|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Special Committee on Decolonization
5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)
Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling upon United States
to Initiate Self-determination Process for Puerto Rico
Petitioners Highlight Referendum Rejecting
Commonwealth’s Current Political Status, Urge Release of Political Prisoners
Meeting to consider the question of Puerto Rico, the Special Committee on Decolonization called again upon the United States today to expedite a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
By a draft resolution approved by consensus, the Special Committee would have the General Assembly urge the United States to complete the return of all occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba to Puerto Ricans, and to release Oscar López Rivera and Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, two political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for cases relating to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. The text also expressed serious concern about the actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters and encouraged investigation of those actions.
Also by the draft resolution’s terms, 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 to Colonial Countries and Peoples ‑ reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, and reiterated that the Puerto Rican people constituted a Latin American and Caribbean nation with its own unequivocal national identity.
Cuba’s representative introduced the text, citing the broad agreement on the need to end Puerto Rico’s colonial status. He said little progress had been made towards a solution so far, but 115 years of colonialism had not been “sufficient to crush the will or culture of the people of Puerto Rico or to wipe out their identity or feeling of nationhood”. In a new element, the draft took note of the 6 November 2012 plebiscite rejecting Puerto Rico’s current status of political subordination.
Several other Latin American members of the Special Committee, also known as the “Special Committee of 24”, echoed the references to Puerto Rico’s culture, affirming its clear Latin American and Caribbean identity. Nicaragua’s representative promised her full commitment to the Puerto Rican cause until the commonwealth’s representative’s were “seated where they are meant to be seated”, as a full Member State of the United Nations.
Iran’s representative, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the Movement’s position on Puerto Rico, as contained in the final document of its sixteenth Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Tehran last August, and its seventeenth ministerial meeting, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in May 2012.
More than 40 petitioners addressed the Special Committee, urging the international community to end Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States. One of the clearest illustrations of that subjugation was the application of capital punishment, according to Carol Sosa Santiago of the Coalicion Puertorriquena contra la Pena de Muerte, who noted that Puerto Ricans could not make decisions in respect of the most fundamental right ‑ the right to life. Despite having abolished the death penalty in 1929, the United States continued to apply it, she said, emphasizing that the text should recognize Puerto Rico as the only place where the death penalty continued to be applied after the people had rejected it.
Updating the Special Committee on recent developments in Puerto Rico’s relations with the United States, Juan Dalmau of the Puerto Rican Independence Party said the most significant recent event was the November 2012 referendum. With a turnout of 78 per cent, 54 per cent of voters had rejected continuing the commonwealth’s current status, but despite that “full rejection of colonialism”, the United States Government continued to defend colonialism.
However, Pedro R. Pierluisi, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico and President of the New Progressive Party, said the plebiscite had fundamentally changed the terms of the debate on Puerto Rico’s political status, pointing out that 61 per cent of voters favoured statehood, also the position of his political party. The referendum had eliminated any legitimacy attached to Puerto Rico’s current colonial status and people clearly preferred integration, he said.
Many petitioners addressing the Special Committee represented the view that Puerto Rico should work to achieve full independence. Gerardo Lugo Segarra of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico offered one such perspective, saying his party did not take part in local elections because they gave only the illusion of democracy, thereby actually helping to perpetuate the colonial situation. The people had voted for a Governor who had no power to enter into treaties and no control over his own land, airspace or waters. Nothing belonged to Puerto Rico except its foreign debt, he added.
The most common theme voiced by petitioners was the demand for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, including Oscar López Rivera, who recently began his thirty-third year of incarceration. Fernando Laspina, the New York Coordinator to Free Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera, said his organization was working to secure his release, noting the human rights violations committed against him.
Clarisa López-Ramos, the prisoner’s daughter representing Hijos de los Presos Politicos Puertorriquenos, also petitioned the Special Committee on his behalf, saying she had seen her father only intermittently since his incarceration. During his 12 years of solitary confinement they had had no physical contact during visits, communicating through bullet-proof glass via telephone handsets. Conditions in the prison were dehumanizing and toxic, she said, explaining that her father was brought to family visits in chains and had been prevented from attending his mother’s funeral.
Petitioners also called for an end to the use of Puerto Rican land for military exercises and weapons testing by the United States military. Mary Anne Grady Flores of the Ithaca Catholic Workers, Vieques Support Group, said every weapons system created by the United States was tried out in Vieques, with depleted uranium the latest one tested. Spiking illnesses in Vieques, including cancer rates 30 per cent higher than anywhere else in Puerto Rico, were attributed to the United States military activities in Vieques, she said, adding that there was no cancer treatment on Vieques and women in labour had to travel an hour-and-a-half by ferry to the nearest hospital.
Other petitioners addressing the Special Committee were representatives of the following organizations: Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano; National State of Borinken; Comision para el Estudio del Estatus y su Impacto en las Politicas Sociales; Comite de Puerto Rico en Naciones Unidas; Puertorriquenos Unidos En Accion; American Association of Jurists; Fundacion Accion Democratica Puertorriquena; El Comite Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico; Coalicion Ecumenica e Interreligiosa de Puerto Rico; PROELA; Movimiento Boricua, Ahora Es!; Council of Veterans and Soldiers from Puerto Rico; La Diaspora Puertorriquena; Coordinatora de Solidaridad Diaspora Boricua; Coordinadora Nacional de las Actividades del Cerro de los Martires; Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico-Movimiento Libertador; Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; Comite de Apoyo a Norberto Gonzalez Claudio; Accion Civil para el Status de Puerto Rico; Alianza pro Libre Asociacion Soberana; People’s Law Office;Consejo Nacional para la Descolonizacion; Igualdad; Movimiento Union Soberanista de Puerto Rico; Frente Autonomista; Boricuas por un Nuevo Pais; Institute for Multicultural Communications, Cooperation and Development; Movimiento PR-USA, Organizacion Civil Anexionista; Puerto Rico Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens; Grupo por la Igualdad y la Justicia de Puerto Rico; and the Socialist Workers Party.
Also speaking today were representatives of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Syria.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 June, to address the question of New Caledonia as well as those of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands.
The Special Committee on Decolonization met today to consider a report prepared by the Rapporteur on the Special Committee’s decision of 18 June 2012 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2013/L.13), and a related draft resolution (document A/AC.109/2012/L.7).
GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated its stance that Member States accelerate progress towards the complete elimination of colonialism, including the implementation of the Plan of Action for the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. He reaffirmed the Movement’s position on Puerto Rico, as contained in the final document of its sixteenth Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Tehran in August 2012, and its seventeenth ministerial meeting, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in May 2012.
Under the Special Committee’s consideration for more than 38 years, the colonial question of Puerto Rico had been the subject of 31 draft resolutions or decisions adopted by that body, he recalled. The Movement called upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would let the Puerto Rican people fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. It also urged that Government to return the occupied land and installations of Vieques Island and the Roosevelt Road Naval Station to the Puerto Rican people who made up the Latin American and Caribbean nation.
JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that Puerto Rico had been subjected to 115 years of colonialism by the United States, but preserved its own culture, nationhood and sense of homeland. Its aspirations to independence were underpinned by the same philosophy that had underpinned other anti-colonial movements in the Americas, such as that of Simon Bolivar. The Bolivarian alternative for the people of Latin America was expressed through integrationist movements like ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América), CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). Puerto Rico was an integral part of the common destiny they expressed, he stressed. Colonialism and neocolonialism contravened the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolution 1514, he said, pointing out that the Special Committee had heard the Puerto Rican people’s calls for independence for the last 37 years, approving 31 draft resolutions and decisions on the subject. He echoed a call in the text for the release of political prisoners, saying the case of Oscar López Rivera was a humanitarian matter as he had been imprisoned for more than 30 years.
XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA (Ecuador) expressed his support for the legitimate aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico, saying he appreciated very clearly their clear Latin American and Caribbean identity. Urging the United States Government to allow the Puerto Rican people fully to enjoy self-determination and independence, pursuant to international law, he demanded that the United States complete the return of all occupied territory, including the island of Vieques, noting that many members of the international community supported Puerto Rico’s aspirations.
MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua) said she raised her voice in support of the brother-people of Puerto Rico, one of the region’s last colonized Territories. Nicaragua would remain committed to the people of Puerto Rico until “they are seated where they are meant to be seated”, as a full Member State of the United Nations. Full support for the people of Puerto Rico was a matter of urgency, she stressed, adding that the United States must shoulder its responsibility to ensure a smooth transition to decolonization. Emphasizing the Latin American and Caribbean identity of the Puerto Rican people, she expressed support for those who had rejected colonial status yet again during a 12 November 2012 plebiscite, and called for the immediate release of political prisoners, one of whom had been in prison longer than Nelson Mandela.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said that strengthening multilateralism was a good backdrop for promoting self-determination, sovereignty and territorial integrity, which were “absolute prerequisites” for international peace and security. The series of decolonization-related draft resolutions approved was a way of saying that the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico was “crystal clear”, that it was part of Latin America and the Caribbean, and should join regional groupings including the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América. He called attention to the situation of Oscar López, imprisoned inhumanely for 30 years, describing him as the very personification of the struggle of the Puerto Rico people.
Introduction of Draft Resolution
OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said there was broad agreement on the need to end Puerto Rico’s colonial status, whose people needed to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination. While little progress had been made towards a solution so far, 115 years of colonialism had not been “sufficient to crush the will or culture of the people of Puerto Rico or to wipe out their identity or feeling of nationhood”. The text contained new elements, included taking note of the 6 November 2012 plebiscite rejecting Puerto Rico’s current status of political subordination. Several organizations had reaffirmed their support for its efforts to attain independence, he said, calling for the release of political prisoners.
KOUSSAY ABDULJABBAR ALDAHHAK (Syria), noting the long struggle of the Puerto Rican people and the Special Committee’s lengthy consideration of the item, called on the United States to allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination. They had been subjected to violence, intimidation and imprisonment, and Syria fully supported the Non-Aligned Movement’s position, he said. It was time for the United States to shoulder its responsibilities with regard to ensuring that the people of Puerto Rico could exercise their right to self-determination and independence.
Hearing of Petitioners
ANA IRMA RIVERA LASSEN, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said that the Territory’s multicultural, multiethnic and multi-linguistic nature connected it to Latin America and the Caribbean, but despite sharing an ocean with that region did not mean it could exercise fully its right to self-determination. Political decisions impacting the people of Puerto Rico were made outside its national space, and organizations trying to participate on the international stage were not able to do so since the United States claimed to represent Puerto Rico’s interests. It was alarming that Puerto Rico had no representation at the United Nations and that its non-governmental organizations could not participate in debates, she said, noting that its absence from activities of the United Nations isolated the Territory.
In line with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the people of Puerto Rico had worked to improve the situation of women during the United States “war games” in Vieques, she said. “We did not have the opportunity to be heard in the United Nations, something that would have helpful.” She expressed concern that Puerto Rico was not a signatory to various international instruments, which made it fully dependent on the United States, and that the consultations proposed by President Barack Obama did not meet the principles of international law or resolution 1514 (XV). She also expressed serious concern over the application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico, and called for the decontamination of Vieques.
HECTOR PESQUERA SEVILLANA, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, pointed out that 115 years had passed since Puerto Rico had been invaded and occupied by the United States. While the latter could allege in the international community that Puerto Rico had its own Government, thereby excluding it from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, it was “time for the trickery to be turned on its head”, he said. During last November’s plebiscite, 54 per cent of Puerto Ricans had rejected colonial status, he recalled, noting that, in an effort to change that outcome, President Obama had proposed another plebiscite. However, the initial response to the plebiscite made it clear that the United States had no intention of allowing the island’s self-determination, he said. In other words, President Obama was breaking international law.
He went on to denounce the United States Government’s cover up of a political assassination, calling it a crass obstruction of justice. That action sketched out clearly the colonial condition of Puerto Rico. Simply put, the world was denied the truth of what was happening in the colony. Just as spousal abuse was not a simple domestic issue, colonialism was not a simple international problem. Rather, it required multilateral intervention. Latin America and the Caribbean were “mutilated” without the independence of Puerto Rico, which was a matter of great economic interest to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. He described various alleged violations of civil and human rights, particularly the case of Oscar López Rivera, saying civil society organizations in Puerto Rico had roundly expressed their opinions of such injustice. The international community, and specifically the Special Committee, had the right to put pressure on the United States Government, and especially on President Obama, to grant Mr. Rivera’s release.
RAMON NENADICH, National State of Borinken, described brutal racism, crimes against peace, genocide, ethnocide and apartheid perpetrated in Puerto Rico as well as a “consistent refusal to recognize our status” on the part of the United States. Puerto Rico was under an illegal military occupation by repressive United States law-enforcement and military forces, and the country controlled and dominated more than 25 areas of Puerto Rican public life. As such, a “deep existential crisis” had been caused when the economic crisis hit. Responsibility to deal with the problems facing Puerto Rico lay with the United States, which told “the old story of the colonial occupier” ‑ that Puerto Rico would be worse off without it.
He said he pleased that the “immense majority” of those participating in the November 2012 plebiscite had voted against the current colonial status, adding that Puerto Rico had declared its freedom, sovereignty and non-recognition of the legality or legitimacy of the United States overlordship. Nonetheless, he said he was willing to enter into formal dialogue with the United States to determine the nature of its withdrawal from Puerto Rico. Calling on the Special Committee to demand that the United States produce the legitimate land title establishing its rights in Puerto Rico, he said he knew as he did so that it did not possess such a thing.
ILEANA CINTRON CRUZ, Comision para el Estudio del Estatus y su Impacto en las Politicas Sociales, noted several of the negative aspects of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Puerto Ricans had sacrificed their lives for the United States in wars, and the latter had established military sites on the island, where it practised the perpetration of aggression against others. While Puerto Ricans were told that their relationship with the United States was benevolent, the latter possessed unilateral powers over Puerto Rico and its people. They were involved in international wars, their airspace and territory were controlled and the United States held Puerto Rican political prisoners.
She went on to say the United States undermined the human rights of Puerto Ricans, she said, noting that promises about employment had not been kept and half the population were still reliant on aid. The population was subjected to unequal and discriminatory policies which affected the poor, in particular. Their lack of social rights was a form of “institutional violence”, she said, joining calls for Puerto Rico’s freedom. She called for the plight of Puerto Ricans to be brought before the General Assembly plenary.
OSVALDO TOLEDO SR., Comite de Puerto Rico en Naciones Unidas, said the Territory was a Latin American and Caribbean nation with its own unmistakeable identity and history. In the 115 years since the United States had colonized it, there had been many attempts to impose a foreign culture on the island nation, he said, recalling that when the Partido Nuevo Progresista had assumed power, it had tried to destroy Puerto Rico’s culture. Attempts at assimilation had reached such levels that there had been proposals to change various names into English. Despite those efforts, Puerto Rico remained Latin American and Caribbean in nature, but even though it was a colony, it was not on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
He expressed concern that the United States had adopted the Death Penalty Act for so-called federal crimes committed in Puerto Rico, although it contravened the Territory’s Constitution and the people’s wishes. Calling for the release of Oscar López Rivera, who had been in a United States prison for 32 years, he noted that “his only offence was that he loved his land”. In addition, the use of Vieques for military purposes had harmed the health of those living on the island, he said, calling for the United States properly to clean up the contaminated land. Describing how Puerto Rico’s colonization had adversely impacted its economic development, he said that instead of promoting self-sufficiency, the United States had made the Territory increasingly dependent, cutting back its production. He concluded by pointing out that all the plebiscites held in Puerto Rico had been futile because the United States did not acknowledge resolution 1514 (XV).
MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriquenos Unidos En Accion (PUA), recalled that the relationship between the Territory and the United States had always been one of subordination. The United States had always imposed colonial dominion, he said, outlining how various administrations had used different approaches and tactics to colonize Puerto Rico. There was a need to ensure that the Puerto Rican diaspora had a say in the island nation’s future, he stressed, noting that simply because they lived abroad did not necessarily mean they did not care what happened to Puerto Rico. To deny them participation in deciding Puerto Rico’s future was wrong.
It was unfair to Puerto Ricans living abroad that foreign residents living in the Territory for at least a year could vote under the plebiscite, he continued, noting that some of those foreigners, although welcome, were “completely uninterested in our matters”. In many cases, former members of the Puerto Rican diaspora were political prisoners, he said, noting that Oscar López Riviera, jailed in a United States prison for 32 years, was strongly respected by Puerto Rican society and calling for his immediate release. The United States must also clean up contaminated land on Vieques, which was home to people “trampled” upon by United States forces.
CAROL SOSA SANTIAGO, Coalicion Puertorriquena contra la Pena de Muerte, said the application of capital punishment in Puerto Rico showed the population’s subjection to domination by another. In respect of the most fundamental right ‑ the right to life ‑ Puerto Ricans had no control. Noting that she had proposed the inclusion of a reference on capital punishment in the draft, she recalled that the death penalty had been abolished in Puerto Rico in 1929, a decision upheld by the 1952 Constitution. However, the United States continued to apply it, and its Supreme Court had decided that Puerto Rico could not deny extradition to countries where the death penalty existed.
Trials were also discriminatory, she continued, noting that they were carried out in English, despite the fact that only 10 per cent of the population spoke the language. There had been seven capital trials in the past 10 years, though the death penalty had not been imposed, and 12 people remained on death row. She said it was vital that capital punishment not be allowed, stressing that all human rights were indivisible, interrelated and interdependent, with the deprivation of one meaning the deprivation of the others. The draft resolution should recognize that Puerto Rico was the only place in the world where people had rejected the death penalty but it continued to be applied following trials held in a foreign language.
PEDRO R. PIERLUISI, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico and President of the New Progressive Party, said he was speaking in his latter capacity, and that his group supported statehood. The 6 November referendum had fundamentally changed the terms of debate on Puerto Rico’s political status, and the results showed that 54 per cent of the voters did not wish to maintain the current status. Choosing from three internationally recognized alternatives, 61 per cent had supported statehood. For the first time in Puerto Rico’s history, more people wished to become a State than those who wanted to continue the current status. Those favouring statehood and those in favour of sovereign nationhood actually agreed on fundamental points, he noted. For example, both recognized that Puerto Rico was an unincorporated territory of the United States, even though the latter’s Congress had authority over its local affairs in a way similar to its the authority over mainland States.
He went on to note that both groups recognized that Puerto Rico lacked democracy at the national level, and that the United States Government made and implemented laws for Puerto Rico, yet island residents could not vote for that country’s President. Both also recognized that Puerto Rico’s status was behind its economic and social problems. The current status had lost its democratic legitimacy during the November referendum and the only path forward was statehood or nationhood, he said, adding that between the two options, people clearly preferred integration through statehood. It was incumbent upon the United States Government to respond by enacting legislation to offer Puerto Rico one or more of the status options that would give its people a measure of self-government. He recalled that he had introduced the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act in Congress last month, noting that it already had 72 co-sponsors from both major political parties.
GERARDO LUGO SEGARRA, Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, said the group had never stopped fighting for independence, but did not take part in local elections because they gave only the illusion of democracy, thereby actually helping to perpetuate the colonial situation. The people voted for a governor who had no power to enter into treaties and no control over his land, airspace or waters. Nothing belonged to Puerto Rico except its foreign debt, he said. The current colonial government spoke of health care but the territory lacked a health system, he said. Puerto Rico opposed United States policies such as the blockade of Cuba, the use of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, its support for Israel and the financing of terrorists to oppose the Government of Syria. Referring to the preceding speaker, who represented the Territory in the United States Congress, he said it was a pity he had spoken in English because 80 per cent of the Puerto Rican population would not have understood what he said.
OSVALDO TOLEDO JR., American Association of Jurists, said Puerto Rico's capability to determine its political status was completely sequestered by the United States Government. Any argument presented in favor of Puerto Rico obtaining a self-government by means of an agreement with the United States is a fraud and chimeric. The naval bombardment of Vieques continued to cause environmental degradation, he noted, adding that although the death penalty was against Puerto Rican values, the United States continued to impose it, a clear example of the relationship’s colonial nature. He also called for the release of Oscar López Rivera, who, at 70 years old and after 32 years behind bars, had never been proven guilty. For four decades, the Special Committee had heard the voices of various generations, some of which had been vanquished by time without seeing their country’s freedom, he said. That was why Puerto Rico should present its case for hearing in the General Assembly, and not as petitioners, but rather as a member of the Special Committee.
JORGE BENITEZ NAZARIO, Fundacion Accion Democratica Puertorriquena, said that colonizing Puerto Rico economically benefitted the United States Government, as it received a net $11 billion in annual income while poverty and unemployment were rampant in the Territory. During the last general election, most of the people rejected commonwealth status, yet the authorities had rejected any provisions to move towards decolonization. He expressed particular concern for the fisherman of Vieques, who said the United States was burying the contaminated material there rather than cleaning it up. The health effects were alarming, he added. Ignoring the calls of the Puerto Rican people, President Obama had denied the release of Oscar López Riviera.
JUAN DALMAU, Puerto Rican Independence Party, said the most significant recent event of which the Special Committee needed to be informed was the plebiscite. With a 78 per cent turnout, 54 per cent of voters had rejected the continuation of Puerto Rico’s current status. That was a full rejection of colonialism, despite the fact that the plebiscite itself had not met the requirements of self-determination under international law, making the result “particularly eloquent”. The United States Government had reacted by continuing to defend colonialism and rejecting the mandate given to the people of Puerto Rico, despite calling itself a global defender of democracy.
Through fraud, deceit and coercion, the United States had managed to evade responsibility for reporting to the United Nations on the status of Puerto Rico, he continued, emphasizing that full information on non-colonial alternatives must be presented to the people so they could make a proper choice. He called for the establishment of a constitutional assembly to help ensure that the United States shouldered its responsibilities under international law. Demands for the release of Oscar López Rivera were becoming increasingly strong, particularly since he had been incarcerated longer than Nelson Mandela, he said.
EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUNOZ, El Comite Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, said he was working to free political prisoners, including Oscar López Rivera. The long sentence he had been given was disproportionate, showing that he was clearly a political prisoner. Mr. López remained a symbol to Puerto Ricans of their fight against the colonial power and an example of constancy, he said, calling on the United States to respect the will of Puerto Ricans, freely expressed in a plebiscite that sought to erase their colonial status. The United States Government suffered from “democratic contradictions”, he said, noting that although it enjoyed formal power, it lacked moral force and legitimacy around the world. Rather than friends, it had trading partners. Saying he wished to be a friend of the United States, he stressed that that would have to happen in the context of respect for the wishes of Puerto Rico and on the basis of liberty and sovereignty. The release of Oscar López Rivera was vital in that regard, and there was a broad consensus that he should be released. The longer he remained incarcerated, the more the human rights policies of the United States would be discredited, especially in Latin America, he warned.
HERIBERTO MARTINEZ RIVERA, Coalicion Ecumenica e Interreligiosa de Puerto Rico, said the Church had an “unbreakable duty” to take on social realities and address human needs. The social panorama of Puerto Rico was very painful, he said, describing soaring crime and unemployment rates as well as poverty, economic dependency and the effects of the drug trade. The intrigue of politics perpetuated a lack of reason and will among leaders. As Christians, Puerto Ricans had a responsibility to denounce such a wretched reality, to act in step with international law in bringing its cause to the General Assembly, and finally, “once and for all”, to find a solution to their century-long colonial status. He called for the protection of the principles that the Founding Fathers had enshrined in the United States Constitution, which promised freedom from the chains of colonialism. It was unfortunate that the United States had drifted so far from their message and from true democracy, he said, pointing out that Oscar López Rivera had been in a United States prison for 32 years for fighting for his country’s freedom. It was that very “crime” to which citizens of the United States paid homage every Fourth of July, he noted.
LUIS VEGA RAMOS, PROELA, noting that a majority of people participating in the November vote had rejected Puerto Rico’s current colonial status, condemned the delay in implementing the so-called plebiscite, calling upon the United States to begin a process aimed at achieving decolonization. There was no contradiction between struggling for socioeconomic improvement while advocating self-determination at the same time. Looking forward to Puerto Rico becoming an independent democracy, he said that in order to ensure a democratic voting procedure, all sectors must be involved so that those calling for different statuses could have their voices heard. Establishing a constitutional assembly on status would be the best method for dealing with Puerto Rico’s status, he said, calling on the Special Committee to recommend that the case of Puerto Rico be brought to the General Assembly through the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization).
RICARDO ROSSELLO NEVARES, Movimiento Boricua, Ahora Es!, said the November 2012 plebiscite had given a clear mandate rejecting Puerto Rico’s colonial status. Noting that 1.8 million people, or 78 per cent of registered voters, had participated, he said 54 per cent had voted against the colonial status but the authorities in Puerto Rico had not respected the electoral outcome as they questioned the validity of the vote. A clear message had been sent to the United States Congress ‑ all democratic votes must be respected. Legislation was needed to make Puerto Rico a State, he said, noting that, in accordance with the definition given in resolution 1514, Puerto Rico remained a colony, meaning that the United Nations had the power to take action.
Each day of being subjected to the political status of non-self-government was another day that saw the rights of 3.7 million citizens violated, including “crass violations” of human rights, he continued. The United Nations must act now, and the Special Committee must speak clearly and unequivocally on the vote, so that the will of Puerto Ricans, as expressed in the plebiscite, would be respected. He expressed hope that the Special Committee would recommend Puerto Rico’s return to the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, in line with General Assembly resolution 748. In addition, the United States authorities must report on what was being done to move Puerto Rico forward and away from its colonial status, he emphasized.
NELSON ROCHET-SANTORO, Council of Veterans and Soldiers from Puerto Rico, said that when the United States had invaded his country 115 years ago, it had taken a census that had described Puerto Ricans as blacks, mulattoes and others of mixed race. Puerto Rico’s particular ethnic and racial mix had been used by Congress to impose notions of legal and political superiority. The current commonwealth status was not really a status since Puerto Rico lacked equal rights and had been completely deprived of its sovereignty. Puerto Rico was not free and neither were the Puerto Rican people, he said, describing how they were subjected to the will and the power of the United States Federal Government. “Are we things? Can we be traded? No, we are human beings who want freedom and dignity,” he said, adding that the colonial, imperialist policies of the United States were used to abuse his people.
JESUS MANGUAL CRUZ, La Diaspora Puertorriquena, said the right to self-determination had been squandered by the Powers that had “controlled our destiny” for too long. The 2012 plebiscite was more geared at confusing people, he said, adding that the money used to organize it would have been better spent on education in Puerto Rico. In respect of Puerto Ricans living in the United States, he said their rights must be different from those of any other ethnic group living in that country. People of other nations voted in national elections through their embassies, and Puerto Ricans living abroad should be able to do the same, he said.
JUNA ANTONIO CASTILLO AYALA, Coordinatora de Solidaridad Diaspora Boricua,said the growing deterioration of the colonial political system on the island had seen the emigration of the Boricua diaspora shooting up to levels previously unseen, with more than half outside the political borders. If that continued, the country would be under threat of extinction. The colonialists had pursued aggressive efforts at assimilation since 1898, he said, adding that the United States had “plundered us of our identity and damaged our education system”, which included the imposition of elements of the Anglo-Saxon system. He spoke of massacres carried out against groups opposing the colonial Power in Rio Piedras, Ponce and Butualo, describing them as examples of “State terror”. Despite such episodes, resistance to the onslaught had continued, with people seeking refuge in Puerto Rican folklore. People could not exercise their right to self-determination if they were doing so at the end of the colonialists’ bayonets, he said. The Obama Administration’s proposal to hold another plebiscite was aimed at tricking the Puerto Rican public, he said, adding that any such process would have no moral value if it were not within the parameters of international law. A body empowered by the United Nations must be involved.
FRANCISCO JORDAN GARCIA, Coordinadora Nacional de las Actividades del Cerro de los Martires, said his organization had emerged after the assassination of two people by Puerto Rican police in 1978. The Government had been persecuting those supporting independence, and it had been found after a lengthy investigation by the Puerto Rican Senate that the assassinated people had been followed by police for decades as part of a campaign against the opposition. Those supporting independence had complained for years about persecution, but nothing had been done. The young men who had been killed had been recruited, armed and led to commit an act of terror by an undercover policeman, as part of a larger plan to undermine those attempting to oppose the colonial regime. Noting that the history of oppression went back 500 years, he said other speakers had described the history of the trampling of Boricua people’s rights and how the imperialist, colonial Power had exploited the land in a clear effort at dominion and assimilation. Puerto Rico would continue as a colony as long as all sovereignty lay with the United States Congress, he said.
FERNANDO LASPINA, New York Coordinator to Free Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera, said Puerto Ricans in the diaspora had suffered just as much as those who had stayed at home. Describing those living in the United States as being in the “belly of the beast”, he said his Bronx-based organization aimed to ensure that Puerto Rican pride was passed down from one generation to the next. He outlined how his organization was working to secure the release of Oscar López Riviera, noting the human rights violations committed against him. He also described the significance of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in uniting Puerto Ricans behind a cause, noting that it was during the recent parade that his organization had collected signatures to seek a pardon for Mr. Lopez.
MIGUEL A REYES WALKER, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico-Movimiento Libertador, said the group’s President was supposed to be present, but he had been detained and threatened by the authorities. Such actions were a mere attempt to isolate Puerto Rico from the rest of the world, he said. As for the plebiscite, he emphasized that Puerto Rico was not part of the United States, saying “we are property, free to be sold and bought”. There was no real Government, but rather an administration put in place to handle budgets, money, defence, borders and customs, all for the benefit of the United States. The political, economic and social domination of Puerto Rico was part of the United States’ aim to take over control of the American Hemisphere, he said. Private agencies in Puerto Rico were privatizing the public sectors and modernizing labour laws to the detriment of social services and the labour market. The Yankee imperialists were acting like Romans, he said. Colonialism was a crime against humanity and it was critical to recognize the Boricua nation alongside the State of Palestine.
JOHN WARD LLAMBIAS, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, said the issue was not merely national but a regional matter of import to all Latin America. It was not enough to pass resolutions; beyond sending the issue to the General Assembly, it was time to learn how long the current phase would persist. Efforts by the United States to assimilate Puerto Rico must be addressed, he said, emphasizing that its control of Puerto Rico had led to displacement. The United States Congress treated Puerto Rico like its private property, exploiting it for economic and military benefit. Yet, Puerto Rican elections would not change things, he said, adding that they brought about mere changes in “colonial foremen”. Whatever was decided in an election, Puerto Rico was a colony and would remain one, occupied as it was by military force. Of the many plebiscites held since 1967, none had been accepted by the United States and voting in Puerto Rico made a mockery of the idea of democracy. Despite having rejected colonialism in the referendum, the result had been the same ‑ there was no result.
Action on Draft Resolution
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution, without a vote.
Mr. LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba) thanked those who had supported the text, saying the Special Committee had shown clear support for the cause of the Puerto Rican people. Cuba’s age-old solidarity with Puerto Rico had been forged by the Tainos, he said, recalling that in 1868, Cubans and Puerto Ricans had taken up arms together in a struggle for independence. José Martí, Cuba’s national hero, had wished to liberate both lands, and the two peoples had tightened the ties of brotherhood during the long years of struggle and resistance. Efforts to deepen them continued. He said Cuba and Puerto Rico shared common heroes like Oscar López Rivera, who was “the personification of an entire people”, Puerto Ricans, a people “who do not yield and do not give up”. His goals were no different from those of the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States when trying to prevent terrorism, he said.
ELDA SANTIAGO PEREZ, Comite de Apoyo a Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, said her husband had been arrested two years ago and immediately extradited to the United States. He had struggled against colonialism “since he was a young lad, today he is 68 years ago”, she said, adding that a common prisoner had more benefits and rights than political prisoners from Puerto Rico. They were often kept apart from the rest of the prison population and their medical treatment was often delayed. It was not only prisoners who were treated in a discriminatory way, but their families too, she said, describing how, during a visit to the prison, the guards had only allowed her husband to come down 45 minutes before the end of visiting hours. All he was guilty of was defending the rights and sovereignty of his people, and yet the United States continued to imprison him, she said. Hundreds of Puerto Ricans had been imprisoned and some even killed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United States did not want to admit that Puerto Rico was neither a State nor free, she said, stressing that her husband, like all Puerto Ricans, had a right to defend his nation and national sovereignty.
CRISTOBAL BERRIOS DAVILA, Accion Civil para el Status de Puerto Rico, said that for far too long, the United States Congress had sought to protect the interests of its citizens in Puerto Rico, but the time had come to respect the wishes of local Puerto Ricans. The two were neighbours, after all. Puerto Rico had been with the United States through good times and bad, and they had even mixed blood, gone to war together and celebrated peace together. He called on the Special Committee to push for a General Assembly resolution recognizing Puerto Rico as a Non-Self-Governing Territory.
LUIS A. DELGADO RODRIGUEZ, Alianza pro Libre Asociacion Soberana, said the plebiscite had voted against continuing the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, and he was “greatly enthusiastic” to say that the idea of free association had died on 6 November 2012. The participation rate showed a clear, democratic, Puerto Rican voice rejecting the current relationship. The amount of votes in favour of change was greater than the number of votes that had installed the new Governor. Puerto Rico had taken an historic step forward, he said, adding that it wanted to meet its obligations. It should be returned to the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and clearly, it could no longer be called a colony by consent. Responsibility for action now lay with the United States Government. Having revealed the legitimacy of their claims, the will of the Puerto Rican people must now be honoured. The United States Government must establish a mechanism to ensure complete decolonization, he said.
JAN SUSLER, People’s Law Office, said 29 May had marked 32 years of imprisonment for Oscar López Rivera, a man who had served more time in prison for the cause of Puerto Rican independence than any other independentista in history. Puerto Ricans had marked the occasion with a “24-hour demonstration of their indignation at the United States over this disproportionate punishment”, she said. The Governor and many famous Puerto Ricans, including Ricky Martin and Rene Perez, had been among the many to announce their support for Mr. López, and the following day, the Senate of Puerto Rico had passed a resolution calling for his release. International support for Mr. López had grown over the last year, she said, citing the support of Nobel Laureates, churches and religious organizations, social justice organizations and others.
Meanwhile, Mr. López Rivera’s sentence was being served with increased “harassment and vigilance”. He could not send messages to public events unless pre-approved and media requests for interviews had been refused on security grounds. Puerto Rico’s Governor and Attorney General asked the United States Attorney General to release Mr. López Rivera and were confident that positive movement towards his release was taking place. Mr. Rivera had long passed Nelson Mandela’s 27-year period of imprisonment.
JOSÉ LUIS NIEVES, Consejo Nacional para la Descolonizacion, said that Spain had robbed Puerto Rico of its land through the use of force and the United States had invaded Puerto Rico, which did not recognize their rights to its land. Its commonwealth status had been established in a fraudulent manner. Colonialism was illegal in the world, which negated United States power over the commonwealth. No one on the island could vote for President Obama, and in other parts of the world, the situation in Puerto Rico would be called a dictatorship. Unable to enter into commercial pacts with other countries, Puerto Rico also could not join international bodies like the United Nations. The United States used the commonwealth for its own purposes, whereas the Puerto Ricans wished to establish a free and sovereign Government through peaceful means. It wanted action by the United Nations and a commitment by all nations to move ahead on the decolonization process. He called for intervention by the “Blue Helmets”, the release of political prisoners by the United States and for Puerto Rico’s admission to the United Nations.
JOSÉ MANUEL SALDAÑA, Igualdad, said he wanted the citizens of Puerto Rico to have access to all their rights, yet United States citizens living in Puerto Rico did not enjoy the same rights as those in mainland States. President Obama had asked all political parties in Puerto Rica to work together to resolve that issue as soon as possible. The two-question November referendum showed that 61 per cent of voters favoured statehood, and the United States Government now had the moral obligation to respect their wishes, as expressed in the referendum. Many Puerto Ricans had emigrated to the United States because of the island nation’s poor economic situation, he said. The United States Constitution set out a process for the inclusion of new States in the union, and Puerto Rico hoped to be the first Hispanic one. The voters had expressed their desire for statehood, and the United Nations, as a friend of Puerto Rico, must recommend to the United States that it resolve the Territory’s political status, a situation that impacted 3.7 million citizens.
MARIA DE LOURDES GUZMAN, Movimiento Union Soberanista de Puerto Rico, said she came from an enslaved homeland. Since imposing the English language and United States laws, the gringos had claimed that they would bring prosperity to Puerto Rico, but they had done the opposite, moving directly for its resources upon gaining power over the Territory. Some 16,000 Boricua soldiers had died in Viet Nam, she said, pointing out that wherever the military-industrial complex defended its capitalistic interests, the Boricua population was sure to be exploited.
Many young Puerto Ricans living in the United States joined the army as it wrongfully promised a path out of poverty, she said. The FBI, working with complicit local authorities, repressed anyone who challenged United States power, and dozens of independent parties had been persecuted and some dissidents even murdered, as political prisoner Oscar López Riviera remained in a United States dungeon. The United States Navy refused to clean the very ocean and land it had polluted, leaving behind destruction, misery and even death. Cancer rates were higher in Vieques than anywhere else in Puerto Rico, she said.
MARY ANNE GRADY FLORES, Ithaca Catholic Workers, Vieques Support Group, said that, through the General Assembly, the world would voice its support as it had done for Palestine in 2012. She said every weapons system created by the United States was tried in Vieques, with depleted uranium shells the latest tested there. In the 1990s, 3,900 bullets had been fired from a warplane in a single minute, and in 2001, 20,000 United States troops had trained in Vieques before deploying to Afghanistan. Spiking illnesses in Vieques, including cancer rates 30 per cent higher than anywhere else in Puerto Rico, were attributed to United States military activities conducted in Vieques, where there was no cancer treatment and women in labour had to travel an hour and a half by ferry to the nearest hospital.
JOE UMPIERRE, President, Frente Autonomista, said he aspired to an association between the United States and Puerto Rico based on the sovereignty of the Puerto Rican people under international law. The commonwealth’s worsening economic situation meant urgent action was required on that on issue, yet Puerto Rico lacked the political tools. The international community appeared indifferent and paralysed, offering the same speeches every year, yet doing nothing. The United Nations must free itself of the colonial syndrome, he said, emphasizing that there could be no further delay in bringing the issue to the Assembly. He called for the release of political prisoners and the clean-up of contaminated lands. It was manipulative to say that Puerto Ricans had voted for statehood in the November referendum, he said, describing it as a manipulation of the numbers.
MARIA VILLENEUVE, Boricuas por un Nuevo Pais, said the group was non-partisan and brought together many entities working for human rights. North Americans had invaded Puerto Rico and imposed a military regime, she said. In the 1900s, Congress had established a colonial Government and Puerto Rico had been governed by that legislative body of the United States without the participation of its own inhabitants. For 114 years, Congress had controlled aspects of Puerto Rican’s lives without their consent and subjected them to the United States military draft. The United States Government controlled imports, exports and customs activities, as well as treaties on international trade, and could expropriate private property. The United States was in compliance with neither international law nor General Assembly resolution 1514, she said. Hundreds of Puerto Ricans had been assassinated, jailed and persecuted.
ISMAEL MULLER VASQUEZ, Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico, said that since 1898, the United States had maintained a colonial imperialist regime against which its people were still struggling. Urging the United States to recognize Puerto Rico’s natural right to independence, he said the United States was perpetrating human rights violations in Puerto Rico while maintaining an official stance of supporting human rights around the world. Guns passing through the ports managed by United States officials had led to drug trafficking on the island and to the killing of Puerto Rican youth, he said. The land was being used to test genetically modified seeds and its people used as guinea pigs to consume the crops growing from those seeds. The land was contaminated and United States troops and police arrested those struggling for independence. He called for complete de-militarization and the release of political prisoners.
ISMAEL BETANCOURT JR., President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Multicultural Communications, Cooperation and Development, said that, in a recently completed research paper, he had analysed the Puerto Rican nation’s development under its two colonial rulers, Spain between 1492 and 1898, and the United States from 1898 until the present. He had focused on the independence movement’s struggle to win sovereignty and its role in shaping Puerto Rico’s social, economic and political development. The resolution of Puerto Rico’s political status would have important implications for the Territory, the United States and the international community, he said. Statehood would provide it with two Senators, seven congressional representatives and eight electoral votes, as well as a Hispanic voting bloc. That bloc, together with other Latino congressional members, could influence United States politics and policy on the domestic and foreign levels.
He went on to say that independence would allow Puerto Rico to join the international system and play an important role in the United Nations and other international institutions. On 10 April 2013, the White House had submitted to Congress a budget that included a $2.5 million appropriation for Puerto Rico to hold another plebiscite on its relationship to the United States. The call for another vote indicated that the Obama Administration had rejected the argument that Puerto Ricans had voted to become the fifty-first state in last November’s two-part referendum. But the proposal also recognized that most Puerto Ricans were not happy with their current commonwealth status. President Obama had not only agreed to support the will of the people on their country’s political status, but had backed up that support with a request to hold a new, carefully crafted plebiscite, the outcome of which would stand up to international scrutiny.
WANDA BELTRAN, Movimiento PR-USA, Organizacion Civil Anexionista, said that Puerto Rico currently had a representative in the United States Congress, but without a vote, a status that did not benefit the people of Puerto Rico. She called for the commonwealth either to join the Union or for its full annexation. Puerto Rico’s people had made clear that the current status was not working in their favour. It was unfortunate that Puerto Ricans in power just collected millions of dollars sent to the commonwealth by the United States, rather than using it for the benefit of their people. She said now was the time for the Congress and the President to resolve the complex issue of Puerto Rico, pointing out that its municipal and state democracies were not matched by democracy on the national level. On the question of others trying to push their ideologies on Puerto Rico, she said “communism has two roads: to heaven where it is not needed or to hell where it had already been present”.
JOSÉ ENRIQUE MELÉNDEZ-ORTIZ, Puerto Rico Chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said that over the years the Special Committee had received testimony that laid out the different views of the Puerto Rican political spectrum. “The conclusion in my view cannot be more obvious,” he said. “Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States that has yet to achieve a full measure of self-government. And this is where this Committee should take action.” The discussion had evolved and the League was asking the Special Committee and the General Assembly to act on a matter that, until recently, had been perceived as a domestic issue and outside the jurisdiction of the United Nations.
Conditions had changed since last November, when 78.19 per cent of all registered voters had participated in a referendum, he said. In response to the referendum’s first question, 54 per cent of the voters had said they did not wish to remain under their current relationship with the United States. As for the second question, 61.16 per cent had voted for statehood, 33.34 per cent for a sovereign commonwealth, and 5.49 per cent for independence. Since Puerto Rican voters no longer consented to the present territorial status, the Special Committee must act in accordance with that finding and recommend to the Assembly the commonwealth’s inclusion on the List of Non-Self-governing Territories, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.
HECTOR BERMUDEZ ZENÓN, Grupo por la Igualdad y la Justicia de Puerto Rico, said that anyone wanting freedom must seize it. The United States had brought devastation to Puerto Rico with a bombing many years ago, and continued its colonial policy. President Obama had asked Puerto Rico to participate in another colonial-style so-called plebiscite. Colonialism was political enslavement, he said, recalling that Puerto Rico had been invaded 115 years ago with the United States acting against the will of the Puerto Rican people. The United States had withdrawn from many countries that it had invaded many years ago, such as Panama, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam, yet it still maintained control of Puerto Rico, he noted. At the same time, its citizens could not vote for the President of the United States, he said, describing the relationship as a complete farce.
TOM BAUMANN, Socialist Workers Party, said it had joined thousands of others to demand that the United States Government release Puerto Rican independence fighter Oscar López Rivera, who had been locked up on trumped-up charges of “seditious conspiracy” for more than 32 years, including 12 years in solitary confinement, a period of incarceration longer than Nelson Mandela’s. The Party also celebrated the fact that René Gonzalez, one of five Cuban revolutionaries framed by Washington, was free after having served nearly 15 years in the United States prison system. He called for the release of the four remaining Cubans ‑ Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González.
A successful fight for Puerto Rico’s independence was also in the interests of most United States citizens, he said. Puerto Ricans and working people in the United States had common interests and a common enemy: the United States Government and the capitalist ruling class it defended. Working people in the United States had faced the brunt of the capitalist economic crisis, including persistently high unemployment and sustained corporate efforts to drive down wages and living conditions. The 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States, who faced systematic discrimination, were also among those devastated by the crisis.
He said economic issues were accompanied by efforts to curtail citizen rights, pointing out that in the name of “fighting terrorism”, the United States National Security Agency had been spying on the phone and electronic communications of millions of people. The Justice Department had admitted its widespread wiretapping of news reporters, and the Government continued to hold prisoners at its military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The support of workers fighting for their rights in the United States could help free Puerto Rican political prisoners and the commonwealth’s struggle for independence.
CLARISA LOPEZ-RAMOS, Hijos de los Presos Politicos Puertorriquenos, daughter of Oscar López Rivera, said she had seen her father only intermittently over the years, and had not stopped dreaming of seeing him more frequently. During the 12 years when her father had been in solitary confinement, she had had no physical contact with him during visits. They had communicated through bullet-proof glass, using two telephone handsets. Describing the dehumanizing and toxic conditions in prison, she said her father was brought to his family visits in chains. He had not been allowed to attend the burial and funeral of his mother, even though the family had offered to pay for his transportation. She said that she thought of her father each day, sometimes with great worry, but always with deep joy.
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