where I had to deal with people more privileged than me. Without a doubt, I feel very grateful to be here today.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
I would love to leave a new style of governance. This style would be one where the governor never loses contact with the people of Puerto Rico. It would emphasize the importance for the governor to always have the opportunity to listen to its citizens, while also keeping in mind to not respond to private interests. It is crucial to make it a point to respond to the necessities of the people of Puerto Rico. Furthermore, I’d like to leave behind a legacy where people are able to completely express themselves. I also find it to be important to leave a legacy where not only the government is solid with their decisions despite any backlash it may receive but also taking care to ensure that each decision is for the greatest interest of the people of Puerto Rico. Overall, I would like to make sure my legacy is one where honesty is highlighted. I’d be extremely pleased with this because it would be a change and that’s exactly what the people have asked for.
Do you have any motivational words you’d like to leave BELatina’s audience?
First, I’d like to congratulate the Latinx community for steering their way through whatever obstacles they may have encountered. I see this community as one where everyone is a fighter. You are the difference and are a representation of what this community needs. Now, for all the Puerto Rican women, I’m sending you a virtual hug of solidarity from Puerto Rico. I want you to know that you have an ally in La Fortaleza. As for everyone else, don’t ever detract from your goals and dreams. Keep it going!