09/06/2003
Press Release
GA/COL/3085



Special Committee on

Decolonization

5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)


DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE CALLS ON UNITED STATES TO EXPEDITE


PROCESS FOR PUERTO RICAN SELF-DETERMINATION


Also, Petitioner from POLISARIO Front

Says Settlement Plan on Western Sahara Should Not Be Abandoned


     Meeting in its resumed 2003 session today, the Special Committee on Decolonization called on the United States to expedite a process allowing the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. 


Approving a draft resolution without a vote, the Special Committee urged the United States Government to return to the people of Puerto Rico the occupied land on Vieques Island, to respect their fundamental human rights, to assume the execution and costs of the decontamination process of the impact areas previously used in military manoeuvres, and to take care of the serious consequences to the health of the inhabitants of Vieques.


Prior to acting on the draft, the Special Committee heard appeals by 24 petitioners for Puerto Rico to reverse the “colonial reality” of the island and respect the urgent need for its people to exercise their right to self-determination.  While the withdrawal of the United States Navy from the island of Vieques on 1 May was heralded as a victory, both for the people of Puerto Rico and for the Special Committee, speakers agreed that the lingering environmental, mental and physical effects of nearly 60 years of military manouveurs had overshadowed the event and must be addressed by the United States Government.


Petitioners also opposed the imposition by the United States of the death penalty for crimes considered federal, as that was prohibited by Puerto Rico’s constitution.  With more men and women from Puerto Rico serving in the armed forces of the United States than perhaps from any other State, several speakers insisted that their right to statehood and their right to vote in congressional and presidential elections was an imperative.  Attention was also drawn to the plight of the numerous political prisoners and to Puerto Rican youth, which had faced police brutality and an equally brutal political system. 


The representative of Cuba introduced the draft resolution on Puerto Rico.  The Venezuelan representative explained his support for the text.


     Addressing the situation concerning Western Sahara earlier today, a petitioner for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) reminded the Special Committee that 40 years ago it had outlined the way ahead.  The Settlement Plan, which had been endorsed by both the Security Council in 1990 and accepted by the two parties directly involved -– the POLISARIO Front and Morocco -– should not be abandoned.  The Security Council had been wise recently to put a limit on the situation, while continuing to reaffirm the validity of the “only path to a just and lasting solution”, he said.


Petitioners for Puerto Rico were from:  Frente Socialista; PROELA; Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; Concern Puertorican Americans; Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico; Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; Vieques Support Campaign; United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc.; ProLibertad Freedom Campaign; Partido Independista Puertorriqueno; and American Association of Jurists.


Also, Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques; Puertorriquenos Unidos en Accion; Al Frente; National Advancement for P.R. Culture; Primavida; Comite Puerto Rico en la ONU; New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico; Congreso Nacional Hostosiano of Puerto Rico; Political Rights Defense Fund; Social Workers Party; Puertorican Human Rights Committee; Hostos Puerto Rican Club at Hunter College; and the 65th Honour Task Force.


Created by General Assembly 1645 of 1961, the Special Committee examines and makes recommendations on the applications of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and makes suggestions on the progress and extent of its implementation.


The Special Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 12 June, to continue its work.


     Background


     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 discuss Western Sahara and Puerto Rico.


On Western Sahara, the Committee had before it a working paper prepared by the Secretariat (document A/AC.109/2003/14), which highlights activities related to the good offices of the Secretary-General, as well as consideration by the Security Council and the General Assembly of the issue, on which the United Nations had worked for nearly two decades in assisting the parties to find a solution.  In a letter to the Council dated 19 March, the Secretary-General pointed out that his Personal Envoy, James Baker III, had presented and explained to the parties a proposal for a political solution of the conflict in the Territory entitled “Peace plan for self-determination for the people of Western Sahara”.


The Council, on 30 May, extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 July to allow time for consideration of the latest peace plan.  The proposed plan (document S/2003/565, annex II) provides for a United Nations-conducted referendum on the final status of Western Sahara and for an interim authority until results of the referendum are implemented.


According to the Secretary-General’s report, if the parties cannot agree on an approach for a political solution and if the Council is not in a position to ask them to take steps that they do not perceive to be in their own interest, despite the fact that it may clearly be in the interest of the population of Western Sahara, the Council may wish to consider whether it wishes to remain actively seized of this political process.


The Committee also had before it a report prepared by its Rapporteur on Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2003/L.3), which states that in February 2003 the Governor of Puerto Rico announced her decision to postpone indefinitely all efforts to move forward on the status issue due to lack of consensus among the island’s principal parties.  She noted that without a broad Puerto Rican consensus, it was unlikely that there would be favourable climate for the United States Congress to deal with the issue. 


Apart from general political questions, three specific issues have been raised before the Committee resulting from the particular political status of Puerto Rico and its relationship with the United States.  These are the continuing United States military presence in Puerto Rico, and particularly on the island of Vieques; the imprisonment in the United States of pro-independence Puerto Ricans accused of seditious conspiracy and weapons possession; and the application of the death penalty to Puerto Ricans convicted on federal charges.


     The United States Navy ceased all military training on Vieques on 1 May, after which they would use alternative training sites in the south-eastern United States and at sea, the report states.  Following the Navy’s withdrawal, three related issues remain to be clarified:  the future development of Vieques and its environmental clean-up after more than 60 years of military exercises, definitive conclusions regarding the effects of the military exercises on the health of Vieques residents; and the future of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the main island of Puerto Rico.


     Also before the Committee is a draft resolution on Puerto Rico, sponsored by Cuba (document A/AC.109/2003/L.7), which would have the Special Committee call on the United States Government to assume its responsibility of expediting a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. 


In addition, it would urge the United States Government to return the occupied land on Vieques Island to the people of Puerto Rico, respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to health and economic development, assume the execution and the costs of the decontamination process of the impact areas previously used in military manoeuvres, and take care of the serious consequences to the health of the inhabitants of Vieques Island and the environmental degradation. 


Further by the text, the Committee would request the United States President to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.


     Statement on Western Sahara


     AHMED BOUKHARI, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), noted that, in July, the Security Council would take a highly crucial decision on the peace process in Western Sahara in light of the Secretary-General’s report of 23 May (document S/2003/565).  Western Sahara was the last colonial case in Africa, and, as such, was on the United Nations list of territories remaining to be decolonized.  Forty years ago, the Special Committee had outlined the process which would lead the country to decolonization and to allow the Saharawi people to democratically elect their leaders. 


Following his recounting of the history of the situation, he recalled that the Settlement Plan had been endorsed by the Council in 1990 and accepted by the two parties directly involved -- the POLISARIO Front and Morocco.  The Settlement Plan had established a decolonization process, which recommended the holding of a referendum on self-determination in February 1992.  In April 1991, the Council had authorized the sending of a mission to Western Sahara for that purpose, MINURSO.  Special Committee members had followed the process from the start.  If Morocco had respected its commitments under the Settlement Plan, then members would not be here today discussing the situation and Western Sahara would have been removed from the list.


That had not yet occurred, he said.  The only peace process accepted by both the parties and the United Nations should not be abandoned and replaced with alternative political solutions.  Morocco had been allowed to “break” its commitment and claim the failure of the Settlement Plan.  That had only obstructed the United Nations decolonization process in Western Sahara.  Given those developments, the Council had been wise to put a limit on the situation.  In the above-mentioned report, the Secretary-General had submitted three alternatives, which the Council had not accepted.  Indeed, it continued to reaffirm the validity of the Settlement Plan. 


Concerning the proposal submitted in January by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, James Baker III, that involved a huge risk, which could be bloody and violent, he said.  In such a case, it would be very difficult to find a country prepared to send its troops to the territory, as Australia had done in Timor-Leste.  The responses of the two parties, included in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s recent report, indicated that the proposal could not serve as a viable alternative to the Settlement Plan.  That remained the only path to a just and lasting solution, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the resolutions of that Organization. 


In its response to the Special Envoy, the POLISARIO Front had put forth a concrete proposal, which covered the former Moroccan demands and which would allow MINURSO to resolve the pending question of the remedy of appeal, thus overcoming the last obstacle in the Settlement Plan, he said.  Then, the holding of a referendum would be possible within one year, thereby allowing the United Nations to save time and means.  He sought to preserve the Settlement Plan and the “Houston agreements”, which supplemented it.  Morocco was the main obstacle to a “correct decolonization of Western Sahara” -- a Member State of the United Nations was occupying, by force, a territory that did not belong to it.  After the success in Timor-Leste, the Organization could and should continue to work to achieve its objective of the complete eradication of colonialism.  It would be an illusion, meanwhile, to believe that peace could be based on force alone.


     Statements on Puerto Rico


     JORGE FARINACCI GARCIA, Frente Socialista, said today he came to demand that the Special Committee pronounce itself against the colonial regime in Puerto Rico and urge the United States to respect Puerto Rico’s right to freedom.  Since 1999, the organizations appearing before the Special Committee had intensified their denouncement of the situation caused by the United States military in Puerto Rico.  He thanked the Special Committee for its support of resolutions that had approved the exit of the United States Navy from Vieques.  While the Navy had departed, ecological problems persisted, however.  More than 1,200 peoples had been labelled as criminals in their fight for the just cause.  Eight people, classified as domestic terrorists, were victims of continuous harassment.


Another matter of concern was the intention to impose the death penalty in Puerto Rico, he continued.  The United States had certified 14 such cases, despite the prohibition of the death penalty in Puerto Rico’s constitution.  The Puerto Rican people were against political subordination to the colonization regime and would not accept anything less than full right to self-determination.  He demanded the immediate withdrawal of all military and political operators in Puerto Rico.  He supported the resolution submitted and urged the case of Puerto Rico to be put before the General Assembly as soon as possible.


     ANGEL ORTIZ-GUZMAN, PROELA, said his organization sought to achieve free association between Puerto Rico and the United States.  The United States Government has been indifferent to the desire of Puerto Rico for free association.  For 50 years, Puerto Rico had made proposals for its democracy without response by the Congress of the United States.  He regretted that the United States Government had not complied with its commitment in dealing with the demands for self-determination. 


     He said the draft resolution before the Special Committee did not take into account the option for free association.  There was an urgent need to resolve the current situation.  Free association had been recognized as an alternative by various General Assembly resolutions.  He requested the Special Committee to include a new reference to the alternative of free association in resolutions on Puerto Rico in 2003.  He urged the United States to submit a plan for decolonization for the people of Puerto Rico, in accordance with United Nations resolutions.  He urged the Committee to submit two joint resolutions, which had as their purpose convening a referendum and constitutional assembly on the status of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. 


     LEDA BERTHAIDA SEIJO, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico (College of Lawyers of Puerto Rico), thanked the Committee for allowing the group to appear before the Committee for the past three decades to repudiate its status as a colony of the United States.  In fact, it was the oldest colony in the hemisphere.  The College of Lawyers of Puerto Rico, which included all lawyers of the country, had consistently repudiated the current colonial system.  It had constantly demanded of the Special Committee that Puerto Rico should benefit from General Assembly resolution 1514 of 1960, which expresses the right of a people to self-determination and establishes the need to put an end to colonialism in all its forms.


     She said the College of Lawyers was “demanding” that the people of Puerto Rico be allowed to exercise their right to determine the country’s future.  It was not possible to continue to live under the unjust situation imposed upon it.  In 1970, the General Assembly said it was the inherent right of a colonial people to struggle, by all necessary means, against a colonial Power.  Puerto Ricans were like political prisoners.  Many were serving long sentences in United States’ prisons for having struggled for independence, or for having exercised their freedom of expression.  At the current stage, the situation could no longer be neglected.  She was asking the Committee to declare that Puerto Rico had not achieved its self-determination, and that it had the right to do so.


SALVADOR VARGAS, Concern Puerto Rican Americans, said that more than 1,000 “POW” Muslim men remained in concentration camps.  The United Nations could not keep on appeasing the conquerors and world dominators, forgetting why it was formed in the first place.  The economy of Puerto Rico was in shambles, as it had been denied free trade with other nations.  It could not afford 145 more years of the same treatment.  Its land, sea and skies must be controlled by one people and one nation.


He said he was grateful for the departure of the United States military from Vieques and to Cuba for helping Puerto Rico gain access to the Special Committee.  Nevertheless, the United States had been allowed to “clamp down its jaws on our small country”.  The United Nations must become aware of the dangers of allowing the United States to be the supreme power on earth.  That country was not content to only rule Puerto Rico; it wanted to dominate the entire world.


     ALICE HERNANDEZ, on behalf of the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said Puerto Rico was the oldest colony in the hemisphere.  The United States had not allowed a true decolonization process in Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rican oppression took various forms.  Many Puerto Ricans were struggling for just causes, such as the withdrawal of the military from Vieques, but the names of some Puerto Ricans appeared on lists of terrorists.  The empire gave it mere crumbs.  Puerto Rico was at the mercy of the United States.


She said colonialism was not only a political and socio-economic attack, but also an emotional one.  Puerto Rico had the right to enter into the assembly of free and sovereign nations.  The United States must withdraw its military forces.  The independence of Puerto Rico would be a giant step forward for human rights.


     MIGUEL OTERO CHAVEZ, on behalf of Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, said his organization had appeared before the Committee since 1972 to denounce the current situation in Puerto Rico.  Generation after generation, Puerto Rican men and women had struggled for political and socio-economic freedom.  Many were imprisoned in the United States as a result of that struggle.  He requested the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners.


Recently, the United States Navy had left the island of Vieques, he said.  That victory, however, was incomplete.  Most of the land was still in the hands of the United States and was contaminated with radioactive material.  He looked to the future with faith that the Special Committee would take the action necessary to end the situation of the oldest colony in the hemisphere.


The United States must comply with its moral and legal obligations for damages caused at Colabra and Vieques, he said.  Vieques, an island at the heart of all Puerto Ricans, was one of three islands under the political domination of the United States.  Santa Thomas and Santa Cruz enjoyed a flourishing tourism industry, whereas Vieques suffered from contamination from 60 years of Navy bombing.


     FRANCISCO VELGARA, Vieques Support Campaign, explained that the Campaign was formed in May 1999 in support of the demands of the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico, for the demilitarization, decontamination, and devolution of their lands, as well as for sustainable development.  Today, more than at any other time since the Second World War, the global political, diplomatic, military and economic threats to national sovereignty and self-determination stood as a clear challenge to all nations and peoples.  Increasingly, pre-emptive war, military sabre rattling, economic coercion and blackmail, and high-tech genocide continued to make headway in the international community.


He said, in that environment, millions around the globe had dared to stand up to war and especially to the United States-led attack on national sovereignty and self-determination.  Nowhere more than in Palestine and Puerto Rico, and now Iraq, had the “gauntlet of liberation and justice” been so clearly laid down before the community of nations.  On 1 May, following militant and consistent civil disobedience, international support, public pressure, and more than 1,600 recent arrests, the people of Vieques and their allies had been able to close the United States Navy’s bombing range in Vieques.  There was 27 per cent more cancer in Vieques than on the mainland, as well as more respiratory illness of all types, mercury poisoning, and a contaminated water supply.


Vieques also continued to bear witness to economic devastation, with an official unemployment rate of more than 40 per cent, he went on.  It still stood as a training ground and harbinger of war and military invasion of all kinds.  Although the bombing range had been closed, the United States Government and military still asserted that they would resume using it in the event that it was required for their national security.  They no longer felt they had to exhibit even a pretence of consultation with the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico.  The Campaign sought the international community’s reaffirmation for the complete demilitarization of Vieques, the return of the lands to its people, the decontamination of its environment, and support for sustainable economic development.


BETTY BRASSELL, United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc., said that the organization was a multicultural working group of concerned individuals committed to one common cause -- peace for Vieques, Puerto Rico.  Its goal was to create awareness and to keep the civil society properly informed about the health hazards, ecological and economic destruction by the United States Navy in Vieques since 1941.  The second goal was to inspire others to actively participate in and protect their communities.  The group would also create and foster a correspondence of friendship and hope between the children, including in the schools of Vieques.


She demanded that the United States Navy cease immediately and permanently all bombing activity on Vieques and its waters.  The contamination from more than half a century of bombing and other military action must be cleaned from the land and waters.  Also, every inch of land must be returned to the people of Vieques, who had a vision for their development.  The island’s Spanish language and culture were non-negotiable.  She was proud to be an American, but she also respected the right of all people to be proud of their country.


     BENJAMIN RAMOS, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, said with the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism in full progress, the question of Puerto Rico remained a critical component at the forefront of that strategic plan.  If the United States were to dissolve its colonial control over Puerto Rico, it would cause a domino effect among other administering Powers.  The Special Committee had made history in its cry against colonialism.  Despite clear language contained in its resolutions, the United States had not acted on any of the recommendations set forth by the Special Committee.


The Puerto Rican people, although able to travel between Puerto Rico and the United States, were still a colonized people, he said.  They were the first to be sent to war.  They were denied the right to representation in Congress and denied the right to their own land.  He made the case for the six remaining political prisoners, who were community activists, parents and grandparents.  They found Puerto Rico’s colonial reality to be unacceptable, leading them to join the Puerto Rican independence movement.  They had served more than 20 years in federal prisons.  Their sentences were punitive and excessive. The goal had been to punish them for their beliefs and not for acts.  The Puerto Rican political prisoners had been model prisoners since their incarceration.


The colonial reality of Puerto Rico, the military presence in Vieques and the incarceration of political prisoners were all violations of international law and human rights, he said.  The United States had used its exempt status from the transmission of information under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter as a loophole to commit human rights violations in Puerto Rico and its territories.  He implored the United Nations to intercede and monitor the human rights and environmental violations that were being perpetrated by the United States Government against Puerto Rico and its people.


     FERNANDO MARTIN-GARCIA, Partido Independista Puertorriqueño, said there was no doubt that the United Nations was immersed in one of its greatest crises since its foundation.  The war against Iraq placed the Organization in the position of becoming a mere rubber stamp for decisions made in Washington, D.C.  The Security Council had been able to resist the blackmail to which it was subject, saving the Organization from bankruptcy.


He said there had been severe pressure to sabotage the resolution before the Special Committee.  The resolution constituted not only a refection of solidarity for the right of Puerto Rico’s sovereignty, but also a contribution to the independence of the United Nations, given the whims of a super-Power that went beyond international law.  He trusted that the Special Committee would act according to its duties by approving the resolution before it.


     VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists said the Association, a non-governmental organization with consultative status in the Economic and Social Council, was firmly committed to the struggle for self-determination.  She was here today to defend the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to their independence, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514.  She thanked the Committee for its resolutions calling upon the United States to end the “war” against Vieques.  The Puerto Ricans, by means of massive acts of civil disobedience, had obliged the most powerful navy in the world to withdraw from Vieques in May.


She said, however, that much remained to be done to bring the case before the General Assembly.  Although the Navy had ceased its military activities in Vieques, the lands had not been transferred and the danger persisted that those lands, once again, would wind up in the hands of the United States Navy.  He demanded the devolution of all of Vieques’ land occupied by the Navy.  He also requested its decontamination.


     CARLOS GONZALES, Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, said his organization was today claiming the right of the people of Vieques to live in peace and freedom from the inherent dangers of militarism.  They should also be free to develop a sustainable healthy economy.  The presence of the United States Navy in Vieques for more than 60 years had denied its people those rights and had undermined their social progress and their right to live in a healthy environment.  Four years of intensive actions and peaceful civil disobedience had paralysed the harmful practices of the most powerful armed force in world history.  Echoing the calls of previous speakers, he demanded the decontamination of Vieques and the transfer of its land.  He asked the Committee, in its future work and resolutions, to ask the United States carry out a full environmental cleanup of Vieques and to return the land to its people.


     MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriqueños Unidos en Acción, said the United States Government had taken elaborate steps to confuse world public opinion regarding the character of its political and socio-economic power over Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico had been invaded with the pretext of releasing it from the colonial yoke of the Spanish Crown.  In the new, uncivilized world order, must small countries be forced to arm themselves in order to maintain peace?


In the case of Puerto Rico, the United States had imposed laws of military recruitment, he said.  The great majority of the United States administrations had sponsored a policy of military expansion.  The United States had been at war against the whole world in the name of democracy and freedom.  For the world’s poor, the United States did not represent freedom, but rather a remote and terrible enemy.  United Nations inspectors were also necessary in Vieques, which was a site of terrible economic disaster.


     With current world events, the Special Committee’s work acquired greater relevance, he said.  Puerto Rico was one such case.  The United States Government had used its influence to keep the question of Puerto Rico off the international agenda.  It had used a variety of techniques to confuse the people of Puerto Rico.  The Special Committee had a special responsibility to clarify the impressive reality of the Puerto Rican people and to protect their basic human rights.  The Special Committee must give the issue priority and appeal to the United States to respect international and legal standards.


     JOSE ADAMES, of “Al Frente” Channel 57, said the case of Puerto Rico was one of major historical discrimination against a whole State and race.  Puerto Rico had been adopted more than 100 years ago as a Territory of the United States.  Some years later, it had been politically converted into another State, under a discriminatory formula.  While most of the other States of the Union had enjoyed the maximum possible development, Puerto Rico had been left behind to certain underdevelopment, with its citizens assuming a second-class position.  Meanwhile, more Puerto Ricans had died in United States wars than residents of any other State.  Even today, more Puerto Ricans were members of the United States Army, the National Guard and police forces.


     He said that only by moving to another State of the Union did Puerto Ricans acquire the rights of first-class citizens, including the right to vote.  But, if they moved back to the island, they lost it again.  All military personnel of the United States received a ballot, no matter where they were stationed, but the situation of Puerto Rico had not been clearly defined.  Puerto Ricans would remain second-class citizens, absent a declaration of statehood.  While it was a “virtual” State of the Union, it had political and economic enemies who refused to recognize Puerto Ricans.  The result of every referendum had always shown more than 90 per cent in favour of statehood.  He asked the Committee to demand of the United States Government to stop that “historical discrimination”.


     NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, described her group as a multicultural, peace-oriented organization, which believed that one of the best ways to attain peace was by joining people through their cultures.  The position of some members of the United States Congress that the final solution lay with the people of Puerto Rico was “democratically correct, but locally impossible”.  The Popular Democratic Party was now talking about a constituent assembly to produce a final solution.  The statehood party was against participating in such a move, however, and was now proposing another referendum.  The only possible solution was decolonization.  The colonial status of Puerto Rico must be ended now.


     She said that the United States Congress must morally and legally conclude what it started in 1917 and declare Puerto Rico the fifty-first State.  That would be the most honourable and sincere message.  She had interviewed thousands of Puerto Ricans on the island and they all wanted statehood.  “We were adopted by the United States of America and we love our parents and we don’t want to be separated from our parents”, she said.


     ANITA VELEZ-MITCHELL, Primavida, said that the United States was today a friend to Puerto Rico after having stopped its war games in Vieques.  The people of Vieques, her homeland, were grateful.  Puerto Rico was fighting to remain standing with its national dignity as participants in the human race.  The goal of Puerto Rico was to become a commonwealth or State of the Union.  Puerto Rico had become home to Dominicans, Haitians, Cubans and Muslims.  Puerto Ricans should be respected, not only for their beautiful island, but because millions of them had fought and died in battle for the United States.


     Turning to the term “Hispanic”, which applied to all Spanish-speaking individuals, she said that, with the settlement in the United States of Dominicans, Colombians, Peruvians, Argentines, and so forth, those individuals must be identified as such, and not just labelled Hispanic.  That term Hispanic was like a “thunderbolt” to the Puerto Rican people.  Often, the media referred to criminals at large by their physical appearance and, by labelling them as Hispanic, they were often misconstrued as Puerto Rican.


     JULIO MURIENTE PEREZ, New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico, said that during the last four years Puerto Rican people had intensified their struggle against foreign military occupation.  The tenacious struggle of the Puerto Rican people had borne fruit.  As of 1 May, the bombing and military movements at Vieques had ceased.  Much of the land at Vieques, however, had been transferred to the control of other bodies of the United States.  The enormous and complex task of cleaning up toxic materials remained.  Thousands of Puerto Ricans had been mobilized as soldiers in the attack against Iraq.  Even though most of the Puerto Rican people were against that attack, the United States had once again imposed its colonial will.


In a few weeks, Puerto Rico would commemorate the fifty-first anniversary of the founding of the commonwealth, he said.  In the not-so-distant future, the colonial case of Puerto Rican would have to be considered by the General Assembly.  The United States must shoulder its responsibilities.  Puerto Rico was ready to struggle for its nation and culture against annexation and in favour of peace.  Puerto Rico would be the principal protagonist of its history.  He hoped that the Committee would recognize Puerto Rico’s fight for self-determination and independence.

     WILMA REVERON COLLAZO, Comite Puerto Rico en la ONU, said the victories obtained by the people of Puerto Rico were shared by the Special Committee.  The Special Committee’s voice had been listened to by the administering Power regarding the imprisonment of numerous Puerto Rican patriots.  On 1 May, the United States Navy had left the island.  The tireless struggle of the Puerto Rican people, as well as the Special Committee’s demands, had ended the attempted destruction of a defenceless people.  Vieques was the clearest example of what unity could achieve.  While it was a time of celebration, it was also a moment for reflection.  Many years of work remained to achieve economic and ecological improvements in Vieques.


Another struggle was taking place among the people of Puerto Rico, she said, namely, the imposition of the death penalty.  When Puerto Rico had adopted its constitution, it had approved banning the death penalty.  The United States had violated numerous international covenants to which it was a signatory, including the International Convention of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  She opposed the interventionist policy being practised by the United States.  Cuba had for centuries supported the right of Puerto Ricans for independence.  She thanked Cuba for its efforts in submitting a draft resolution that covered the aspirations of the Puerto Rican people.


     NOEL COLON MARTINEZ, Congreso Nacional Hostosiano of Puerto Rico, said the colonial nature of Puerto Rico had been detailed by the Special Committee’s more than 20 resolutions.  The Special Committee’s consistent and anti-colonial stand had always met with the stubbornness and arrogance of the United States.  The United States had an active policy to encourage division among the Puerto Rican people.  At present, after nearly 105 years of United States domination, a new will was emerging to confront United States colonialism and help the people claim their right to political sovereignty through a constitutional assembly.


     He said he was submitting copies of two resolutions requesting authorization for the convening of a constitutional assembly.  The legislative leaders of the majority party had welcomed the resolutions.  The leader of the ruling party had also come out in favour of the assembly.  Puerto Rico was confronting a problem of a lack of political definition.  The arrogance of the United States Government had unforeseeable manifestations, which was why he was requesting greater international support. 


The General Assembly took action on the case of Puerto Rico in 1945 by including it on the post-war list of dependent territories, he said.  In 1953, it had decided to remove Puerto Rico from the list of Non-Self Governing Territories, leaving it in a political limbo until the Committee took up the issue again in 1972.  He hoped that efforts to deal with colonialism would be echoed in the Organization that had the responsibility of speeding the process of decolonization.  He called for the Special Committee’s continued support for the decolonization of Puerto Rico.


     ROGER CALERO, Political Rights Defence Fund, said immigration authorities at the Houston airport had recently arrested him upon his return to the United States.  Hundreds of letters of protest had flooded the Houston office and a defence campaign on his behalf kept growing.  The attempts by the immigration police to revoke his permanent residency struck a chord among many.  He was invited to address various audiences, where he learned that many others caught in the net of American injustice faced what he faced.  Thousands of outraged people had taken to the streets of Los Angeles to protest his case.  The daily factory raids and deportation of hundreds of workers each year were aimed at aiding bosses and driving down the living standards of workers. 


     The attempt to use the death penalty in Puerto Rico was one more example of how the people of his country were denied the right to self-determination, he said.  During his tour, he discovered numerous examples of resistance to worker attacks.  He had found that those fighting exploitation were most interested in learning the truth about the colonial rule of Puerto Rico.  He would soon be going on tour again and he planned to speak about the struggle to release all political prisoners. 


     MARTIN KOPPEL, Social Workers Party, said that the United States Government had used Puerto Rico as a base to commit aggression against peoples around the world, including in Grenada and Yugoslavia.  Now that Government was trying to make others pay for its plunder and occupation of Iraq.  It had stepped up its threats against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by using the same “slogan” and calling for the non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons.  That track record of aggression was nothing new and had not begun on “9/11”; that was American imperialism unmasked.  Now, the war against terrorism was being used to justify military force around the world, in order to rescue the world imperialist order, which was starting to decay. 


He said that the war against terrorism also covered up the activities of United States Government against its own workers.  It was trying to build up production, while, at the same time, reducing working conditions and job and health benefits for the workers.  There were many Puerto Ricans in the work force in the United States who suffered, along with the other oppressed peoples in that country.  There was racist prejudice and reaction to Puerto Ricans here, attacks on affirmative action and police violence, including very recently when two Puerto Rican workers were killed by police.  Puerto Ricans had been imprisoned in United States’ jails for voicing their support for the independence of Puerto Rico.  They should be released, along with the five Cuban revolutionaries who had been locked up on trumped up charges.  Washington was he common enemy and the common oppressor.  


     LUIS ROSA-PEREZ, Puertorican Human Rights Committee, said he was fighting for the freedom of Puerto Rico and to free its prisoners of war and political prisoners.  He was released from prison in 1999, thanks to the efforts of a brave nation that refused to surrender, despite a long history of colonialism.  Since his capture in 1980, the Special Committee had approved many resolutions.  Those had helped raise consciousness about the situation and had sparked acts of solidarity, but he did not believe that Puerto Rico’s liberation lay in the United Nations building, or in the resolutions passed there. 


The nation that had subjected his people to colonialism and the multinational corporations that had exploited them must be condemned, he continued.  The effects of such actions were seen in the malnourished children of Puerto Rico, and on the island of Vieques, where people were dying a slow, torturous death from cancer.  The United States Government had refused to hand over the land in Vieques, because it did not want to pay reparations to the victims of the criminal and noxious activities of the United States Navy.  For 104 years, Puerto Ricans had struggled long and hard to break the chains of colonialism.  Puerto Rican political prisoners had been locked up in United States’ prisons for two decades now just because they struggled for democracy and freedom.


     RICARDO GABRIEL, Hostos Puerto Rican Club at Hunter College, President, Student Liberation Action Movement, said there were currently more than 3.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States.  They were among the poorest and most disenfranchised in the United States today.  They had been economically exploited and socially and politically repressed.  Puerto Rican youth had been subjected to police brutality and an equally brutal political system.  The United States Government would rather imprison them, than allow them to receive quality education. 


At the same time, he said, Puerto Ricans were grossly over-represented in the United States military and in the prison system, which shamefully boasted more than 2 million men, women and children overall.  The condition of Puerto Ricans in the United States was undeniably connected to the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.  For decades, Puerto Ricans had been economically displaced.  The human and natural resources of its homeland had been misused by the “imperialist power”.  That had resulted in the involuntary migration to the United States of many thousands of Puerto Ricans unable to find employment on the island. 


Thus, the colonial reality of Puerto Ricans on the island was being transplanted to the United States, as Puerto Ricans faced racism and limited employment and educational opportunities.  As a consequence, the majority of Puerto Ricans found themselves stuck in a cycle of poverty.  The health care and school systems in their communities were neglected and under-funded.  Forthcoming tuition increases and budget cuts would force thousands of Puerto Ricans and other people of colour out of school.  Puerto Ricans in the diaspora would continue to fight alongside their counterparts in Puerto Rico for their human rights and self-determination.  Puerto Rico would never stop producing freedom fighters, for as long as their oppression continued. 


     ANTHONY MELE, Sixty-fifth Honor Task Force, said his organization was a coalition of American soldiers who bore silent, but eloquent testimony for the decolonization of Puerto Rico.  The testimony of Puerto Rican soldiers reverberated back to the actions of Lieutenant Pepe Diaz, who, in 1789, gave his life expelling British forces from Puerto Rico, thereby aiding an obscure group of 13 colonies that later became the United States.  Quoting from General Douglass McArthur on the role of Puerto Rican soldiers during the Korean War, he said such testimony continued to today, as Puerto Rican soldiers combated terrorism, including in the recent battle in Iraq.


     He appealed to the nations of the world to look upon the humble, freedom-loving people of Puerto Rico and urge the United States to grant them self-determination.  The American citizens of Puerto Rico would decide for themselves which course of action best served their ability to adapt to the geo-political challenges of the new century.


     Action on draft resolution


     Cuba’s representative introduced the draft resolution, saying Cuba’s historic commitment to Puerto Rico dated back many years.  The historic link between Cuba and Puerto Rico, two wings of one bird, had supported each other in their right to self-determination.  That support had been maintained up to the present day.  The text took up basic elements that had been adopted in the past and included the necessary updating.  The draft recognized the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination.  It reaffirmed that the people of Puerto Rico constituted a Latin American nation with its own national identify and that it had overcome 105 years of attempts to eliminate the Puerto Rican culture. 


The Special Committee had appealed to the United States to stop the military manoeuvres at Vieques, he continued.  A few weeks ago, the United States Navy ended its bombing exercises there.  Undoubtedly, it was an important step.  For the people of Vieques, the withdrawal constituted a victory that must be completed with the return of the territories used for military exercises still occupied by the Department of the Interior.  The years of bombing had damaged the health of the people of the island, as well as its beaches and waters.  The immediate decontamination of the island was another priority.  The struggle for Vieques continued to be given broad international support. 


     The representative of Venezuela, speaking in explanation of position, reiterated Venezuela’s support for decolonization and the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination.  The draft reflected, in a well-balanced way, the main elements of the problem.


     Acting without a vote, the Special Committee then approved the draft resolution.


     Speaking after the decision, the representative of Cuba said the withdrawal of the United States military from Vieques was an historical event.  Cuba expressed appreciation for the adoption by consensus of the twenty-second resolution on the subject.  The resolution should become a practical tool, and not understood as a mere formality.  He expressed gratitude for the broad presence of petitioners, who had made a substantive contribution to the Special Committee’s work. 


He said he was pleased at the presence of a delegation from the United States in the meeting.  The Special Committee welcomed dialogue with all administering Powers.  The resolution should also serve as a useful instrument for the administering Power, which was asked to agree to a discussion on the status of Puerto Rico.  The resolution sought to have that process begin, so that the people of Puerto Rico could exercise their right to self-determination.  The resolution sent a clear message on the vital need to begin the process of decontamination.  Immediate attention must be given to the inhabitants of Vieques for their economic, social and health needs.  Lands must be returned to their only owner, the people of Puerto Rico. 


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