The Special Committee on decolonization this morning reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, in conformity with the 1960 General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), and the application of the fundamental principles of that resolution.
That action was taken through the adoption by a roll call vote of 10 in favour to none against, with 6 abstentions (Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation and Venezuela), of a resolution under which the Committee expressed its hope, and that of the international community, that the Government of the United States would assume its responsibility of expediting a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise that right in accordance with that Assembly resolution and the Special Committee's resolutions and decisions on Puerto Rico.
Statements in explanation of position were made by the representatives of Cuba, Russian Federation, United Republic of Tanzania, Bolivia, Venezuela, Iraq, Papua New Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire.
Earlier in the meeting, statements on the question of Puerto Rico were made by representatives of the following organizations: National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States; Estadistas ante la ONU; President of the United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc.; El Congreso Nacional Hostosiano; University Students of San Sebastian, Puertorriquenos Pro-Estadidad; Cidrenos Pro-Autodeterminacion; Puerto Rico Mi Patria; New York City Chapter of the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War; Liga de Ciudadanos Latinamericanos Unidos; National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture; United States Statehood for Puerto Rico, Inc.; and General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church.
The Special Committee on decolonization will meet again this afternoon at a time to be announced.
Committee Work Programme
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to continue to hear petitioners on the question of Puerto Rico.
The Committee has before it a draft resolution which was introduced by Cuba yesterday (document A/AC.109/L.1885) on the Special Committee draft decision of 15 August 1991 concerning Puerto Rico. By that decision, the Special Committee, among other things, reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, and the application of the fundamental principles of that resolution with respect to Puerto Rico.
The Cuban draft text would have the Special Committee again reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). The Special Committee would express its hope, and that of the international community, that the Government of the United States would assume its responsibility of expediting a process that allowed the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise that right in accordance with that Assembly resolution and the Special Committee's resolutions and decisions on Puerto Rico. The Special Committee would request its Rapporteur to present a report to it next year on the implementation of the present resolution, and would decide to keep the question of Puerto Rico under continuing review.
OLGA RODRIGUEZ, speaking on behalf of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, said independence from United States rule was a necessity for the people of Puerto Rico if they were to freely determine their own course. Puerto Rico's independence was also a necessity to advance the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people of the United States. Working people in the United States had absolutely no interest in the continued colonial domination of Puerto Rico.
The colonial domination of Puerto Rico had been a keystone of United States foreign policy since the island had been seized from Spain and served as a reminder of the true character of United States interests throughout the hemisphere, she said. The United States Government had covered Puerto Rico with military bases and had used it as a launching pad for military assaults on other nations. Such a foreign policy was against the interests of working people in the United States. The condemnation by the Special Committee,
Decolonization Committee - 3 - Press Release GA/COL/2992 1498th Meeting (AM) 11 August 1998
despite Washington's objections, of colonial rule over Puerto Rico, would be a boost to all those everywhere fighting for the right to self-determination.
HYDEE RIVERA, speaking on behalf of Estadistas ante la ONU, said her organization believed firmly in the option of federal statehood to free Puerto Rico from colonialism. Alaska and Hawaii had been in similar positions in the past. It was possible that a majority of Puerto Ricans supported statehood and wanted the opportunity to speak out on their own behalf.
The United Nations had a role to play in the process, she said. General Assembly resolution 748 (VIII) could and should be derogated so that the United States could assume full responsibility for the colonial status afflicting Puerto Rico. Any relevant resolution adopted by the United Nations should declare to Puerto Rico exactly what its decolonization options were. How much longer would Puerto Rico have to wait? she wondered. The United Nations should volunteer to act as an observer of the decolonization process.
WILFREDO SANTIAGO-VALIENTE, President of the United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc., said it was a civic organization which advocated and promoted the admission of Puerto Rico as the fifty-first state of the United States of America. Any resolution adopted by the Special Committee should clearly acknowledge and explicitly identify the three options recognized by General Assembly resolution 1541 (XV) of 15 December 1960 for a Territory, or colony, to attain sovereignty and full self-government. In the case of Puerto Rico, that involved sovereignty as an independent nation-state; sovereignty in free association with the United States of America; and full integration as a state of the United States of America.
To avoid misunderstandings, any resolution drafted by the Committee ought to be cognizant of the difference between autonomy and sovereignty, he said. Any resolution adopted by the Committee should be based on General Assembly resolution 1541 (XV) rather than on General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) as had been the case for the past 37 years. This year's resolution should make explicit reference to the three routes available for Puerto Rico to attain full governance in agreement with the principles enunciated by resolution 1541 -- that is, sovereignty as an independent nation-state; sovereignty in free association with the United States; and full integration to the United States of America as a state of the Union. Committee members should cast aside preconceptions and focus instead on constructive hopes for the future.
WILMA E. REVERON COLLAZO, of El Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, said the Territory was distinctively Latin American. Its relationship with the United States was not a mutually agreed association. The people of Puerto Rico had not been given the attributes of political sovereignty. The Territory's future political status had to be settled. The rights of Puerto Ricans
Decolonization Committee - 4 - Press Release GA/COL/2992 1498th Meeting (AM) 11 August 1998
struggling for the Territory's independence had been violated, and many imprisoned. The exploitation of the Territory's natural resources had not stopped. The Government of the United States was using the Territory for military activities, and had been renting out Puerto Rican land for military manoeuvres by other countries, in open violation of resolutions of the Special Committee. United States Marines were installing highly sophisticated radars in the Territory.
She said Committee members were duty-bound to ensure an end to violations of the territorial integrity of Puerto Rico. She asked the Special Committee to help ensure the attainment of independence by the people of Puerto Rico.
FERNANDO ESCABI MENDEZ, speaking on behalf of University Students of San Sebastian, Puertorriquenos Pro-Estadidad, said that 100 years after the Americans had landed on Guanica, Puerto Rico was the last colony of the world. Puerto Rico had a society but did not have any political rights. "We are just second-class citizens who do not have the right to federal representation in the United States", he added.
A permanent affiliation to the United States was the best alternative available for Puerto Rico, he said. Puerto Ricans should have a right to self-determination and should have a right to express their opinion in a federally mandated and internationally supervised political referendum on its political status as soon as possible. The United Nations needed to send a clear and unequivocal message that the time had come for Puerto Ricans to decide their future.
ROSA RIVERA SANTOS, speaking on behalf of Cidrenos Pro- Autodeterminacion, said that the Puerto Rican family needed security and a clear line of thought with regard to the status of Puerto Rico in order to improve its quality of life. It was necessary that the United Nations and the United States Congress look for a just, equitable and final way to resolve the final definition of Puerto Rico's status.
The United Nations had not shown sufficient responsibility in considering the question of Puerto Rico, she said. In that regard, it had failed in ensuring respect for the rights of peoples. Puerto Ricans would continue to struggle to achieve the union of Puerto Rico with the United States in a peaceful way.
LOLITA LEBRON, speaking on behalf of Puerto Rico Mi Patria, said the organization believed in freedom and justice for all. The present Commonwealth status of the Territory was a colonial deception and a fraud. It was time to recognize the fact that Puerto Rico was not a free State. No country, large or small, had the right to dominate any other people, she said,
Decolonization Committee - 5 - Press Release GA/COL/2992 1498th Meeting (AM) 11 August 1998
and added that the right of conquest was null and void. She drew attention to the imprisonment of her compatriots in the United States, and urged the Committee to resolve the colonial problem of Puerto Rico. The United States Congress could not change Puerto Ricans. The people of Puerto Rico were Puerto Ricans and did not accept the imposition of United States citizenship on them. Natural law was the only source of citizenship they required. They wanted to contribute to the United Nations as a free people. The Committee had a remedy to the agony of the people of Puerto Rico, she said.
Action on the future of Puerto Rico could not be postponed any longer, she said, adding that Puerto Ricans demanded independence and sovereignty. She thanked the Committee for granting them the forum to express their demand to exercise their inalienable rights.
ANA M. LOPEZ, of the New York City Chapter of the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War, said there was a general consensus that Puerto Rico's colonial status had to be resolved. She said a campaign for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners had reached its highest stage, and was being supported by Nobel Prize winners, and by Puerto Rican and other elected officials at state and federal levels. Representatives of religious communities in the United States and in Puerto Rico had met with officials of the United States administration, to seek their release. More than 200,000 petitions had also been sent to United States President William Clinton and United States Attorney-General Janet Reno.
She said committees for their unconditional release had been set up in every town in Puerto Rico and in 13 cities throughout the United States. The continuous imprisonment of those Puerto Rican men and women violated all international human rights laws. Their sentences were disproportionate to those given to others convicted of the most heinous offences. Most of the Puerto Rican prisoners had served more than 18 years, or three times as long as the average time served by persons convicted of homicide. They continued to be subjected to inhumane prison conditions which violated their basic human rights.
She asked the Special Committee to include a specific provision in the draft resolution acknowledging the illegal incarceration of 15 Puerto Rican anti-colonial combatants and demanding unconditional amnesty to all Puerto Rican political prisoners, along with the right of Puerto Ricans to self- determination and independence.
ELSIE VALDES DE LIZARDI, speaking for the Liga de Ciudadanos Latinamericanos Unidos, said that the work of the Special Committee would be incomplete if it did not include the decolonization of Puerto Rico. Power over Puerto Rican affairs remained with the United States Congress. That power had never been renounced by the Congress, despite the fact that Puerto
Decolonization Committee - 6 - Press Release GA/COL/2992 1498th Meeting (AM) 11 August 1998
Rico did not have representation in it and could not vote in presidential elections. The most basic aspects of Puerto Rican lives were under the control of federal officials. That was what it meant to be a colony.
In the 1993 referendum held by the Puerto Rican government, 51 per cent of the people had voted against the Commonwealth, she said. No one in Puerto Rico was defending the Commonwealth as it currently existed -- not even the political heirs of those who had created it. The Commonwealth was not free and it was not a state, rather it was a colony. The Special Committee should urge all political parties in Puerto Rico to promote status options in accordance with Assembly resolution 1541 (XV).
NILDA REXACH, speaking on behalf of the National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, supported the idea of Puerto Rico becoming a state, fully self- governing with its rights secured under the United States Constitution. United States citizenship of those born in Puerto Rico would be guaranteed and they would have equal rights as well as equal responsibilities. Further, Puerto Rico would thus have representation in both the United States Senate and Congress.
Under independence, all of the above would be gone, she said. Only five per cent of the island had voted for independence. Independence would turn Puerto Rico into a third world nation. Puerto Rico needed to be recognized as the fifty-first state of the United States.
J.M. RIVERA-ARVELO, President of the United States Statehood for Puerto Rico, Inc., said United States presence on the island had had a profound social and economic effect. Thousands of mainland Americans had established themselves in Puerto Rico, while Puerto Ricans had emigrated and resided in the United States. Working together with the United States Government, the Territory had attracted investors, and its gross national product (GNP) was $28.4 billion in fiscal year 1995. The per capita personal income was $7,296 in 1995, which was one third the United States average.
He said there was no doubt that Puerto Ricans were the only ones who might decide upon the Territory's political status. No committee would ever prevail against the sovereignty of Puerto Rico. Those who believed in statehood saw the realization of Puerto Rico's economic and political goals in that status. Puerto Ricans needed to obtain all benefits from the United States.
EBENEZER VALENTIN-CASTANON, speaking on behalf of the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, said the church had a membership of over 10 million around the world. The struggle of Puerto Ricans for self-determination and freedom was within the scope of the United Nations resolutions on decolonization. The injustice
Decolonization Committee - 7 - Press Release GA/COL/2992 1498th Meeting (AM) 11 August 1998
suffered under Puerto Rico's colonial reality could not be overlooked. He recalled that former President George Bush, during his tenure as President, admitted that Puerto Rico's people had never been consulted as equals on their political status.
It was time, he said, for the Special Committee to strengthen its position in favour of the decolonization of Puerto Rico and extend justice and human rights to its people. He urged the Committee to bring the case of Puerto Rico to the plenary of the General Assembly. In the fiftieth year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Committee could do no less than accord Puerto Ricans their human rights.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), Acting Committee Chairman, thanked the petitioners for their statements.
Speaking before action, RAFAEL DAUSA (Cuba), said that Cubans and Puerto Ricans had long been joined in their struggles against the colonial Powers of both Spain and the United States. It was necessary to continue along the path defined by their forefathers until Puerto Rico had achieved independence. Puerto Rico was a Caribbean country with its own identity.
For 27 years the Committee had been considering the question of Puerto Rico and had always held up its right to self-determination, he said. One of the first requests received by the Special Committee had been that of the Puerto Rican pro-independence movement. That claim had been supported by the international community.
He said that the colonial Power resorted to all kinds of manoeuvres to confuse the international public opinion and distort the economic, political and social reality of Puerto Rico. However, there was but one reality: Puerto Rico continued to be deprived of its legitimate right to self- determination and sovereignty. It was the unavoidable duty of the Special Committee to denounce the situation faced by Puerto Rico and the continuing effort to ignore the inalienable right of that sister nation to its self- determination and independence.
VLADIMIR ZAEMSKY (Russian Federation) said his delegation considered that the draft on Puerto Rico was not timely. The Special Committee should not adopt any text on the issue, as a clear understanding of what the majority view of the Puerto Ricans was necessary. That could be done by respecting the results of the 1998 plebiscite. The adoption of a General Assembly resolution might influence public opinion. That was why his delegation wanted the draft to be put to a vote.
Decolonization Committee - 8 - Press Release GA/COL/2992 1498th Meeting (AM) 11 August 1998
HU ZHAOMING (China) had a question with regard to the voting procedure.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), Acting Committee Chairman, said the representative of the Russian Federation had asked for a vote.
The Special Committee approved the draft resolution by a roll call vote of 10 in favor to none against, with 6 abstentions (Antigua and Barbuda, Chile, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation and Venezuela).
Speaking after action, TUVAKO N. MANONGI (United Republic of Tanzania) said his delegation had voted in favour of the draft because it believed in the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination and independence as expressed in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960. The case presented by the petitioners had made it clear that while they had differences, they did not like the present status of the Territory. His delegation was encouraged by the measures currently being undertaken by the United States Congress on the Territory's future and called for its speedy implementation.
JORDAN PANDO (Bolivia) said his delegation had also voted in favour of the draft resolution which was a balanced one.
WILMER MENDEZ (Venezuela) said his delegation had abstained in the vote because of some of its elements. It would have liked to see a reflection of some of the views expressed by the petitioners. It, however, supported the principle of decolonization and had supported relevant resolutions in the past.
JIMMY OVIA (Papua New Guinea) said his delegation had supported the text because it believed in the fundamental right of peoples to self-determination as spelled out in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960. It also believed that the views of all the petitioners should be respected.
ROKAN HAMA AL-ANBUGE (Iraq) said his delegation had voted in favour of the text because of its belief in the right of peoples to self-determination and independence.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Cote d'Ivoire) said his delegation would have supported the draft had it been present. His Government supported the decolonization process, and believed that on the eve of the twenty-first century, no Territory or peoples should be under colonialism.
The Acting Chairman said that with the adoption of the resolution, the Committee, after seven years of silence, had expressed itself on the issue. He thanked the petitioners for their statements.
* *** *