Members in Day-Long Hearing of Petitioners on Territory’s Political Status
The Special Committee on Decolonization today approved a draft resolution calling on the Government of the United States to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise fully their right to self-determination and independence.
Approving the text without a vote, the Special Committee called on the United States to move forward with a process to allow the Puerto Rican people to take decisions in a sovereign manner, and to address their urgent economic and social needs, including unemployment, marginalization, insolvency and poverty.
Also by the text, the Special Committee urged the United States Government to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba to the Puerto Rican people, and to expedite and cover the costs of cleaning up and decontaminating areas previously used for military exercises, with a view to protecting the health of their inhabitants and the environment.
Further by the text, the Special Committee called upon the President of the United States to release, without delay, the Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, who had served more than 35 years in a United States prison for reasons relating to the Puerto Rican quest for independence. It expressed deep concern over actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence activists and encouraged investigations into those actions, in cooperation with relevant authorities.
By other terms, the Special Committee requested that the General Assembly consider comprehensively the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects, and decide on that issue as soon as possible.
Iran’s representative, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence on the basis of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). He recalled that the Special Committee had approved 34 resolutions or decisions on the topic, adding that they were in full agreement with the Movement’s traditional position on the question of Puerto Rico.
Governor Alejandro García Padilla of Puerto Rico pointed out that the United Nations recognized the political sovereignty of Puerto Rico as an autonomous political entity, adding that the posture of the United States Government was incompatible with what was said within the General Assembly. Puerto Rico’s current humanitarian crisis made it impossible to provide health, safety and education, creating a grave situation of life or death for the Territory’s people, he emphasized.
Throughout the day, the Special Committee heard from dozens of petitioners, many of whom stressed that the sovereign state of Borinken did not recognize the legitimacy of the United States Government over the Territory’s people, describing all actions taken by the imperial Power there as illegal. One petitioner underlined that the state of Borinken should not have to wait another 30 or 40 years to have its due freedom, adding that action by the Special Committee could be a significant step forward that could lead to the end of Puerto Rico’s colonial status.
Another petitioner voiced support for Puerto Rico becoming the fifty-first state of the United States, saying its people rejected being governed as a colonial territory. The Special Committee could no longer ignore the fact that Puerto Rico was a colony, he continued, emphasizing that it should be placed on the General Assembly’s list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Other petitioners expressed serious concern over the imposition of capital punishment in Puerto Rico, saying the death penalty was a demonstration of subjugation, contrary to the United Nations Charter and a denial of the fundamental human right. One petitioner pointed out that death-penalty cases in Puerto Rico were tried in English, although Puerto Ricans predominantly spoke Spanish.
Several petitioners highlighted the large number of Puerto Ricans suffering mental illness as another area of serious concern, with one noting that colonization had resulted in great damage to the self-esteem, self-identity and self-worth of the Puerto Rican people. Studies indicated about half of the population suffered from mental illness.
Furthermore, many speakers called for the release of Mr. López, who sent his greetings to the meeting via telephone.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 June.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence on the basis of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), urging the Assembly to consider the question in all its aspects. The Special Committee had approved 34 resolutions or decisions on the topic, he noted, adding that they were in full agreement with the Movement’s traditional position on the question of Puerto Rico. He called on the United States to expedite a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, and to return the occupied land and installations of Vieques Island and the Roosevelt Road Naval Station. He also called for the release of political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, who had served more than 35 years in United States prisons.
ALEJANDRO GARCÍA PADILLA, Governor of Puerto Rico, recalled that in 1952, the United States had offered the Territory’s people the opportunity to adopt their own constitution, which had been accepted through a referendum. On 9 June 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States had determined that the Constitution of Puerto Rico clearly established that power emanated from the people and should be used in conformity with the will of the people. The United States had claimed that it was not necessary to submit any further reports on Puerto Rico to the United Nations as the Territory was now governed under a new bilateral agreement, the terms of which could not be changed except by mutual agreement. The United Nations had recognized the political sovereignty of Puerto Rico as an autonomous political entity, he said, adding that, as an elected Governor, he believed the posture of the Government of the United States was incompatible with what was said within the General Assembly. The current humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico made it impossible to provide health, safety and education, creating a grave situation of life or death for the Territory’s people, he said.
MARK ANTHONY BIMBELA, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said the Territory’s situation was one of classic colonization, which had left the Puerto Rican people defenceless. The three branches of the United States Government had agreed that Puerto Rico was in fact a colony, which built upon a dictatorial situation that negatively affected the people of Puerto Rico. The General Assembly was obligated to address the situation as soon as possible so as to ensure Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination, in coordination with the United States authorities. A number of priority matters affected the daily lives of the Puerto Rican people, he said, demanding that Congress ensure respect for the law and that Oscar López Rivera be released immediately. He went on to call upon the United States to refrain from imposing the death penalty in Puerto Rico, requesting that the Special Committee call upon that country’s Government to recognize the Territory’s right to self-determination and independence.
ANGEL A. TOLEDO LOPEZ, Boricua ¡Ahora Es!, said that a human rights council had determined that civil rights had been ignored by the failure to respect the outcome of the 2012 referendum, which had seen 72 per cent participation. The issue had become political, with questions around whether the Territory had sufficient sovereignty to address its own issues. The United States Supreme Court had determined that Puerto Rico could not deal with its own issues in the federal forum, as that would violate the constitution. In 2015, the United States Department of Justice, in a letter to the Secretary-General, had called for the United Nations to clarify Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, as well as its own position. The three branches of the United States Government had stated that Puerto Rico was a Territory without sovereignty, he said, demanding that Puerto Ricans take their own decisions on a different political status.
FÉLIX R. HUERTAS GONZÁLEZ, Asociación Puertorriqueña de Historiadores, said that since the invasion of Puerto Rico by the United States and the passage of the Jones Law, the Federal Relations Law and others, there had been no change in the colonial relationship. Since the end of the nineteenth century, Puerto Rico had been essential to the geostrategic interests of the United States, yet today, Puerto Ricans lacked equal access to Medicare or Medicaid. Furthermore, Congress had supported the institution of a fiscal board that would have power over elected authorities on the Territory. Colonialism had impeded Puerto Rico’s development, leading to high unemployment and preventing agreements, projects and arrangements that would allow it to emerge from its economic crisis. He advocated the creation of a decolonization mechanism to help Puerto Rico establish a status beyond external control, and called for the release of Oscar López Rivera.
HECTOR BERMUDEZ-ZENON, Grupo por la Igualdad y la Justicia de Puerto Rico, said the Territory had been colonized by a country that claimed to represent democracy and freedom around the world. During his election campaign, President Barack Obama had promised that the colonial problem of Puerto Rico would be addressed within his first year in office, a promise that everyone knew would not be fulfilled. Despite being able to serve in the United States military and peacekeeping forces, the people of Puerto Rico lacked representation in Congress, and could not vote for the President of the United States, who had the right to declare war. Noting that that President Obama had established diplomatic relations with Cuba and promised to release the illegally held naval base at Guantanamo, he said the United States also had an obligation to remove its armed forces from the national territory of Puerto Rico.
RAMÓN NENADICH, Estado Nacional Soberano de Borinken, said the sovereign state of Borinken did not recognize the legal legitimacy of the Government of the United States over the Territory’s people, describing all the actions taken by the imperial Power there as illegal. The sovereign State of Borinken would not continue to ask the United States to solve the colonial problem that it had created some 118 years ago. Rather, the Borinken people requested that the Special Committee assume its authority to take drastic steps with regard to decolonization. The Borinken State should not have to wait another 30 or 40 years to have its due freedom, he emphasized, adding that action by the Special Committee could be a significant step forward and result in the end of Puerto Rico’s colonization. Otherwise, the Borinken State would have no viable alternative but to push for a national liberation movement, he said.
HECTOR PESQUERA SEVILLANO, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, said the situation in Puerto Rico was one of economic crisis, with people being misled into thinking that the free association provided a certain degree of sovereignty. “Puerto Rico continues to be a colony” of the United States Congress, he emphasized, citing recent decisions by that country’s three branches of government, whereby the Territory must be under a fiscal control board overseen by Congress. All candidates for the three status options were against that dictatorial board, he said. Following the invasion by the United States, Boricua money had been devalued by 40 per cent, which had led to the sale of land to United States capital owners and the establishment of military bases. Since 1940, 150,000 women had been sterilized without their consent, a genocidal act, while oil refineries had caused millions of dollars of environmental damage, he said.
OLGA I. SANABRIA DÁVILA, Comité de Puerto Rico en Naciones Unidas (COPRONU), said the three branches of the United States Government continued to govern Puerto Rico as a Territory subject to Congress. Since the colonial situation offered no options for addressing its fiscal crisis, it faced the imposition of a federal fiscal control board, which would force it to pay $70 billion in public debt in ways that would worsen the social situation. He said there had been misrepresentations by the United States in the United Nations, and it was time to give substance to resolutions on Puerto Rico, notably calls for the United States to accelerate a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. She also advocated the release of Oscar López Rivera, a symbol of resistance to colonial domination, and for a decolonization process that would implement the principles of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).
EDGARDO ROMÁN ESPADA, Coalición Puertorriqueña contra la Pena de Muerte, recalled that Puerto Rico was one of the few jurisdictions that had unequivocally rejected the death penalty and promoted its abolition by law, having elevated the issue to the constitutional level. The imposition of the capital punishment was a demonstration of subjugation and a denial of fundamental human rights, contrary to the United Nations Charter. Noting that death-penalty cases were not tried in the local Puerto Rican vernacular, he said juries were required to understand English, which was not representative of the Puerto Rican community, who spoke Spanish. Currently, 20 accused persons faced capital punishment in cases pending in Puerto Rico, and the accused could be extradited to anywhere in the United States to face the death penalty. The imposition of capital punishment in Puerto Rico affected the values and customs of the Puerto Rican people, which was closely related to the right to self-determination.
BENJAMIN RAMOS ROSADO, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, listed a number of human rights violations committed against the Puerto Rican people by the United States Government. He said it was an irrefutable fact that Puerto Rico was a colony, noting that the new Promesa plan would pay back a debt that the Puerto Rican people had not created by enacting an austerity plan that would further increase unemployment and poverty. “As a colonized people, we are victims of racism, xenophobia and exploitation,” he said, adding that the United States Government had sponsored innumerable campaigns to wipe out Puerto Rico’s language, national identity and culture. That type of genocide was in direct violation of international human rights law, he said recalling that when Puerto Ricans had risen up against those injustices, they had been labelled “terrorists” and been assassinated or incarcerated. In that regard, the well-respected community activist Oscar López Rivera remained in prison today, he said, recalling also the story of the prisoner of conscience Ana Belén Montes, who had shared information with the Cuban Government because she found the United States policies against that country reprehensible.
MARIA DE LOURDES SANTIAGO, Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño, denounced United States colonialism and the so-called agreement embodied in the associated free-state status. The United States Prosecutor General had established that the constitution of the associated free-state did not change Puerto Rico’s constitutional status, she said, noting that the Supreme Court had describe the relationship as being similar to one with a municipality, in which the United States Congress was the ultimate source of power. That power had led to a new dictatorship. “The tax control board has absolute power over our country,” she said, noting that many Puerto Ricans wished to see a change in the relationship. She pressed the United States to fulfil its obligations to decolonize and called for the release of Oscar López Rivera, urging the Special Committee to propose a dialogue between the United States and Puerto Rico, pursuant to resolution 1514 (XV).
ALYSON KENNEDY, Socialist Workers Party, expressed support for all those fighting to end the colonial domination of the United States and for the independence of Puerto Rico. Across the United States, the Socialist Workers Party had been urging working people to join the campaign to tell the Government to “Free Oscar Lopez Now!” The fight for Puerto Rico’s independence was in the interests of the vast majority of the people of the United States, she said, noting that her party had been working to find a way forward in the face of the “worldwide capitalist economic and social crisis”. Emphasizing the need to organize a working-class movement in that regard, she said the people of Puerto Rico and the working people of the United States had common interests, a common enemy and a common struggle. “It’s the United States Government and the capitalist system it defends that are responsible for the deepening crisis both here and in Puerto Rico,” she said, stressing that Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt crisis was being used as a club to benefit banks and bondholders while working people were squeezed dry — a glaring example of how colonial domination worked.
CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ SOTO, Municipio Autónomo de San Juan, said the international community could no longer deny the reality that Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States. The Territory was not ruled by power, so much as trickery, she said, noting that for many years, the United States had deceived the international community into believing it supported democracy. The political situation in Puerto Rico was frustrating the inalienable rights that all peoples had to determine their own future. The recent activities of the three branches of the United States Government had made clear the reality faced by the Puerto Rican people, including the recent imposition of a fiscal control board. That colonial structure had crushed any remaining element of self-governance, she said, describing it as a farce. Efforts must be made to put Puerto Rico on the list of colonized peoples, and the General Assembly must consider the case of Puerto Rico as a violation of human rights. The Puerto Rican people were ready to break the chains of colonization, she emphasized.
FRANCIS A. BOYLE, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, referring to an amicus curiae brief from President Barack Obama’s Administration to the United States Supreme Court, and to the Territory Clause of the United States Constitution, said Puerto Rico was nothing more than a piece of property, “like a trashcan”, that the United States could deal with in whatever way it saw fit, in spite of the United Nations Charter and international law. After 118 years of one of the most brutal, violent, racist and genocidal military and colonial occupations in modern history, the only way the United States could promote and respect the right of Puerto Ricans to self-determination was to go home, he said, requesting that the Special Committee meet with President Obama at the White House to demand the release of the Borinken freedom fighter, hero and prisoner of war Oscar Lopez.
IVAN RIVERA, Movimiento Amplio Soberanista de Puerto Rico (MAS), said the three branches of the United States Government had laid bare the colonial position of Puerto Rico. Citing the Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle Supreme Court case, he said the Territory’s sovereignty had never been recognized, and the entity created to regulate its fiscal and budgetary decisions had no representatives appointed by Puerto Ricans. Furthermore, Puerto Ricans had been pitted against each other, he said, urging the General Assembly to ensure that Puerto Rico would be considered in the context of its complex situation, so that an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice could be rendered.
VILMA M. MACHIN VASQUEZ, Fundacion Yo Soy Boricua, Inc., said a foreign imperialist Government had caused the profound crisis threatening to destroy her people’s lives. The fiscal control board comprised seven people chosen by the United States. “This is a further link in the chain of imperial dictatorship,” she said, emphasizing that the debt imposed by the colonial Government amounted to $70 billion. “We cannot pay this debt,” she said, explaining that to do so would mean the Territory would have no control over its budget. She advocated recognizing a sovereign State of Borinquen as the only legitimate government of Puerto Ricans, with a seat in the General Assembly. The Special Committee must demand the release of Oscar López Rivera and Ana Belén Montes, she said.
GRACIELA ORTIZ-PAGÁN, Alianza Comunitaria de Borinkén, said that as an educator and professional counsellor, she was concerned about the high level of mental illness in Puerto Rico. The Territory’s long-standing colonialization had resulted in great damage to the self-esteem, self-identity and self-worth of the Puerto Rican people, and studies showed that half the population suffered from mental illness and experienced great stress due to economic difficulties, family problems and unemployment. The increase in the number of murders and suicides, as well as violence and mistreatment of minors, was a great cause for concern, she said, adding that Puerto Rico was considered to be a property of the United States, against its will.
RICARDO ROSSELLÓ, Partido Nuevo Progresista, said he supported Puerto Rico becoming the fifty-first state of the United States, adding that the Territory’s people rejected being continuously governed as a colonial territory and had called upon the President of the United States and others to refrain from taking actions that were clearly against the will of the people. The recent Supreme Court decision affirmed what had been clear for decades — Puerto Rico was in fact a colony. The creation of a fiscal control board was a plan to limit democracy and suppress parts of the economy, all the while failing to resolve the problem of Puerto Rico’s status. The Special Committee could no longer ignore the fact that Puerto Rico was a colony and should, therefore, be placed on the list of Non-Self- Governing Territories, he said, emphasizing that failure to act on the Special Committee’s part would make it clear for history that it had become a body that lacked the will to take action to end colonialism.
ORLANDO J. ORTIZ AVILES, Juventud Boricua, said he supported the sovereign state of Borinquen, emphasizing that its supreme national council must be restored as the only national government. He asked the Special Committee to welcome a petition for accreditation to the United Nations, sent in 2014. Noting that the United States had awarded a gold medal to the Boricuas of the sixty-fifth regiment who had fought in support of that country in the First and Second World Wars, he stressed the invisibility of Puerto Rican youth, saying many had become economic and political refugees due to migration brought on by a neo-capitalist system. He called for the release of Oscar López Rivera and Ana Belén Montes.
JUAN ANTONIO CASTILLO, Coordinadora de Solidaridad Diáspora Boricua (COSODIBO), said the organization supported Puerto Rican sovereignty and independence, noting that many resolutions had been passed without major change. There had been an exodus of Puerto Ricans seeking work to feed their families, due to the failure of a colonial, neoliberal policy imposed on the Territory. The colonial Government was not capable of leading, and Puerto Rico could not overcome “the vulture capitalists of Wall Street”, whose interests were represented by the United States Government. The colonial situation of Puerto Rico must be addressed by the General Assembly as soon as possible, he said, emphasizing that the Territory must be given its own powers before it became the “Monaco of the Caribbean”.
MARIELITA NEVARES RAMOS, Coordinadora Mexicana de Apoyo al Estado Nacional Soberano de Borinken, said the Special Committee should request that the General Assembly give the sovereign state of Borinken the status of a United Nations Member State, based on the rights of which it had continuously been deprived by Spain and the United States. She urged the Special Committee to act urgently to give the state of Borinken its proper status within the General Assembly. If the principles of the United Nations were to be respected, then the Powers with the key to the cages that held so many people should free them now, she said, adding that Puerto Rico was in a status of slavery.
JOSÉ M. UMPIERRE MELLADO, Acción Soberanista, said that all facets of life in Puerto Rico, right down to the price of milk, were controlled by an outside entity. The people of Puerto Rico only had one opportunity each year to present in a proper forum the lies perpetuated by the United States. The General Assembly had not taken a proactive role on the issue, and it must recognize the colonial situation of Puerto Rico. He expressed hope that members of the Special Committee would soon visit Puerto Rico without needing the permission of the United States to do so.
The representative of Cuba said that a petition to the Special Committee by the independence movement should be taken into account, proposing that the Chair use the body’s good offices to ensure a dialogue between the United States and the people of Puerto Rico on self-determination and independence.
The Chair then decided to open the Special Committee's good offices.
DOUGLAS NICOMEDES ARCIA VIVAS (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non-Alignment Movement, the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the representative of Cuba, said the independence of Puerto Rico was a cause shared by many who believed in freedom and democracy around the world. The status of Puerto Rico made it difficult for it to exercise its full autonomy as the colonial issue continued unbridled, without any attempt to conceal the true nature of the situation, which had a very negative impact on the society and economy of Puerto Rico. The Territory’s economic crisis was a direct result of the investment and free-trade practices undertaken there, under the auspices of the United States, he said, noting that such policies would not allow Puerto Rico to potentially join regional and subregional economic organizations. It had amassed a large amount of debt, with most of the creditors found largely in the United States. The Territory’s development had been impeded, and the wide-ranging adverse social impacts could be seen in recent austerity measures.
Mr. RIVERA (Cuba) introduced a draft resolution titled “Decision of the Special Committee of 22 June 2015 concerning Puerto Rico” (document A/AC.109.2016/L.6) as well as the related report (document A/AC.109.2016/L.13), and noted the urgent call to the international community to take action in favour of all Puerto Rican people. Since 1962, the Special Committee had adopted 34 resolutions and decisions on Puerto Rico, which reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence. Finding a definitive solution to resolving the colonial situation there continued remained a pending task of great priority for the Special Committee. The United States maintained economic and political control over Puerto Rico, which it had done for more than 118 years. Very little progress had been made toward a definitive solution for the colonial situation of Puerto Rico. The draft resolution reiterated that Puerto Rico was a Latin American and Caribbean entity with its own distinctive nature, despite having been subjected to long-standing colonialization.
HORACIO SEVILLA BORJA (Ecuador) said the adoption of resolution 1514 (XV) had seen the conclusion of a long, negative period during which the administering Power had managed to keep the colonial situation of Puerto Rico out of the purview of the United Nations. Ecuador was proud to have been a key player in approving that historic resolution. The reality of the balance of power during that time had prevented the Special Committee from adopting the resolution by consensus and the outcome of the subsequent vote had prevented Puerto Rico from being added to the list of colonial Territories. It was the only Territory in the Latin America region colonized by Spain that had yet to gain full independence, he noted, reaffirming the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence. Ecuador urged the Government of the United States to accelerate and guarantee a process that would allow them to exercise their right to self-determination, choosing from the available decolonization options. He expressed concern that the United States had decided to impose a fiscal control board that would prevent the Puerto Rican people from adopting decisions that would relieve their financial crises. “The time has come for dialogue and understanding,” he emphasized.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and CELAC, recalled that the Community had declared the region a zone of peace, and it should also be free of colonialism and colonies. Puerto Rico’s Latin American and Caribbean nature was an integral part of its people. It was clear that the Territory’s fiscal crisis reflected the collapse of its colonial status, and the Special Committee should intensify efforts for the General Assembly to more broadly consider that colonial situation. The United States should foster a genuine process that would allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to self-determination and independence, he said, reiterating Nicaragua’s commitment to the struggle of Non-Self-Governing Territories for self-determination. He also called for the release of Oscar López Rivera, noting that 29 May marked the thirty-fifth year of his confinement.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and CELAC, said the decolonization Declaration was the most important United Nations instrument for liberating people under colonial domination. There were 34 resolutions on the situation in Puerto Rico which called for the launch of a decolonization process. Puerto Rico aspired to be a free nation, yet it was now unable to restructure its public debt because the United States sought to impose a fiscal control council that did not even include the Governor of Puerto Rico, he noted. The crisis meant the closing of hundreds of public schools, as well as migration and the displacement of local initiatives amid the spread of United States corporations. He urged the United States to release Oscar López Rivera, noting that he had been imprisoned for more than 35 years, and the Special Committee to foster actions towards that end.
IHAB HAMED (Syria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the international community would soon mark 118 years of United States colonial rule over Puerto Rico, an issue that had been considered by the Special Committee for more than 38 years. During that time, scores of resolutions and decisions had reaffirmed the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination, although they had yet to be able to exercise that right, despite its having been guaranteed under international law. Syria urged the United States to commit fully to the resolution by shouldering its responsibility to create conditions that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable rights to self-determination and independence, he said.
The representative of the Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said that Puerto Rico’s Latin American and Caribbean character had been highlighted by the region’s Heads of State and Government during their Summit on 27 January 2016. CELAC had recommitted, in the framework of international law as well as resolution 1514 (XV), to creating a region free of colonialism and colonies, he said, referring to the 2016 Quito Declaration in that context.
The Committee then approved the draft resolution “Decision of the Special Committee of 22 June 2015 concerning Puerto Rico” (document A/AC.109.2016/L.6), without a vote.
The representative of Cuba, making a general statement, said that today’s statements today had shown clear support for the cause of the people of Puerto Rico, while the resolution demonstrated the historic commitment to a people who exemplified the fight for independence and self-determination. “This is s a noble, principled fight,” he said, expressing confidence that Cubans and Puerto Ricans could overcome their respective current situations. The lasting solution was not an internal one on the part of the United States, he said, emphasizing that the General Assembly should comprehensively examine the question and take action as soon as possible. Puerto Rico’s struggle for economic development and its inability to pay its debt constituted a crisis, he said, reiterating that Cuba would always defend the Territory’s right to self-determination and independence.
JOSE R. ORTIZ VÉLEZ, Frente Soberanista de Puerto Rico, said that while the situation in the Territory was worsening, the response of the United Nations through the Special Committee was always the same. “You do not have the will to extricate us from the colonial regime,” he said. Puerto Ricans lacked the power to get their economy back in shape and to halt a colonial indignity. “La Promesa” substituted limited government for a colonial administration, he said, adding that the United States should be ashamed of oppressing Puerto Rico, and the international community even more ashamed of its indifference and procrastination. “While my country is wasting away, the United Nations is wasting time.”
ANÍBAL ACEVEDO VILÁ, Oficina de ExGobernadores, said he was very troubled for Puerto Rico’s future, adding that the United Nations should use its good offices to pressure the United States into initiating a true process of self-determination and decolonization. Among several recommendations, the Special Committee should express that the actions of the United States were aggravating the situation of Puerto Rico and call upon that country to explain its deadlines for resolving it. The Special Committee should also call on the United States to cease plenary powers within five years and launch a dialogue on the Territory’s future.
EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUÑOZ, Comité Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, emphasized that Puerto Rico must be allowed to exercise its right to independence and self-determination. Recalling that the president of the Popular Party had recently referred to a resolution 2265 that outlined a fourth decolonization option, he said it also required sovereign power, because people living under colonialism could not freely exercise sovereign power. Recognition of the Territory’s colonial nature justified calls for the release of Oscar López Rivera, he said, adding that pressure must be brought to bear on the United States, especially its fiscal control board, which was preventing Puerto Ricans from exercising their right to self-determination and independence. He urged all forums to ensure that the United States abided by international law.
Mr. RAMÍREZ (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee, said he would be working for the release of Mr. Lopez.
FAVIO RAMIREZ-CAMINATTI, El Centro del Inmigrante, said various laws had led to the destruction of local businesses in Puerto Rico, while students were being punished with exorbitant education costs. Elderly Puerto Ricans received lower Medicare payments than others in the United States, he noted, adding that such behaviour revealed that there were “A class” and “B class” citizens. The Territory’s sovereignty could be “deleted” by a board that had more power than an elected governor, yet Puerto Ricans could not even vote for it because they were not allowed to do so. “If this isn’t a colony, what is?” As United States citizens, they should have the right to vote for the President, regardless of whether they lived in the Territory or elsewhere in the union, he said, urging the United States to consider their right to vote for the President at least until their status was permanently defined. He called for the release of Oscar López Rivera.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMIREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee, said he had just got off the telephone with Oscar López Rivera, whom he wished to put on the line to speak to members, but the call had been cut off. Nevertheless, Mr. Lopez had sent his greetings.
MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriqueños Unidos en Acción, noted that Oscar López Rivera had just completed his thirty-fifth year in prison, where he was incarcerated in the worst conditions. It was time for Puerto Rico’s cause to be brought before the General Assembly in order to exert pressure on the United States and to end colonialism. The fiscal control board was a mechanism guaranteed to collect debt at the expense of public services, including health and education, he said, adding that if it were to be imposed, the flight of young Puerto Ricans would be even greater.
YAMIL A. MISLA, Americans for Puerto Rico Statehood, said it was vital to pass a resolution urging the United States to comply with its international obligations and provide a self-determination process for Puerto Rico. During the 2012 plebiscite, a majority of Puerto Ricans had called for the Territory’s integration as constituent state of the United States, he recalled.
MARIA DE LOURDES GUZMAN, Movimiento Union Soberanista, said that since 1988, Puerto Rico had seen a 40 per cent devaluation of its currency, abuse of its agriculture, disregard for the idiosyncrasies of its people and the use of 13 per cent of its territory for military bases on which bombs and toxic materials were stored. There had been repression of Puerto Ricans resisting the imposition of laws and controls over their borders, and Governments that had taken turns in ruling the Territory had acted in shame alongside the United States. Expressing support for Puerto Rican sovereignty, she said the United States sought to impose a fiscal control board that aimed to collect $73 billion in debt generated by neoliberal organizations that had worked to ensure the continuation of colonialism, plunging the economy into deep crisis. Some 46 per cent of the population lived in poverty and the President of the United States had been added to the list of people who had brought trouble to the island, she said. Calling on the Special Committee to condemn the colonial situation in Puerto Rico, she emphasized that Oscar Rivera Lopez should not be in prison another day.
CLARISA LOPEZ, New York Coordinator to Free Oscar López Rivera, said her father had been held in solitary confinement in Illinois and Colorado from 1986 to 1998, adding that since he was not allowed physical contact, her visits had been conducted through a glass window while he was guarded and handcuffed. She said that between the ages of 15 and 27 years, she had taken no photos with him. His only granddaughter was now 25 years old. “Our family is no longer the same,” she said, noting that there was a new generation that had not been allowed to meet him. She said that since her first visit in 1981, she could not have imagined that 35 years of prison visits were to follow.
“I see his love for justice, equality and independence,” she said, noting that it had been his decision to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence. She said it had taken years for her to understand that her father was making a sacrifice so that future generations could see a more just world. He had been guided by his conscience. “What is freedom?” he had written. The word was often deprived of any essence, something taken for granted. Liberty was his overriding goal, but in his 73 years, he had been repeatedly subjected to United States colonialism. Since 1898, that country had used all its resources to ensure that Puerto Rico could never be an independent sovereign nation. It persecuted, criminalized and murdered people without regard for their rights or life. Anyone who loved justice and freedom should read the history of people under attack by the United States Government, especially those in prison, she said.
ANTONIO J. FAS ALZAMORA, Puertorriqueños Pro Pacto de Asociación, said the United States had dodged the truth in 1953, when it had made the United Nations remove Puerto Rico from the list of colonies. The vast majority of Puerto Ricans wanted a fair relationship with the United States while maintaining the character of a Caribbean and Latin American nation. He called for Puerto Rico to be added to the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories and for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera.
MARCO ANTONIO RIGAU, Ateneo Puertorriqueño, welcoming the presence of a representative of the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations, said decolonization could not happen without that country’s participation. At a time when Cuba and the United States were speaking to each other, there was no longer a need to impede the process. It was not a matter of attacking the United States, but there must be a change in the decolonization process, he said, adding that no one in Puerto Rico was content with the current situation, nor was anyone defending the status quo.
OSVALDO TOLEDO, American Association of Jurists, recalled that in 1950, the United States Congress had approved Law 600, granting Puerto Ricans the right to organize themselves under their own constitution. Due to a conspiracy, however, the commonwealth had been laid waste. The General Assembly had ruled that Puerto Rico had been given sufficient political sovereignty to make some decisions and it had been withdrawn from the list of colonies. On 9 June, in the Puerto Rico vs Sanchez Valle case, the Supreme Court had ruled that Congress was the commonwealth’s sovereign Power, and its political status was that of a colony. “We don’t have the sovereignty of a full-fledged Government,” he said. “We have been alienated.” A fiscal control board had been given broad powers over the Territory’s budget and debt repayment. It was clear that the United States would not be responsible for repaying Puerto Rico’s debt and that “we were handed over to the vultures”. The case of Puerto Rico must be brought to the General Assembly so that its future could be decided, he said.
MANUEL E. MELENDEZ LAVANDERO, A Call to Action on Puerto Rico, advocated the release of Oscar López Rivera, and reiterated that the independence movement was right to denounce the island’s colonial status. Puerto Rico was militarily occupied, and its status as a so-called free associated state was a farce in which the United States and its subordinates sought to allege that Puerto Rico had made up its own mind. Such vile actions were being uncovered. “Puerto Rico is a colony,” he said, adding that it was experiencing a crisis linked to that subordination. Its debt was unpayable in moral and legal terms. The imposition of a fiscal board was being rejected, as seen in traditional picketing to acts of civil disobedience. The independence movement was developing hopeful processes to channel people’s discontentment into the future liberation, he said, calling for the development of mechanisms for integrating Puerto Rico into the regional economy. The Puerto Rican people would not stand idle as Wall Street waged war against them, he emphasized.
JOSÉ L. NIEVES, Brigada Guarionex, said that removing the commonwealth structure imposed by the United States was the only solution. Puerto Ricans could not be free if they could not take free decisions. Calling for justice, he said he would like to hug Oscar López Rivera. Puerto Rico had its own national identity that no one could challenge. Its people had not been born as gringos, but as boricuas, he said, emphasizing that they had a right to claim their land as their heritage.
IRIS MARGARITA DIPINI, Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico–Liberation Movement, said the events of the past year had forced the United States to admit that Puerto Rico’s status was that of a mere Territory. Reviewing its history, she said the events of 1950-1952 had not transformed Puerto Rico into a sovereign nation State. Rather, the United States Congress had authorized it to exercise governance over local affairs. The United States remained the ultimate source of sovereign power, she said. Emphasizing that Puerto Rico was a Caribbean and Latin American nation that had survived more than a century of brutal aggression by an imperial Power designed to annihilate it, he said those who had struggled for Puerto Rico’s freedom had been subjected to long periods of exile in United States prisons, including Oscar López Rivera, who remained in prison after 35 years. In addition, no one had been held accountable for the extrajudicial execution of the independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2005, she noted.
JAN SUSLER, National Lawyers Guild, said that the resilient Puerto Rican people were challenging the debt, creating a sustainable economy, protecting the environment and organizing for political power in the diaspora. Oscar López Rivera’s imprisonment was a metaphor for the island, she said, adding that people saw his jailing as an affront to their dignity. His case had stirred a widespread response in Puerto Rico, the United States and internationally. In just one year, support for his release had grown exponentially and his case had become an issue in the United States presidential race. Elected officials at all levels had sought a meeting with the President of the United States to advocate for his release, and on the thirty-fifth anniversary of his imprisonment, 10,000 people had marched through San Juan, she said, pressing the Special Committee to urge the President of the United States to release him.
DARLLEEN GARCIA, Generación 51, said Puerto Rico was a colony subject to the powers of the United States Congress. In the 6 November 2012 plebiscite, Puerto Ricans had rejected their colonial status and called for a decolonization process, he recalled, noting, however, that a lack of affirmative action on the Federal Government’s part had prevented people from exercising the plebiscite’s results. Puerto Ricans had rejected their territorial status, with 53 per cent having chosen Statehood. Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the effect that the will of the people was the basis of political power, she said Puerto Ricans had declared that they wished to become a full-fledged State. Describing Puerto Rico as “the modern American apartheid”, she asked whether four decades of lacking self-governance was enough to repeal resolution 748. “It is time for real changes in Puerto Rico,” she emphasized.
JOSÉ NIEVES SEISE, Movimiento de Reunificación de Puerto Rico con España, said that from the late fifteenth century, Puerto Rico had been an integral part of Spain and all Puerto Ricans had been Spanish citizens. But with the invasion of 1898, it ended up as a colony of the United States. It was not reasonable to speak of decolonization if reunification with Spain as a natural right was ignored, he said, calling for the General Assembly at its next session to return Puerto Rick to the list of colonies. Puerto Rico was not an internal matter of the United States, but an international one, and it was time the territory returned to the bosom of its motherland, Spain.
GLORIA QUIÑONES, Diasporiqueños, said the economic crisis in Puerto Rico had led to a nearly 10 per cent drop in its population over the past 10 years. The population loss was squeezing businesses, forcing hospitals to close their doors and depleting the Territory’s tax base. According to the latest research, the economy had contracted by 14 per cent in real terms since 2006, and was estimated to decline further, by 1.2 per cent, in the current fiscal year. Furthermore, total employment had fallen by 19 per cent, and 46 per cent of Puerto Ricans were living in poverty. Describing Puerto Rico’s economic, political, cultural and social future prospects as unclear, she said the Territory was faced with an inverted population pyramid, low birth rate, and a diminished and aging workforce. Diasporiqueños rejected federal fiscal oversight and supported consideration of local proposals, including exemption from the application of the 1920 Cabotage Laws.
MARTHA QUIÑONES DOMINGUEZ, Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Planificación, said most problems were rooted in structural issues, adding that the United States had federalized Puerto Rico’s economy. “They control everything,” including the police and media, forcing local authorities to give up budgetary powers over health, education and other essential services. The United States sought to govern the Territory, promoting austerity and restructuring the debt “to our detriment”. The debt did not seek to protect the interests of Puerto Ricans, she said, adding that it was a shameful debt of colonizers. It did not and could not be repaid, since those who had loaned the money had acted in bad faith, knowing they would not be contractually obliged. The United States environmental agencies were accomplices in the Territory’s destruction, she said, citing the waste incinerator in Arecibo. The United States owed Puerto Ricans reparations for physical and mental damage, she said, emphasizing that a decolonization process must start with calling for citizen hearings on the debt, in exchange for structural adjustment plans to understand how the debt had been created.
MARÍA DE LOURDES MARTÍNEZ AVILÉS, Colegio de Profesionales del Trabajo, said the present socioeconomic conditions were a manifestation of the consequences of foreign subjugation, domination and exploitation. Since the 1898 invasion, Puerto Rico had been the target of public policies that were detrimental to enjoying viable and sustainable economic development. On the other hand, those policies had promoted massive emigration and limited access to fundamental services. The Promesa project imposed a federal fiscal control board on the Territory’s government, and in fact, from procedural and substantive standpoints, the board confirmed Puerto Rico’s colonial and territorial status. Establishing a government on top of the one established by the people of Puerto Rico constituted a denial of political, economic, social and cultural self-determination as well as human rights, she emphasized.
MYRNA PAGÁN, Vidas Viequenses Valen, said that from the first moment of the military takeover of Vieques Island the islanders’ rights had been denied and violated. Exposure to chemical weapons had caused a health crisis, including cancer, hypertension, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, and kidney failure, yet there was no existing health programme to deal with the poisons in that toxic war zone. “They speak of decontamination of the environment, but what about people?” she asked, decrying the lack of hospitals, treatment centres, pharmacies and medicines. Vieques had been abandoned by the Department of Health, she said, demanding justice from the authorities.