Americas

Puerto Rico declares ‘day of mourning’ for astrologer and TV personality Walter Mercado

Puerto Rico lowered its flags to half-staff Thursday and Gov. Wanda Vázquez declared a “day of mourning” to honor Walter Mercado, the astrologer and television personality who died Saturday due to renal failure.

While Vázquez had sent her condolences via Twitter shortly after his death, some wondered why she hadn’t played a more prominent role in sending off one of the island’s most famous celebrities.

“Many people asked me why I didn’t do this earlier,” Vázquez said of the day of mourning. “Because of the admiration I’ve had for him since I was a little girl — and that the entirety of Puerto Rico has for him — I had to do this in person.”

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A cape worn by celebrity astrologer Walter Mercado hangs next to his casket inside the Ateneo Puertorriqueño cultural center in Old San Juan on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

Vázquez visited with Mercado’s family at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño cultural center Thursday, on the second day of memorials for the one-time dancer and actor.

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Mercado, a charismatic and flamboyant TV personality, built a massive following across the hemisphere through his daily horoscopes and television appearances.

Vázquez, who took office in August amid unprecedented political turmoil, said she never had a chance to meet the astrologer in person, “but to see him on TV was like having him in our home. Everybody in Puerto Rico knew Walter.”

She said Mercado’s message of gratitude and love was needed more than ever in the U.S. territory, which has been rattled by corruption scandals and crime and is in a deep financial crisis.

“Sometimes the news can leave us a little agitated and we need a reference of peace, love and quiet,” she said. “We can resolve our problems, but we need to learn from Walter.”

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Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez joined the family of celebrity astrologer Walter Mercado at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño cultural center in Old San Juan on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

But Mercado’s legacy is not exclusively love and light.

In 1998, he was named in a class-action lawsuit by a group of Miami fans who said they invested in a company called Unique Gems International Corp. after Mercado endorsed the jewelry as a “cure for cancer, sexual dysfunction and poverty,” according to The Associated Press. The state attorney general’s office at the time accused the company of running an illegal pyramid that defrauded 16,000 people of about $90 million, and the owner of the company ended up sentenced to 14 years in prison. But charges against Mercado were never pursued.

In 2016, Mercado made headlines when he called then-candidate Donald Trump a “monster” who could “lead not only the United States, but the world, to total destruction.”

Mercado’s family have said they will continue to write horoscopes in his name.

The astrologer is scheduled to be buried Friday at El Señorial Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Cupey, Puerto Rico.

Jim Wyss covers Latin America for the Miami Herald and was part of the team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for its work on the “Panama Papers.” He and his Herald colleagues were also named Pulitzer finalists in 2019 for the series “Dirty Gold, Clean Cash.” He joined the Herald in 2005.
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