6 July 1999


Press Release
GA/COL/3016



DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE TAKES ACTION ON TEXT RELATED TO PUERTO RICO

19990706
Text Adopted by Vote of 12-0-5 (Chile, India, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation and Venezuela); Petitioners on Puerto Rico Heard

The Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples this afternoon reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 and the applicability of the fundamental principles of that resolution to the question of Puerto Rico.

The Committee took that action by adopting a resolution regarding the Special Committee's decision of 11 August 1998 concerning Puerto Rico -- introduced by the representative of Cuba -- by a vote of 12 in favour, 0 against with 5 abstentions (Chile, India, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation and Venezuela).

By the terms of the text, the Committee reiterated that the Puerto Rican people constituted a Latin American and Caribbean nation that had its own and unequivocal national identity.

Also by the text, the Committee reaffirmed its hope and that of the international community, that the Government of the United States will assume its responsibility of expediting a process that allows Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in conformity with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the relevant resolutions and decisions of the Special Committee.

Also by the text, the Committee encouraged the Government of the United States, in line with the need to guarantee the Puerto Rican people their legitimate right to self-determination and the protection of their human rights, to order the halt of its armed forces' military drill and manoeuvres on Vieques Island. It also expressed its hope that the President of the United States will favourably consider the request before him to release the Puerto Rican prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons on cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.


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Also this afternoon, as the Committee heard the balance of petitioners on the issue of Puerto Rico, it was told by a representative of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, that spokespersons for United States big business covered up the colonial rule of Puerto Rico, labelling it a "commonwealth", to camouflage the true nature of imperialism.

Puerto Rico, he said, had historically been used as a launching pad for assaults on other countries -- from Cuba to Panama -- as the fishermen of Vieques had often testified. Puerto Rican youth had been cannon fodder in all the imperialist wars of this century, from World War I to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now the Balkans. Many pilots of the United States planes that had recently rained terror on the people of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had practised their bombings in Vieques.

The President of Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueno, said the colonial Government had made a mockery of a popular consultation process. That Government had not in any way committed itself to the interests of the people. The process was instead a means to further the annexationist interests of the colonial Government. One year after that consultation, the people had descended into the streets, once again demanding the cessation of bombardments on Vieques.

Even the most humble Puerto Ricans had raised their voices in favour of the demilitarization of the island of Vieques, he said. The military use of the island for target practice, damage to the soil and the pollution of the atmosphere were all related to the colonial conditions imposed on Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican people were on a war footing and needed the solidarity of the Special Committee and its recognition of their struggle for justice.

A representative of US Statehood, Inc., said 95 per cent of Puerto Rico's resident base was almost evenly divided on how ties with the United States should be made permanent. Commonwealth proponents advocated perpetuation of the status quo while statehooders saw the realization of Puerto Rico's economic and political goals in statehood. Puerto Ricans had ridiculed independence as a political status. No United Nations organization could impose independence on Puerto Ricans without their consent.

Also this afternoon, the Rapporteur of the Committee, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria), introduced a study he had prepared on Puerto Rico. He said much of the information was based on public resources and news accounts and was referenced accordingly. It was most important to mention that the wealth of information had come from the people of Puerto Rico.

Petitions were also made by representatives of: Al Frente; Concerned Puerto Rican Americans; Estadidad 2000; Puerto Rica, Mi Patria; Associacion Americana de Juristas, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; U.S. Statehood, Inc., and the Vieques Support Campaign.

The Committee will meet again at a day and time to be announced in The Journal.


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 afternoon to continue its consideration of the Special Committee decision of 11 August 1998 concerning Puerto Rico. The Committee was scheduled to hear statements from a number of petitioners on the issue. It will also have before it a related draft text. (For further information, see Press Release GA/COL/3015 of this morning.)

Statements

JOSE I. ADAMES, speaking on behalf of Al Frente, said for 82 years Puerto Ricans, as citizens of the United States, had performed all the duties expected of them as citizens, but not all the rights. Puerto Ricans suffered from discrimination and were held down as second class citizens. Since Puerto Rico had become part of the Union, three other United States territories had become States, including Hawaii and Alaska. Because of discrimination, Puerto Rico remained without the right of representation in Congress and was not protected by the same federal regulations that were available to other States. Puerto Rico had always followed two major patterns: Commonwealth or statehood. Puerto Rico, however, should have become a State since its first plebiscite.

He said that without a doubt the independence philosophy was a loser. More than 97 per cent of the people had not voted for it. The only answer was statehood. If independence won out, the rights of all Puerto Ricans to American citizenship might be lost. For 82 years all Puerto Ricans and their descendants had been American citizens. The marriage between Puerto Rico and the United States had been sealed by history and the actual reality. Perpetuating independence was just devil's advocacy. Every United States President was the President of Puerto Rico, yet Puerto Ricans were not allowed to participate in the election of the President. The United Nations should stop discrimination and assist the island in becoming a State. Puerto Rico was the fifty-first State of the United States.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d'Ivoire) asked why, if over the last 100 years Puerto Rico had indeed met all the requirements for statehood, its desire to become a State had not been satisfied.

Mr. ADAMES said the first issue was due to discrimination against Hispanics. Many communities did not want to give Hispanics, including Puerto Ricans, the real power that belonged to them. The options of either Commonwealth or statehood were the same thing. It also needed to be understood that commercial interests also mitigated against Puerto Rico's bid for statehood. Puerto Rico produced goods that competed with goods produced in the continental territory of the United States.


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SALVADOR VARGAS, JR., on behalf of Concerned Puerto Rican Americans, said Puerto Rico did not have a President and neither was it the fifty-first State of the Union. There were only 50 States. It should be very clear to the General Assembly and the Special Committee that the United States, under its President William Clinton, was committed to and only interested in the genocide of the Puerto Rican people. The Puerto Rican Constitution, which had been signed in 1952, had its own government and Puerto Rican citizenship, which was separate from the United States. In September 1998, the United States Senate had approved a resolution to accept a plebiscite in Puerto Rico in December 1998.

He said the United States Senate resolution was a complete violation of the accord and the Constitution of 1952. The December 1998 plebiscite had once again defeated the statehood movement. For the fourth time in this century, statehood had been defeated -- twice in the last five years. The emancipation of Puerto Rico was in the hands of the United States President, the Senate leader, the House Speaker and congressmen and senators. The United Nations must send a very clear message that the United States was not above international law.

JOSE RIVERA, on behalf of Estadidad 2000, said that since 1952, with the creation of the Freely Associated State of Puerto Rico, the island had remained under a colonial political formula. Was Puerto Rico a colony or was it not? he asked. As a result of a 1993 plebiscite, 48 per cent of Puerto Ricans had voted in favour of free association with the United States, some 36 per cent had voted for statehood, and only 4 per cent had voted for independence. An important 1998 draft law in the United States Congress had authorized Puerto Rico to hold a vote restricted to the questions of statehood and free association. The House of Representatives had adopted it, but not the Senate. Despite that, an unauthorized plebiscite had been held in which the proponents of statehood had outnumbered those in favour of independence.

LOLITA LEBRON, on behalf of Puerto Rico, Mi Patria, said Puerto Rico had been invaded by the United States armed forces 101 years ago and had remained under a colonial military regime ever since. Since 25 July 1928, the people of Puerto Rico had continued to live under a military colony situation. The United States had not complied with its obligations to recognize Puerto Rico as a sovereign nation. The military regime sought to inculcate in the national psyche a sense of shame in their national heritage. The United States used Puerto Rico's lands and communities as battlefields and training grounds without regard for the lives of Puerto Ricans. Large numbers of the population of Vieques had been displaced and were suffering from pollution caused by atomic and conventional arms waste. Uranium and other toxic waste had been dumped there. Puerto Ricans were aware that the United States was also leasing the facilities at Vieques to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and to Latin American countries in order to enrich its own national treasury.


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RODOLFO ELISEO BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba) asked for Ms. Lebanon's opinion of the causes motivating the Puerto Rican perspective on changing the territory's relationship with the United Nations.

Ms. LEBRON said people were not born to be slaves, even if those slaves were dressed in gold and ate at the tables of their masters. There was a divine principle underlying the situation: human beings had been created free and should, therefore, move in the direction of freedom. The United States had tried to make young Puerto Ricans forget their language and culture -- to make them speak English and think of themselves as North Americans. They wanted to buy Puerto Ricans with banal things. The United States gave Puerto Rico nothing, exploiting the territory 24 hours a day, while it was claimed that Puerto Rico could not survive without the United States. Puerto Rican heads might be bowed, but they were a people who would rise from their knees.

VANESSA RAMOS, Asociación Americana de Juristas, said the greatest conflicts in Latin America were due to the interventionist policies of American Governments. She thanked to the Committee for past resolutions and asked it to adopt the present text which represented the just demands of the Puerto Rican people: the right to self-determination, the protection of human rights, and the ceasing by the United States of its military manoeuvres in Vieques.

She said the text also urged President Clinton to consider the request to free Puerto Rican political prisoners who were serving long sentences related to the pro-independence struggle. Vieques had once been self- sufficient. The present occupation had contributed to the loss of that self- sufficiency. The land was now devastated and inhabited by people who were tormented by bombings and harassment. It was the worst environmental destruction known in the Americas.

OLGA PABON CINTRON, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, said there was a moral obligation to defend freedom and equality and "our position in the great human brotherhood". Since the dawn of "our indigenous history", all Puerto Ricans had been held together by a silver thread and multiple economic interests. The Puerto Rican homeland needed support. One hundred years of trusteeship and imperial rule had reduced the aspirations and hopes of the nation. She hoped the draft text would be approved.

JULIO ANTONIO MURIENTE PEREZ, President of Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueño, said the colonial Government had made a mockery of a popular consultation process that had not in any way committed the Government of the United States, but was instead a means to further the annexationist interests of the colonial Government. One year after that consultation, the people had descended into the street, once again demanding the cessation of bombardments on Vieques. Even the most humble Puerto Ricans had raised their voices in favour of the demilitarization of the island of


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Vieques. The military use of the island for target practice, damage to the soil and the pollution of the atmosphere were all related to the colonial conditions imposed on Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican people were on a war footing and needed the solidarity of the Special Committee and its recognition of their struggle for justice.

Mr. TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d'Ivoire) asked what was meant by the bombardments of Vieques.

Mr. MURIENTE PEREZ said that two thirds of the island of Vieques, a municipality east of Puerto Rico, had been taken by the United States at the end of the 1940s, not only to build military bases, but as a target for naval firepower. The importance of Vieques to the United States Navy had been disastrous for the residents.

J.M. RIVERA-ARVELO, on behalf of US Statehood, Inc., Estadidad 2000, said the United States presence had a profound social and economic effect. Thousands of mainland Americans had established themselves in Puerto Rico, while Puerto Ricans had emigrated to the United States. A significant percentage of Puerto Rico's 3.8 million residents had either been born in the continental United States or had lived there. More Puerto Ricans currently lived in New York City than in San Juan, and the Puerto Rican population in Chicago, Newark and Hartford exceeded that of most cities on the island.

He said 95 per cent of Puerto Rico's resident base was almost evenly divided on how ties with the United States should be made permanent. Commonwealth proponents advocated perpetuation of the status quo while statehooders saw the realization of Puerto Rico's economic and political goals in statehood. Puerto Ricans had ridiculed independence as a political status. No United Nations organization could impose independence on Puerto Ricans without their consent.

MARTIN KOPPEL, Member, National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, said spokespersons for United States big business covered up the colonial rule of Puerto Rico, labelling it a "commonwealth", to camouflage the true nature of imperialism. Puerto Rico, covered with United States military bases, had historically been used as a launching pad for assaults on other countries, from Cuba to Panama -- as the fishermen of Vieques had often testified. Puerto Rican youth had been cannon fodder in all the imperialist wars of this century, from the First World War to Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and now the Balkans. Many pilots of the United States planes that recently rained terror on the people of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had practised their bombings in Vieques.

He said that this very week, on 7 July, Jose Solis, an advocate of Puerto Rico's independence, would be sentenced by a United States court in Chicago on fabricated terrorism charges, based in large part on the false


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testimony of an informer of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and three FBI agents. Sixteen other Puerto Rican patriots were behind bars in United States prisons because of their ideas and their actions on behalf of independence. Among the longest-held political prisoners in the world today, some of them were serving sentences ranging from 98 to 105 years. "We call on the United States President William Clinton to free all 17 political prisoners immediately, with no conditions."

ZOE LUGO-MENDOZA, on behalf of the Vieques Support Campaign, said that the 9,300 inhabitants of Vieques had seen stagnation in their population, in their economy, and in the cultural and political spheres. The only growth had been in disease and death. The economic stagnation of Vieques was due to the expropriation of the island's most fertile lands that had formerly sustained respectable agricultural activity. Military activity had destroyed delicate ecosystems supporting hundreds of plant and animal species, while toxic residues had seriously contaminated the environment.

Mr. TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d'Ivoire), recalling the petition made by Mr. Koppel, asked how the feelings of the American people had failed to find an echo in action by the Congress.

Mr. KOPPEL said the Congress did not represent the vast majority of American working people, who suffered from the same exploitation as the Puerto Rican people. Working people had begun to act in their own interests in their own ways, including by forging links with each other.

RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba), Acting Chairman, then asked the Special Committee's Rapporteur to introduce a study on Puerto Rico.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria), Committee Rapporteur, introduced the study he had prepared on Puerto Rico. He said much of the information was based on public resources and news accounts and was referenced accordingly. It was most important to mention that the wealth of information had come from the people of Puerto Rico.

Draft Resolution on Special Committee Decision of 11 August 1998 Concerning Puerto Rico

RODOLFO ELISEO BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba) introduced the draft resolution (document A/AC.109/1999/L.6) on behalf of the Cuban delegation. On 25 July, 101 years would have elapsed since the United States intervention in Puerto Rico. The international community had witnessed several initiatives between the representatives of Puerto Rico and the United States, but not a positive development to indicate a move towards a genuine process of independence. That had established an inescapable need for the Special Committee to adopt a decision on Puerto Rico. The text reflected the needs of the Puerto Rican people and the 17 resolutions and decisions adopted on the issue since 1972.


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He said the text today contained two elements of particular importance. The first was on the social, economic and environmental consequences on the citizens of Vieques due to the military occupation of two-thirds of the territory by the United States Navy. The broad consensus that prevailed on the removal of the United States Navy was undeniable, as was the need to return all the occupied land to the people of Vieques. The numerous statements today clearly exemplified the ruling consensus in that regard.

He said the report of the Special Committee of Vieques was also illustrative in its demand for the permanent and immediate cessation of military action and the return of the land to the people of Vieques. The other important element of the proposed text concerned the position of Puerto Rican political prisoners who had been serving time in United States prisons for over 15 years.

He also drew attention to operative paragraph 4. At the end of the paragraph, he asked that the semi-colon be deleted and the following phrase added "return to the people of Puerto Rico all the occupied territories;" The draft was the result of intense and serous consultations and reflected the broad strata of Puerto Rican societies and the input of many Member States.

ALBERTO SALAMANCA (Bolivia) said that the text had already been studied and agreed upon. But the change that had been made might lead to proposals for informal consultations or proposed changes.

Mr. BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba) said his intention had been to make the operative part of the text consistent with the language in the preambular part.

JUAN EDUARDO EGUIGUREN (Chile) said that his delegation had instructions to abstain and that a vote would be required.

VLADIMIR F. ZAEMSKIY (Russian Federation) said his delegation had felt the text would be adopted without a vote. The decision to proceed to a vote had created an entirely new situation, and his delegation would have to seek guidance from the capital. He suggested that the vote be postponed until tomorrow.

ADAM DELANEY (Papua New Guinea) sought clarification on whether the Chilean delegate was actually asking for a vote.

Mr. EGUIGUREN (Chile) said his delegation had asked for a vote in light of its instructions.

Mr. BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba) said his delegation opposed a postponement because no new situation had come up. According to historical records, resolutions on Puerto Rico had been adopted for the last 17 years. Cuba


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therefore insisted that the Special Committee proceed to a vote immediately. It was difficult to assemble a quorum during the summer.

Mr. DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba), Acting Chairman, asked the delegate of the Russian Federation if he would reconsider his position.

Mr. ZAEMSKIY (Russian Federation) said his position was based on the fact that the draft was to have been adopted without a vote and that his delegation had not received instructions as to what to do if it came to a vote. Regarding a quorum, the Special Committee's meeting for tomorrow was already planned and it was hoped all members would attend.

Mr. BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba) said his delegation would insist that the vote be taken immediately. Perhaps the question should be cleared up procedurally.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN said that it had been decided that the vote should be taken today.

MUHAMMAD YUSUF (United Republic of Tanzania) said his delegation was prepared to go to a vote immediately. However, it was only fair that some Member States be given an opportunity to consult their capitals.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN said that resolutions on Puerto Rico had been voted on in the past and had not been adopted by consensus.

Mr. TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d'Ivoire) said that the consensus rule had never been imposed in the Special Committee. There was no written rule of consensus as in some organizations. Last year's draft had been the subject of a vote. To say the vote could not be taken this evening for lack of consensus was not the proper pretext for seeking a postponement.

Mr. SALAMANCA (Bolivia) supported the Acting Chairman's determination that the Committee should proceed to the vote, and appealed to the Russian delegate to reconsider seeking a postponement of the vote.

OTTO DURING (Sierra Leone) said he supported the position of the United Republic of Tanzania.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN said that after consulting for several weeks, at no time had it been thought that the draft resolution would be adopted by consensus.

Mr. ZAEMSKIY (Russian Federation) asked whether the discussion was continuing or if the Chair had taken a decision on the vote.

THE ACTING CHAIRMAN, said his intention was to proceed this afternoon.


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Mr. ZAEMSKIY (Russian Federation) said that if the majority of members were prepared, his delegation would participate, but that in the absence of instructions, it would abstain.

Mr. MEKDAD (Syria) said that the procedure was the same as that observed in the General Assembly. All parts relating to voting on the text were available. If the Russian delegate had a problem concerning voting, he could inform the Committee of his Government's position at the next meeting.

Action on Draft Resolution

The Special Committee then adopted the draft resolution (document A/AC.109/1999/L.6) by a vote of 12 in favour to none against with 5 abstentions (Chile, India, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation and Venezuela).

The representative of Venezuela, speaking in explanation of vote, said while his country supported the right of the Puerto Rican people to self- determination and was pleased at the consensus views, it was felt that the draft text was not supported by the main political sectors. For that reason Venezuela had abstained.

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