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Who is Wanda Vázquez, Who is in Line to Become Puerto Rico’s Next Governor?

SAN JUAN, P.R. — After more than a week of political turmoil in Puerto Rico, calls are escalating for Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló to resign. In line to succeed him is Wanda Vázquez, the secretary of justice.

But Ms. Vázquez has a number of powerful political opponents, complicating any succession, and the island was enmeshed in intense political machinations on Wednesday to determine who would lead it.

Though nothing was certain, here’s a look at the woman who is, at least legally, on deck.

Who is Wanda Vázquez?

Ms. Vázquez has been the island’s secretary of justice, the equivalent of a state attorney general, since January 2017. She is a member of the New Progressive Party, like Mr. Rosselló, who appointed her. She worked as an attorney specializing in domestic and sexual violence before her appointment to the top post at the commonwealth’s Department of Justice. She was appointed to lead the office of women’s affairs in 2010.

Does that mean she would be an advocate for women in Puerto Rico?

Some women’s groups opposed Ms. Vázquez during her seven years as the head of the island’s women’s affairs office. (It was supposed to be a 10-year term, but she left early to become secretary of justice.)

“A lot of feminist groups were very critical of Wanda Vázquez,” said Saadi Rosado of the Feminist Collective, an advocacy group. “She failed to address gender violence issues and was another piece of government bureaucracy.”

Women’s groups have been fighting the governor’s administration — at one point conducting a sit-in outside his office — demanding that the governor declare a state of emergency because of a rise in gender-based violence.

“She has not even spoken out about this state of emergency that we have been asking for a year,” Ms. Rosado said.

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A leaked group chat involving the governor set off protests demanding his resignation. The outcry has brought the island to a crossroads.

What is Ms. Vázquez’s political standing in Puerto Rico?

Her relationship with the legislative branch is fraught, to say the least. Her time as secretary of justice has been punctuated by criticism that she has dragged her feet on investigating controversies involving members of her own party. She has clashed especially with Thomas Rivera Schatz, the president of the Senate. Ms. Vázquez came under intense legal scrutiny herself last year amid ethical complaints filed by the Office of the Independent Special Prosecutor. In fact, a new term was trending on Twitter in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, echoing protesters’ demands for Mr. Rosselló to resign: #WandaRenuncia.

What became of that controversy?

In November 2018, Ms. Vázquez faced allegations that she had improperly intervened on behalf of her daughter and son-in-law in a housing dispute. She was the first secretary of justice to face criminal charges, according to the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Dia. Ms. Vázquez was briefly suspended from her post as the investigation developed. But she was later cleared of any ethical violations by Judge Yazdel Ramos Colón, who said there was not sufficient evidence against her.

Ms. Vázquez was immediately reinstated to her post by Mr. Rosselló, a move that drew criticism because it came before the period of an appeal had passed.

The case at one point took a personal turn: Her husband, Jorge Díaz Reverón, a judge in Caguas, also came under investigation on matters related to the case. Mr. Díaz reportedly interviewed the agent investigating his daughter’s case and asked if he would be willing to testify on Ms. Vázquez’s behalf.

Mr. Diaz was ultimately cleared of any ethical violations by a Supreme Court judicial disciplinary committee.

Could these political issues complicate things?

Definitely — especially Ms. Vázquez’s problems with the powerful Senate leader, Mr. Rivera.

He has been engaged in a public battle with Ms. Vázquez for over a year. He called for her resignation, accused her of committing crimes and criticized her handling of several cases. It began when Ms. Vázquez investigated allegations of corruption in the Senate leader’s office. The probe led to a federal indictment against a key Senate official, who was accused this year of submitting fake invoices that benefited Mr. Rivera’s political allies.

That was when a special counsel’s office, an office over which Mr. Rivera is believed to have influence, began the investigation involving Ms. Vázquez and her family.

The bad blood between the two politicians has long played out in the local news. Mr. Rivera has called Ms. Vázquez “the secretary of nothing.”

If Mr. Rosselló were to resign, would the Senate president be willing to see her become governor?

Frances Robles and Simon Romero contributed reporting.

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