DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE CALLS FOR EXPEDIATED PROCESS OF SELF-DETERMINATION FOR PUERTO RICO
DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE CALLS FOR EXPEDIATED PROCESS OF SELF-DETERMINATION FOR PUERTO RICO
decolonization committee calls for expediated process
of self-determination for puerto rico
Unanimous Resolution Also Urges United States
To Return Occupied Land on ViequesIsland to People of Puerto Rico
The Special Committee on Decolonization called on the United States to expedite a process allowing the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise its inalienable right to self-determination and independence, as it adopted a draft resolution on Puerto Rico today.
Continuing its resumed 2004 session, the Special Committee urged the United States Government to return the occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and at Roosevelt Roads naval station to the people of Puerto Rico, to respect fundamental human rights, to assume the responsibility for and cover the costs of decontaminating the impact areas previously used in military exercises, and to address the serious consequences to the health of the inhabitants of Vieques and environmental degradation.
Adopting the draft resolution, as orally revised, without a vote, the Special Committee requested the United States President to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons and those serving sentences in United States prisons for cases related to the ViequesIsland peace struggle.
Prior to acting on the draft, the Special Committee heard appeals by 22 petitioners for Puerto Rico, with all agreeing on the need to resolve the island’s colonial status. Noting that the people of Puerto Rico had the right to freely choose its system of government and political destiny, many petitioners voiced support for Puerto Rico’s independence. As 25 July would mark the 106th anniversary of the United States intervention in Puerto Rico, one speaker noted that deeply entrenched colonial systems had not only had an economic and political impact on the people of Puerto Rico, but also an emotional one. Petitioners also expressed support for the recommendation in 2003 by Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly to hold a Constituent Assembly as a viable mechanism for determining the island’s future status.
Throughout the day-long debate, petitioners focused particular attention on three issues, namely the application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico, the imprisonment of Puerto Rican political prisoners and the aftermath of the official end on 1 May 2003 of United States military activities on the Island of Vieques. On that issue, petitioners noted that, while a major victory had been won with the navy’s withdrawal, the consequences of nearly 60 years of bombing on the island’s environment and its population meant that the fight was far from over. While the bombings had stopped, the civilian population lived in a death trap that could only be described as “genocide on the instalment plan”, one petitioner said.
Many petitioners expressed dissatisfaction with the transfer of the land to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, noting that the transfer of the land to another United States federal agency meant that the door to the navy’s return had been left open. Addressing the health of the island’s inhabitants several speakers noted that cancer rates on Vieques was some 26 per cent higher than on the main island.
Regarding the participation of Puerto Ricans in United States military exercises, petitioners agreed that Puerto Ricans had suffered a heavy toll over the years, but especially since the beginning of the Iraq war. Describing the “aggressive recruitment” of Puerto Rican involvement in United States military recruitment as another form of colonial exploitation, one petitioner noted that Puerto Ricans had been induced to identify with a United States Government for whom they did not even vote.
Introducing the draft resolution, the representative of Cuba said that his country had an historical commitment to Puerto Rico that went back to the era when both countries had been subject to the same colonial yoke. That tie meant that the Cuban and Puerto Rican patriots had supported each other in their work towards independence as if fighting for a single homeland.
Petitioners for Puerto Rico were: Carlos Mondriquez Torres, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; Angel Ortiz Guzmán, PROELA; Jorge Farinaacci Garcia, Frente Socialista; Fernando Martin, Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño; Rosa Meneses Campos, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico; Fernando Moreno, Frente Universitario por la Desmilitarización y la Educación (FUDE); Nilda Luz Rexach, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, Inc.; Jose Adams, Al Frente; Francisco Velgara, Vieques Support Campaign; Eduardo Villanueva Munoz, Committee for Human Rights of Puerto Rico; Benjamin Ramos, Pro Libertad Freedom Campaign; Betty Brassel, United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc.; Wilma Reveron Collazo, Comité Puerto Rico en las Naciones Unidas; and Vanessa Ramos, American Association of Jurists.
Other petitioners were: Sonia Ivette Dueno, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Washington Office on Vieques; Anita Velez Mitchell, PrimaVida, Inc.; Mary Anne Grady Flores, Ithaca Catholic Worker Vieques Support Group; Diego Iniquez, Venceremos Brigade; Nicole Sarmiento, Socialist Workers Party; Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz, Comité Pro-Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques; Felix Colon Morera, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano; and Miguel Otero Chavea, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico.
Established by the General Assembly in 1961, the Special Committee examines and makes recommendations on the applications of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and makes suggestions on the progress and extent of its implementation.
The Special Committee, formally known as the Special Committee on the situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, and commonly referred to as the “Special Committee of 24”, will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 16 June to continue its work.
The Special Committee on the situation with regard to the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to discuss Puerto Rico.
The Special Committee had before it a report prepared by the Special Committee’s Rapporteur, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) on the Special Committee decision of 9 June 2003 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2004/L.3). Describing Puerto Rico’s constitutional and political status, the report notes that Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States and became a military protectorate at the end of the Spanish-American War. In 1900, the United States Congress replaced the military Government with a civilian one that included a popularly elected legislature, the Cámara de Delegados. In 1917 the Jones Act added a bill of rights and a popularly elected Senate to the governmental machinery. The Act also conferred United States citizenship on all Puerto Ricans, although the territorial legislative body opposed the measure.
The report notes that under common Commonwealth arrangements, authority over defence, international relations, external trade and monetary matters remains with the United States, while Puerto Rico has autonomy on tax matters, social policies and most local affairs. The main political parties in the Territory differentiate themselves mostly by their position on Puerto Rico’s ultimate status, none being satisfied with the status quo. The Partido Popular Democrático (PPD), currently in power, favours an enhanced Commonwealth status, under which Puerto Ricans would remain under United States sovereignty and retain United States citizenship, but would have greater governmental authority over their own affairs and more latitude to establish regional and international relations. The Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) favours Puerto Rico becoming a fully integrated state of the United States. The third party, the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP) favours independence for the island.
Regarding recent political developments, the report says that the last general elections held in Puerto Rico took place in November 2000. The pro-Commonwealth PPD won the elections, taking control of the executive branch and both houses of the legislature from the pro-statehood PNP. In legislative terms, the debate on political status was brought to the forefront in April 2002, when both the Senate and the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico approved resolutions recommending the establishment of a Constituent Assembly as the most viable mechanism for determining the island’s future status. Puerto Rico’s Governor has reaffirmed her support for an enhanced Commonwealth status, but has also reiterated the need for Puerto Ricans to be unified on how to proceed before engaging the White House and Congress in any discussion. In February 2003 the Governor announced her decision to postpone indefinitely all efforts to move forward on the status issue due to lack of consensus among the island’s principal political parties.
Apart from general political questions, the report notes that three specific issues have been raised before the Special Committee in recent years, namely the continuing United States military presence in Puerto Rico, particularly on the island of Vieques, the imprisonment in the United States of pro-independence Puerto Ricans accused of seditious conspiracy and weapons possession, and the application of the death penalty to Puerto Ricans convicted on federal charges.
Concerning the United States military presence in Puerto Rico, the report states that on 1 May 2003 the United States navy ceased all military operations on the island of Vieques. Following the withdrawal of the navy from Vieques, three related issues remain to be clarified, namely the future development of Vieques and its environmental clean-up; definitive conclusions regarding the effects of the military exercises on the health of Vieques residents; and the future of the Roosevelt Roads naval station on the main island of Puerto Rico.
Also before the Special Committee was a draft resolution submitted by Cuba on the Special Committee decision of 9 June 2003 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2004/L.7). By the terms of the text, the Special Committee would reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the applicability of the fundamental principles of that resolution to the question of Puerto Rico.
Reiterating that Puerto Rican people constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation that has its own unequivocal identity, the Special Committee would call upon the United States Government to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the Special Committee’s decisions and resolutions concerning Puerto Rico.
By further terms of the text, the General Assembly would note with satisfaction that, in recent years, progress has been achieved towards the implementation of a mechanism that would ensure the full participation of representatives of all viewpoints prevailing in Puerto Rico, such as the proposals to convene a Status Assembly of the people of Puerto Rico, based on the principle that any initiative for the solution of Puerto Rico’s political status should originate from the people of Puerto Rico.
Also according to the text, the Special Committee would urge the United States Government, in line with the need to guarantee the Puerto Rican people their legitimate right to self-determination and the protection of their human rights, to return the occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and at the Roosevelt Roads naval station to the people of Puerto Rico; respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to health and economic development; assume responsibility for and cover the costs of decontaminating the impact areas previously used in military exercises; and address the serious consequences to the health of the inhabitants of Vieques Island and the environmental degradation.
The Special Committee would also, by the terms of the draft, 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 the independence of Puerto Rico and those serving sentences in United States prisons for cases related to the ViequesIsland peace struggle.
CARLOS MONDRIGUEZ TORRES, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said that in a 1951 referendum the Puerto Rican electorate had voted for a constitution. Since that time, Puerto Rico has been a free associated state. The current system provided for the continuation of a colonial system in Puerto Rico, denying the island, among other things, international representation, customs and currency. He denounced the colonial character of Puerto Rico’s legal, political and economic relationship with the United States. Thousands of Puerto Ricans had participated in wars waged by the United States. Thousands had been sent to Iraq. The history of the participation of Puerto Ricans in United States wars had to be analyzed by the Committee, he said.
The United States Government had also attempted to impose the death penalty in certain criminal cases, he added, ignoring the fact that the people of Puerto Rico had rejected the death penalty when it had adopted, as a part of the 1952 constitution, the Charter of Rights. Imposing the death penalty violated the moral, religious, cultural and democratic values of the people of Puerto Rico. All attempts to resolve the colonial situation of Puerto Rico had failed. Today, there was consensus on the fact that the solution must originate in Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico had the right to freely choose its system of government and its political destiny. As Puerto Rico continued to be a colony, he requested the Committee’s assistance in including the colonial problem of Puerto Rico in the General Assembly’s agenda.
ANGEL ORTIZ GUZMAN of PROELA said that year after year the Committee had met to discuss the status of Puerto Rico. In order to encourage action, it was indispensable that the committee send to Puerto Rico a visiting mission to observe the situation on the ground and report its findings to the committee to enable it to adopt appropriate measures.
He read a letter from the President of the Partido Popular Democrático, which urged a solution for the political status of Puerto Rico based on the free and informed will of the people of Puerto Rico. Any process that did not take into account the will of the people could not be a self-determination process. The PDP favoured giving the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to choose between independence and statehood through a constitutional assembly. That was the best approach to resolve the political status of Puerto Rico. It was the most democratic and would put the solution in the hands of the people. The PDP proposal was democratic, fair and inclusive.
JORGE FARINAACI GARCIA, Frente Socialista, said that as of 1988 several sectors had been fighting for Puerto Rican independence. Since 1999, his organization had intensified its denunciation of the United States naval presence in Vieques. The fight was not over. The inhabitants of Vieques had had to turn to civil disobedience in order for the United States to respect the promises it had made to them. He welcomed the heroic struggle of Puerto Rican students against the militarization of universities. Tension was growing, as the United States was trying to impose the death penalty, which was banned in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s fight was for full recognition of the right to self-determination and independence. Sovereignty must be restored to Puerto Rico. Congressional authorization was not needed to move forward. The United States had the political and moral responsibility to transfer all sovereign power to the people of Puerto Rico.
He requested the immediate removal of all military apparatus from Puerto Rico. Militants within his organization had been unable to live with their families because of the oppressive forces of North America. The United States still held political prisoners. Those prisoners had no right to a trial or protection under the Geneva Convention. He asked that all powers be restored to the people of Puerto Rico. The United States Government had said it would return sovereignty to the people of Iraq. He doubted that would happen. The United States had not been able to annex Puerto Rico, as Puerto Ricans continued to fight. Puerto Rico would be free, and the international community should be in solidarity with the anti-colonization process.
FERNANDO MARTIN, of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño, said he supported the resolution before the committee and its denunciation of the colonial condition of Puerto Rico. The resolution appealed to the government of the United States to comply with its obligations to ensure the self–determination in accordance with resolution 1514. The decolonization of Puerto Rico was an urgent matter that could not be postponed indefinitely.
Turning to recent political developments in Puerto Rico, he said the leader of the popular party was frustrating the process that could lead to decolonization. While it was clear that progress had been made in the discussion of the constitutional assembly, the leadership of the government party had torpedoed the possibility of acting decisively. Instead of concrete action, the people were being deceived by those manipulating the date of an election. His party believed in the mechanism of a constitutional assembly and urged the Committee to comply with its obligations by approving the draft resolution before it.
ROSA MENESES CAMPOS, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said the United States’ intervention in Puerto Rico was an affront to international law. The United States was denying Puerto Rico its right to self-determination and independence, and colonization was being perpetuated through the electoral system. Colonialism was deeply entrenched in Puerto Rico. Colonialism was not only an economic and political attack, but also an emotional one, which the Organization had defined as a crime against mankind. Puerto Rico had a high level of crime, corruption, drug and alcohol consumption, and mental disease. Some 60 per cent of the population was living at the poverty level. Three generations had not known the culture of work. Any exercise aimed at solving the political status of Puerto Rico without the transfer of sovereign power to its people would be null and void. The United States must start a true decolonization process.
The United States must withdraw all of its armed forces from Puerto Rican territory, as well as its repressive agencies, she said. Political prisoners should be released and economic, political and social participation should be promoted. The Committee’s support of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination was essential. It must adopt resolutions that protected the rights of the people of Puerto Rico. The draft resolution before the Committee referred to the constituent assembly. She could not agree to that provision, as it did not constitute a decolonization mechanism. Puerto Rico was a challenge for the United Nations. The standards of international law must be respected.
FERNANDO MORENO, speaking on behalf of the Frente Universitario por la Desmilitarización y la Educación (FUDE), said FUDE strongly objected to the presence of the United States military and its recruitment efforts in the university. It was objectionable that the government had allowed the defence department to encroach on university life.
He said the military’s presence in the university ran counter to the university spirit and to its moral strength. The presence of weapons in the university was a symbol of the federal government and legitimized military invasion. It reflected the government’s efforts to maintain military hegemony and enforce obedience. The university must be a place of free expression and a major force in his country’s policies. Moreover, there was no possibility of autonomy if the university was dependent on funding from the United States. The military’s presence in the university incited a threat of violent confrontation. FUDE would not spare any efforts in helping Puerto Rico fulfil its right to self-determination.
NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, Inc., said the situation of Puerto Rico was very sad. Puerto Ricans were American citizens and should be afforded the same right as other United States citizens. Thousands of Puerto Ricans continued fighting and dying in wars to defend the United States. Puerto Rico had never been given the same right, namely the right to vote and to be represented in the United States Congress or Senate. Puerto Ricans were American citizens. Even the United States Supreme Court recognized Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court. If Puerto Rico was a colony, so was Alaska and Hawaii. The only difference was that it had not been declared a state.
Romantic separatists were looking to sink the future of Puerto Rico because of their own selfishness, she said. How would they pay for the thousands of Puerto Ricans that had given their best to preserve American and world democracy? she asked. The decolonization movement was an aggression on the rights of the people of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico needed a statehood declaration with equality for all. Puerto Rico was not a colony. Like millions of other Puerto Ricans, she did not want to lose her United States citizenship.
JOSE ADAMS, director of the TV program Al Frente, said that for 87 years Puerto Rico had been virtually a state of the United States, but because of discrimination Puerto Ricans had been second-class citizens. Because of discrimination, the declaration of the statehood of Puerto Rico was not included in the latest congressional declarations, and as a result the island remained without the rights to representation in the United States Congress.
He said Puerto Rico had always basically voted to become a State of the United States, but the rivalry between the two major parties was keeping Puerto Rico from becoming the 51st State of the United States. The declaration of statehood for Puerto Rico would bring equality to its people. All Puerto Ricans and their descendants had been American citizens for 87 years. The full declaration of statehood was the only thing that would bring justice to the people of Puerto Rico.
FRANCISCO VELGARA, Vieques Support Campaign, said that on 1 May 2003 the United States navy had been forced to stop the bombing in Vieques. Today, the island was a place of cancer, disease and contaminated water, flora and fauna. According to a report on the island’s health condition, the cancer rate on Vieques was some 27 per cent higher than on the main island. There were more than 15 primary and secondary diseases in Vieques. The struggle for Vieques continued. The relevance of its civil disobedience retained validity, as did its ongoing educational and public pressure work directed at fish and wildlife, the United States-based land speculators and carpetbaggers. A colonial administration had systematically tried to marginalize the people of Vieques at all levels. The colonial government wanted to hang up signs that Vieques was for sale. Vieques was not for sale. The bombings had stopped, yet the civilian population lived in a death trap that could only be described as “genocide on the instalment plan”.
The dire situation in Vieques was being ignored by the colonial Power, he said. While the dangers of statehood were real, projects to expand the colonial control of Puerto Rico must be unmasked. Colonialism by any other name remained occupation. Resolution 1514 called for the withdrawal of military forces and return of political and economic sovereignty. It was a cause of great concern to hear the voices of political opportunism and desperation growing louder in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico would continue to struggle for its liberation and to end political control at the hands of the United States. Puerto Ricans in the United States suffered from racism and discrimination. In 2004, Puerto Ricans in the United States continued to be one of the most politically and economically disadvantaged sectors. Saying that the root of the Vieques question lied in the colonization of Puerto Rico, he called for the decolonization of all Puerto Rico, in line with international law and global justice.
EDOARDO VILLANUEVA MUNOZ, Chairman of the Committee for Human Rights of Puerto Rico, said it was necessary to demilitarize the territory and free political prisoners in order to advance the process of decolonization. He said many political prisoners were victim of psychological torture, which included deprivation of light and isolation from family and comrades. Such treatment was in contradiction to United States human rights policy and compromised the national integrity of Puerto Rico. The process of decolonization required amnesty for political prisoners. There were still Puerto Rican political prisoners in federal prisons. Those prisoners must be freed in order to achieve the decolonization of their homeland.
BENJAMIN RAMOS ROSADO, Pro Libertad Freedom Campaign, said the imprisonment of the Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war for their political convictions and activities in the cause of Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle for independence and right to self-determination was an act of repression against the Puerto Rican independence struggle. If the United States were to dissolve its colonial control over Puerto Rico, it would have a domino effect among the other Administering Powers, as they followed suit and dissolved their own colonial relationships over the remaining Territories. The Special Committee had made history with its ground-breaking and unified cry against colonialism. Despite the clear language contained in its resolutions, the United States had not acted upon any of its recommendations.
He said he stood before the Special Committee to make the case for the remaining nine Puerto Rican political prisoners. Four of the prisoners had been incarcerated for over 20 years for fighting for the independence and self-determination of Puerto Rico. The following five were the Vieques political prisoners who had been incarcerated as an attempt to intimidate activists involved in the Vieques struggle. The excessive sentences imposed on Puerto Rican women and men because of their political activities made it clear that the goal was to punish them for their beliefs and not for the acts alleged by the United States Government at the time of their arrest. The Puerto Rican political prisoners had been model prisoners since their incarceration. The colonial reality of Puerto Rico, the military presence in Vieques and the incarceration of political prisoners were all violations of international law and human rights.
BETTY BRASSEL, speaking on behalf of United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc., said her organization aimed to create awareness of the health hazards, ecological and economic destruction by the United States navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico, since 1941. She said that while the United States navy bombing of Vieques had ended in May 2003, the land of Vieques was not completely in the hands of its people. The navy had turned over the lands to the United States Department of the Interior, which had, in turn, given jurisdiction over the lands to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. That was especially disturbing because it was done to relieve the United States navy from its responsibility to clean up the contamination, which had led to cancer, respiratory diseases, and the poisoning of the food chain with mercury and heavy metals.
She stressed that, while the bombing had stopped, the environment must be cleaned up, the land given back to the people of Vieques and the economy expanded to provide for the needs of the people. Only then could there truly be peace in Vieques.
WILMA REVERON COLLAZO, on behalf of the Comité Puerto Rico en las Naciones Unidas, said the demands for the demilitarization of Puerto Rico and the denunciation of the harmful impact on the environment and health of neighbouring countries had been the constant appeal of the pro-independence movement. Today, representatives of Puerto Rico’s Government spoke of the economic development of that land. Since the 1960s, the Puerto Rican Bar Association had been studying procedural alternatives for Puerto Rico’s status. The result of those discussions had been the consideration of the establishment of a constituent assembly as a way to seek a democratic solution. All agreed that there should be a constitutional constituent assembly, at the initiative of Puerto Ricans, speaking with a single voice.
The Special Committee’s role in the process was most important, she said. The United States must comply with its obligations under international law. Although Puerto Rico was not on the list of Territories, the Committee had had jurisdiction over the case of Puerto Rico since 1972. Puerto Rico was the only country under colonialism that had a population of almost eight million people, four million of whom were living in economic exile. The General Assembly’s involvement was not only necessary for Puerto Ricans, but also for the international community. Puerto Rico was an important link in seeking solutions to global problems, such as drug trafficking.
VANESSA RAMOS, of the American Association of Jurists, said that while international solidarity had led to the withdrawal of the United States navy from Vieques in May 2003, there was still much to be done. There were serious public health problems caused by pollution and contamination, and the United States Government must be responsible for the cost of decontamination and provide compensation and health services to people suffering from cancer and other diseases.
She said that, while the United States navy had ceased bombing, the land of Vieques was now in the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. That meant that the land could still be returned to the United States navy for military uses without the approval of the Puerto Rican people. She reiterated her support for the draft resolution to assure the future economic development of Vieques for the benefit of the Puerto Rican people. It was necessary to establish a constituent assembly, which would oblige the United States Congress to transfer all plenary powers concerning Puerto Rico to that assembly.
SONIA IVETTE DUENO, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Washington Office on Vieques, called for the self-determination of the Puerto Rican people. A few days ago, the people of Puerto Rico had celebrated 113 years since the creation of its flag. Puerto Rico’s flag, however, did not fly by itself. For 106 years, the Puerto Rican flag had had to fly next to that of its second colonizer, the United States. Although the people of Vieques had won a victory with the cessation of bombing, the United States had failed to comply with the demands of the people of Puerto Rico and the principles of decolonization. As a result, 106 years later Puerto Rico was still colonized. The United States had failed to return the land in Vieques it had occupied militarily, choosing instead to transfer it administratively to another United States federal agency. In other words, the navy could return to Vieques.
The United States Government had also failed to respect the fundamental human rights not only of the people of Vieques, but also of other Puerto Ricans, by retaining political prisoners who had served more than 20 years as a result of their fight for the independence of Puerto Rico, she added. The United States Government had continued to fail, by not taking care of the serious health consequences for the inhabitants of Vieques caused by over six decades of bombing. The situation of Vieques must be seen in light of the colonial status of Puerto Rico. The application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico by the United States was also an unacceptable manifestation of United States colonial rule over the island nation. Puerto Rico had been one of the first nations to adopt a rule of law that prohibited the death penalty in its criminal justice system.
The aggressive recruitment of Puerto Rican people, especially its youth, into the United States armed forces was a further form of colonial exploitation, she said. Puerto Ricans were induced to identify with a United States Government for whom they did not vote, and which decided to launch wars in defiance of international law. The decolonization of Puerto Rico required, among other things, the return of Vieques to the people of the island, the release of Puerto Ricans imprisoned for fighting for independence, compensation of the people of Vieques for their exposure to contamination and the removal of military recruitment activities from Puerto Rico.
ANITA VELEZ MITCHELL, of PrimaVida, Inc., a theatre and literary arts organization, said that while the United States navy had ceased the bombing of Vieques in May 2003, they had left 75 per cent of Vieques uninhabitable, as a result of chemical contamination. Vieques now had the highest cancer rates in Puerto Rico. As a citizen of the United States, she called on the United States Government to take responsibility for the clean-up of Vieques.
Noting the role Puerto Rico had played in United States history, she said Puerto Rico was the oldest settlement under the United States flag. It was a Commonwealth country and should therefore have a voice. It had no institutionalized method through which it could defend its international rights. Puerto Ricans wanted to be citizens of the United States and also contribute to the welfare of the world. Those were the aspirations of all Puerto Ricans.
MARY ANNE GRADY FLORES, Ithaca Catholic Worker Vieques Support Group, urged the immediate clean-up of toxins and severe contamination, including radioactive depleted uranium left behind after 60 years of bomb testing. She also urged the immediate return to the people of Vieques of all land taken, first by the United States navy, and now by the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife. The cancer rate was some 26 per cent higher than in the main island of Puerto Rico. There was a major problem in Vieques. There was no proper facility in Puerto Rico to test for the presence of depleted uranium in the urine or blood. If the United States military were to admit the true monetary figures of the damage caused in Vieques, billions of dollars would be needed for the clean-up and for reparations to the victims of depleted uranium contamination.
Much needed to be done, as the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico continued their struggle for the clean-up of their island and return of their lands, she said. The military’s decision to use depleted uranium in spite of its obvious health risks displayed a blatant disregard for human life and well-being. This was one of the more deliberate examples of the unnecessary suffering of the Puerto Rican people caused by the United States colonizer. She urged the Special Committee to consider the evidence and recognize the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination.
DIEGO INIQUEZ, of the Venceremos Brigade, said Puerto Rico had the right to sovereignty and independence, a right upheld by international law. Puerto Rico remained a colony of the United States, not a “commonwealth” or any other euphemism that may be used to disguise the violation of international law. The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States mirrored the relationship that historically all colonies have shared with their so-called mother countries. The transformation of the Puerto Rican economy to benefit United States economic interests, the limited power of Puerto Ricans in government, and military occupation were manifestations of this colonial relationship.
Despite international laws that affirmed the rights of all colonized peoples to use any form of struggle necessary to gain national independence, individuals and groups that have organized to achieve an independent Puerto Rico have suffered severe repression by the United States Government. Generations of Puerto Rican independence fighters have been jailed in United States federal prisons. People living in the United States who are concerned about peace and justice have the duty to speak out against oppression and exploitation committed by the United States Government. The Venceremos Brigade would continue to condemn the United States Government’s colonial hold on Puerto Rico.
NICOLE SARMIENTO, on behalf of Socialist Workers Party, said the withdrawal of the United States navy from Vieques had been a victory for the United States domination over Puerto Rico. She demanded that the United States Government release all political prisoners. Seeing how Washington continued to defy the will of the Puerto Rican people, one fact prevailed -- namely that Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States. Only the country’s rich leaders benefited from Puerto Rico’s remaining a colony. The working people had no interest in the colonial rule over Puerto Rico. The socialist party had defended the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence. United States leaders said they defended human rights, democracy and freedom. But one had to ask, freedom for whom? Only for the rich.
She said the crimes committed against Iraqi prisoners demonstrated the true face of United States imperialism. The imperialist occupation of Iraq was the effort of the United States, and others, to carve up the world. United States leaders had used Puerto Rico as a springboard to prepare their imperialist wars. Young Puerto Ricans had been used as cannon fodder in the invasion of Iraq. While Puerto Rico continued to be a colony, Puerto Ricans were being treated as second-class citizens. The so-called war against terrorism also had its internal counterpart against workers and farmers in the United States. For many decades, pro-independence Puerto Ricans had been called terrorists. Four political prisoners in United States prisons had been there for almost 25 years. She joined others in demanding their release. Revolutionary Cuba had demonstrated that, with a socialist revolution, true freedom could be won.
ISMAEL GUADALUPE ORTIZ, of the Comité Pro-Rescate y Desarollo de Vieques, said that it had been almost one year since the end of United States military activities in Vieques, and still the United States Government had not begun to decontaminate the island. With the end of the military practices, Vieques had not achieved full sovereignty. The fact that Vieques was no longer a shooting range did not mean injustice had been eradicated. The United States Government still had control of one-third of the island. The transfer of one-third of the island to United States Fish and Wildlife Service meant only that they had retained hegemony over the land, not that they would clean it up. Due to military waste, cancer in Vieques was occurring in larger proportions than in the rest of the country.
He stressed his organization’s demands for demilitarization, decontamination, devolution and development, which were being corrupted by the United States Government’s colonial policies and directly affected the lack of sovereignty of the Puerto Rican people. It was up to the United Nations to call on the United States to decontaminate Vieques and to respect the democratic will of the people of Vieques with respect to the development they desired for their future.
FELIX COLON MORERA, on behalf of the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, said on 1 May 2003 bombings had ended on the island of Vieques after more than 60 years of military exercises. In the struggle to end the bombings, there had been unity in all spheres of public life. Civil disobedience had led to the arrest of many. The decontamination of Vieques was a priority task. The land held by the United States Department of the Interior should be returned to the Vieques people.
Puerto Ricans had, over the years, felt overburdened by the weight of their political position under the status regime and the all-embracing power of the United States Government over its collective national will, he said. One constant in the past 106 years had been that the United States had not adopted a decolonization policy. The Constituent Assembly had been proposed as a mechanism for the people to deal with their political status. Delegates would have the authority to negotiate with the United States Government on mutually acceptable terms for a legal relationship. The assembly would establish its own electoral rules and propose that elements of territorial integrity, among other things, be respected. The proposal, which had been gaining support in all ideological spheres, had the support of the three main parties. The governor had spoken in favour for it, as had others.
MIGUEL OTERO CHAVEZ, of the Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, said his organization had since 1972 come before the Committee to affirm its support of the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence. It condemned the colonial situation that the United States Government had imposed on his homeland for more than a century and called for affirmative action by the Committee so that the General Assembly could put an end to the colonial status of his homeland.
For more than a century, men and women of Puerto Rico had struggled for independence and several of them remained imprisoned in United States federal prisons. Upon arrest, some had been imprisoned in metal cages, others had suffered sexual abuse. He urged the immediate and unconditional release of those prisoners. The Constitution of Puerto Rico prohibited the death penalty and he urged the Committee to reflect that in its resolution.
He added that, similar to Vieques, the United States Government had adopted an irresponsible attitude toward the island of Culebra. He called on the United States to comply with its obligation to decontaminate both islands.
Action on Draft Resolution
ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) introduced the draft resolution, saying that Cuba had an historical commitment to Puerto Rico that went back to the era when both countries had been subject to the same colonial yoke. That tie meant that the Cuban and Puerto Rican patriots had supported each other in their work towards independence, as if fighting for a single homeland. The text picked up the basic elements of resolutions adopted by the Special Committee, with the necessary updating. The draft recognized the inalienable rights of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in accordance with resolution 1514 (XV). The text spelled out that the Puerto Rican people represented a Latin American and Caribbean nation with their own national identity that had survived some 106 years of domination.
In previous resolutions, the Special Committee had appealed to the United States Government to end military manoeuvres on the island, he said. A year ago, the United States navy had stopped the bombings. That had been a source of great satisfaction for all who were united in the just cause. Two months ago, the United States Roosevelt Roads naval base had been closed. For the people of Vieques, the navy’s withdrawal was a victory that should be completed with the return of land previously used and still occupied by the United States Government. More than six decades had caused serious damage to the health of the people on the island and there continued to be broad international support for the struggle in Vieques. The adoption without a vote was certain proof of unity and consensus on the matter of Puerto Rico, he added.
The draft resolution was then adopted, as orally revised, without a vote.
Mr. Gual thanked the members of the Special Committee as well as the petitioners, many of whom had come from Puerto Rico, providing first-hand information on the problems they were facing. The Special Committee would continue to work on the matter. He was grateful that the text had been adopted for the fifth straight year without a vote.
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