Special Committee on
5th Meeting (AM)
DRAFT RESOLUTION INTRODUCED IN DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE CALLING ON UNITED STATES
TO EXPEDITE SELF-DETERMINATION PROCESS FOR PUERTO RICO
Amid a barrage of condemnations about the United States bombardment of Vieques, Puerto Rico this morning, a draft resolution introduced by Cuba’s representative for adoption called on the United States Government to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable rights to self determination and independence.
As the Special Committee on Decolonization heard calls from 17 petitioners for the release of alleged political prisoners held by the United States Government, independence and self-determination, and full statehood for Puerto Rico, nearly all speakers rejected President George Bush’s proposal for United States withdrawal from Vieques in 2003, and demanded the immediate and unconditional halting of United States naval exercises in the Territory.
Maria De Lourdes Santiago, on behalf of Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said that what was being seen once again in Vieques was the crudest expression of the dominion of the United States over Puerto Rico. The United States, ignoring the will of the people of Puerto Rico, had insisted on maintaining its course of action, disregarding the integrity of Puerto Rican soil and the health of the Puerto Rican people. The eyes of the world were placed on the oldest colony in the world, and resolution of the question would require the support of the entire international community.
Martín Koppel, Socialist Workers Party, said the bombing of Vieques, which the United States renewed just days ago, deserved worldwide condemnation. The Bush administration’s announcement that it would end the bombing practices on Vieques two years from now was the latest expression of Washington’s colonial arrogance. The very fact that the United States was announcing such a concession was not because it had seen the light, but because of the refusal of tens of thousands of people in Puerto Rico to give up their struggle.
Juan Antonio Franco-Medina, Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueño, said the United States had overlooked the international will expressed in the first decade of decolonization. The previous colonial general elections in Puerto Rico had also said a great deal about the dissatisfaction of the people with the United States administration.
He cited the poisoning of the environment by corporations, “neo-liberal” policies, people imprisoned because of their resistance, and the imposition of the death penalty, which was in contradiction to the Puerto Rican Constitution. In addition, the people of Vieques had been subjected to many genocidal practices.
Nilda Luz Rexach, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, said while Puerto Ricans were American citizens, they did not have many of the basic rights that other United States citizens had. They could not vote in the election of the President, neither did they have the right to elect representatives in Congress. “Yet our men are required to serve and die for this country, while our land, towns, seas and space have been used”, she said. Nevertheless, she affirmed that “We are American citizens and we feel proud to part of this great nation
Statements were also made by the representatives of Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, Causa Comun Indpendentista, United Statehooders Organization of New York, Frente Socialista, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, Gran Oriente National de Puerto Rico, Commité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, Sociedad Bolivariana de Puerto Rico, Asociación Americana de Juristas, Al Frente, Iglesia San Romero de Las Americas, Concerned Puerto Rican Americans, and Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of the question of Puerto Rico as well as consider the question of Western Sahara.
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 take up the questions of Western Sahara and Puerto Rico.
On the question of Western Sahara, the working paper (A/AC.109/2001/12) details the Secretary-General’s good offices with regards to the Territory. It also summarizes consideration of the Territory by the Security Council and the General Assembly, including relevant texts adopted by them.
With regard to Puerto Rico, the Special Committee had before it a report prepared by the Committee’s Rapporteur, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) on the Committee’s decision of 12 July 2000 concerning Puerto Rico (A/AC.109/2001/L.3). The report considers the question of Puerto Rico in the light of previous reports prepared by the Rapporteur, recent political developments in Puerto Rico, action taken by United Nations bodies on the question and the views of the parties concerned.
Also before the Committee was a draft resolution submitted by Cuba (document A/Ac/109/2001/L.7), on the decision of 12 July 2000 concerning Puerto Rico. It would have the Committee call on the United States to assume its responsibility of expediting a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the resolutions and decisions of the Committee concerning Puerto Rico.
In addition, the Committee would urge the United States to order the immediate 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, incarcerations, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators; immediately release all persons incarcerated in that connection; respect fundamental rights, such as the right to health and economic development; and decontaminate the impact areas.
Further, the Committee would request the President of the United States to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in the United States prisons on cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.
JAIME RUBERTE, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said that he would like to see the time when he did not have to appear before the Committee. As he had reported last year, 100 Puerto Ricans were arrested and imprisoned for demonstrating on the base used by the United States Navy in Vieques. The Navy had continued to use force against the people of Puerto Rico who had been involved in peaceful demonstrations. Even when people did not resist arrest, they were handcuffed and thrown on the ground. In addition, those detained were subjected to verbal and physical abuse. The Navy continued to bomb in the area despite the presence of people who formed a human shield.
He went on to say that in the trials of those arrested, often the Justice Department brought members of the Navy to prosecute the trials. The judicial procedures carried out were meant to deter Puerto Rican people from acting according to their conscience. In addition, while the Puerto Rican Constitution prohibited the death penalty, the American judicial system allowed it in some cases. Puerto Rico called for its right to enter as a nation into the community of nations, and it aspired to freedom in the political, economic and social spheres. He asked the Committee to comply with its duty to assist the people of Puerto Rico to achieve that freedom.
JUAN ANTONIO FRANCO-MEDINA, Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueño, said the United States had overlooked the international will expressed in the first decade of decolonization. The previous colonial general elections in Puerto Rico had also said a great deal about the dissatisfaction of the people with the United States administration. Over the last few years civil society in Puerto Rico had been strengthened. That had brought more unity and national resistance to the oppression.
Highlighting the results of that oppression, he cited the poisoning of the environment by corporations, “neo-liberal” policies, people imprisoned because of their resistance, and the imposition of the death penalty, which was in contradiction to the Puerto Rican Constitution. In addition, the people of Vieques had been subjected to many genocidal practices. The world community had been shaken by evidence of the atrocious actions of the United States Navy, which had resulted in such phenomena as noise and uranium pollution and high rates of cancer among the population of Vieques.
Yet the Navy had continued its practices despite the recent declaration by United States President George Bush that it would leave Vieques in 2003. The land must be given back; political prisoners must be released; while amnesty must be offered to those working for peace. The events in Puerto Rico nevertheless showed that the most destructive arms could not halt the desire for peace and liberation.
JUAN MARI BRAS, on behalf of Causa Comun Independentista (Proyecto Educativo Puertorriqueño), said that it was indispensable for the Committee to think clearly and not allow itself to be influenced by false interpretations about the question of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico came before the Committee via resolution 1514 (XV). That resolution was not applicable to Puerto Rico. It was a mistake to say that the agenda of the Committee should be limited to non-self-governing Territories. The case of Puerto Rico was emblematic of the expansion of decolonization. He urged the Committee not to allow itself to be influenced by twisted reasoning.
In Vieques, further manoeuvres were being carried out by the United States Navy, thereby flouting the expressed will of the Puerto Rican people and public opinion which supported the Puerto Rican struggle for peace. "Navy, Go Home!"
WILFREDO SANTIAGO-VALIENTE, United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc., said that his organization promoted Puerto Rico's admission as the 51st state of the United States. He reiterated that past resolutions of the Committee had been biased by alluding to independence as the only way to solve the status of Puerto Rico. Resorting only and exclusively to the principle of self-determination to resolve the question was contrary to the principle of self-determination itself. The case of Puerto Rico was one of sovereignty and not autonomy. If the Committee wanted to encourage a constructive dialogue, it was indispensable to consider resolution 1541 of December 1960, in addition to 1514.
In the present situation, autonomy or self-government was not the essential issue, he continued. Autonomy was not a distinct status, but referred to a state of political and administrative decentralization. It was a characteristic shared by the three decolonization options presented in resolution 1514. Considering that Puerto Rico had the mechanisms to determine its destiny, he urged the Committee to approve a resolution that acknowledged not only resolution 1514 but also 1541.
JORGE FARINACCI GARCIA, Frente Socialista, said he had come before the Committee to once again ask it to take a stand against the United States colonial regime in Puerto Rico. The people of that territory had the right to independence and self-determination. The administrative methods of the colonial regime had deteriorated, and the struggle for independence had intensified. Territory in the possession of the United States military had not been returned, while continued bombing and persecution were taking place at this very moment.
He said the issue of Vieques had not been solved because of stubbornness by the United States, intimidation and recrimination as well as bribery. In Europe, President Bush had recently lamented that fact that the United States was not wanted in Puerto Rico. “We do not want them and we do not believe them”, he reiterated. It was also the intention of United States to impose the death sentence in Puerto Rico despite the fact that such a sentence was prohibited by the Constitution. United States judges had even determined that any federal resolution could override the Constitution. That was just another example of colonialism.
He demanded the immediate withdrawal of the legal, military and political machinery of the United States from Puerto Rico. He warned that the Territory would be free no matter the cost and called upon the international community to express its solidarity.
MARIA DE LOURDES SANTIAGO, on behalf of the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said that what was being seen once again was the crudest expression of the dominion of the United States over Puerto Rico. The Navy, against the will of the Puerto Rican people, had restarted bombing exercises in Vieques. Dozens of protesters, who had been able to reach the restricted area, were arrested and imprisoned. President George Bush had recently proposed an end to the bombings by 2003. That proposal was unpardonable because it did not order the immediate end to the bombings and the return of land, as demanded by the people of Puerto Rico. Vieques was essentially a political problem resulting from its political subordination to the United States.
The United States, ignoring the will of the people of Puerto Rico, had insisted on maintaining its course of action, disregarding the integrity of the soil of the country and the health of its people. The ruling by the American court that the death penalty was applicable in Puerto Rico even though it was prohibited by the Puerto Rican Constitution was just another blatant example of the dominion of the United States. The eyes of the world were fixed on the oldest colony in the world. The resolution of the question would require the support of the entire international community.
Even within the United States, she added, the cause of Vieques had led to an outcry of public opinion. In addition, an article recently published in the New York Times had condemned the Bush proposal and stressed the urgency of ending bombing once and for all. States could not avoid facing up to their responsibilities and must embark on a true path of decolonization.
ROSA MENESES ALBIZU-CAMPOS, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said she was appearing before the Committee to denounce the crimes by the United States against the Territory and a crime against mankind in general -- colonialism. No territorial acquisition, which was the result of aggression, could be defined as legal. That had been stipulated in 1974 by the United Nations in General Assembly resolution 3314. Therefore the status of the United States in Puerto Rico was not legitimate but that of a belligerent occupant.
She said the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various instruments and resolutions including the 1973 resolution by this Committee reaffirming the inalienable rights of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination, had all called for the United States to stop obstructing the rights of Puerto Ricans to self determination. Yet the United States continued its open defiance of this international body. It also used innumerable manoeuvres to confuse the international community and to distort the economic, political and social reality of Puerto Rico. Those manoeuvres of the United States had been vigorously condemned in the United Nations and for decades in Puerto Rico. The United States motives in Puerto Rico were full of deceit, she added.
MIGUEL OTERO CHAVEZ, on behalf of the Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, urged the United States to comply with General Assembly resolutions which demanded that the United States transfer sovereign powers to the Puerto Rican people, who had been suffering the abuses of colonialism. He also asked for the most vigorous condemnation of the violation of human rights of the people of Vieques. Vieques, for more than 60 years had experienced endless bombing, affecting the physical and mental health of thousands of Puerto Ricans and depriving fishermen in that area from earning a livelihood. It was time to put an end to the actions of the United States Navy.
There must be an expression from the Committee to condemn the imprisonment of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, he continued. It should also request the immediate release, without restriction, of those prisoners. What was also seen was the continued daily theft of more than 30 million litres of the island's water, which was being carried out by the United States Navy. He asked the Committee, in its resolution on Puerto Rico, to demand from the United States compliance with international law and implementation of the relevant Assembly resolutions.
ISMAEL GUADALUPE, Commit Pro Restate y Desarrollo de Vieques, said the treatment of the people in that location deserved the attention of the civilized world. They were tortured, kicked and abused; women were inspected by males, and some 60 persons had been unfairly imprisoned after being sentenced by military courts. In 90 per cent of the trials, military witnesses had not been interrogated by lawyers and evidence had not been forthcoming. He urged the international community to listen to the many ways the Navy had spurned the right to life of civilians in Vieques. Above all they continued to use methods that were employed in wartime against another military force.
He said the repressive conduct of the United States military was a criminal action that had to be stopped. There was also proof showing that civilians were in areas where firing and bombardment continued with total disregard for human life. If not this committee, who then was competent to deal with the abuses in Puerto Rico? Did the countries of the world continue to accept the rule of the strongest as it abused another? he asked.
EDGARDO DIAZ-DIAZ, on behalf of Sociedad Bolivariana de Puerto Rico, said that among the countries represented in the Organization, Puerto Rico's absence stood out. Vieques, for over 60 years, had been subject to continuous bombing, which harmed the environment and the health of its people. The wells on the island had showed high levels of toxicity as a result of the bombing. Also, there was high unemployment on the island, which was the worst in the country.
The struggle for the decolonization of Puerto Rico was led by many segments of society, he said. The battle of the people of Vieques was not waged by bombs but with instruments of peace. However, the United States Navy overlooked the demands of the Puerto Rican people.
The Vieques problem only highlighted the unequal relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, he continued. President Bush had recently ordered the Navy to prepare to leave Vieques by 2003 and suggested overthrowing the referendum organized by the Navy but had not stated the intention to withdraw immediately. Such ambiguous words further highlighted the policy of the United States Government toward Puerto Rico. The Navy had announced that Vieques was an ideal spot for bombing exercises. He asked the Committee to demand the immediate cessation of the bombing and the immediate withdrawal of the United States military from Vieques.
VANESSA RAMOS, Asociación Americana de Juristas, said the United States Navy must immediately and unconditionally cease its bombardment of and war games in Vieques. She joined with Puerto Rican people in their consensus that the announcement by President Bush that the United States navy would withdraw from Vieques in 2003 was not acceptable. That was no guarantee of withdrawal.
She categorically stated that not another bullet or bomb should be used on the island. The United States had also exploded projectiles with uranium. It had been confirmed that the uranium had contaminated the air, the water and food chain, and people were dying from the resulting cancer. The case of Vieques was the best piece of evidence available to the international community about the true effects of uranium on humans.
She said the adoption of draft before the Committee today would be a message of its commitment to the decolonization process.
JOSE ADAMES, on behalf of Al Frente, said that 84 years ago, the United States Congress passed the Jones Act, by which Puerto Rico was neither declared a state nor granted the rights of other states. All the citizens of Puerto Rico were granted United States citizenship and the government of the island was set up as that of any other state. However, the governor, judges and many key members of the cabinet were appointed by the United States President. He requested the help of the Committee to bring justice and tranquility to Vieques.
Puerto Ricans enjoyed the status of second class citizens, he continued. That could be eliminated by granting statehood to Puerto Rico and calling for the election of its representatives as ordered by the Constitution of the United States. The citizens of Puerto Rico were facing two enemies. One was the yellowness of some Puerto Ricans from the mainland, who basically denied the empowerment of the people of Puerto Rico. The second was the so-called independentistas, basically communists, who dreamed of installing a totalitarian government in the island. He begged the Committee to help Puerto Rico and Vieques by urging the declaration of Puerto Rico as the fifty-first state, which would bring equality to the citizens of the island.
NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, said while Puerto Ricans were American citizens, they did not have many of the basic rights that other United States citizens had. They could not vote in the election of the President, neither did they have the right to elect representatives in Congress. “Yet our men are required to serve and die for this country, while our land, towns, seas and space have been used, and are used like any other state”, she said.
Nevertheless, she affirmed that “We are American citizens and we feel proud to part of this great nation”. Puerto Rico’s contribution to American culture had also been great. As a member of Puerto Ricans for State 51, “We reaffirm our unwavering pride in being United States citizens”, she said.
REVEREND LUIS BARRIOS, on behalf of Iglesia San Romero de Las Americas, denounced the crime committed by the United States against Puerto Rico, seeking to, among other things, destroy the national culture and identity of the Puerto Rican people. That hegemony was maintained to ensure the island's colonial status. Mechanisms must be established to allow the people of the island to determine their political, economic and social status. Also, the United States must be forced to recognize the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination. As long as their presence continued on the island, any referendum on the island's future was not valid.
He called for decolonization and independence for Puerto Rico and for the immediate release of political prisoners. He also recognized the right of the people of Puerto Rico to use any means necessary to achieve decolonization and independence. He asked the Committee to officially declare that Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States and to begin a process of decolonization by which the United States would immediately and completely withdraw from Puerto Rico.
MARTÍN KOPPEL, Socialist Workers Party, said the bombing of Vieques, which the United States renewed just days ago, deserved worldwide condemnation. The fact that the Government of that country continued to carry out such brutal actions in defiance of the will of the majority of Puerto Ricans was due to one reason above all –- that Puerto Rico continued to be a colony of the United States. The Bush administration’s announcement that it would end the bombing practices on Vieques two years from now was the latest expression of Washington’s colonial arrogance. The very fact that the United States was announcing such a concession was not because it had seen the light, but because of the refusal of tens of thousands of people in Puerto Rico to give up their struggle. That struggle had won support among increasing numbers of working people in the United States and around the world.
He would therefore be joining with many others in public protests in New York to demand that the United States Navy leave Vieques now and that charges be dropped against those arrested for protesting on Navy-occupied land. Washington’s colonial domination of Puerto Rico gave the United States Government a freer hand to restrict the rights of working people and others fighting for their livelihoods and social justice. The six patriots, who remained in United States prisons because of their activity in support of Puerto Rico’s independence, should also be unconditionally released now. The condemnation by this Committee of Washington’s colonial rule would serve the interests of the vast majority of the people of the United States and those fighting for national self-determination and for the future of humanity.
SALVADOR VARGAS JR., on behalf of Concerned Puerto Rican Americans, said that the emancipation of Puerto Rico had still not occurred and the United States continued to hold the island in chains. He accused the United States of violating resolution 1514 and called on the Committee to denounce the United States. It was clear that a colony still existed in Puerto Rico. The fact that the United States did not allow Cuban officials to enter Puerto Rico was another indication that Puerto Rico was a United States colony. The United States treated Puerto Ricans as property and not as human beings.
The United States Government must be sent a clear message that its policies to oppress Puerto Rico would not be tolerated, he continued. The United Nations must adhere to the plebiscites which took place and which had indicated to the world that Puerto Rico refused to join the United States. The Puerto Rican people had refused to assimilate the customs and ways of the United States. He asked the international community to stand behind the emancipation of Puerto Rico and to put to an end to the colonial rule of the United States, in spite of fears of reprisals from the United States.
CARLOS M. HERNÁNDEZ LÓPEZ, Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, said the result of United States activities on the people of Vieques had been a loss of land, freedom, the right to economic development, peace and tranquility. The United States had provided Puerto Rico with two choices only; cessation of naval activities in Vieques by 2003 or indefinite continuance of military manoeuvres using live ammunition. He demanded the permanent and immediate cessation of all military exercises in Vieques and the orderly and speedy transfer of the land to people. He also called on the international community to show solidarity for that public policy demand.
He said Vieques was an example of the crass violation of human rights and one that demanded the attention of the international community. The right to life, health, and an environment that offered improvements to the quality of life, were all rights enshrined in various United Nations instruments but were being withheld from the people of Vieques. He demanded the immediate return of land in Vieques, the cessation of military activities and decontamination of the land.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), introducing the draft resolution on Puerto Rico, said that 25 July would mark 103 years of United States military intervention in Puerto Rico. While the Committee had considered Puerto Rico for 29 years, it could not be satisfied with its work because the United States was trying to strengthen its political, economic and social dominion over the island. The draft resolution incorporated elements of the current situation in Puerto Rico
as well as past resolutions. The consensus among the people of Puerto Rico was to put an end to the presence of the United States armed forces, which had negatively affected the environment and the health of the Puerto Rican people.
The world could not wait for another bomb in Vieques, he continued. "Peace for Vieques now!" The Non-Aligned Movement had repeatedly expressed solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. Since 1973, the principle of self-determination had been part of all resolutions approved on Puerto Rico. The draft expressed the hope that General Assembly would comprehensively consider the matter of Puerto Rico. He hoped the draft resolution could be, once again, adopted without a vote.
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