DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE URGES UNITED STATES TO HALT MILITARY MANOEUVRES ON VIEQUES ISLAND, RETURN OCCUPIED LAND TO PEOPLE OF PUERTO RICO
DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE URGES UNITED STATES TO HALT MILITARY MANOEUVRES ON VIEQUES ISLAND, RETURN OCCUPIED LAND TO PEOPLE OF PUERTO RICO
Special Committee on
5th and 6th Meetings (AM & PM)
DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE URGES UNITED STATES TO HALT MILITARY MANOEUVRES
ON VIEQUES ISLAND, RETURN OCCUPIED LAND TO PEOPLE OF PUERTO RICO
Acting without a Vote, Committee Also Calls
For Expedited Process to Allow Puerto Rican Self-Determination
Bearing in mind that an official referendum held last July showed an overwhelming majority in favour of an immediate, permanent halt to military manoeuvres on Vieques, the Special Committee on Decolonization this afternoon urged the United States to immediate halt such military activities, as it approved a draft resolution on Puerto Rico.
Approving the text without a vote, the Special Committee also urged the United States to: return the occupied land to the people of Puerto Rico; halt the persecutions, incarcerations, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators; immediately release all persons incarcerated in this connection; respect the fundamental human rights of health and economic development; and decontaminate the impact areas.
The Special Committee also called on the United States to assume its responsibility for expediting a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people fully to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. It further requested the President of the United States to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for cases related to the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence.
The representative of Cuba introduced the draft resolution.
More than 20 petitioners addressed the Special Committee during its consideration of Puerto Rico which began this morning, and a number of petitioners then emphasized the refusal by the United States to respect the outcome of last July’s referendum and its continued bombing exercises. Speakers also stressed the health hazards, environmental destruction and economic strangulation resulting from more than 60 years of bombings by the United States Navy.
In addition, whether they supported independence for Puerto Rico or full statehood within the United States, speakers agreed on the need to carry out the decolonization of Puerto Rico and for the island’s people to determine their future political status. Although commonwealth status had its sympathizers, said one speaker, it would not eliminate the colonial condition but only perpetuate it.
5th and 6th Meetings (AM & PM)
Another speaker said the refusal by the United States to accept or follow through on the conclusions arising from the referendum was a flagrant violation of the right to self-determination. Both the referendum and the recognition of the need for a constitutional assembly were important additions to the draft resolution and would put pressure on those in Puerto Rico and the United States who wished to perpetuate colonialism.
Statements were made by the representatives of Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; Frente Socialista; Causa Común Independentista (Proyecto Educativo Puertorriqueño); Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico; San Romero de las Americas Church; Puerto Rican Independence Party; Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques; ProLibertad Freedom Campaign; House of Representatives of Puerto Rico; United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc.; and Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueño.
Other speakers included representatives of the Congreso Nacional Hostosiano; Vieques Support Campaign; United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc.; Puertorriqueños ante la ONU, Inc.; Puertorriqueños Pro Estadidad, Inc.; PROELA; Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; Primavera, Inc.; Al Frente; National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture; Socialist Workers Party; and American Association of Jurists.
Also making statements were the representatives of Venezuela, Iraq, Iran and Chile.
The next meeting of the Committee -– formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -– will be announced.
The Special Committee on Decolonization met this morning to consider the question of Puerto Rico. It had before it draft resolution submitted by Cuba on the Special Committee decision of 21 July 2001 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2002/L.8), by which the Special Committee would urge the United States to: order an immediate halt to 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 persecutions, incarcerations, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators; immediately release all persons incarcerated in this connection; respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to health and economic development; and decontaminate the impact areas.
The Committee would also call on the United States to assume its responsibility of expediting a process that will 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 Special Committee concerning Puerto Rico. Also, the Committee would request the President of the United States to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for cases related to the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence.
The Committee also had before it a report prepared by its Rapporteur, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) (document A/AC.109/2002/L.4), on the Committee’s decision of 22 June 2001 concerning Puerto Rico, which considers the question of Puerto Rico in the light of previous reports, recent political developments in Puerto Rico, action taken by United Nations bodies on the question and the views of the parties concerned. Annexed to the report is a list of organizations contacted to provide updated information on self-determination and independence with respect to Puerto Rico.
Also before the Committee were requests for hearing, contained in aides-mémoire 8/02/Add.1 to 10/02.
JAIME RUBERTE, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said that last year he had explained the problem regarding the death penalty, which could be applied under federal law, although it was prohibited by Puerto Rico. It was both humiliating and unjust that Puerto Ricans could not try our their own citizens on their own territory.
He said that last year a referendum was held on Vieques. The overwhelming majority had voted for a cessation of United States bombings and a clean-up of contaminated areas. The United States did not respect the result of that referendum and continued to carry out bombing exercises. He also referred to the abuses carried out by the United States in relation to Vieques. The situation there had remained the same or worsened with regard to detainment.
On the political situation, he said that Puerto Rico had adopted a resolution to carry out a study on the establishment of a constitutional assembly. The Government had decided to appoint a body to determine the status of Puerto Rico. It adopted a resolution in October 2001, which, among other things, recognized that the United States had not adopted a decolonization policy. The people of Puerto Rico had wanted a constitutional assembly to determine their own legal status and discuss their own sovereignty. That assembly represented the political will of the people and it would sit independently of the United States with the election of delegates.
He urged Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly to adopt a policy regarding that assembly. The College of Lawyers felt that the assembly was brought together to draft a constitution and would support that process. Also, he endorsed the adoption of the draft resolution before the Committee.
JORGE FARINACCI GARCIA, Frente Socialista, noting that the Government of the United States had maintained a colonial regime in Puerto Rico since 1898, said that since last summer the Puerto Rican people's resistance against Navy exercises had led to more than 2,000 people being charged in federal court. Dozens had been incarcerated for defending Vieques and many more had been tried. The matter was still unresolved, owing to the stubbornness of the United States Government.
He said there had been more than a century of mistreatment and abuse of the Puerto Rican people by the various branches of the United States military and by companies established in the territory. The United States Government now wanted to establish the death penalty, which was banned under Puerto Rico's Constitution. The Puerto Rican people were facing that and numerous other examples of colonial subordination.
However, it was certain that there was a cause that aimed at changing the colonial reality existing in Puerto Rico, he said. On the other hand, pro-colonial groups were fighting against the clearest evidence of colonialism, including corruption and drug-trafficking. Recent statistical studies showed that Puerto Rico had the second highest per capita murder rate in the world after Colombia, which was suffering an internal war. The people would accept no less than the right to self-determination, independence and the release of political prisoners. The draft resolution should be submitted to the General Assembly as soon as possible.
CARLOS VIZCARRONDO-IRIZARRY, House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, said that in July Puerto Rico would celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its Constitution. The Puerto Rican constitutional convention, which had drafted that document, had also adopted a resolution by which the people of Puerto Rico could revise the status of its relationship with the United States. Forty-nine years had gone by during which Puerto Rico and the United States had failed in their attempts to resolve the political future of Puerto Rico. Plebiscites had been held and commissions had been established, but those efforts had not been successful.
The present Government of Puerto Rico would convene a commission of Puerto Rican unity to explore mechanisms to determine Puerto Rico’s course to self-determination, he said. In that regard, it was exploring the idea of establishing a constitutional convention to determine the future status of Puerto Rico. He would favour a people’s assembly or constitutional convention to determine Puerto Rico’s future.
The people of Vieques, by a majority of 70 per cent, had stated their views through the referendum held last year, he said. The President of the United States had stated that the Navy would leave Vieques by May 2003. The Special Committee should mention the situation in Vieques and call for the immediate cessation of military exercises there. That territory should be returned to the people and cleaned up by the United States. He urged the Committee to adopt an expression of Puerto Rico’s natural right to self-determination.
MANUEL GONZALEZ, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said the establishment by the United States of the so-called Free Associated State of Puerto Rico had long deceived world opinion and some Puerto Ricans. Like every other colony, Puerto Rico had suffered, and only concerted action by its people and institutions would make it possible for the territory to become a free sovereign and independent nation. However, time was too short to recount the history of Puerto Rico's colonization, or to enumerate the ills visited on its people.
He said it was not the time to expand on the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be the champions of democracy in the world, while they strangled the freedom of the Cuban people and refused to recognize their right to forge their own destiny. In addition, they attempted to suppress the sovereign will of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and permitted the massacre of the Palestinian people. Through brutal force they had tried to impose their will on all corners of the world. Puerto Rico must be free and sovereign today, he emphasized.
LUIS BARRIOS, Reverend of the San Romero de las Americas Church, said that he was here to denounce the political sin of colonialism committed by the United States against Puerto Rico. The United States had unleashed its war against terrorism following 11 September. While it had identified others as supporters of terrorism, their own acts of political terrorism had been perpetrated under the cloak of national security. The United States invaded and occupied Puerto Rico in 1898. In 1917, the United States Government imposed United States citizenship on Puerto Rico against the will of its people. Ironically, that was done three weeks before the First World War broke out, conferring mandatory military service on the people of Puerto Rico. Then, in 1940, the United States military began military exercises on Vieques.
It was necessary to constantly question what was known as elections in Puerto Rico, he added. While they were supposed to be democratic, they were conducted by an administration that carried out the policies of the United States on the island. Puerto Rico was still a colony of the United States. That sin was still being perpetrated by the United States. It was necessary to begin a process of decolonization and self-determination. In addition, the United States should shoulder its responsibility of restoring economic justice in Puerto Rico after 104 years of colonialism.
FERNANDO MARTIN-GARCIA, Puerto Rican Independence Party, said many cynics and sceptics had said that the Committee's resolutions were meaningless and could be ignored. The same had been said of its resolutions on East Timor, which had recently gained full independence. Unexpected political changes in Indonesia had created a new circumstance to bring about an event that had previously seemed impossible. That would have been impossible without the international community's recognition of East Timor's right to self-determination. Those who underestimated the Organization's role in decolonization betrayed an ignorance of history.
He said the draft resolution before the Committee contained two elements that strengthened last year's text. One involved the demand by more than 70 per cent of the Puerto Rican, as expressed in the referendum, that the Navy put an end to its bombing exercises on Vieques and clean up the island. The refusal by the United States to accept or follow through on those conclusions was a flagrant violation of the right to self-determination. Both last year's referendum and the recognition of the need for a constitutional assembly for Puerto Rico were important additions to the draft resolution and would put pressure on those in Puerto Rico and the United States who wished to perpetuate colonialism. Yesterday East Timor, tomorrow Puerto Rico, he concluded.
ISMAEL GUADALUPE, Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, said that Vieques was being used as a weapons depository and training camp for the United States military. The Special Committee had determined that the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States was colonial in nature.
He first wanted to highlight the new violations of human rights against the people of Vieques, who had made it clear through a referendum to the Navy what it wanted. Two thirds of the voters on Vieques voted in favour of the Navy leaving immediately. In response, the Navy had unleashed more brutality during demonstrations held against it. Today, the Government of Puerto Rico had not called on the Government of the United States to respect the will expressed during the referendum. Also, nothing had been said about the fact that death due to cancer had risen in Vieques.
His second point was that it was necessary to put pressure on the United States Navy to compensate the inhabitants of Vieques for 60 years of destruction. The presence of the Navy had meant the economic strangulation of the people of the island. Following the Navy’s departure, the clean-up of Vieques must begin. In that connection, he insisted on the following four points: demilitarisation; return of land; decontamination; and development. The Special Committee must denounce United States activity on Vieques and support full withdrawal and compensation by the United States.
EDWIN PAGAN, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, said the dissolution by the United States of its colonial control over Puerto Rico would cause a domino effect on other such administering Powers, which would then end their control over the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. Despite the ability of Puerto Ricans to travel between the United States and Puerto Rico without a passport, it was still a colonial territory.
He said that, despite the release of some Puerto Rican political prisoners, others had been incarcerated for their political beliefs. Their value and efforts were concrete proof of the determination of Puerto Ricans to achieve self-determination. By legislation enacted by the Governor of Puerto Rico last July, a referendum had been held in which more than 80.5 per cent of the population had participated. Of those, more than 70 per cent had voted that the United States Navy immediately withdraw from Vieques and that it clean up the island's beaches.
Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September, he said, it had become clear that the United States Government would use different means to fight against international terrorism. The decisions arising from those tragic events had, in turn, rendered obsolete the United States Navy’s need to use the beaches of Vieques for its bombing exercises. In that light, the failure by the United States Navy and Government to heed the will of the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico could only be described as arrogance.
JUAN MARI BRAS, on behalf of Causa Común Independentista (Proyecto Educativo Puertorriqueño), said that the most basic understanding should indicate to the United States and the United Nations that the question of Puerto Rico needed to be discussed in a forum of greater authority, such as the International Court of Justice. He requested that that the recommendation be included in the resolution to be adopted this year.
It was time to overcome the deadlock between the United States and the Special Committee, he continued. That was particularly important this year, because the Puerto Rican people were nearing a crucial moment in their history. The old imperialist policy of divide and conquer had begun to collapse. A greater number of organizations and peoples had become convinced that it was necessary to overcome inter-Puerto Rican differences and call for a mechanism leading to consensus on the path to decolonization. He hoped the resolution would reflect the progress and changes in the struggle of the Puerto Rican people.
BETTY BRASSELL, United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc., said that her organization was a group of individuals committed for peace for Vieques. Its goal was to create awareness and keep civil society informed about the health hazards and the ecological and economic destruction caused by the United States Navy on Vieques, as well as to inspire others to actively protect their communities.
She had gone to Vieques with a group of people to participate in civil disobedience, and found it hard to believe the people there were talking about the United States Government and Navy, which was supposedly committed to protecting its citizens. Bombs devastated the environment, destroyed the earth and helped to eliminate various species of wildlife. They were an abuse of people and the land. Could one imagine what bombs did to a small island like Vieques? The United States Navy knew that, but had continued to bomb and contaminate the island for more than 61 years. The international community’s voice and indignation was not being clearly heard. A strong statement must be made in the Committee’s deliberations to bring peace to Vieques.
JULIO MURIENTE, Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertoriqueño, congratulating the people and Government of East Timor for their heroic achievement of independence, said that in less than two months Puerto Ricans would mark the anniversary of the invasion of their country by the United States. While there was no doubt that there was an unresolved political problem, there were differences about which path to follow in resolving it. The main obstacle was the lack of political will on the part of the United States.
Worse was the fact that the Government of the United States refused to recognize that there was a colonial problem that had lasted more than a century, he said. It could be seen with ever-greater diversity and breadth of scope that there was a need to end bombing exercises on Vieques. People from all political parties had expressed their will in the referendum, in which 80 per cent of the voting public had participated. Almost 70 per cent of those had voted for the end to bombing and the withdrawal of the Navy.
The response of the United States to that overwhelming rejection had been to resume bombing two weeks later and to imprison the Mayor of Vieques, he noted. Although President George W. Bush had pledged to remove the Navy, the great question now remained: how much will remained among the Puerto Ricans regarding the annexation of their country? Draft laws were being promoted in Congress for direct control of rivers, as well as annexation. Such proposals threatened the fiscal integrity and resources of the nation.
HECTOR L. PESQUERA, on behalf of Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, said that since the adoption of the Committee’s resolution in July 2001, important events had taken place which violated the human rights of the people of Puerto Rico. At present, Vieques fishermen, members of the religious community and other civilians were in prison. Through environmental colonialism, the United States Navy was destroying archaeological and aquatic sites, carrying out exercises with harmful substances. In addition, before the United States Congress was a draft law, which would appropriate more than 100,000 hectares of land in northern Puerto Rico. Also, a draft law, adopted in the House of Representatives, would affect three major rivers in Puerto Rico. That draft was currently before the Senate. He called on the United States to decontaminate more than 79 areas, which had been used by the United States military in the past and since abandoned.
The people of Puerto Rico had come up against the federal Government in exercising the rights enshrined in the Constitution, which was adopted 50 years ago, he said. In the past year there had been constant violations of that Constitution by the United States Government. Among them was the imposition of the death penalty in Puerto Rico, which was prohibited by the Constitution of Puerto Rico. First of all, the case of Puerto Rico should be included as a separate item on the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly. Second, it should be recognized that the only people that could change the Constitution of Puerto Rico were the Puerto Ricans themselves.
Third, he continued, the United States must respect the rules and laws established by Puerto Rico in the management and protection of Puerto Rico’s natural resources. He invited the Special Committee to visit Puerto Rico to witness the damage caused by military exercises on Vieques. Fourth, the people’s assembly should be involved in the decolonization of Puerto Rico. He rejected any proposal to integrate Puerto Rico into the federal system of the United States. Fifth, the United States Government should respect the outcome of the referendum conducted in July 2001, which called for the immediate withdrawal of the United States military from Vieques. Sixth, amnesty should be granted to all Puerto Ricans involved in the freedom struggle for Puerto Rico.
FRANK VELGARA, Vieques Support Campaign, said the continued bombing on Vieques not only represented a clear and present danger to the lives, health, social and political well-being of the island's inhabitants, but also a direct example of the colonial political control exercised by the United States since 1898. The people were affected by mercury poisoning of the air, water, flora and fauna, in addition to continuing to live in a vast death trap that could only be described as death on the instalment plan.
The reality of Puerto Rico exposed the lie of participatory democracy claimed by the United States, he said. Hundreds of people had been arrested in Puerto Rico, in the United States and elsewhere for demanding an end to bombing and other harmful practices. The racist treatment of those arrested stood clear for the world to see.
Just a few weeks ago, the world had seen an attempt by anti-democracy forces to stage a coup in Venezuela, he recalled. In the past, Vieques had been the launch pad and rehearsal site for invasions of the Dominican Republic and Grenada. In Vieques, all Puerto Ricans could see their colonial status, as well as the racism and discrimination that had been the lot of all nations under colonial domination. According to a Puerto Rican saying, one could not cover the sky with one hand. In other words, a colony remained so under any other name.
WILFREDO SANTIAGO VALIENTE, United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc., said that self-determination did not necessarily imply independence for a group of people. If the Committee wished to support the decolonization of Puerto Rico, it was imperative that any resolution adopted by it recognize resolution 1514 (XV) and other relevant resolutions, which endorsed three options for the decolonization of a territory. The case of Puerto Rico brought up the issue of sovereignty, not autonomy. In international law, autonomy referred to political decentralization. On 25 July, Puerto Rico would celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its Constitution. He wanted a referendum on statehood or independence to determine the future status of Puerto Rico.
ELSIE VALDES, Puertoriqueños ante la ONU, Inc., said that, while the alternatives of political status had been discussed for several years, it should be remembered that Puerto Rico was subject to the territorial laws of the United States, whose Congress could unilaterally decide its destiny. There was no bilateral pact whatsoever between Puerto Rico and the United States. Puerto Rico was an unincorporated territory, or colony, and had no sovereignty.
The United States could have solved the issue of Puerto Rico's political status as a domestic matter, but it had not done so, she said. Likewise, the United Nations, where solutions for such matters were presented, had also not resolved it. Only resolutions had been presented. While her organization believed firmly in American citizenship and desired permanent union with the United States, it would respect the choice of the majority.
Puerto Rico was a colony and would remain so until a permanent definition was established, she emphasized. The independence movement in the territory had only been able to achieve 45 per cent in support for its cause. Although commonwealth status had its sympathizers, it would not eliminate the colonial condition, but only perpetuate it. Puerto Ricans had been American since 1917, but were prevented from enjoying the same privileges as other Americans without losing their identity as a people.
HAYDEE RIVERA, Puertoriqueños Pro Estadidad, Inc., said that her organization had called for a resolution of the political problem of Puerto Rico though the granting of statehood. In 1953, representatives of Puerto Rico and the United States, before the General Assembly, had stated that people of Puerto Rico had exercised their right to self-determination, and a resolution had been adopted removing Puerto Rico from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories –- resolution 748 (VIII). However, the people of Puerto Rico had not been allowed to determine their status, as called for in resolution 1514. General Assembly resolution 748 (VIII) had never been fully enforced. The people needed to select one of the options outlined in resolution 1514.
Her organization had maintained that statehood would be the most effective way of ensuring the aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico. Congress should recognize permanent legal status for the island. Statehood would provide for equal participation in the political process. That was decision that should be left up to the Puerto Ricans.
LUIS VEGA RAMOS, PROELA, said the discussion was taking place in light of the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the commonwealth's Constitution. While that document reflected the right of future Puerto Ricans to decide their political status, claims to greater self-determination or autonomy had not been thoroughly heard, and another mechanism was required to address that concern.
He said claims for sovereignty had followed the adoption in 1960 of resolutions 1540 and 1541 by the United Nations General Assembly. The claim for sovereignty had been reaffirmed in the 2000 elections. Free association was nothing but full autonomy of the commonwealth. The resolution adopted by the Committee in 1978 reaffirmed its right to self-determination and sovereignty.
The United States had not complied with the prerequisites of integration or the right of accession as contained in resolution 1541, he said. It was because of that lack of right of accession that there had already been a civil war in the United States. The Mayor of Vieques was among hundreds of Puerto Ricans imprisoned for demanding an immediate end to bombing and a clean-up of the island. Ending the bombing was a right and should not be a subject of negotiations, he said.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), introducing the draft resolution on Puerto Rico, said that the common history and special relationship between Cuba and Puerto Rico could be summed up in the words, “Cuba and Puerto Rico were the two wings of the same bird.” The text before the Committee reiterated the basic elements of resolutions previously adopted by Special Committee. Since 1973, resolutions of the Special Committee had reaffirmed the inalienable right of
Puerto Ricans to the right to self-determination and the applicability of resolution 1514 to Puerto Rico. After more than 100 years of political domination and military occupation, Puerto Ricans had shown their determination to maintain their distinct cultural identity.
A consensus existed among Puerto Ricans to put an end to the situation in Vieques, he noted. According to environmental studies, it would take decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to clean the areas affected by the bombings. New sections of text drew attention to the referendum held last July regarding United States withdrawal from Vieques and requested the United States President to release Puerto Rican political prisoners. He called on the Committee to adopt the text by consensus.
NELSON CANALS, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, paying tribute to the people of East Timor on the occasion of their independence, said his organization had been appearing before the Special Committee since 1972. Successive generations of Puerto Ricans had committed themselves to achieving social and economic freedom, as a result of which many were now held in United States prisons.
Freedom fighters had been forced to go into hiding or flee their homeland to escape oppression, he said. Their right to return must be guaranteed. Puerto Rican determination to end repression had most recently been made clear through the tenacious resistance to the military operations on Vieques. That had led to the arrest of protestors and their sentencing to disproportionate jail sentences.
Noting that the Puerto Rican legislature had repealed the death penalty since 1929, he said it remained banned under the 1952 Constitution. Attempts to introduce that barbaric measure was another flagrant violation of Puerto Rican sovereignty. Gran Oriente denounced such attempts and hoped the Special Committee would take action to end the situation in Puerto Rico, the world's oldest colony.
ANITA VELEZ MITCHELL, Primavera, Inc., said that she was born in Vieques. As a child, she was witness to the agrarian fall of Vieques. The United States naval base might finally leave the island in 2003. Puerto Ricans were now going through an identity crisis. Eight hundred Puerto Ricans perished on 11 September. However, they were counted among the Hispanics. When they were called to war, they were identified as Americans. After the hideous attack in Central Park, they were labelled as Puerto Ricans, even though there was only one Puerto Rican in that group of men, that too a “New Yorican”. The idea was to find a way to recover the dignity of the people of Puerto Rico.
JOSE ADAMES, Al Frente, said that despite being one of the best democracies in the world, United States history was filled with discrimination. Even some map makers did not include Puerto Rico in the maps of the United States. Puerto Rico was a victim of discrimination in many ways. It became a territory of the United States before some States of the Union. Its Government was equal to that of any other State of the United States.
Puerto Rico, he said, should have received statehood. It had more United States citizens than some American States. Puerto Rico was a State of the United States in every way. Puerto Rican soldiers and police had given their life for the United States. He called on the President of the United States to put a stop to that historical insult by submitting a declaration of statehood to the United States Congress.
NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, stressed that there was no moral or legal principle that could justify leaving more than
3 million people without self-determination. The disenfranchised Puerto Rican people included thousands who had given their lives in American wars, and yet they had no right to political representation in the United States. There was no legal definition for the former and present status of Puerto Rico, which was neither free nor associated.
She said it had long been clear that the Constitution of the United States would supersede the will of the Puerto Rican people on any occasion. Puerto Rican culture remained the same mixed culture that had always existed on the island, yet English was now being imposed on the territory. Full statehood was the only solution, she stressed.
The Special Committee must not be misled by clever manipulation of the Vieques issue, she cautioned. That situation was the fault of inaction by Congress, which had failed to safeguard health, peace and order on the island. In addition, the people of Puerto Rico demanded that President George W. Bush end historical discrimination against the Puerto Rican people, who fully deserved the status of American citizens of the union's fifty-first State.
ROGER CALERO, Socialist Workers Party, demanded the immediate withdrawal of the United States Navy from Vieques and the release of all those imprisoned in that regard. A successful struggle for independence was in the interest of not only the Puerto Ricans, but also the people of the United States. It would show that it was possible to stand up to the mighty power of the United States. For more than a century, the United States had maintained Puerto Rico as its colony, a fact which it had unsuccessfully tried to cover up. Today, the United States was turning to its military might to impose its power. The establishment of a United States-dominated protectorate in Afghanistan exposed that Washington’s so-called war on terror was just a war on other peoples and nations.
Today, he said, there were still five Puerto Rican political prisoners detained in the United States, due to their ideas and actions with regard to Puerto Rico’s independence. He joined others in demanding their immediate release. Puerto Ricans in the United States represented a significant portion of the country’s workforce. Since Washington invaded Puerto Rico over a century ago, it had been used as a launching pad for military action against other countries, such as Grenada. The militarization of Puerto Rico reinforced the United States’ intention to establish military bases in other Latin American countries.
VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, said that the word "American" in her organization's name sought to embrace all countries of the Americas, with the understanding that many of the conflicts had been the result of intervention by the United States. The Association defended the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence.
She reaffirmed that the United States Navy must immediately and unconditionally stop its military activities and dismantle all warlike equipment
stored on Vieques. The Navy's experimentation with depleted uranium and other unconventional weapons was a blatant act of environmental racism that had also been perpetrated in Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines and elsewhere.
Citing Amnesty International, she said the Navy had used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. Members of the Navy had fired upon them using mace, rubber bullets and other projectiles, as well as subjecting them to humiliating physical searches. The Association condemned the politically imperialistic nature of the excessive sentences imposed on the demonstrators, who had acted according to moral dictates. It was essential that President Bush free all Puerto Rican prisoners serving long sentences related to their country's independence struggle.
The representative of Venezuela expressed support for the process of decolonization, particularly the right of the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination. She urged the Committee to adopt by consensus the draft text before it, which embodied in a balanced form the main components of the issue.
The representative of Iraq hoped the draft resolution would be adopted once again by consensus, so that the Committee could reaffirm the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination.
Iran’s representative fully supported the content of the draft resolution and believed its adoption by consensus, demonstrated the Committee’s support of the right to self-determination of the Puerto Rican people.
The Committee adopted the draft resolution without a vote.
The representative of Chile said that he had gone along with the resolution in order to ensure a consensus. However, that should not be interpreted as support for every point in the text. Other views existed in Puerto Rico which were not represented in the text. He welcomed the expressed intention of the President of the United States to end military manoeuvres in Vieques by 2003 and remained convinced that the achievement of a satisfactory resolution of the matter would require a decision taken by Puerto Rico and the United States.
Cuba’s representative said that for the third consecutive year the Committee had adopted a resolution on Puerto Rico, which represented the common position that had developed on the issue. Once again, the Committee had fulfilled its mandate and heeded the calls for action made by the people of Puerto Rico. However, the role of the Committee could not end with the adoption of the text, and further efforts were required to implement the resolution and transform it into a practical tool.
Today, he added, a large number of petitioners were heard, the majority of whom had voiced the concerns of the people of Puerto Rico. He hoped that it had also been useful for the United States delegation. It was his hope that the adoption of the text could pave the way for achieving significant progress towards the exercise of true self-determination, the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico.