SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION HEARS PETITIONERS ON THE QUESTION OF PUERTO RICO19970619 A bill before the United States Congress on the future status of Puerto Rico mocked the process of decolonization and the principles of self- determination, the Special Committee on decolonization was told this morning, as it heard petitioners during its consideration of the question of Puerto Rico. The bill, known as the Puerto Rico political status act, would provide for a plebiscite on the political status of Puerto Rico to be held some time before 31 December 1998, in which the people would choose between statehood, sovereignty or continuing the current status of a self-governing commonwealth.
A petitioner from the Committee Puerto Rico '98 said the bill excluded 2.8 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States and others around the world from voting in the plebiscite, while foreign born United States citizens who lived or temporarily resided in Puerto Rico would be permitted to vote.
Several petitioners said a general amnesty should be given to "all Puerto Rican political prisoners" in United States jails before any plebiscite was held. They also said the bill did not mention that Spanish language was an intrinsic element of the Puerto Rican people's identity.
The United Nations should supervise any plebiscite on the political future of Puerto Rico, other petitioners said. Any dispute over Puerto Rico's status should be determined by the International Court of Justice. The Special Committee should approve a resolution on Puerto Rico recognizing its sovereignty as an independent nation.
Statements were also made by representatives of the following organizations: Puerto Rican Bar Association, National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican Independence Party, Puerto Rican Autonomy Commission, Hostosian National Congress, Popular Democratic Party and the Puerto Rico on Human Rights. Also this morning, Committee Chairman Utula Samana (Papua New Guinea) drew attention to a communication from Guinea-Bissau, stating that it did not agree with all the comments made on Monday, 16 June, by the representative of Sao Tome and Principe, on behalf of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, during consideration of the question of East Timor. However, he said his Government agreed with comments supporting the self-determination of the East Timorese people.
The Special Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue consideration of the question of Puerto Rico.
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Special Committee Work Programme
The Special Committee on decolonization met this morning to hear petitioners concerning Puerto Rico.
On 15 August 1991, the Special Committee decided to keep the question of Puerto Rico under continuing review (document A/AC.109/1088). It reaffirmed the inalienable right of its people to self-determination and independence, in conformity with the 1960 General Assembly Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
The Special Committee said it trusted that the United States Congress would adopt as soon as possible the legal framework to enable the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination, through popular consultations, in accordance with United Nations principles and practice.
According to a report of the Special Committee's Rapporteur (document A/AC.109/L.1788) dated 28 July 1992, the Chairman transmitted the text of the Committee's decision to the Permanent Representative of the United States on 22 August 1991 for the attention of his Government. The Rapporteur, in a note verbale of the same date addressed to the Permanent Representative of the United States, requested information on action taken or envisaged by the Government of the United States in the implementation of relevant resolutions.
MANUEL FERMIN ARRAIZA, of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, said since 1944, Puerto Rico had been demanding an end to its colonial status. For over 30 years, the Bar Association had been denouncing Puerto Rico's lack of political power. The crisis of sovereignty would be resolved when the Puerto Rican people were granted their political rights. The Bar Association provided support for the constitutional process and wanted to ensure that certain minimum pre-requisites would be complied with.
International arbitration was necessary to resolve the dispute over Puerto Rico, he said. Its status must be clarified by the International Court of Justice, a step which was even more urgent now that the United States Congress was about to adopt a draft law which did not respect the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico and reduced it to a Territory. The draft law was archaic. Under its obsolete provisions, the United States relationship with Puerto Rico would be essentially colonial.
He said certain minimum pre-requisites were needed to ensure Puerto Rico's independence, including the following: any proposal must come from the Puerto Rican people and the United Nations should supervise the constitutional process; the transitory status should be spelt out in advance and should be based on a constitutional authority. Also, all political prisoners should be
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given total amnesty and transferred to Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rican voters must be duly defined and given accreditation. More than 500 years of colonial status was too much. His country had never fully exercised its right to self- determination. The United Nations must ensure that the United States complied with international law.
IRIS B. ALFONSO, of the United States-based National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, said the organization had been formed in 1981 to organize Puerto Ricans to fight for and in defence of their rights, and against racism. Puerto Ricans in the United States had been victims of the "most vicious repressive measures taken against any people struggling for liberation". The proof was in the current incarceration of 15 Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war serving disproportionate sentences in United States maximum security prisons for simply exercising their rights to independence. "We are a colony of the United States and a territory which, to this day, has not exercised its right to self-determination", she said. The United States had not complied with the procedures outlined in the 1960 General Assembly Declaration on decolonization.
Puerto Ricans believed that the United Nations had a role to play in the decolonization of the island, she said. In accordance with the Declaration, the United States must transfer all power, including the 70 per cent of the authority it had, to the island. July 1998 would mark 100 years of United States dominance and control of Puerto Rico. Many would watch to see if the United Nations would follow through on its past decisions concerning Puerto Rico's continuing colonial status and the rights of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination. It was the responsibility of the Special Committee and of the General Assembly to ensure that right. The United States federal courts, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the military and any other institutional deterrents must be removed.
LOLITA LEBRON, of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, called for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners currently in United States jails. She said the current political process in Puerto Rico was a total fraud. It continued to be a country with colonial status subject to the full power of the United States Congress. Her country had been invaded, betrayed and denied its political power. It suffered a great colonial farce, the so-called commonwealth, perpetrated on Puerto Rico in 1953. It was now fighting for its freedom, and its men and women held in prison were being tortured and held in chains. She said her political party was dedicated to exposing the lies about Puerto Rico and to having it removed from the list of colonial territories. Puerto Ricans were different from people in the United States and would never accept their authority. The expression of assent to annexation was not valid. United States legislative acts to date were based on a pretext and failed to ensure that Puerto Rico received the political or economic development necessary to exercise its political independence.
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There were many instances in which the United States had violated the legal rights of the Puerto Rican people, and the evidence should be presented to the International Court of Justice, she said. The issue was now in the hands of the Special Committee and should be put before the General Assembly. Any resolution on Puerto Rico should condemn any effort at annexation by the United States. Throughout the twentieth century, the Puerto Rican economy had been subject to the whims of United States business interests, she concluded.
FERNANDO MARTIN-GARCIA, of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said advocates of the island's independence had, for 50 years, denounced its present commonwealth status. He urged the Special Committee to adopt a resolution that would help Puerto Rico's decolonization process. The Special Committee should reiterate the basic United Nations principles relating to decolonization and demand the transfer of power to the island. It should also call for the freedom of Puerto Rican political prisoners held in the United States and for the withdrawal of United States military presence on the island. The Special Committee should resist any temptation to take a step backwards in its handling of the question of Puerto Rico.
MARIBEL RODRIGUEZ, of the Committee Puerto Rico '98, said the need to resolve the colonial status of Puerto Rico had been recognized by all major political parties there and by the international community through General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) adopted in 1960. The fact that the United States could impose its authority unilaterally over any aspect of Puerto Rico's economic, political and civic life was an undeniable testimony of present-day United States colonial control.
United States business interests took over $6 billion in annual profits from Puerto Rico's $28 billion gross domestic product (GDP), making it the fifth largest captive of United States consumer goods. Yet, the island's per capita annual income was only $7,662. Real unemployment was estimated at 30 per cent, and average wages were a third lower than those in the United States. American corporations in Puerto Rico were tax protected and their profits were not reinvested in its economy. The emphasis on industrialization ignored the agrarian nature of Puerto Rican society and contributed to forced migrations. The 2.8 million Puerto Ricans already knew the realities of statehood included joblessness, housing discrimination, inadequate health care, police brutality and racist "English-only" policies.
Presently, there were 16 Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners- of-war in United States federal prisons, she said. The Puerto Rico Political Status Act, currently being debated in the United States Congress, would authorize a plebiscite before 31 December 1998, in which the people would choose between statehood, sovereignty or continuing the current status of a self-governing commonwealth as an unincorporated United States territory. However, the bill mocked the principles of self-determination by excluding the 2.8 million people living in the United States, as well as others around the
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world from the plebescite. Foreign-born United States citizens who live or temporarily reside in Puerto Rico will be permitted to vote.
The bill, as currently written, did not conform to international standards of decolonization and self-determination, she said. It did not include the right of amnesty for all political prisoners incarcerated in United States jails, nor did it recognize the Spanish language as an intrinsic element of Puerto Rico's identity as a distinct nation. The bill did not include provisions for the full removal of United States military bases from Puerto Rico.
CARLOS VIZCARRONDO IRIZARRY, of the Puerto Rican Autonomy Commission, said his organization had denounced a bill introduced by Republican Congressman Don Young on the island's, future which had been approved by the Natural Resources Committee of the United States House of Representatives. The bill called for a status plebiscite which was a violation of international law. The bill rejected the legitimacy of the present commonwealth status of the island, describing it as a United States colony and favouring its statehood.
He requested the Special Committee to supervise any plebiscite that might be organized in Puerto Rico. The United States should comply with all United Nations resolutions on decolonization questions. The Special Committee, as the guardian of the people's right to self-determination, should be vigilant in approving a resolution reflecting the Declaration on decolonization and clearly establishing the pre-requisites which should be met in any process of consultations with the people of Puerto Rico about their political destiny. That step would be seen by the international community as a freely expressed will of the people.
NOEL COLON MARTINEZ, of the Hostosian National Congress, said the decolonization process in Puerto Rico had been left in the hands of the administering Power. The people, even if they voted on their future status, would not be able to determine the appropriate formula freely. Many questions remained, such as what type of minority would be acceptable and what language would be spoken if statehood was chosen. The current bill before the United States Congress allowed for the holding of a plebiscite before 31 December 1998. However, according to the bill, Puerto Ricans would have to use a republican model of government and not be allowed a parliamentary system, regardless of their wishes. Under the bill, the status of the Spanish language was negotiable and, regardless of the outcome of the plebiscite, the United States military bases on the Puerto Rican islands would remain.
Puerto Rico was not a territory with United States residents, but a country suffering under colonialism, which had suffered an invasion of its territory, he said. It had become a large military camp. He demanded a cessation of the bombing of Puerto Rican land during United States naval
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exercises, the release of political prisoners from United States prisons, the recognition of the right of Puerto Rican compatriots living in the United States to take part in any determination of Puerto Rico's future and a recognition of the political rights of people living in Puerto Rico. Any plebiscite held by the dominating Power only perpetuated colonial power. The International Court of Justice should arbitrate the dispute. He hoped the Special Committee would consider the status of Puerto Rico appropriately, representing it as a nation with its own identity that could join the United Nations.
ANIBAL ACEVEDO VILA, of the Popular Democratic Party, reaffirmed the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination which, he said, should be recognized by the United States. The island's commonwealth status was the result of a self-determination process undertaken by the people. A recent survey by a local paper showed that 43 per cent of the people favoured the commonwealth status, 39 per cent favoured annexation and 4 per cent were for the island's independence.
Those who favoured annexation by the United States had succeeded in getting a Republican United States Congressman, Don Young, to introduce a bill calling for a plebiscite on the political status of the island, he said. The bill was designed to create a statehood for the island against the majority who favoured the commonwealth status. The bill also negated the provisions of the act creating the commonwealth status. His party proposed the convening of a constituent assembly to discuss the island's future. The Young bill was a return to the past and designed to eliminate the autonomy option of the people. It was also "a carefully crafted" attempt to annex the island. He said the Special Committee should affirm Puerto Rico's identity.
GILBERTO GERENA-VALENTIN, of Puerto Rico on Human Rights, said there were people in Puerto Rico who were afraid to overthrow their colonial status. One political party wanted to integrate with the United States, but that would only continue the rampant racism. Another party could not make up its mind, and wavered between different types of relationships with the United States. One only had to examine the relationship between the black and white races in the United States to realize the outcome of statehood.
Those in favour of statehood were like political prisoners who had suffered for decades but, when offered their freedom, were afraid to throw off their chains, he said. Others believed that if they accepted statehood they would wake up one morning with blond hair and blue eyes. Many thought only Americans could do things properly or were afraid of what would happen when the "Americans are no longer here".
The colonial Power had used the resources of Puerto Rico's seas, bombed its territory during naval exercises and allowed pharmaceutical and chemical companies to poison its land, he said. The island of Vicques was one big
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military target, and the people there had been deprived of their best land. No matter how many plebiscites were promised or held, the current colonial nature of Puerto Rico could not be disguised. The dilemma over Puerto Rico's status still persisted in the United Nations. The United States Congress was trying to obfuscate the decolonization process by saying the United Nations did not have the authority to determine the future of the territory. A plebiscite on Puerto Rico's future status should not be held before political prisoners in United States jails were given a general amnesty. Any plebiscite would only serve to divide the people.
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