PUERTO RICO
 
 

Statement

by 

His Excellency Miguel Soto Lacourt
Secretary of State of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

at the 
World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
30 August 2002

Mister President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:

                I would like to thank the government and the people of South Africa for their warm hospitality with which we have been welcomed and the outstanding preparations that have been made for this notable occasion. Likewise, I would like to congratulate the United Nations, participating delegations, and all who have diligently worked during the past months to make this Summit a successful event.  

               The delicate balance between the economic growth of societies and the indispensable safeguarding of health, the environment, and natural resources depends not only on the environmental awareness of a society and its government, but also on the emphasis that said society puts on the viability and encouragement of development projects. Economic interests must strive to achieve a fair balance with the environmental interests, and acknowledge as well the need for a protected ecosystem as part of a civilized life. Only then may present and future generations form a sustainable society that provides a life experience filled with development opportunities, within a peaceful economic, social, and natural environment. As a developing island nation, Puerto Rico faces several environmental problems. Nation-wide, we have constitutionally ratified the preservation and wise use of our natural resources, which has resulted in an environmental public policy and the adoption of tangible environment statutes as part of the Puerto Rico Land Use Plan.

             We have acquired the expertise and the knowledge to face environmental and social challenges. What remains to be done is have the wills meet and the country unite in a new environmental and economic view that is to guide us towards the road of sustainable development. The practice of sustainable development will certainly require changes of deep impact, not only in national politics, but in world politics as well.

             Puerto Rico has been excluded from the actions taken in different regional and world commissions in respect to this work agenda. Such exclusion restricts the exchange of information and ideas among world communities and our country. It is imperative that we fully and consistently reenter the global scene and to be included in the group of Small Developing Island States; said act is indispensable for us, the people of Puerto Rico.

           Puerto Rico finds itself today in a crucial turning point. Either it continues to increase pollution and the social degradation of poverty, or it implements a massive cultural transformation that takes us to a sustainable society, eradicating poverty and changing from its origin some environmental attitudes.

           Nevertheless, economy, society, and the environment are still completely unlinked among each other on economic development postures that still prevail in the country. Likewise, the geopolitical vision of our Island brings additional challenges that must be met. The limited stretch of land, the increasing population density, our vulnerability to atmospheric phenomena, and an extremely dependent national economy, are facts that must be taken into consideration when facing the challenge of sustainable development in Puerto Rico.

          Without a doubt, the greatest environmental challenge faced by our people is the recovery and thorough cleanup of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, whose waters and lands have been used for the past 60 years as a toxic landfill, arms depot, and target zone by the United States Navy. We certainly might never know the real scope of pollution in Vieques, and it is for Puerto Rico a challenge never before faced. If many of the member States of this congress have experienced the cleaning up and reconstructing of the ravages of a war, Vieques is our first encounter with the reality of an unprecedented case of contamination, as a result of indiscriminate military practices.

          In May of 2003, when these military practices come to a halt in Vieques, Puerto Ricans will face an enormous and noteworthy mission that will demand the best from our natural resources. The environmental disaster in Vieques, where almost 9,000 human beings dwell, as well a great variety of plants and animals, is a Puerto Rican tragedy, a Caribbean tragedy, and also a Planetary one, which in simple terms translates into a terrible example of sustainable development.

           It is certainly another dreadful example of sustainable development the extreme poverty that still prevails in many parts of our country. In 1952, a new constitution was ratified in Puerto Rico, under the aegis of a new government that established reform and social justice programs of great significance that forever changed the destiny of the poor people of our country. Today, fifty years later, our government has launched its largest initiative since then: to eradicate extreme poverty throughout certain alienated areas of the Island, since without their formal integration to society sustainable development in Puerto Rico would be inconceivable. The present government has granted one billion dollars fat investment in projects of extreme necessity for the poor communities of our country. These projects will allow the members of these communities to take a better hold of their lives and to take an active role in building the future of our country. The purpose of said investment is to set a solid base of infrastructure, housing, health, safety, recreation, and community self assessment that shall serve as a catalyst for the sustainable development of each community.

         Puerto Rico is in the process of establishing sustainable development as its public policy together with the environmental, social, and economic terms of Agenda 21. This implies the integration of environmental and developing concepts of the ecologic systems of Puerto Rico, coupled with the development of a national system of sustainable development indicators. In addition, it implies wide environmental interventions that will safeguard the access to clean air and to pure water, and the preservation of natural resources in all Puerto Rican communities.
Today, our Legislature works on the creation of an Environmental Code that fits our realities of population density, limited natural resources, and pressure for economic development. Said code will give the protection and preservation of natural resources the urgency that it requires, according to the principles of sustainable development.

       Puerto Rico is willing and committed to actively participate in international forums, specially those of the Small Developing Island States, and to take the pertinent measures in favour of the preservation and protection of the Puerto Rican environment for the benefit of present and future generations.

         Lastly, I take this opportunity to thank the United Nations Secretary General, His Excellency Kofi Annan, for inviting Puerto Rico to be formally represented before this Summit. It has been a unique opportunity to exchange viewpoints with delegates of fellow nations.

                                 Thank you very much.