SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE HEARS PETITIONERS ON PUERTO RICO

12 July 2000
GA/COL/3035

SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE HEARS PETITIONERS ON PUERTO RICO

12 July 2000

Press ReleaseGA/COL/3035

SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE HEARS PETITIONERS ON PUERTO RICO

20000712

The bombing practice activities of the United States Navy on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and the issue of the Territory's political status were the main themes during this morning's meeting of the Special Committee on Decolonization as it heard petitioners on the question of Puerto Rico.

Juan Maria Bras of Causa Comun Independentista (Proyecto Educativo Puertorriqueno) said the United States military had promulgated the Vieques crisis with the sole purpose of affirming the domination of Puerto Rico, despite the consensus in the commonwealth that it must cease its activity there. In continuing military exercises on Vieques, raw force had prevailed against what was right. The Navy must end the bombing immediately and leave Vieques forever.

He joined many other petitioners in calling for a process of genuine self- determination for Puerto Rico. A consensus was slowly forming in Puerto Rico on how that process would take place, and the Special Committee should promote it.

Marisol Corretjer of Partido Nationalista de Puerto Rico said international law did not uphold the presence of the United States in Puerto Rico, as it derived from an act of aggression carried out in 1898. The act of aggression invalidated any preceding treaty, such as the Treaty of Paris, under which the United States had acquired Puerto Rico. Rather than trying to perpetuate its colonial dominance, the United States must begin a genuine decolonization exercise.

However, Jose Adames of Al Frente said that statehood was the solution to many problems, including that of Vieques. Independence was merely a distraction, as fewer than 4 per cent of Puerto Ricans were interested in it. It was true that Puerto Ricans who lived on the island were second-class citizens, but that would all change with statehood. As the fifty-first state, Puerto Rico would have representation at the national level and thus control its own destiny.

Nilda Luz Rexach of National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, said that as a citizen of Puerto Rico and the United States, nobody had the right to question or remove her United States citizenship. All Puerto Ricans were American citizens like all others. Puerto Rico was considered the best recruitment centre for the United States military, but many felt the United States had forgotten the loyal service of Puerto Rican soldiers.

The Special Committee also heard petitioners from Colegio de Abagados de Puerto Rico, Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueno, Frente Socialista, ProLibertad, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, Partido

Decolonization Committee - 1a - Press Release GA/COL/3035 10th Meeting (AM) 12 July 2000

Independentista Puertorriqueno, Instituto Puertorriqueno de Relaciones Internacionales, Concerned Puerto Rican Americans, Gran Oriente Nacional: Puerto Rico, Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques, Sociedad Bolivariana de Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico, Mi Patria.

The representative of Cuba also spoke.

When the Special Committee meets again at 3. p.m. today, it will hear more petitioners on the question of Puerto Rico. It is also expected to take action on a number of draft resolutions.

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 morning to hear petitioners on the question of Puerto Rico.

Before the Committee was the Special Committee decision of 6 July concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2000/L.11), a draft resolution sponsored by Cuba. By terms of the text, the General Assembly would reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with Assembly resolution 1514 v(XV) and the applicability of the fundamental principles of that resolution to the question of Puerto Rico.

By other terms, the Assembly would also reaffirm its hope, and that of the international community, that the Government of the United States will assume the responsibility of expediting a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

The Assembly would reiterate that the Puerto Rican people constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation that has its own and unequivocal national identity, by other terms. Further, it would note with satisfaction that, during the past year, progress has been achieved towards the implementation of a mechanism ensuring the full participation of representatives of all viewpoints prevailing in Puerto Rico, such as the proposals to convene a sovereign Constituent Conference of the people of Puerto Rico.

Also by the text, the General Assembly would encourage the Government of the United States, in line with the need to guarantee to the Puerto Rican people their legitimate right to self-determination and the protection of their human rights, to order the halt of its armed forces' military drills and manoeuvres on Vieques Island, which is inhabited; return the occupied land to the people of Puerto Rico; halt the persecution, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators; respect fundamental rights, such as the right to health and economic development; and decontaminate the impact area.

The Assembly would, by other terms, welcome the release of 11 Puerto Rican prisoners and express its hope that the President of the United States will release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons on cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.

Also before the Committee was a report by the Committee’s Rapporteur on the Special Committee decision of 11 August 1998 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2000/L.3) providing information on the Territory, including general background and economic development. Puerto Rico is the most easterly and smallest of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, covering 8,637.7 square kilometres, including the nearby islands of Vieques, Culebra and Mona. The population was estimated at 3.8 million by the 1990 census and a reported 2.5 million to 3 million Puerto Ricans live in the United States.

The report says that Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was ceded to the United States, which established a military protectorate on the island between 1898 and 1900. In that year, a civilian government was established, including a popularly elected legislature. However, the Governor and members of the Executive Council were appointed by Washington and retained broad powers over the legislature.

According to the report, Puerto Rico is represented in the Government of the United states by a Resident Commissioner, who is a non-voting member of the United States House of Representatives, but a voting member of the committees on which he or she sits. Although the Territory has its own courts, its legal system is integrated into the United States federal judicial system via the First Circuit Court of Appeals and federal law trumps local law.

Statements

EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUNOZ, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said that Puerto Rico was hobbled by a colonial regime. It was necessary to end the situation, and for this purpose mechanisms needed to be developed to move towards self-determination and some form of sovereignty. He asked the Committee for its assistance in moving the process forward, including the convening of an appropriate assembly.

He also urged that action be taken to cease bombings on the island of Vieques, and called for the restoration and decontamination of the island. The navy should cease its bombing now, he said, and not wait until 2003. All political prisoners held because of the Vieques matter should be released.

JULIO MURIENTE PEREZ, Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueno, said that the Special Committee had, over the past 20 years, repeatedly recognized the right of Puerto Rico to self-determination. The Puerto Rican people needed to see further action on that matter and on the continued bombing of the island of Vieques.

This had been the year of Vieques, he said. Rarely had there been such solidarity between so many sectors of Puerto Rican society, with so many acts of civil disobedience, and hundreds arrested. He asked the Special Committee and their Latin American and Caribbean neighbours for support in ending the untenable situation that had begun 100 years ago with the United States invasion of his country.

JORGE FARINACCI GARCIA, Frente Socialista, said the population of Vieques had been devastated by the bombings carried out by the United States Navy. Since last summer the people's resistance to the Navy's depredations had increased. Dozens of defenders of Vieques were in prison and some faced long sentences for entering Navy land.

He said that about 40 militant members of his organization had been persecuted for participating in similar activities. The issue of Vieques was being aggravated by the stubbornness of the United States, which was using intimidation, aggression and bribery to suppress demonstrations against the Navy's activities. However, none of those methods would succeed.

There was no political will in Washington to end the colonial regime in Puerto Rico, he said. His organization demanded the immediate withdrawal of the military, legal and political apparatus as well as the release of all political prisoners in United States prisons. The resolution on Puerto Rico should be brought before the General Assembly as soon as possible for immediate adoption.

EDDIE PAGAN, ProLibertad, said that on 11 August 1999, President Clinton had decided to release 11 prisoners jailed for their pro-independence activities. Among those who had refused clemency were five who had been improperly imprisoned through government-sanctioned sabotage, intimidation and manipulation for their pro-independence activities.

He said that since 1952, the administering Power had discontinued the transmission of information to the United Nations, allowing the United States to conceal its actions in Puerto Rico. It did not feel compelled to disclose its activities, except to say that the question of Puerto Rico was a domestic matter.

The Navy had turned the Vieques region into a cottage industry, he said. The United States strategy involved bribery and stalling in the hope that the spirit of the people of Vieques would eventually be broken. The United Nations resolution reaffirming the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self- determination was a call that had gone unheard.

Reverend EUNICE SANTANA, on behalf of the Commission of Churches on International Affairs, expressed disappointment that the Committee’s agenda on Puerto Rico had not been completed. This was somewhat explainable by the exercise of the will of the colonizing power. The United States actions on Puerto Rico had gone beyond what was desirable, fair and reasonable, and she requested the attention of the Special Committee on an urgent basis.

Events of the past 20 months had illustrated how the United States had acted as a colonizing power in Puerto Rico, notably in violating, with impunity, the fundamental rights of the people of Vieques. Despite calls from the people of Puerto Rico and many others, the United States had trampled on the basic principles of democracy. This included a referendum, proposed on the issue, that disregarded the option of an immediate withdrawal of the navy, which a majority of Puerto Ricans wanted.

She urged the Special Committee to affirm that people had a right to self- determination as set out in the Bible and United Nations resolutions. She also asked for the members of the Committee to support the elaboration of a legitimate process of self-determination, to urge the United States to cooperate with such a process and to keep the question of Puerto Rico and Vieques on the agenda.

FERNANDO J. MARTIN, Partido Independentista Puertoriqueno, said that the recent events in Vieques illustrated the baleful conduct of the United States Government in regard to Puerto Rico, including a campaign of persecution which was unprecedented in recent times.

The United States had used force to remove the people who had camped out in the restricted areas, he said. Many had been arrested and jailed. Many remained in prison because they were unable to post bail. Others, like himself, needed to pay a fine within 30 days. Over 100 people, including more than one third of the candidates for mayoral posts, were in prison. The Special Committee must send a strong message that such events were unacceptable in the last year of the decade to end colonialism.

JAVIER COLON MORERA, Instituto Puertorriqueno de Relaciones Internacionales, said that the unfinished agenda of the Special Committee included the ending of military occupation. The many requests of the Special Committee, as well as United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's plea for an end to the occupation of Puerto Rico, had been ignored by the United States Government.

He said that uranium, plutonium, napalm and nitroglycerine had been found in Vieques. They and other heavy metals were linked to serious illnesses, including cancer, afflicting the people of Vieques. The Navy was occupying the most fertile land in Vieques, spoiling its best beaches as well as ruining its best roads. The situation violated the most fundamental right of a people to their own natural resources.

NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, said she was a citizen of Puerto Rico and the United States. Nobody had the right to question or remove her United States citizenship. All Puerto Ricans were American citizens like all others.

She said the question of Vieques, rather than an issue of human rights as many had tried to show, had been converted into a political issue. The United States armed forces were the same as the armed forces of Puerto Rico. The commonwealth was considered the best recruitment centre for the United States military. But many felt the United States had forgotten the loyal service of Puerto Rican soldiers.

Some political leaders were lying to the people, promising them that in a new commonwealth they would have no need for representation in the United States Congress, she said. They were trying to increase their own political power by disenfranchising the Puerto Rican people. Hopefully, the Territory would soon become the fifty-first state.

JOSE ADAMES, Al Frente, said that many issues had dominated recent discussion about how to further the self-determination of Puerto Rico. One was independence, kept in the fore by Cuba, even though fewer than 4 per cent of Puerto Ricans were interested in that solution.

RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) requested the Acting Chairman to ask the petitioner to keep to the rules and not to make offensive remarks about member countries of the Special Committee.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Cote d’Ivoire) also asked the petitioner not to make offensive remarks against a member country of the Special Committee.

Mr. ADAMES continued with his petition, making further reference to Cuba.

RODOLFO BENITEZ VERSON (Cuba) said the petitioner should avoid offensive remarks or the Cuban delegation would be forced to request that his petition be disallowed.

Mr. Adames then continued, saying that the problem of Vieques now dominated the issue. However, for this problem and all problems of self-determination, statehood was the only solution. If statehood were achieved, the problem of Vieques could be dealt with through the State of Puerto Rico’s representation at the national level.

The government of Puerto Rico had already been designed like the government of any other state of the United States. Puerto Ricans lived throughout the United States. But the way it was now, he said, Puerto Ricans who lived on the island were second-class citizens. That would all change with statehood.

SALVADOR VARGAS, JR, Concerned Puerto Rican Americans, urged the United Nations to take strong action to help free Puerto Rico from its current master, and in so doing prevent the genocide that the United States had contemplated since its invasion of the island. The United Nations must recognize Puerto Rico as an independent nation and give it a seat in the General Assembly.

He said that every member nation’s sovereignty was in danger of disappearing because of the power aspirations of the United States, and he warned that a bloodbath would occur in Puerto Rico if statehood was forced. He requested that Cuba remain firmly on the side of Puerto Rican independence.

HECTOR BENGOCHEA, Gran Oriente Nacional: Puerto Rico, said Puerto Rico had been a Spanish colony until the United States had won it as a prize of war following the Spanish-American War. Vieques had been bombed for the last 60 years, suffered tremendous ecological damage and deteriorating health. It had the highest incidence of cancer and respiratory diseases of the Puerto Rican nation. The people's almost unanimous opinion that the Navy must cease its activities had resulted in intimidation and imprisonment.

He said that on the other hand, the United States had reacted timidly to the issue of Puerto Rico's political status. The entire self-determination process must be a genuine and full transfer of powers, as failure to transfer power would mean keeping it in the hands of the United States Congress. The Special Committee must speak out on the issue because in less than six months, it would have to report to the world on whether it had accomplished its agenda to rid the world of colonialism.

JOSE PARALITICCI, Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques, said it was important for the Special Committee to know that the struggle for Vieques had the support of all ideological opinions. Eighty per cent or more of Puerto Ricans wanted the United States Navy to leave Vieques. There was solidarity for the Navy's withdrawal among Latin Americans, pacifists and anti-militarists, as well as people in the United States, where various cities, city councils and other groups had given their support. International solidarity had gone far beyond the support of non- governmental organizations (NGOs).

He said Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela supported the cause. A protest had been sent to the new President of the Dominican Republic for having sent the country's armed forces to Vieques for military exercises. He had pledged that they would not participate again in such exercises. The number of arrests on Vieques would multiply because the people were determined to end the Navy's presence and civil disobedience would continue.

EDGARDO DIAZ DIAZ, Sociedad Bolivariana de Puerto Rico, said that it was very difficult for Latin societies to develop while dominated by powerful economies such as that of the United States. In addition, he said, the Puerto Rican vote rarely had an effect, even though citizens there participated in elections at a much higher rate than in most of the United States.

In fact, they had little control over many of the situations that affected them, he said. One such situation was Vieques. Puerto Ricans had shown the world their opposition to the continued shooting on the island -- but it continued.

Puerto Ricans had struggled against privatization, fostered the growth of unions and established alliances with international organizations, to further their self determination, he said. But it was not easy to end colonial domination, so he requested the Special Committee’s assistance in ending their terrible situation.

JUAN MARIA BRAS, on behalf of Causa Comun Independentista (Proyecto Educativo Puertorriqueno), remarked that two successive generations of diplomats from all over the world had supported Puerto Rican aspirations, by continuing the denunciation of their condition as a colony. And some movement had occurred. On the 100th anniversary of the United States’ acquisition of Puerto Rico, President William Clinton vowed he would seek a redefinition of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. However, near the end of his Presidency, the Congress continued to treat the land and people as if they were mere merchandise and property of the United States.

In addition, the military had promulgated the crisis of Vieques with the sole purpose of affirming the domination of Puerto Rico, despite the consensus in Puerto Rico that it should cease its activity there. Raw force had prevailed against what was right. He demanded that the Navy immediately put an end to the bombing and leave Vieques forever. In addition, he said, a process of genuine self-determination must begin. A consensus was slowly forming within Puerto Rico on how that process would take place. He urged the Special Committee to promote it.

LOLITA LEBRON, Puerto Rico Mi Patria, said Puerto Ricans were grateful for those who supported their struggle. They knew the United Nations would continue to support that cause even now when a peaceful revolution was taking place in Puerto Rico. It was a revolution of the conscience against the crimes of the United States Navy. The struggle could not be halted.

Puerto Ricans had paralyzed the Navy's operations for a year now, she said. Support for the defence of peace and justice for Vieques was universal. Those who loved justice and peace had expressed their support for Vieques in the Americas, Europe, Asia and elsewhere. The Navy's plans to resume its manoeuvres were being frustrated even now. Hundreds of Puerto Ricans had defied Navy laws by entering the firing zones -– a once-fertile land, now torn apart and barren.

MARISOL CORRETJER, Partido Nationalista de Puerto Rico, said the presence of the United States in Puerto Rico derived from an act of aggression carried out in 1898. International law did not uphold any territorial acquisition that was the result of aggression. The act of aggression invalidated any preceding treaty, such as the Treaty of Paris under which the United States had acquired Puerto Rico. That illegal situation could only be overcome when the Puerto Ricans exercised their right to self-determination.

She said the United States clung to its position in defiance of United Nations resolutions. Rather than trying to perpetuate its colonial dominance, the United States must begin a genuine decolonization exercise and release all political prisoners still held in its jails.

It was known that new Tomahawk and other tactical missiles were to be tested in Vieques waters in the near future, she said. It was also known that nuclear material sometimes accompanied United States naval vessels to Vieques. An independent Puerto Rico would expose to the world the crimes committed against the environment. The Special Committee must not become an accomplice to the genocide being perpetrated against the Puerto Rican people.

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For information media. Not an official record.