|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Special Committee on
4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)
Special Committee on Decolonization Calls on United States, in Consensus Text,
to Speed up Process Allowing Puerto Rico to Exercise Self-Determination
Nearly 25 Petitioners Underscore Gravity of Situation on Island, Buckling
Under Economic Strain; Vigorous Opposition to Death Penalty Also Expressed
Bearing in mind that 25 July marked the 113th anniversary of the intervention in Puerto Rico by the United States, the Special Committee on Decolonization today adopted a consensus text calling on the United States to expedite a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in line with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) (1960).
By today’s resolution, the 29-member body also noted that any initiative to resolve the political status of the island should originate from Puerto Ricans themselves. It further noted the debate in Puerto Rico on the implementation of a mechanism to ensure the full participation of representatives of all viewpoints, including a constitutional assembly on status, with a basis in the decolonization alternatives recognized in international law.
By other terms, the Special Committee expressed serious concern at actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters and encouraged investigations with the “necessary rigour” and cooperation of relevant authorities. The General Assembly was requested to consider the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects.
For its part, the United States was urged to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba, respect fundamental human rights — including to health and economic development -– and cover the costs of clean up and decontamination of areas previously used in military exercises through means that did not continue to aggravate the serious consequences of its military activities on the health of the areas’ inhabitants and the environment.
Introducing the text, Cuba’s delegate said that, while the Special Committee had adopted 29 resolutions and decisions on the matter over the course of 30 years, little progress had been made in settling the colonial situation in Puerto Rico. The text expressed concern that, despite several initiatives undertaken by the political representative of Puerto Rico, a decolonization process meeting on Puerto Ricans’ aspirations had not been set in motion. The General Assembly’s review of the situation was “more pressing than ever”, he stressed.
Throughout the day, nearly 25 petitioners took the floor to underscore the gravity of the situation on the island, where 38 per cent of a total 3.7 million people were unemployed in an economy, many said, that was buckling under economic domination. The unilateral intervention of the United States in local affairs was pervasive, seen in its setting of milk prices and attempts to impose capital punishment. The 60-year presence of the United States Navy had contaminated Vieques Island, placing its citizens at a high risk of developing cancer, the Committee also heard.
Many petitioners aired their views on a United States’ proposal to hold a two-plebiscite process in which Puerto Ricans would first vote on their preference on becoming part of the United States or becoming independent, and then choose, in a second plebiscite, between options that had been limited by the outcome of the first. Several decried the proposal as illegal, as the definition of political options did not follow international law and excluded the diaspora from voting.
Puerto Rico was not considered a sovereign nation or a colony, other petitioners said, nor counted among the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories under the Special Committee’s purview, requiring that its unique situation be reviewed by the General Assembly. Several supported the idea of holding a constitutional status assembly to solve its political future and urged the Special Committee to visit the island. More broadly, they said the United Nations should supervise any plebiscite organized in the future. Still other speakersdemanded the release of political prisoners being held in the United States, most of them facing severe sentences that were disproportionate, they insisted, to the crimes for which they were accused.
Delivering general statements ahead of action on the text were the representatives of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Syria and Iran, as well as the observer for Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement).
Speaking in explanation of position after action was the representative of Saint Lucia.
Cuba’s representative delivered a general statement after action.
The Special Committee on Decolonization will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 21 June, to take up the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).
The Special Committee on Decolonization met today to consider a report on the Special Committee’s decision of 21 June 2010 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2011/L.13), and a related draft resolution (document A/AC.109/2011/L.6).
Prepared by the Rapporteur, the report considers Puerto Rico in light of previous such reports prepared, as well as recent political, economic and military developments on the island, and action taken by the United Nations on the matter. It states that the island Territory has commonwealth status, with the United States’ Congress holding plenary power over Puerto Rico, which is vested with local authority over designated areas. All laws concerning the Territory’s relations with the United States are in force through the Federal Relations Act.
The report says that several plebiscites have been held to determine what Puerto Ricans think the island’s status should be, sometimes with controversial outcomes. According to a 1993 plebiscite, for example, 48.4 per cent wished to retain the status quo, with close to 46.2 per cent preferring statehood and 4 per cent wanting independence. In 1998, however, when a local political party introduced a “None of the above” option, 50.4 per cent of those voting supported it, prompting then-United States President Bill Clinton to create the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, in response. The Task Force recognized only three choices for Puerto Ricans: the status quo; statehood; or independence.
Moving ahead on the political front, the report states that the press in Puerto Rico reported widely that on 2 January 2009, President-elect Barack Obama sent a message to the swearing-in ceremony for Luis Fortuño, the new Governor of Puerto Rico, reiterating his intention to resolve the colonial case of Puerto Rico during his first term. The Task Force, as constituted under President Obama, held its first meeting on 15 December 2009, expanding its focus to include matters affecting the island’s economic development.
On 3 March 2010, the Task Force held hearings in San Juan, with testimony reflecting a consensus that it must first address the issue of status. The third report of the Task Force, issued on 16 March 2011, contained recommendations for an accelerated decision process regarding the status issue, whereby Puerto Ricans could express their will on status options and action would be taken by the end of 2012 or later. Options must be the constitutionally permissible choices of statehood, independence, free association and the Free Associated State.
The Task Force report specified that the United States’ Congress had the authority over the admission of states; and that full independence involved a transition, including for citizenship status, which it recommended be honoured for Puerto Ricans who were United States’ citizens at the time of transition. Regarding the Commonwealth option, the report stated that Puerto Rico would remain — as it is at present — subject to the territorial clause of the United States Constitution, though its local political autonomy should not be reduced or threatened.
The Task Force report further outlined a “marginal preference” for a two-plebiscite process in which Puerto Ricans would first vote on their preference of becoming part of the United States through statehood or the Commonwealth, or becoming independent through independence or free association. Regarding Vieques, the Task Force recommended measures for speeding its clean-up, boosting growth, improving health care for residents and protecting Mosquito Bay, which was bioluminescent.
The report prepared by the Rapporteur also covers military and economic developments on the island, as well as previous action taken by the United Nations on the status of Puerto Rico.
Introduction of Draft Resolution
Introducing the draft resolution on the question of Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2011/L.6), PEDRO NÚNEZ MOSQUERA ( Cuba) said that the people of Puerto Rico remained unable to exercise their legitimate right to genuine self-determination. The colonial Power, the United States, maintained its economic, political and social domination over the island, which had its own national and cultural identity. The draft resolution before the Special Committee stressed the urgent need for the United States Government to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise their right to self-determination, as established by the General Assembly in its resolution 1514 (XV) and numerous resolutions adopted by the Special Committee. Moreover, while the Special Committee had adopted 29 resolutions or decisions on the matter over the course of 30 years, little progress had been made to reach a definitive solution settling that colonial situation.
He said that the draft resolution before the Special Committee also expressed concern that, despite several initiatives undertaken by the political representative of Puerto Rico, a decolonization process meeting on the Puerto Rican people’s aspirations had failed to be set in motion. The resolution also noted the debate in Puerto Rico of a mechanism that would ensure the full participation of all viewpoints, including a constitutional assembly on status, with a basis in the decolonization alternatives recognized in international law.
In further provisions, he said, the text urged the United States to complete the return of all lands occupied in the past and the installations in Vieques and Ceiba to the Puerto Rican people, and to expedite the process of cleaning up and decontaminating the impact areas, through means that did not continue to aggravate the serious consequences of its military activities on the health of the areas’ inhabitants and the environment. It reiterated the Special Committee’s deep concern about the continued violent actions against Puerto Rican independence fighters and encouraged the thorough investigations of such actions. As in previous years, it called for the release of three political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons. It also reiterated the request for the General Assembly to comprehensively review the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects — a review which was “more pressing than ever”, he said.
Taking the floor, Osvaldo Toledo Martinez, Bar Association of Puerto Rico, said that his organization had adopted the denunciation of colonialism as an institutional policy but did not “invade” Puerto Rico’s political space, making it able to issue important proposals. Among those was the demand to convene a constitutional assembly on the status of Puerto Rico, with broad democratic participation, which would discuss future relations with the United States. The colonial Power was attempting to ignore the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and to agree upon their own instruments for political representation. In Puerto Rico, the United States was attempting to “repeat and perfect” its historic colonial policy. However, unlike other historical situations, “ Puerto Rico is not alone”; it had the support of the international community and sister States to the East and West. While some were under the “colonial yolk”, many were also fighting to assert their self-determination.
Today, he said, Puerto Rico was stricken, not only by the global economic crisis, but also by a poverty rate that covered more than half of its population and by a “galloping” unemployment rate. The “defeated colonial country” had recently been visited by United States President Barack Obama, and the United States was preparing to dictate that the solution to the question of Puerto Rico be provided by the recommendations of a working group, or by the United States Congress, in which Puerto Rico had no real representation. Meanwhile, that Government continued to impede Puerto Rico’s economic development by blocking its political initiatives, and to implement the death penalty despite that policy’s unconstitutional status in Puerto Rico. Those were just some of the “flagrant violations” of General Assembly resolution 1514, he stressed.
IVAN A. RIVERA REYES, PROELA, said his organization had appeared repeatedly before the Special Committee asking for help to move Puerto Rico towards exercising self-determination. Today, “we are further than ever from our goal”, in a situation worsened by the impacts of political and economic domination. With about 3.7 million people, Puerto Rico had one of highest murder rates; its local economy had shrunk in 2010 and its workforce was 38 per cent of the total population. The health system barely covered 400,000 people. The unilateral intervention of the United States in local affairs was pervasive, from the determination of milk prices to attempts to impose capital punishment.
Regarding self-determination, he said the United States had turned a blind eye to Puerto Rico, and the participation of its diaspora had been denied. The plebiscite, recently proposed by three political parties, if it were held, would be illegal under international law, as there was an implicit rejection of the right to self-determination. Self-determination was an inalienable right under international law, including the 1993 Vienna Action Programme, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) (1960) and 1541 (XV) (1960).
No progress had been made, and he presented three proposals he hoped would be included in the Special Committee’s report, saying that a committee should be set up to start a dialogue between Puerto Ricans and the United States’ Government. In addition, a letter should be addressed to the Special Committee with a resolution to be sent to the General Assembly, pursuant to Article 96 of the United Nations Charter. Forthcoming resolutions should include the viability of using a constitutional assembly as a mechanism to bring about the right to self-determination and should include Puerto Ricans residing abroad. “We cannot wait another 10 years for our aspirations to be met,” he said.
HECTOR PESQUERA SEVILLANO, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (MINH), said that at the start of the Third Decade, there were 10 million people living under the yolk of colonialism, 8 million of whom were Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico had the distinction of being the oldest colony in its region of the world. The unemployment rate was at 17 per cent and 48 per cent of Puerto Ricans depended on Government assistance to survive. Agriculture — once the main industry — had been reduced to “barely nothing”. Eighty per cent of what was consumed was imported from the United States, and Puerto Rico was forced to bring everything into the country via the United States Navy, the most expensive and inefficient option in the world. Land and water had been polluted by military bases, while the public debt had ballooned.
Moreover, the disaster caused by colonialism meant that half the population had left the island, he said, pointing out that a solution did not just comprise a claim for dignity and the exercise of principles, though important. It must include the exercise of the sovereign power of self-determination, which was an urgent need. The United States must stop destroying the economy and reducing people to an even more impoverished state. International law must be the basis for considering the case of Puerto Rico.
The proposal for a plebiscite to deal with the problematic relationship between the island and the United States was part of the “imperialist strategy intended to perpetuate colonialism”. Puerto Rico’s sovereignty belonged to Puerto Ricans, he said, proposing that a constitutional status assembly be held — organized, funded and carried out by Puerto Ricans themselves, without United States intervention. The case must be examined by the General Assembly in all its facets. He requested the Special Committee visit Puerto Rico, and he voiced his support for the draft resolution submitted today.
Manuel Rivera, Puertorriqueňos Unidos en Accion Hostosiano, said that in order for Puerto Rico to truly achieve sovereignty by means of effective self-determination, there must be participation by the significant Puerto Rican diaspora, and any decision made by the Special Committee should reflect the diaspora’s existence. In the past decade alone, about 800,000 Puerto Ricans had emigrated to United States and other countries. Puerto Rico was a nation with its own language and customs, and its history as a nation had begun well before Spain “gave it” to the United States as the result of a war.
Today, he said, many political prisoners, and in particular three that were currently serving long sentences in American jails for having fought for Puerto Rico’s decolonization, were also part of that diaspora. Moreover, the recommendation of the Interagency Group, which called specifically for the exclusion of the diaspora in the discussion of the question of Puerto Rico, was in direct contradiction with democratic principles. Self-determination was a right and a responsibility, and in that light, more than 14 Latin American countries had established processes to involve diaspora communities in elections and political processes. Precedents also existed in the cases of Cameroon and Western Sahara, among others. “The time has come for Puerto Rico to enter this world,” he said, emphasizing that the vast diaspora must be part of that movement.
Benjamín Ramos Rosado, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, said that the imprisonment of Puerto Rican political prisoners was an international human rights violation. He highlighted the cases of three prisoners in particular. First, Oscar López Rivera, who had served more than 30 years in prison and had been the victim of various forms of physical and psychological torture during that time. Mr. López Rivera been denied parole recently, despite the fact that he had met the necessary criteria. In a second case, Avelino González Claudio had been held and denied medical care, and in May, had been asked by the United States’ Government to admit to crimes he had not committed. That Government had given him the highest danger classification, the same as a first-degree murderer. It was clear that he was being denied the right to parole. The third case concerned Norberto González Claudio, who had been arrested and kept in solitary confinement unnecessarily. He was awaiting his trial on 24 June, a date that his lawyers had protested was too soon to mount a proper defence.
Those three individuals had fought for the independence of Puerto Rico and had confronted the United States Government, which were their rights as international citizens, he said. Their excessive sentences made clear that the goal was to punish them for their beliefs and not for the actions alleged by the Government at the time of their arrests. “They are not the terrorists the Government has made them out to be,” he stressed, saying instead that they were “freedom fighters”, whose only crime had been to struggle for freedom against “an imperialist colonial monster”.
NORMITA APONTE RIVERA, Movimiento de Afirmación Viequense, said the colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico had impeded the exercise of human rights. For the residents of Vieques, the situation had been made even worse by the presence and power of the United States Navy. Residents did not have the political power to protect or repair the ecological disaster left by the United States Navy after 60 years of its presence there. People’s health had deteriorated, with the incidence of cancer higher there than in any other part of the country. Despite the large area of agricultural land, the heavy metals in the soil had made products unfit for consumption. Water pollution stemming from unexploded bombs threatened the sea life and the lives of fishermen.
Such a systematic human rights violation was prohibited under international law, she said, and although the United States had halted its military practice, its work to detonate unexploded bombs continued today with the same frequency as when airplanes were bombing the island. The preferred method of detonation was to burn the lands where the bombs were found, which contaminated the land. That was just another offence against Puerto Ricans and an insult to the international community. Over six decades, the United States Navy had used Puerto Rico as a “military laboratory”. A White House task force report had stated that removal work should be accelerated, as the process would take at least another decade. She asked that the case of Puerto Rico be discussed in the General Assembly.
ALEIDA CENTENO, American Association of Jurists (AAJ), described attacks against the Bar Association by sympathizers of the colonial Government. The Association’s President had been imprisoned and there had been attempts to hinder the provision of legal services to less-privileged communities. Attacks on civil and human rights by the police had intensified, as had hate crimes against sexual minorities and people with scant resources. Moreover, the legislative assembly had used “institutional violence” to prevent the press from obtaining information on funding cuts to the university and other programmes.
Public debt continued to grow and basic services were being denied to people because of mismanagement, she said, adding that public beaches were being handed over to private interests and lands provided to the United States for its bases and military arsenal. The United States had proposed building a pipeline, an idea opposed by Puerto Ricans. Colonialism was an international problem, over which the United Nations had jurisdiction. In March, the Presidential Working Group had indicated a preference for another plebiscite, which was participatory and fair, and about which people were fully informed. Such a process directed from Washington, D.C., would be “suspicious”.
On military activities, she said no country under military occupation could determine its future unless the occupier removed its military presence. As long as weapons remained, “we cannot speak of a transparent process”. Finally, she said Oscar López Rivera was serving a disproportionate sentence for his actions. She called for the release of all political prisoners and for the case of Puerto Rico to be considered by the General Assembly.
Francisco Torres, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, Movimiento Libertador, said that colonialism denied freedom and sovereignty. The United States did not respect the feelings of the people of Puerto Rico and had created an entire apparatus of colonial domination to ensure that the Puerto Rican people were unable to decide their fate. Additionally, past elections had been designed to foster the interests of the United States. At the beginning of the century, Puerto Ricans had wanted independence, but over the years, the United States had punished freedom fighters and discouraged that movement, in a “totally undemocratic” manipulation. A minority of Puerto Ricans had participated in past elections, including that in 1952, garnering only 39 per cent participation.
Puerto Rico was defined under law as a United States’ “possession”, he said, a position that had been reiterated by many American Presidents. Most recently, President Barack Obama, visiting the island, had stated that his Government was in favour of resolving the issue by any means, excluding independence. However, the Government did not have the slightest interest in truly resolving the problem. The colonial administration had embarked on a system of privatization, benefiting only a small group of entrepreneurs and leaving thousands unemployed. In addition, there was a real need to obtain energy in a way that protected the environment of Puerto Rico and reduced costs, but United States-backed initiatives did not contribute to those goals.
Indeed, he asserted, the lack of sovereignty on the island prevented the establishment of laws to deal with the “real problems” of Puerto Rico. He urged the Special Committee and the people of the world to push the United States to leave the island and to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their democratic right to self-determination.
Fernando J. Martin, Puerto Rican Independence Party, said that in March, the Interagency Working Group on the Status of Puerto Rico, appointed by the United States’ Government, had presented its first report under President Obama. That report confirmed and reiterated the main conclusions of previous ones, namely, that the island was subjected to the colonial power of the United States and remained an American possession. That current United States’ Administration was “refreshing”, however, when compared to the decades of deceit by which that Government had attempted to trick the international community into believing that its colonialisms had ended. Still, no actions had been taken to put and end to the situation. The “arrogant temerity” of the United States also continued to be demonstrated in other situations around the world, including its position on the Cuban embargo and on Palestinian rights.
It was clear, he said, that if Puerto Rico “sat back and waited”, colonialism would continue. The Independence Party was been committed to allowing the citizens of Puerto Rico to express themselves against the colonial situation. If the majority could express such sentiments, it would overcome the “spurious arguments” by the United States that the people of Puerto Rico were in favour of colonialism. The country’s true independence would enable its people to flourish. He urged neighbour States to ensure implementation of the relevant recommendations of the Special Committee. Lastly, he highlighted the case of political prisoners, including Oscar López Rivera, who had served more than 30 years — in an outrage which was “truly barbaric” and clearly demonstrated the suppression of the liberation movement.
JAN SUSLER, National Lawyers Guild, explaining that her organization had a long history of defending political prisoners, said the Obama Administration had ignored international law, which the Special Committee had applied regularly to the colonial case of Puerto Rico. In March, the Presidential Task Force — on which sat not one Puerto Rican member — had issued a report for purportedly solving the question of Puerto Rico. Nowhere did it acknowledge the colonial status of the relationship or the application of international law. It suggested that a plebiscite be held, but there was significant potential for the independence option. While half the population of Puerto Rico now lived in the United States, the Task Force had suggested that only Puerto Rican residents be allowed to vote.
President Obama had made a four-hour stop to the island, she said, where he had encountered mass demonstrations by Puerto Ricans calling for the end of United States colonial control and the release of political prisoners. Indeed, this year had been historically significant for the political prisoners being held in the United States. Among them, Oscar López Rivera had served 30 years in prison, despite not having been convicted of harming anyone or taking a life. His release date had been set for 2023. The United States’ Parole Commission had refused his parole bid, which ignored the express will of Puerto Ricans and those who believed in justice and human rights — including in the Special Committee. Recalling that Mr. González Claudio faced a 275-year sentence for struggling for Puerto Rico’s independence, she urged the adoption of a resolution calling on the General Assembly to consider the case of Puerto Rico, and on the United States to both release political prisoners and to commit to negotiations on ending colonialism.
LUIS A. DELGADO RODRIGUEZ, Alianza pro Libre Asociacion Soberana (ALAS), said that for over 25 years, Puerto Ricans living in and outside the island had come to the Special Committee for help to end the situation on the island, in compliance with international law. Despite such pleas and more than 20 resolutions by the Special Committee over the years, the political and economic situation had deteriorated. United States’ control of communications, airports, ports, customs, post offices and banks — and the use of boats from any other country to trade with Puerto Rico — all pointed to the island’s ongoing colonial status.
He said the international community had a duty to respond, as the United States had isolated Puerto Rico from economic, political and cultural interaction with the rest of the world. He cited actions by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which exercised control throughout the Territory and whose actions in September 2005 had led to the murder of Filiberto Ojeda Rios. He also cited the Task Force’s proposal to hold a plebiscite, a recommendation flawed by the fact that the definition of political options was not in accordance with international law. People would be asked to vote on the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, which itself was the problem.
Moreover, the diaspora would be excluded from the plebiscite, he said, and questions had been raised about whether the results would be binding. His organization had complained to the Organization of American States (OAS). Defending free association as the most appropriate status, as defined by resolution 1541 (XV) (1960), he said the United States had argued that such a status was a “treaty relationship of autonomy”, which in turn, had sent the island into a legal limbo or exile. Puerto Rico was not considered sovereign or a colony: it was not one of the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories. The island’s situation should be reviewed by the General Assembly. He supported the constitutional status assembly as a mechanism to solve Puerto Rico’s political future and the appointment of a Special Committee member with whom his organization and others could communicate. The United Nations should supervise a plebiscite and a mechanism should be created to assess countries’ exclusion from the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
JESÚS MANGUAL CRUZ, Fundacion Andres Figueroa Cordero, said that because of Puerto Rico’s colonial status, there had been times in its history that had forced its patriots to take drastic actions. The United States intended to deprive Puerto Ricans by force, exploit it economically, violate the rights of women and children and “water down” their culture. That Government had sent Puerto Ricans to fight in foreign wars as if they were mercenaries and it had committed genocide in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, American weapons placed on the island were a great and constant danger. Throughout the years, the United States’ Government had violated all principles of international law and had “taken advantage of the good faith of the nations of the world”, including at the United Nations. The subjection of peoples to foreign domination was against international human rights law and was contrary to the principles of the United Nations Charter. The Government had used “pressure, blackmail and threats” to prevent the examination of the situation by the General Assembly, he said.
EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUNOZ, Puerto Rico Committee for Human Rights, said that he was coming before the Special Committee for the thirtieth year to express the desire of the people of Puerto Rico for self-determination. There were more than 1,000 murders in that country every year, as well as a generalized climate of violence, due to the colonial situation. The United States was attempting to make the Puerto Rican people conform to a “system of sticks and carrots”, which subsidized their own consumption market by imposing its systems on Puerto Rico. There was a worsening situation of police brutality on the island. Teachers and students on strike at the University of Puerto Rico had recently been attacked, and no information had been provided on related investigations.
Further, he said, a gas pipeline would be constructed to benefit the United States without any plan to investigate its implications, constitutional bans against telephone tapping were not respected, and the will of the people was suppressed. There could be no true process for self-determination while there were still political prisoners. Instead of protecting people’s rights, the United States’ Government was manipulating political ideology. President Obama had a moral obligation to meet the commitments entered into in the name of peace and democracy, as called for by man. The time had come to free political prisoners and to grant self-determination to all Puerto Ricans.
NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, said Puerto Rico was an undeclared state of the United States. Puerto Ricans were American citizens, yet they had no real representation in the United States Congress. They also had been deprived of voting in the elections for United States President. She urged Congress to stop the historical discrimination against the fifty-first state and to focus on the real problem of Puerto Rico, which should have been solved a long time ago. “There is so much our beautiful island can offer you,” she said.
Further, she wondered why the United Nations and the United States’ Congress had not sent an observer to the last election on the island. Most Puerto Ricans understood they could not vote for two candidates on the same ballot, yet that was what had happened in 1998. Constitutional rights were frequently violated. Puerto Rico was under a political dictatorship disguised as democracy. She urged that Puerto Rico be given the chance to become the fifty-first state of the United States and that a resolution immediately be considered that demanded the United States Congress to declare Puerto Rico a state.
ELDA SANTIAGO PEREZ, Comité Apoyo Hermanos Gonzalez Claudio, said those defending a nation’s sovereignty were internationally recognized as such. Despite that, the United States continued to arrest and jail those fighting for Puerto Rico’s freedom. Hundreds of Puerto Ricans had been jailed since 1898 for that reason, showing that the United States wanted to crush the island’s fight for sovereignty. Mr. López Rivera had been in jail for 30 years for sedition, a blanket term, while Avelino González Claudio had been arrested in 2008 and sentenced as a domestic terrorist. Norberto González Claudio, arrested in 2011, was being kept in solitary confinement.
The sentences meted out had been disproportionate to the crimes for which they were accused, she said, noting that the Mr. González Claudio’s brothers had stated that Puerto Rico had been colonized by the United States, and that Puerto Ricans had the right to defend both their national heritage and independence. They demanded the United States to recognize their right to self-determination and sovereignty. With that, she urged the Special Committee to request that the United States Congress comply with resolution 1514 (XV) (1960) and free political prisoners from Puerto Rico. She asked for support in that international struggle.
ARTURO GONZALEZ HERNANDEZ, Comité de Puerto Rico en Naciones Unidas, said that, while the Committee had shown its commitment to decolonization, the case of Puerto Rico had made no progress and had not reached the General Assembly for consideration. When General Assembly resolution 748 (VIII) was passed in 1953 removing Puerto Rico from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, he said, it was passed based on a misrepresentation by the Government of the United States that Puerto Rico had drafted its own constitution. In reality, that constitution was the one that the United States had allowed. Resolution 748, therefore, could not be applied to Puerto Rico, and the island must be retuned to the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. It should also be on the General Assembly’s agenda.
He noted that, following the drafting of the constitution in Puerto Rico, several plebiscites had been created to address the status question, a fact which demonstrated that the problem had not been resolved. No solution had been proposed by the United States’ Government. The very fact that the colonial empire was attempting to dictate the solution was against international law. Puerto Rico had some 8 million nationals, many of whom were living in the United States and other nations around the world. However, the country maintained its own culture. It was a part of Caribbean Latin America, where there were still colonies of imperialist Powers, including the United States. He suggested that, during the current Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, seats be opened for countries such as Puerto Rico in the “concert of nations”, allowing them to maintain a consistent presence as auditors. “If our people are not free, are we not still slaves?” he asked.
LAURA GARZA, Socialist Workers Party, said that her organization joined with those who had protested for the release of political prisoners Oscar López Rivera, Avelino González Claudio and Norberto González Claudio. Despite a recent visit to the island by President Obama, the reality was that working people in Puerto Rico continued to face worsening conditions and Government attacks. There had been “brutal police attacks” on student protesters, and the United States’ Government continued to use Puerto Ricans as “cannon fodder” in wars around the world. The “bloated and repressive” capitalist system was responsible for the devastating situation faced by Puerto Ricans. The struggles of workers and farmers provided ground for those in the United States to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence. The United States had renewed provisions allowing police to spy on individuals claimed to be responsible for terrorist actions, which were aimed at intimidating people and undermining Puerto Rican’s ability to fight.
In addition, she demanded the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, who were suffering from the same kind of punishment that was being applied to Cubans unjustly held in United States’ prisons. The Cuban revolution offered an example to those fighting to free themselves from the “colonial boot”. The Special Committee, in condemning the United States’ colonial rule in Puerto Rico, would do well to support those fighting oppression everywhere, she concluded.
RICARDO GABRIEL, Puerto Rico Solidarity Network, said his organization was fighting against the privatization and dismantling of education in Puerto Rico and working to create links with the United States. It also was raising awareness about a pipeline proposed by that country over the objection of Puerto Ricans, who viewed such problems as symptomatic of the long-standing colonial relationship between the island and the United States. With that, he urged the Special Committee to take every measure possible to ensure that the case of Puerto Rico received the attention it deserved and that its struggle for self-determination and independence be upheld.
FRANK VELGARA, Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico, said that in the last 16 years, his organization had represented thousands of workers, women and young people calling for the independence of Puerto Rico. The party strongly condemned the “imperialistic dominion” of the United States, he said, calling on the Special Committee to take an energetic stance against colonialism and on the United States to recognize the rights of Puerto Ricans. As recently as last week, the President of the United States had visited Puerto Rico, and thousands of Puerto Ricans had marched in protest. The arrogance of the empire showed once again its lack of respect for international law, he said. While President Obama had received much money for his 2012 campaign by visiting Puerto Rico, he had made no mention of the country’s real situation and had resorted to the old statement that “Puerto Ricans have to come to an agreement”. However, stressed Mr. Velgara, it was not a simple situation as the colonial problem had been caused by an invasion of military troops and had been sustained by its military apparatus.
He said that the current United States’ Government had furthered its strategy to describe as criminal conduct any struggle for independence by Puerto Ricans. Some political prisoners had been classified as “domestic terrorists”, a label which coincided with arrests and constituted a “crass violation” of the international rights of those protestors. Regarding the situation of the island Vieques, which had been partially destroyed by United States’ naval bombing, he noted that although those practices had ended 10 years ago, explosions still took place in the air, endangering the health of Puerto Ricans. That matter, along with others such as the continued use of the death penalty by the United States, was a subject for the attention of the Special Committee. He demanded the immediate withdrawal of all United States’ legal and military apparatus, the release of all Puerto Rican political prisoners and the granting of self-governance to all Puerto Ricans. He further urged the Special Committee to urgently adopt a petition to address the situation in the plenary as soon as possible.
JOSE ADAMES, Literary Center Anacaona, said that he had tensely anticipated President Obama’s recent visit to Puerto Rico, believing that he might address the matter of Puerto Rico’s status. The island had suffered discrimination for almost 100 years, and the only way to “fix” the problem was to declare statehood for that Territory — including adequate representation in the United States’ Government and the right of Puerto Rican nationals to run for President. “There is no way back,” he said, stressing that Puerto Rico’s independence was no longer a patriotic act. Granting Puerto Rico independence was akin to trying to bring the island back to the eighteenth century, he said, and was impossible. Instead, true patriotism was doing what was best for the country.
Puerto Ricans, he said, had long ago been declared citizens of the United States, and while great responsibilities – including that of giving one’s life for the country – were required of Puerto Ricans, they did not yet enjoy all the rights afforded to other Americans. He pointed out that more residents of Puerto Rico had died in American wars than residents of any other state in the nation. In fact, the largest United States military recruitment centre, Fort Buchanan, was located in Puerto Rico. “It is too late to go back,” he concluded, calling once again for the island’s statehood.
EDWIN MOLINA, Movimiento Alternativo del Pueblo 12 de Septiembre (MAP-12S), said his people had battled the United States empire since 1898. “We need your support,” he said. “We are not here to beg.” He demanded Puerto Rico’s sovereignty and independence, with a full transfer of power, in line with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) (1960). No people could be free as long as they were subjected to an economic, political and military Power, which was the case of Puerto Rico today. Indeed, resolution 1514 expressed the need to end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, and outlined the inalienable right to self-determination.
He denounced the United States and the colonial government of Puerto Rico, naming in that context, the political and economic class, the Federal Court in Puerto Rico and “traitors” that had pillaged natural resources. He also condemned the United States for using obsolete resolution 748 (1953) in its efforts to trick the free peoples of the world, as well as the “imperial visit” of the United States President, who was responsible for military interventions around the world. He also demanded the release of political prisoners.
LEONOR DATIL, Soho Art Fest, focused on the constitutional right to vote and to equal representation in the American Congress, as well as the right to equal protection against invasion as a United States Territory, and to free trade among states of the Union. Recalling several articles and amendments of the United States Constitution, she said Puerto Rico, as a military fortress, had been abandoned and left to the will of “illegals”, who were inundating the island with drugs and serious social problems.
In addition, human trafficking was an open, multimillion-dollar business, she said, pointing out that, over the last 40 years, the United States Immigration Department had not taken the rightful steps to protect Puerto Ricans. The Governor of Puerto Rico was preparing another referendum, like many previous ones that never resolved the basic defects of public law 82-4447. “There are very serious problems mutilating our economy and quality of life,” so profound as to be a question of life and death, consequently driving people from the island.
EDGARDO M. ROMAN ESPADA, Coalición Puertorrique ña contra la Pena de Muerte, stressed that the issue of the application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico should be considered by the Special Committee. He asked that delegations recognize the historic opposition of the Puerto Rican people to that policy, as well as to recognize that the matter was relevant to the issue of self-determination. Under General Assembly resolution 1514, subjecting people to alien domination was a violation of their right to freely determine their political status. The implementation of the death penalty in Puerto Rico constituted such a violation, and was highly relevant to that inalienable right of Puerto Ricans.
He said that Puerto Rico was a unique case in the world with regard to capital punishment, having long ago legislated the abolition of that policy and elevated that abolition to the constitutional level in 1952. In addition, death penalty sentences in Puerto Rico were carried out in a different language, and its citizens could be forcibly extradited to the United States to face trial. As Puerto Ricans did not have the right to vote for the United States President, they were unable to choose the politicians that dictated such policies. There currently were two cases certified for the death penalty and three possible pending cases before the Government, and he called for “direct and immediate” action by the Special Committee to elevate the conflict between self-determination and the application of the death penalty to the United Nations General Assembly. He called on the United States to totally and immediately suspend application of the death penalty.
The Special Committee paused its hearing of petitioners in order to consider the draft resolution entitled “Special Committee decision of 17 June 2010 concerning Puerto Rico” (document A/AC.109/2011/L.6).
Speaking in general statement ahead of action, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, SHADEN M. TAGELDIN, observer for Egypt, said the exercise of the inalienable right to self-determination of peoples living under colonialism was essential for guaranteeing universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. He expressed strong support for the Special Committee. Renewing the call for States to speed the decolonization process, including by supporting the Plan of Action for the Third International Decade, he reaffirmed the Movement’s position on Puerto Rico, contained in the final document of the 2009 Fifteenth Summit Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries.
He welcomed that, over the last decade, the Special Committee had adopted its resolutions by consensus. He called on the United States to expedite a process allowing Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to self-determination and independence, and to return occupied land on Vieques Island to Puerto Ricans. The General Assembly was urged to consider the question in all its aspects.
JOSÉ LAUTARO DE LAS OVALLES COLMENARES ( Venezuela), supporting Egypt’s statement, recalled that Puerto Rico had been removed from the list of colonial Territories in 1953, but that the island’s sovereignty remained compromised. Resolutions adopted on Puerto Rico reaffirmed the island’s inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in line with resolution 1514 (XV) (1960). Puerto Rico was a Latin American and Caribbean nation and the Assembly should consider every aspect of that situation.
He said the Declaration of the Ninth Summit of Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA), held in May 2010, reiterated support for Puerto Rico’s right to preserve peace by forming alliances to guarantee its sovereignty. The violation of civil rights’ organizations and the deteriorating social situation in Puerto Rico were disturbing. He called on the United States to fulfil its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to self-determination and independence.
MARTIN R. ECHEGOYEN ( Nicaragua) echoed the words of the representative of Egypt on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement, noting that the General Assembly still had not reviewed the question of Puerto Rico in accordance with its resolution 1514. Puerto Rico still was not exercising its inalienable right to self-determination, a right which Nicaragua had always and would always defend. “The full sovereignty of the Puerto Rican people cannot be delayed.” The many resolutions adopted by the Special Committee over the years must be implemented, and he urged the United States’ Government to do so. Puerto Rico was a victim of a truth highlighted in resolution 1514, to the effect that colonialism hampered the economic development of any people. Today, the petitioners had made clear that Puerto Ricans demanded their right to self-determination, as well as the release of their imprisoned patriots, the cleaning and decontamination of Vieques, and the end to the death penalty.
In addition, he said, the outcry by petitioners reflected a belief declared again and again by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and the Non-Aligned Movement at many international forums. He reiterated Nicaragua’s support for a proposal made at a recent conference in Managua in May, by which a Puerto Rican representative would begin to serve as an observer to upcoming conferences, and he urged other countries to support that proposal as well. His country vigorously rejected any repression against those who fought for the freedom of the Puerto Rican people, and demanded the liberation of those who had been jailed for having Taino blood or for fighting for their country’s freedom. Echoing the words of Nicaragua’s President, he believed the day would come when Puerto Rico would be present in international forums as a fully fledge member, “free and independent”.
BYRON MOREJÓN-ALMEIDA ( Ecuador) said that the right to self-determination of all peoples was not only a standard of international law, but also a human right that States were compelled to uphold. The right to self-determination was contained in Ecuador’s own Constitution. The situation of Puerto Rico had been under the Special Committee’s consideration for more than 30 years, but no specific solutions regarding the colonial relationship had been found. In that light, he called for the matter to be examined by the United Nations General Assembly and welcomed the statement made by the representative of Egypt, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, in hopes that a representative of Puerto Rico would be present at international forums in the near future.
PABLO SOLÓN ROMERO (Bolivia), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, called colonial policies “anachronistic” and incompatible with a genuine desire for freedom. They violated the most basic human rights, especially for Puerto Ricans, the majority of whom were “anti-colonial”. Because of that, the constitutional assembly on status was becoming more important. It was a valid option for the participation of Puerto Ricans in a transparent process of self-determination. The Committee had adopted 29 resolutions and decisions on the question of Puerto Rico and the island must emerge from its colonial status as an independent country that could contribute to regional integration processes.
Indeed, he said, the United States had the responsibility to foster a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. It also should return occupied land to Puerto Ricans. He expressed deep concern at actions taken against those fighting for freedom and urged that political prisoners from Puerto Rico serving time in the United States be freed.
ISMAIL BASSEL AYZOUKI (Syria) said the Special Committee had dealt with the question of Puerto Rico for 33 years, adopting 29 resolutions and decisions, all of which reaffirmed Puerto Ricans’ right to self-determination and independence — in line with resolution 1514 (XV) (1960) — and called on the United States to expedite a process that would allow them to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. Syria supported the final outcome document of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Conferences of Heads of State and Government of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. In that context, he requested implementation of all relevant resolutions and expressed hope that today’s text would be adopted by consensus, as had been done in previous years.
MOHAMMAD REZA SAHRAEI (Iran), associating himself with the statement made by the representative of Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the exercise of the right of self-determination of peoples under foreign control was the most important part of decolonization. Iran, along with other members of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination under the United Nations Charter and under General Assembly resolution 1514. The consensus adoption of the draft resolution before the Special Committee today on the question of Puerto Rico would send a clear message to the island’s people, assuring them that “change is gaining momentum”.
The Special Committee then adopted resolution A/AC.109/2011/L.6, without a vote.
In explanation of position after action, the representative of Saint Lucia said that his delegation had joined the consensus because it believed that all people should become independent if and when they wished. He underlined the importance of citing resolution 1514 in the text’s first operative paragraph.
Speaking in a general statement, PEDRO NUNEZ-MOSQUERA ( Cuba) said that his delegation was particularly pleased that the resolution had been adopted by consensus for the twelfth consecutive year. For over a century, Cubans and Puerto Ricans had remained united in the fight for the independence of that Latin American nation, and the roots of their relationship were very deep. Their histories shared the conquest, deceit and barbarism with which their native populations had been wiped out and their islands occupied, and the mixture of Spanish and African blood that was received had become their identities. Among the ranks of Cuba’s liberation army had been several brave Puerto Rican officials, and over 2,000 Puerto Ricans had died fighting for Cuban independence.
He said that Cuba’s introduction of the resolution in the Special Committee showed the country’s historical commitment to its sister nation. Cuba would continue to uphold the legitimate right of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, remaining at its side until the final victory.
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