César Vázquez: ‘We believe in equal protection under the law’

By The Star Staff

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with candidates running in the 2020 general elections.

César Vázquez, the physician and former pastor who is the gubernatorial candidate of Proyecto Dignidad, a conservative party that promotes honesty in government, is betting on the voters’ fatigue from the failed promises of the two main traditional parties in his bid to take over La Fortaleza.

“We live in a Puerto Rico that has been the victim of bipartisanship for 60 years. The traditional parties have failed the people. They have stolen from us and so don’t be scared in this election. Vote differently,” reads a slogan of the Proyecto Dignidad.

More than that, Vázquez said his background in medicine and science makes him more qualified than his opponents to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which has already shattered Puerto Rico’s economy and people’s livelihoods.

With 42 years of experience as a family doctor, medical internist and cardiologist under his belt, Vázquez said the government has been forced to close down businesses and restrict the movement of the people because it does not have adequate tools in place to deal with the coronavirus, which is spread between people through direct, indirect (through contaminated objects or surfaces), or close contact with infected people via mouth and nose secretions.

In his opinion, the way to deal with the pandemic is through adequate contact tracing and the identification of sources of infection and their selective closing.

“Right now, the numbers [of infected people] are manageable, but I don’t see that continuing for long,” he said.

When Vázquez announced that he was running for governor under the newly created Proyecto Dignidad, he said the party was a civil society party that was not promoting religious beliefs of any kind but whose members were mostly Christians.

“This party is mostly composed of Christians, but we do not belong to any church. We accept everyone,” the candidate said in a radio interview at the time. “I used to be a pastor. I am no longer part of the pastoral leadership of my church.”

The party promotes governing with honesty and integrity.

Asked about the new Civil Code, Vázquez told the Star that as governor he would “limit the right to an abortion to the maximum level permitted by law” and noted that minors should only be allowed to have an abortion with parental consent. He said he would not allow individuals to change their gender on their birth certificates because they are historical documents that should not be changed by people’s whims.

He also would ban eugenics, the practice of improving the human species by selectively mating people with specific desirable hereditary traits, and euthanasia, defined as intentionally ending someone’s life to help the person avoid suffering or relieve pain.

“We believe in equal protection under the law,” Vázquez said.

The Proyecto Dignidad does not advocate any specific political status and supports Puerto Rico’s self-determination. However, Vázquez said he does not support the statehood Yes-No status referendum and will not vote in it, arguing it is biased and is an instrument created by the New Progressive Party to bring its voters to the polls.

“We advocate realistic status formulas approved by Congress,” he said. “That is just an expensive survey and I will not legitimize it with my vote.”

Vázquez expressed concern over the high amount of debt, $70 billion, amassed by the government. While he supports auditing the debt, he also believes “it has already been audited.”

“The problem is that they have yet to put a name to it,” he said.

He described as a blessing in disguise the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, commonly known as PROMESA, because while it created a Financial Oversight and Management Board to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances, it also allowed for an orderly bankruptcy process to deal with the U.S. territory’s debt.

He said he would work with the oversight board to get Puerto Rico out of bankruptcy, but “if we have to make our objections, we will do so even if we have to go to court.”

“But there is no need to be hostile toward the board,” he added.

Still, Vázquez said he will give a second look to the restructuring support agreements for the commonwealth and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to make sure they are sustainable.

“The bankruptcy process seeks to protect the assets of the debtor and allow it to make realistic payments,” he said.

In dealing with PREPA’s debt, Vázquez said energy rates should not cost consumers more than 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, so the amount of money devoted to debt payments should not be higher than 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. He said pension payments to PREPA retirees should not be part of the rate scheme, but rather should be treated separately.

On the question of how to spur Puerto Rico’s economic development, Vázquez said the government should not be the leading employer or the main economic engine.

“We have to limit government to help the economy grow,” he said.