Pedro Pierluisi. (Ramón “Tonito” Zayas)

In his address without concrete announcements or immediate changes to the public administration, Puerto Rico’s Governor Pedro Pierluisi called yesterday to turn the page on “political turbulence” and, after recognizing the ideological diversity in the Legislature, he called for unity to overcome the problems the island faces.

After being sworn in twice, first, officially at the Supreme Court and then symbolically in front of a small crowd invited to the Capitol, Pierluisi said that political parties are not the enemies of the people. Neither are civic or professional organizations, but the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor called on “everyone to battle our common enemies: the pandemic, poverty and crime, lack of access to good education and health care, economic stagnation, corruption and inequality,” and anticipated that, in the next few days, he will sign the new executive order that, starting January 8, will seek to mitigate the spread of the virus that, since 2020, has killed more than 1,500 people in Puerto Rico.

His statements came despite harsh criticism from different sectors for insisting on inviting more than 400 guests for his swearing-in ceremony, which takes place while hundreds get infected daily.

In August 2019, when he assumed the governorship for five days following Ricardo Rosselló Nevares´ turbulent resignation, Pierluisi was sworn in at his sister’s house, Caridad Pierluisi, who yesterday seemed worried because the guests crowded together on the stage after the ceremony and without any physical distancing measures they had promised to follow.

A call to unity

Pierluisi acknowledged that the island experienced a diverse vote. “I need all of you,” he said, alluding to the island´s political scenario after the general elections.

“We are going to play as a team again because that is what Puerto Rico needs,” he said. “That will renew my vision and I will always focus on what unites us as a people. Every one of us wants the best for Puerto Rico,” he added.

However, he did not offer concrete examples about these points of agreement in the Legislative Assembly, whose members were also sworn in yesterday.

Pierluisi alluded to “demanding and achieving” the annexation of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States. He also spoke about issues of high interest in the public debate, such as child poverty and the reconstruction of the island that is barely materializing, three years since the catastrophic hurricanes Irma and María struck the island.

He also referred to political inequality due to the lack of rights related to the current status. “We are united against the colony and, although we may differ on how to end it... we are obliged to enforce the will of the people,” he said and added that the equality that statehood represents is fair, dignified, and achievable, “so we are going to demand it and achieve it.”

Former New Progressive Party (PNP) President Leo Díaz, PNP´s electoral coordinator Edwin Mundo, and electoral commissioner Hector Joaquín Sánchez welcomed his words with warm applause, while former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) limited his applause to the moment Pierluisi finished his address.

“The people sent a clear message. I listened to them and understood them. I am aware of their feelings, I know their frustrations and I welcome their claims. The new government and the new Legislature will be a testimony to our diversity of thought. Our five parties and our independent legislators reflect our new political and social reality,” said Pierluisi, who won with only 33.2 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage in Puerto Rico’s electoral history.

Pierluisi, who defended his experience as Justice Secretary and his eight years as Washington Resident Commissioner, also alluded to other issues, such as education, which he said will be a priority, including special education students and the University of Puerto Rico, an institution struggling with cuts imposed by the Oversight Board.

He also stressed the importance of using federal funds allocated to recovery, an agenda he promised to push forward.

“We are going to take advantage of every federal dollar,” he said. “And we’re going to do it now.” “The best way to restore people’s confidence is not with words, but with action and works,” he added.

Pierluisi also mentioned what he considers as the “enemies” or the issues that pose challenges for Puerto Rico. He mentioned crime, corruption, discrimination, and mistreatment of vulnerable citizens, economic recession, unemployment, and poor capital investment.

Pierluisi walked on stage at 10:42 a.m. to Fanfarria para un Hombre Común, by composer Aaron Copleand. Pastors Otoniel Font and Wanda Rolón, Episcopal Bishop Rafael Morales, Rabbi Diego Méndez Mendelbaum and Monsignor Antonio J. Vázquez led the invocation.

Acevedo Vilá as well as former governors Luis Fortuño and Alejandro García Padilla were among the guests. Only Fortuño was accompanied by former first lady Lucé Vela. The now former-governor Wanda Vázquez Garced also attended the event along with her husband, Judge Jorge Díaz Reverón. In a brief exchange with the media, Vázquez said she was satisfied with her work over the past 18 months.

Washinton Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González, also attended the event and sat next to the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader.

“Pedro has been a good friend for some time and, between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, we are two brother nations, which have to work together for the benefit of both nations,” said the Dominican leader at the end of the ceremony.

The music was in the hands of the Puerto Rico Arturo Somohano Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by maestro Angel “Cucco” Peña. Meanwhile, tenor José Juan Tañón served as moderator. The ceremony, held on the steps of the Capitol, cost $227,992 in public funds.

The former Secretary of Justice and former Resident Commissioner was sworn in at the Capitol by placing his hand on a Bible held by his father, Engineer Jorge Pierluisi Díaz. The new governor´s sister was next to him during the official ceremony. The president of the Supreme Court, Maite Oronoz, took both the symbolic and official oath.

During the event, there were no unexpected moments nor were petals dropped from the sky. Only about 12 cannon shots from the National Guard at the moment Pierluisi was sworn in. This left a trail of smoke in the place.

The police succeeded in their task of stopping passers-by and controlled a small group, led by a woman, who held a small demonstration on the grounds of the Capitol. The woman could be heard from the stage area.

Once the event was over, Pierluisi was transported to La Fortaleza where he anticipated, would reside during the next four years. Once he stepped into the Executive Mansion, he exchanged greetings with his immediate family members who were waiting for him there.

Contrary to previous swear-in ceremonies, Pierluisi did not walk from the Capitol, but the short stretch of Fortaleza Street.

He then received the blessing from the nuns at c the Servants of Mary convent, next to La Fortaleza, a traditional visit for each incoming governor. There, he knelt in front of the altar while the nuns sang.

After that, he greeted the crowd from the Throne Room balcony. He then went inside and came out to introduce La Fortaleza’s pet, little puppy Amaia, who had a pink ribbon.

The last time Pierluisi was in the Throne Room at La Fortaleza, which serves as an office for the governor, was on August 7, 2019, after the Supreme Court invalidated his appointment as governor because he was not confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of State, a position which is second in the line of succession of the Executive Branch.