SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION BEGINS HEARING OF PETITIONERS ON PUERTO RICO19980810 Draft Text Reaffirming Inalienable Right of People Of Puerto Rico to Self-Determination and Independence Introduced by Cuba
The question of Puerto Rico should be subjected to full scrutiny by the United Nations, a representative of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs told the Special Committee on decolonization this afternoon as it began a two-day hearing on the situation concerning Puerto Rico.
The petitioner, one of several heard by the Committee, said that the people of Puerto Rico had the right to decide their own future. A representative of the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico said that it was the duty of the international community not to allow the foreign Power to silence the call for freedom, adding that the United States should not be the one to decide the fate of Puerto Rico.
A representative of the People's Democratic Party upheld the current status of Puerto Rico -- a position which he said was supported by the majority of the Puerto Rican people. The Commonwealth status had been the outcome of the exercise of the right to self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico. A representative of Give Puerto Rico a Chance said her organization promoted statehood for Puerto Rico as a decolonization option. Puerto Rico should be given a chance to deal with its own destiny with pride and courage -- just as had been the case for Alaska and Hawaii.
Most petitioners urged the Special Committee to adopt a resolution underscoring the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self- determination and independence, which was introduced this afternoon by the representative of Cuba.
That text would have the Committee reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, and the
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application of the fundamental principles of that resolution to the question of Puerto Rico. The Special Committee would express its hope, and that of the international community, that the United States Government would assume its responsibility to expedite a process that allowed the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise that inalienable right.
Also making statements this afternoon were representatives of the following organizations: Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Bar Association); Puerto Rican Independence Party; Causa Comum Independentista- Proyecto Educativo Puertorriqueno; Frente Socialista; Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; Nacional L.U.L.A.C de la Juventud; Agricultores Pro-Estadidad; Educadores Arecibenos Pro-Estadidad; PROELA; Comision Internacional de Union Pro-Patria; Puerto Rican Chapter of the American Association of Jurists; New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico; and Puerto Rican Democratic Action Foundation.
At the outset of the meeting, the Acting Chairman of the Special Committee, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla (Cuba), on behalf of the Special Committee, extended profound sympathy to the Government and People of Papua New Guinea for the tragic loss of life and extensive material damage that resulted from the recent offshore earthquakes in that country. He similarly extended deepest sympathy to the Government and people of China for recent floods there. The Acting Chairman expressed the hope that the international community would show solidarity and respond promptly and generously to any request for help. Both China and Papua New Guinea are members of the Special Committee.
The Special Committee on decolonization will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 11 August, to continue its hearing on the situation in Puerto Rico.
Special 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 begin a two-day hearing of petitioners on the situation in Puerto Rico.
It had before it, a draft resolution sponsored by Cuba (document A/AC.109/L.1885) on the Special Committee draft decision of 15 August 1991 concerning Puerto Rico. By that decision, the Special Committee, among other things, reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self- determination and independence in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, and the application of the fundamental principles of that resolution with respect to Puerto Rico.
The Cuban draft text would have the Special Committee again reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). The Special Committee would express its hope, and that of the international community, that the Government of the United States would assume its responsibility of expediting a process that allowed the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise that right in accordance with that Assembly resolution and the Special Committee's resolutions and decisions on Puerto Rico. The Special Committee would request its Rapporteur to present a report to it next year on the implementation of the present resolution, and would decide to keep the question of Puerto Rico under continuing review.
MANUEL FERMIN ARRAIZA, of Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Bar Association), said its organization had 10,200 members and was against colonialism. Puerto Rico was a country of six million people with some living in the diaspora for social and economic reasons. He recalled that the country was invaded by force of arms a hundred years ago last month by the United States. It had been part, but not one of the United States of America. There must be a new constitution in Puerto Rico freely enacted by the people. The United Nations must ensure the attainment of the right to self- determination and independence by the people of Puerto Rico.
EUNICE SANTANA, speaking on behalf of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, said the right of peoples to self-determination was linked to the right of people to develop their potential as children of God. It was impossible to remain indifferent to the situation of Puerto Rico given current political and social problems. The people of Puerto Rico had great expectations about the changes that could occur. The change in the public statements of the United States had been disturbing for many people. That placed the case of Puerto Rico in a new light. It had been admitted that the
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1953 United Nations report had not accurately portrayed what had occurred, and Puerto Rico was still a colony. The implications of that situation deserved the full attention of the Committee.
The harmful effects of an unjust order were having serious impacts on Puerto Rico, she said. The demand for freedom for Puerto Rican political prisoners in United States' jails had been widely heard, and the World Council of Churches had joined in calling for their release. The absence of Puerto Rico from the international arena was a serious challenge. At this time, it was impossible to disregard the demand for consideration by the excluded people. It was therefore essential to act quickly to correct the situation -- entire groups of people were being denied the opportunity to fully enjoy their basic human rights. The case of Puerto Rico should be subjected to full scrutiny by the United Nations. The people of Puerto Rico had the right to decide their own future.
FERNANDO MARTIN-GARCIA, speaking on behalf of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said that since the beginning of the 1990s the Special Committee on Decolonization had not adopted a resolution on Puerto Rico. It was now essential for the Committee to discharge its duties in this regard. Many circumstances made it necessary for the Committee to expediently adopt the draft resolution submitted by the Cuban delegation.
The adoption of the draft would constitute an important message to the United States, the international community and the people of Puerto Rico, he said. That reminder was appropriate at a point in time when a referendum on Puerto Rico's political future was being considered. That would be a step in the right direction. The adoption of the draft was what was useful and necessary in order to achieve Puerto Rico's decolonization. Latin American countries were particularly called upon to vote in favour of the draft.
JUAN MARI BRAS, Causa Comum Independentista-Proyecto Educativo Puertorriqueno, said that in the last few years the Special Committee had postponed action on resolutions concerning the country, since its 1991 decision which reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence. The United States authorities had used the period of inaction to accelerate its militarization of the Territory. Fifteen Puerto Rican political prisoners, whose actions were struggle for the Territory's independence, continued to languish in United States prisons. It was time for the Special Committee to fulfil its obligations towards the people of Puerto Rico. The Special Committee should not adopt a different attitude towards the situation of Puerto Rico compared with other colonial Territories. The people could not continue to wait. The United Nations must act, as the Puerto Rican people, had placed their faith in the Organization.
JORGE FARINACCI, Frente Socialista, said the situation in Puerto Rico was deteriorating. Social rights were being eroded, resulting in social
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upheavals. The United States was trying to convert Puerto Rico into an incorporated state. There would be a general state of insurrection by the people if the United States continued with its plans. Any process of exercise of self-determination must include freedom for political prisoners, reparations to the people and dismantling of all military installations. The Socialist Front party would not participate in the planned plebiscite on the future of the country. It would continue to fight for freedom and socialism in Puerto Rico. He supported the draft resolution before the Committee.
ERASTO ZAYAS NUNEZ, speaking on behalf of the Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, called upon the President of the United States to bring about the immediate release of Puerto Rican prisoners of war. He noted that the United States military presence in Puerto Rico had increased rather than decreased. The kindred nations of the Caribbean and North, South and Central Americas were therefore alerted to a potential threat to their own sovereignties.
The Special Committee was called upon to recognize that the sovereignty of Puerto Rico rested with its people, he said. It was important to call attention to the inconsistency of the United States Government, which in the past had made calls for openness and transparency without ever effecting it. It was hoped that the draft resolution before the Special Committee would call for the release of the prisoners, he added.
CARLOS VIZCARRONDO IRIZARRY, Member of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, said the People's Democratic Party, on whose behalf he spoke, upheld the current status of Puerto Rico -- a position which was supported by the majority of the Puerto Rican people. The Commonwealth status had been the outcome of the exercise of the right to self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico.
Those who had spoken in favour of annexation had forwarded their cause fraudulently, he said. The People's Democratic Party, which represented the majority of the people, requested that the Special Committee keep an eye on the processes occurring in Puerto Rico. The United States must respect the rights of the people of Puerto Rico, who were dedicated to the cause of political self-determination.
JUAN CARLOS LIZARDI, of the Nacional L.U.L.A.C de la Juventud, said his organization fully concurred with the present relations between Puerto Rico and the United States. The Special Committee must support the decolonization process currently taking place through a bill before the United States Congress, he added.
RAMON L. CRESPI MARRERO, of the Agricultores Pro-Estadidad, said the people of Puerto Rico did not participate in United States presidential elections. They were aware of the falsehoods spread about decolonization of
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the Territory. The Special Committee must act to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico achieved independence.
MIRIAM SANTIAGO, of the Educadores Arecibenos Pro-Estadidad, said the people of Puerto Rico must have the right to participate on an equal footing with the rest of the United States in the political process. The time had come for a rejection of the United States attitude towards the country. Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States, she said, adding that the time had come to end that colonial status. The time had also come for a resolution of the Special Committee supporting the right of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. The past 100 years had been one of inferior status under the United States flag. Her organization sought statehood for the Territory and the Special Committee must help them achieve that goal.
LUIS VEGA RAMOS, speaking on behalf of PROELA, said that a local plebiscite would suffer from many problems. The Governor had used threats and demagogy to try to get a majority which, in one hundred years, had never before been achieved. A Creole vote was just a poll, and it marginalized the majority of the country which wished for autonomy.
The options being presented for the plebiscite were ill-defined and were, accordingly, unacceptable, he said. Full decolonization was called for, and no weak plebiscite could be accepted. A new option of free Commonwealth status had to be included. It was hoped that the claim for justice in the case of Puerto Rico would be heard, and that the Special Committee would act with that end in mind.
MARISOL CORRETJER RUIZ, speaking for the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said that after one hundred years the United States was still playing with the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico. It was the duty of the international community not to allow the foreign Power to silence the call for freedom in Puerto Rico. There had been a long Puerto Rican revolution in which hundreds had fallen. The United States should not be the one to decide the fate of Puerto Rico -- the Americans should leave. Puerto Rican political prisoners should be released. Further, the abuses committed by United States military in Viejas should be condemned.
ALBERTO LOZADA-COLON, on behalf of the Comision Internacional de Union Pro-Patria, said the identity of the people of Puerto Rico was being erased from the world map. His organization promoted the rejection of United States citizenship by Puerto Ricans, and had instituted suits in various Puerto Rican and American courts towards that end. He noted with concern that a bill before the Puerto Rican House of Representatives did not reflect the right of the people to independence. A bill in the United States Congress had also failed to recognize the principles embodied in the General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). That resolution had not had any concrete effect on the situation in Puerto Rico. For the Special Committee to fail to take that historic
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opportunity would take Puerto Ricans back another hundred years. His organization would take into all forums any resolution adopted by the Special Committee reaffirming the rights of Puerto Rico to ensure that it was applied.
VANESSA RAMOS, of the Puerto Rican Chapter of the American Association of Jurists, said that the organization had recently provided legal assistance to Puerto Rican telephone workers who went on strike to protest the privatization of the state telephone company. The strike enjoyed the support of most Puerto Rican workers thus underlying public rejection of privatization. She said she was appearing before the Special Committee in support of the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence.
Puerto Rico had been condemned to colonial rule, she said, adding that the time had come for the Special Committee to pronounce itself on the right of its people to self-determination and independence. General resolution 1514 (XV) must be enforced. The bill making its way through the United States Congress on the future of Puerto Rico was a deception. At different forums, her association had demanded the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners in United States prisons. She called upon the Special Committee to use its good offices to ensure their release. She called upon Latin American and Caribbean delegations to support true self-determination for the Puerto Rican people.
JULIO ANTONIO MURIENTE PEREZ, of the New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico, said that a long century had elapsed since Puerto Rico evolved from Spain to the United States as war booty. The United States Government had essentially tried all forms of colonial domination against the Puerto Rican people, including economic absorption, military occupation and the indiscriminate manipulation of its people. The Puerto Ricans, however, had retained a high sense of national pride and they had maintained their struggle against colonialism.
The draft bill currently under discussion in the United States Congress was designed to turn Puerto Rico into a "state" of the United States against the majority will of the people of Puerto Rico, he said. That draft bill was a deception, a unilateral initiative which completely ignored the will of the Puerto Rican people. For 100 years, the United States Government had demonstrated a complete absence of will to decolonize Puerto Rico, and it had not even acknowledged the persistence of a problem between the two nations. Indeed, there was an escalation of United States military presence in an island city of Puerto Rico, and more than one dozen political prisoners sat in United States jails as a result of their fight for independence.
Indeed, Puerto Rico continued to serve the interests of the United States throughout Latin America, he said. The United States Congress had attempted to impose the minority option of annexation. That new farce should
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be denounced as a deception perpetrated by the enemies of freedom and self- determination. In recent months, Puerto Ricans had waged an extraordinary struggle to defend their national heritage and stand up to the privatization of their property. The United States Government, however, had responded with repression and brutality. The two-year strike of the Puerto Rican people, headed by workers of national telephone company, had displayed the commitment and aspiration of Puerto Ricans to resolving their fundamental problem of colonialism.
EMILIO SOLER MARI, speaking on behalf of the Puerto Rican Democratic Action Foundation, said that his organization had promoted sovereignty and had endorsed and disseminated the rules of international law. In the wake of a century of military occupation, however, those aspirations had not been met. Free association was the most appropriate answer for Puerto Rico. Integration into the United States was impossible because there existed a separate Puerto Rican nation that was incompatible with that of the United States. Social, cultural and linguistic association had admittedly failed. What was needed was a "Treaty of Free Association".
In the last 30 years, both the United States Congress and the people of Puerto Rico had attempted to resolve the problem, he said. The plebiscites and legislative commissions were examples of failed attempts to resolve the matter. What was keeping that lofty international forum, the United Nations, from fulfilling its duty to the world and to two nations in need of a dignified solution to a "colonial puzzle"? he asked. Through its distinguished authority, it could morally and politically transform the island. Owing to the layout of the conference room, the distinguished members of the Committee had turned their backs on the petitioners. He implored them not to turn their backs on history.
JENNIFER GONZALEZ-COLON, speaking for Give Puerto Rico a Chance, said her organization promoted statehood for Puerto Rico as a decolonization option. The United States had retained full power over the civil rights of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was a government subdivision that could just as well have been called a colony or a province and the United States could directly interfere in its internal affairs.
It was a joke for the Puerto Rican people not to be able to exercise its right to self-determination, she said. A commonwealth situation was an agreement between two sovereign States. It was increasingly necessary for the United Nations to give Puerto Rico an opportunity to affirm its faith in the dignity and value of fundamental human rights. The subjugation of a people was a denial of their human rights as guaranteed by the United Nations Charter. Puerto Rico should be given a chance to deal with its own destiny with pride and courage -- just had been the case for Alaska and Hawaii.
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Introduction of Draft Resolution
RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) introduced the draft resolution on Puerto Rico. He expressed his condolences in light of the recent tragic events in the United Republic of Tanzania and Kenya, as well as in Papua New Guinea. He said that it fell to the Committee to take timely action with regard to the draft -- one hundred years had passed since the military intervention in Puerto Rico, and the international community had witnessed relevant discussions that had taken place in the United States Congress. Those developments established an undeniable need for the Special Committee to adopt a resolution on the question of Puerto Rico in 1998.
The draft was the result of an intensive process of consultations with the participation of representatives of different elements of the Puerto Rican political structure, he said. Only two years remained in the Decade for the Eradication of Colonization. It was hoped that the text would enjoy the support of the majority.
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