Feminists encourage governor to obey the law with nonpolitical women’s advocate appointment
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The Star
From its inception in 2001, the Office of the Women’s Advocate (OPM by its Spanish initials) has been a private organization that ensures that women’s and human rights are respected. Moreover, its prosecutor is not a political appointment, warned two representatives of recognized feminist organizations in Puerto Rico.
According to Article 4 of Law 20 of 2001, the appointee “must be a woman of recognized capacity, professionalism and independence of opinion and who has distinguished herself by her commitment to defending the rights of women and in the fight for the elimination of all manifestations of oppression, marginalization, and discrimination.”
However, the most recent women’s advocates (and their political interests, whether stated or perceived) haven’t received the favor of the feminist organizations in Puerto Rico. The most recent appointee, Lersy Boria Vizcarrondo, was filling in for Wanda Vázquez Garced, who was designated Secretary of Justice in 2017 and later took over as governor after Ricardo Rosselló Nevare’s ousting in 2019. Vázquez Garced, who was defeated in the 2020 New Progressive Party primary by the current governor, Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, is now facing federal corruption charges and has pleaded not guilty.
As for Boria, “the reality is that although she was there, she was a totally invisible and silent person,” said Enid Pérez Rodríguez, public policy coordinator for Proyecto Matria. “That office had no standing.”
Although Boria had taken over for Vázquez Garced, and her term ended in June of 2019, “we did not expect that immediate resignation; I understand that it was pretty hasty, but we were aware that an appointment could arise at any time,” Pérez Rodríguez said.
It’s worth noting that every women’s advocate serves a 10-year term by law.
Sara Benítez, co-president and co-founder of Women’s Foundation in Puerto Rico Inc., coincides with Pérez Rodríguez in that island feminists haven’t talked about a possible OPM successor but are vigilant that the governor follows Law 20 and the next women’s prosecutor doesn’t have political ties.
“Not all organizations are open to this conversation right now because some people believe that the office’s work can’t be rescued at this point,” Pérez Rodríguez said. “Some of us believe that it can, and we will evaluate the appointment.”
Benítez Delgado added that “this office is an achievement of women and feminists in Puerto Rico based on a proposal we made, but political parties have usurped it.”
“Law 20 requires or proposes that the governor guarantee a consultation with women’s organizations and that that consultation is broad and open,” Benítez Delgado said. “Previously, the women constituted themselves and made some recommendations. The last [woman recommended for the post] was Joanne Vélez, a nomination that the Senate did not accept because many religious, homophobic, and lesbophobic reasons upended that appointment in 2009.”
Both women are wary of talking about potential nominees. Some names are floating around, such as ex-senator Zoe Laboy (who as of this moment doesn’t have the votes, they said) and Reps. Wanda del Valle and Lisie Burgos, both from the conservative wing of the House of Representatives.
“The nominee cannot be conservative or fundamentalist,” advised Pérez Rodríguez, stating that “we will fight that until the end.”
The most important thing, Benítez Delgado said, is that “the nomination has to be as transparent, participatory and open as possible.”
“That is our recommendation, which is what the organizations are asking for,” she said. “The governor and the Senate must respect law and order. For that, there is Law 20, which they have to use for the consultation, nomination, and confirmation process.”