Special Commitee Approves Text Calling on United States to Expedite Puerto Rico’s Self-Determination Process, Welcomes Release of Long-Time Independence Activist

GA/COL/3312
19 June 2017
2017 Session, 5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)

Special Commitee Approves Text Calling on United States to Expedite Puerto Rico’s Self-Determination Process, Welcomes Release of Long-Time Independence Activist

The Special Committee on Decolonization today sent a draft resolution to the General Assembly calling on the Government of the United States to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow the people of the island to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

Approving the text (document A/AC.109/2017/L.12) without a vote, the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples called on the United States to move forward with a process to allow the Puerto Rican people to make decisions in a sovereign manner, and to address their urgent economic and social needs, including unemployment, marginalization, insolvency and poverty.

The Special Committee also noted with concern that by virtue of the decision of the United States Congress under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act — which mandated the creation of the Financial Oversight and Management Board — the already weakened area in which the prevailing regime of political and economic subordination in Puerto Rico operated was reduced further.

Expressing deep concern over actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence activists and encouraging investigations into those actions, the draft also welcomed the release of Puerto Rican patriot Oscar López Rivera, who served 35 years in United States’ jails for reasons related to the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence.

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.

By other terms, the General Assembly was asked to comprehensively consider the question of Puerto Rico and decide on that issue as soon as possible.

During the day-long meeting, speakers stressed that Puerto Rico indeed must take its rightful seat as a sovereign State in the General Assembly.  The first step towards that goal would be to inscribe Puerto Rico on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, speakers said.  Mr. López Rivera, who had recently been released after 35 years in prison in the United States, joined more than 50 petitioners in calling for an end to United States occupation and for the granting of independence to Puerto Rico.

Mr. López Rivera, of the Fundación Oscar López Rivera Libertá, said Puerto Rico had the potential to become a strong nation and an asset to the Caribbean and Latin American economy.  “We want a country that is worthy of our people and that can be part of the world community,” he said, requesting that the Special Committee take the case of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly and ask it to fulfil its responsibilities to bring an end to colonization.

Highlighting the most deleterious colonialism-related problems, he said a recent “brain drain” had contributed to the more than 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the diaspora, with fewer than 3.5 million remaining on the island.  The Financial Oversight and Management Board — a fiscal control entity imposed by the United States — now had the power to dictate, among other things, the payment of the $72 billion debt Puerto Rico owed to banks and hedge funds.  Meanwhile, the construction of $1 million condominiums due to accelerated gentrification was displacing poor people and leading to further depopulation.  “Colonialism is a crime against all humanity,” he said.  “If the United States Government is the nation of laws it claims to be, then it behooves it to decolonize Puerto Rico by adhering to the tenets of international law that prohibit the crime of colonialism.”

Echoing that call, many speakers said Puerto Rico was clearly a colony; some asserted that its free association status was a farce.  Many cited the recent 11 June plebiscite on the island as an example, noting that only 23 per cent of the electorate had voted and more than 70 per cent had actively boycotted the entire United States-led process.  Moreover, there were limited options on the ballot.

Jan Susler, of the National Lawyers Guild, who had served as Mr. López Rivera’s lawyer, said the Puerto Rican people were fighting for their future, spurning the pro-statehood colonial administration’s recent purported referendum on status as non-binding, unauthorized and illegitimate.  He called on the United States’ Government to withdraw its police and military forces from the island and formally commit to negotiate in good faith a solution to its colonial situation.  The current financial situation was an example of colonialist rule, he said, stressing that rather than allowing the island the option of declaring bankruptcy or restructuring its more than $72 billion unpayable debt, the United States had enacted a law by which it promised to pay bondholders and vulture hedge funds, “leaving the people of Puerto Rico in the lurch”.

Special Committee members shared their perspective.  Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Venezuela’s representative called on the Government of the United States to expedite the self-determination process, stressing that the political subordination of the Puerto Rican people impeded their sovereign decision-making over serious economic and social problems.

El Salvador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Community for Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), reiterated the importance of the Latin American and Caribbean nature of Puerto Rico, which had also been emphasized at a high-level summit in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in January.  CELAC took note of the resolutions adopted by the Special Committee and reiterated that the situation of Puerto Rico was a matter of great interest.

Many petitioners, representing Puerto Rican groups and international organizations and member States of the Special Committee, called for further action.  Ramon R. O’Neill Santos, of Coordinadora Mexicana de Apoyo al Estado Nacional Soberano de Borinken, said the United States had sought to close off the possibility for Puerto Ricans to invoke international doctrine and have recourse to international arbitration.  Such behaviour violated the principle of non-interference in State affairs.  Recourse should not be the use of force to resolve debts derived from contracts between one country and another.  “All nations are equal before the law,” he said, pressing the General Assembly to grant Puerto Rico a seat with full rights and obligations.

Echoing his call for justice, some speakers asked the Special Committee to play its role to reach that objective.  Urayoán Jordán Salivia, of Juventud Boricua, said he could imagine the Special Committee’s frustration that, after more than 30 resolutions in favour of self-determination for Puerto Rico, the United States remained indifferent.  Moreover, young people had few opportunities and limited training due to red tape.  Those employed full-time earned low pay, he said, noting that some of his colleagues had foregone food so their children could eat.  “And these are people who have jobs,” he said, stressing that hunger often brought about violence.  “Does the United States need to wait for violence in order to react?”, he asked.

Lourdes García, of A Call to Action on Puerto Rico/Un Llamado a la Acción por Puerto Rico, said “Puerto Rico is a nation with the capacity to govern itself”, with natural resources, including copper and nickel, and an educated and literate working class and the potential to develop renewable solar and hydroelectric energy.  She urged the United Nations to send a delegation to investigate the effects of the island’s economic and humanitarian crisis.

Elaborating on the current situation of Puerto Ricans at home and abroad, Digna Sanchez, of DiaspoRicans, underscored that, although many had successfully settled into life in the United States, many were not doing as well as they could be.  Puerto Ricans had among the highest rates of unemployment of all Latino groups in the United States and the people in Puerto Rico faced a major fiscal crisis brought on by decades of an economy premised on responding to United States’ corporate interests and not to a self-sustaining economy that could meet the Puerto Rican people’s needs. 

During the meeting, many speakers applauded the release of Mr. López Rivera while drawing attention to other political prisoners who remained incarcerated, including Ana Belén Montes, who was currently serving a 25-year sentence and was battling cancer.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Bolivia, Syria, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba and China.

Also speaking were representative of Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, Comité de Puerto Rico en Naciones Unidas, Gobierno de Puerto Rico, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, Coordinador de Solidarida Diáspora Boricua, Estado Nacional Soberano de Boriken, Movimiento Amplio Soberanista de Puerto Rico, Coalición Puertorriqueña contra la Pena de Muerte, Fundación Yo Soy Boricua, Inc., Comité Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, Actividades Del Cerro de los Mártires, Ateneo Puertorriqueño, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Asociación de Residentes de Piñones, Puerto Rican Independence Party, La Cacica Cimarrona Inc., Green Party of the United States, Brigada Guarionex, Partido Nactionalista de Puerto Rico, Fuerza Resistencia Divica Boricuá, National Sovereign State of Borinken, Colegio de Profesionales del Trabajo Social de Puerto Rico, Movimiento Unión Soberanista, Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins, New York Solidarity with Vieques, American Association of Jurists, Mesa de Trabajo por Ana Belén Montes en Puerto Rico, Grupo por la Igualidad y la Justicia de Puerto Rico, New York State Nurses Association, Socialist Workers Party, Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios, Asociación de Economistas de Puerto Rico, International Law Students Association, Latino Law Student Society, La Coordinadora, Compañeros Unidos para la Descolonización de Puerto Rico, Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, Juventud Hostosiana, Alianza Patria, Inc., El Centro de Immigrante, Indigenous Womens Knowledge, Frente Socialista, Institute for Multicultural Communications, Cooperation and Development and Concilio de Veteranos y Soldados de Puerto Rico.

Question of Puerto Rico

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), Chair of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, introduced Oscar López Rivera, calling him a hero like Nelson Mandela.  Mr. López Rivera had been incarcerated for almost half of his life and was a symbol of the movement that supported a free Puerto Rico.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA, Fundación Oscar López Rivera Libertá, highlighting his release from prison on 17 May after 35 years, said that the Special Committee’s resolutions that had been passed during his incarceration had been a fountain of hope and strength.  Unfortunately, more political prisoners remained incarcerated in the United States, including Ana Belén Montes, who was serving a 25-year sentence and was battling cancer.

Highlighting to the most deleterious problems that had been caused by United States colonialism in Puerto Rico, he said more than 5 million Puerto Ricans were living in the diaspora and less than 3.5 million remained in Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico was subjected to a fiscal control board imposed by the Government of the United States, which had the power to dictate to the colonialists who had helped to administer the colony, especially concerning the payment of the $72 billion debt Puerto Rico owed to banks and hedge funds.  The construction of $1 million condominiums due to accelerated gentrification was displacing poor people in Culebra and Vieques and leading to depopulation.

Depopulating Puerto Rico, he said, had been the United States’ Government’s goal since its invasion and occupation.  Since 2016, more than 1 million Puerto Ricans had joined the diaspora, causing the largest “brain drain” in its history, as jobs were scant and professionals left the island to find work.  As a result, the population was ageing and becoming poorer, with fewer medical and social services, at a time when young people were leaving and more foreigners were buying luxury properties.  The fiscal control board’s worrisome actions were another concern, he said, emphasizing that, by August, 169 schools would close and the future of the University of Puerto Rico was being threatened by defunding.

Despite the bleak reality, he said, many Puerto Ricans believed that now was the best moment to wage an effective decolonization process.  Puerto Rico, with human resources and other basic resources, had the potential to become a strong nation and an asset to the Caribbean and Latin American economy.  He asked the Special Committee to take the issue of the decolonization of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly and ask it to fulfil its responsibilities to bring an end to colonization by the United States Government.

“Colonialism is a crime against all humanity,” he said.  “If the United States Government is the nation of laws it claims to be, then it behooves it to decolonize Puerto Rico by adhering to the tenets of international law that prohibit the crime of colonialism.  I hope you will do whatever you can to bring to an end the colonial status of Puerto Rico and to help it be part of the community of nations.”

He said Puerto Rico today was being threatened by privatization with the criminal goal of extracting the “last dime from every pocket of every Puerto Rican person”.  If the depopulation of Puerto Rico succeeded, its people would lose their land and history.  “We want a country that is worthy of our people and that can be part of the world community,” he said, asking that the Special Committee considered actions that were taking place in the United States that affected the entire world.  The interference of the United States in many countries was a problem, he said, referring to recent occasions when the United States had dictated what should happen in Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American States.  Highlighting positive changes that had been made by the leaders and people of such countries, including Hugo Chávez Frías in Venezuela and Evo Morales Ayma in Bolivia, he called for a renewed fight for a more just world.

ALEJANDRO TORRES RIVERA, Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico, said his organization was the oldest civil society institution in Puerto Rico, and since 1 September 1994, it had condemned the colonization of Puerto Rico.  It had called on the United States to hold bilateral negotiations on the right to self-determination.  In 2016, the United States had established a control entity.  The Supreme Court had resolved the issue, determining that sovereignty resided in Congress, which could annul any law that violated the Constitution.  Yet, the United States sought to extend colonization in Puerto Rico.  “The case for free self-determination must be assured by the United States,” he said, which should facilitate that process without interference.  The international community must meet its obligations and he called on the Special Committee to support Puerto Ricans’ push for independence and self-determination.  He demanded that the United States not interfere in Puerto Ricans’ enjoyment of self-determination, which included an end to harassment, and to ensure that a mechanism was in place for that.  He proposed convening a constitutional assembly, as recognized by international law.

WILMA E. REVERÓN COLLAZO, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, said “we are making history today”, reaping the fruit of decades of struggle.  In Puerto Rico, the colonizing Power had imposed a dictatorship.  “This has occurred under your watch,” she stressed, noting that the fiscal prosecutor worked for Wall Street and sought to strip Puerto Ricans of all their assets, including pensions, and had privatized such services as energy and water.  All such efforts had deprived Puerto Ricans of their heritage and rights.  “Puerto Rico is facing a crisis,” she said, which more than justified the Special Committee urging the General Assembly to demand that the United States cease and desist in the destruction of our nation.  “We need urgently that you send a visiting mission to Puerto Rico, recommending to the General Assembly to evaluate the question of compensation of damages caused by colonialization, and begin a process of decolonization,” she said.

OLGA I. SANABRIA DÁVILA, Comité de Puerto Rico en Naciones Unidas, noted that 2020 would mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations establishment.  Among its achievements, she cited the decolonization efforts of the Special Committee, which had freed people from colonization.  Yet, Puerto Rico continued to be a colony.  Of its 8 million people, 2.5 million lived on the island, while 5 million lived in the United States.  Puerto Ricans were a Latin American and Caribbean people who lacked freedom.  In addition, 2020 would mark more than 122 years since Puerto Rico had been handed over to the United States as “war booty”, as though the island was “a big ranch”, where people could not leave unless they wished to travel to the United States.  “Our people are oppressed,” she said, living with major social problems under a colonial yoke.

LUIS GERARDO RIVERA MARÍN, Secretary of State of the Gobierno de Puerto Rico, highlighted the effects of the fiscal control board’s efforts to help the elected government on the island and of recent related consultations.  The time had arrived that the Special Committee must defend the legal status of Puerto Rico.  The fiscal board and electoral board were bodies that represented colonial actions.  In 2012, 54 per cent of voters in Puerto Rico had demonstrated a desire for decolonization.  In April, the United States Department of Justice had changed requirements.  Noting that the United Nations Charter recognized the fundamental right to self-determination, he said the United States had previously recognized that statehood was an option.

BENJAMIN RAMOS ROSADO, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, said Puerto Rico was a colony and its people were victims of the United States’ economic and political exploitation and manipulation.  Signs of colonial oppression could be seen with the institutionalization of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA, which had created a fiscal control board that had adopted an austerity plan, which was increasing unemployment and poverty.  Puerto Ricans were resilient and that was why colonialism was destined to fail, he said, emphasizing that “we’re a nation that has been forged in the fires of oppression and has always been able to survive, thrive and win”.  He asked the Special Committee to pass a resolution to end colonialism in Puerto Rico.

JESÚS MANGUAL, Coordinador de Solidarida Diáspora Boricua, said the decolonization process must be accelerated because there was a strong movement from the colonial Power to further exert its control.  He appealed to the Special Committee to play its role to put Puerto Rico on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Puerto Rico must achieve its sovereignty immediately so it could deal with the current economic and humanitarian crises.  An appropriate mechanism must be put in place so the United States’ Government could address issues of colonialism.  During the 11 June referendum, only 23 per cent of the electorate voted, while the abstention rate was more than 70 per cent, reflecting a boycott of the plebiscite.  The referendum’s design demonstrated that the colonial Power had manipulated its own victory and the Special Committee must investigate that issue.

FRANCIS A. BOYLE, Estado Nacional Soberano de Boriken, said the Special Committee’s resolutions had already called on the United States to meet its obligations.  He called on the Special Committee to submit the case of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly.  The new colonial Government had ordered a plebiscite, which had been fraudulent.  It had been the fifth referendum that still had not addressed the issue at hand.  There was no other current viable path than one that led to statehood, he said, asking the Special Committee to send a resolution to the General Assembly so a decision could be made later this year.

IVÁN RIVERA, Movimiento Amplio Soberanista de Puerto Rico, said the current situation reflected that a future approach could help advance towards decolonization.  The opinion of the International Court of Justice could be sought, as had been the case with the building of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The Court could and should make a decision on Puerto Rico, he said.  Actions had been taken on the options available to Puerto Rico concerning its future.  Moving forward, he said his organization was ready to work towards putting an end to colonization.

MÁDELIN COLÓN PÉREZ, Coalición Puertorriqueña contra la Pena de Muerte, said the death penalty in Puerto Rico was illegal.  Twenty per cent of all death‑penalty sentences had been commuted.  In 2018, however, the death penalty would be administered, demonstrating that the colonial Power was continuing to exert its control in Puerto Rico, she said, adding that Spanish was the most commonly spoken language on the island, but that English was continuously used.  The United States Congress had reaffirmed the colonial nature of Puerto Rico.  As such, the Special Committee must bring the case of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly.

VILMA M. MACHÍN VÁZQUEZ, Fundación Yo Soy Boricua, Inc., said the oppressive colonial system imposed by United States since 1898 involved tyrannical policies, which threatened to destroy Puerto Rico.  “Our people are facing the most horrendous period in our history,” she said, stressing that the Financial Oversight and Control Board sought to restructure the $73 billion debt, which would impoverish millions of people.  The Nuevo Progresista party had been complicit.  The goal was to ensure people paid a debt to vulture funds.  She supported a sovereign national state of Borinken and for the General Assembly to allocate a seat to it at its next session.  She pressed the Special Committee to free Ana Belén Montes, a University of Puerto Rico student who was on hunger strike.  Stressing that the Board was imposing illegal acts, she said the unique employer law violated trade union rights, $502 million had been cut from the University’s budget, and the colonial legislature had removed people’s right to determine what should be done with the debt.

EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUÑOZ, Comité Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, said the colonial situation was worse than ever.  There had been cuts to the University, while the “despotic” work of the Board and the current Governor included the creation of laws that imposed jail terms for protest.  Even judges were subject to undue pressure, indicating interference into cases for those involved in protests.  Authorities had ignored calls for due process.  She called for the release of all who fought for Puerto Rico’s independence, stressing that the Financial Oversight and Control Board sought to destroy the University of Puerto Rico.  Only victory and full freedom could be the results.  “Puerto Rico needs to be respected,” she stressed.

FRANCISCO RAFAEL JORDÁN GARCIA, Actividades Del Cerro de los Mártires, supported the petition by the national sovereign state of Borinken to allocate a seat in the United Nations for that state.  “Our people are now in an indefensible situation,” he said, as the United States had for 119 years imposed its regime.  He called for the release of Ana Belén Montes.  Forty per cent of people over age 60 — who numbered more than 760,000 — were older than 65 years, living in extreme poverty and in dangerous health situations.  Many had a disability.  There had been a 2.1‑per‑cent increase in food prices and a 7.4‑per‑cent increase in the cost of drinking water.  There had been a 10‑per‑cent drop in the value of pensions.  “We are on the eve of a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said, pressing the Special Committee to ensure that people of Borinken had legal representation in the United Nations and to advance that request to the General Assembly.

MARCO ANTONIO RIGAU, Ateneo Puertorriqueño, said the United States and those favouring statehood in Puerto Rico, must understand that, in accordance with resolution 1514 (XV), the Special Committee was called on to implement its mandate and work to ensure the right to self-determination.  Puerto Rico must achieve sovereignty either through full independence or free association, in accordance with international law, a point which must be included in this year’s resolution.  The United States must understand that it had to be involved in the decolonization process, which it would do when it understood that Puerto Rico could be financially successful with sovereignty.  Such a situation would be one fewer burden for the United States Treasury, especially as Puerto Rico could be an invaluable interlocutor in Latin America.

NATASHA LYCIA ORA BANNAN, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said that, since colonialism was immoral and illegal, the United States’ Government had not met its obligations.  Instead, it had imposed austerity measures that were worsening conditions for the people of Puerto Rico.  The people’s economic interests were being ignored and private workshops with Wall Street demonstrated a model for an extremely undemocratic system.  The University of Puerto Rico was even being affected by fiscal board decisions, which were also ordering hospital and school closures.  Such actions violated the Puerto Rican citizens’ human rights, she said, drawing attention to United States’ military activities and related pollution and sanitation conditions that were harming people’s health.

MARIA ISABEL RIJOS, Asociación de Residentes de Piñones, said gentrification and luxury-building projects were taking a toll on the population.  Civil resistance had achieved some gains, yet the people were still living with the uncertainty of such land grabs.  Many civil society organizations had shown support to prevent forced displacement of people from their land, including through education, sports and health projects, as well as mobilizing funding to build houses and gardens.  She called on the Special Committee to play its role to ensure that the General Assembly took action with a view to making sure that the national sovereign state of Borinken would take a seat in that world body.

MANUEL RIVERA, Puertoriqueños Unidos En Acción, said 2017 had been a great year of triumph and challenges.  The imposition of the fiscal board had demonstrated the accelerated deterioration of the current situation, due in part to the Government’s inability to successfully address Puerto Rico’s problems.  Yet, Mr. Lopéz Rivera had been released from prison and the 11 June plebiscite had shown the population’s strong desire for independence, with a majority of the electorate boycotting the process, the options that had been presented and the current colonial status.  Puerto Rico was a nation geographically and sociologically different from the United States.  Colonialism had divided the people and it was time for all to join together to support the decolonization process.

MARIA DE LOURDES SANTIAGO, Puerto Rican Independence Party, said Puerto Rico was facing truly scandalous circumstances, including the imposition of a fiscal board that had veto power to overrule any decision by Puerto Rico.  The management of its public debt was under the United States’ legal structure, which had “removed the last fig leaf” that was hiding its role as a colonial Power.  The 11 June referendum was no more than an action supporting colonialism by consent, she said, emphasizing that colonialism was in fact a crime against humanity.  The case of Puerto Rico should be brought to the General Assembly, she said, calling for the independence of her country.

LOURDES GARCÍA, A Call to Action on Puerto Rico/Un Llamado a la Acción por Puerto Rico, expressing pride that Oscar López was present at the meeting, reaffirmed what the independence movement had presented to the Special Committee for years:  that the free association status was a farce.  Puerto Rico was a possession of the United States.  Its courts were viewed with disdain by the colonial Power, which had imposed a financial oversight board that had taken drastic measures to pay a huge debt to Wall Street vultures.  “Puerto Rico is a nation with the capacity to govern itself,” she insisted.  The working class was educated and literate, and had the potential to develop renewable solar and hydroelectric energy.  There were copper and nickel resources.  “It’s not as though Puerto Rico could not exist as an independent nation,” she said, urging the United Nations to send a delegation to investigate the effects of economic and humanitarian crisis due to the colonial situation.  She recommended that the Assembly place Puerto Rico on the List of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and press the United States to enter into a decolonization process, which would include attention to compensation to Puerto Ricans for allowing the United States military presence on the island.

JAN SUSLER, National Lawyers Guild, recalled that many of the Guild’s resolutions since its inception in 1937 had affirmed the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and called for the release of political prisoners.  Noting that he had served as Oscar López Rivera’s lawyer, he described events since the Special Committee’s hearings last year, which had further unmasked the colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.  Rather than allowing the island the option of declaring bankruptcy or restructuring its more than $72 billion unpayable debt, the United States had enacted a law by which it promised to pay bondholders and vulture hedge funds, “leaving the people of Puerto Rico in the lurch”.

Pointing out that world-renowned economists had called the austerity measures imposed on the island “draconian”, he said the Puerto Rican people were nevertheless fighting for their future, spurning the pro-statehood colonial administration’s recent purported referendum on status as non-binding, unauthorized and illegitimate.  University students had gone on strike and Puerto Ricans continued to resist the criminalization of their legitimate protests.  Outlining the importance of Mr. López Rivera’s release to that cause, he urged the Special Committee to adopt a resolution calling for the General Assembly to consider the case of Puerto Rico.  He further called on the United States Government to undertake a variety of actions, including withdrawing its police and military forces from the island and formally committing to negotiate in good faith a solution to its colonial situation.

DIGNA SANCHEZ, DiaspoRicans, underscored that, although many Puerto Ricans had successfully settled into life in the United States, many were not doing as well, particularly as Puerto Ricans had among the highest rates of unemployment of all Latino groups in the United States.  The people in Puerto Rico faced a major fiscal crisis brought on by decades of an economy premised on responding to United States’ corporate interests and not to a self-sustaining economy that could meet the needs of the Puerto Rican people.  Population loss in Puerto Rico was squeezing businesses, forcing schools to close and depleting the tax base.  The current economic crisis had its roots in Puerto Rico’s colonial status as a possession of the United States, with Puerto Rico becoming a huge “garage sale” for United States’ capitalist interests.

MARA CLEMENTE LOPEZ, La Cacica Cimarrona Inc., urged that the national state of Boriken be recognized, expressing support for the case of the island and demanding justice.  “What gives the United States any right in Puerto Rico or in the world, except force?”, she asked, stressing that the United States had used tricks and local alliances to bring about Puerto Rico’s free association status, which she called the greatest illegal absurdity, blaming the United States, the Vatican and the media for being complicit in such “euthanasia”.  Puerto Rico merited a constitutional assembly without interference.  Comparing Yankee hegemony to cancer, she said it was the cause of global warming, slavery and other ills.  She demanded respect for the rights of the Borinken people, who were facing genocide, and a direct media campaign to raise awareness about their situation.

RAMON R. O’NEILL SANTOS, Coordinadora Mexicana de Apoyo al Estado Nacional Soberano de Borinken, emphasized the close connection between his group and the Boricuas.  The situation had been created by the United States in 1952, after its armed invasion.  Recalling that Puerto Rico’s sovereignty was under the United States Congress, he said the United States had sought to close off the possibility for Puerto Ricans to invoke international doctrine and have recourse to international arbitration.  Such behaviour violated the principle of non-interference in State affairs.  Recourse should not be the use of force to resolve debts derived from contracts between one country and another.  “All nations are equal before the law,” he said, pressing the Assembly to grant Puerto Rico a seat for a State with full rights and obligations.

DARLENE ELIAS, Green Party of the United States, said the United States must sever its ties with Puerto Rico and allow its people to live free from colonial rule “once and for all”, as imperialism had only oppressed prosperity.  The Financial Oversight and Management Board, otherwise known as “the Junta”, sought simply to ensure that United States’ benefactors continued to prosper from predatory lending by banks and corporations under the guise of helping Puerto Ricans.  With 50 per cent poverty and 12 per cent unemployment, Puerto Rico was on the brink of collapse, lacking the revenues to stabilize its economy.  Yet, Puerto Ricans were expected to carry the debt burden, despite the fact that they had no say in their future.  They had lost faith in the political system.  Puerto Rico should be allowed to govern itself as an independent State or sovereign entity, based on what its people decided.

URAYOÁN JORDÁN SALIVIA, Juventud Boricua, supported the request for sovereignty for Borinken, which should have a seat at the United Nations.  Calling for the release of Anna Belén Montes, he said he could imagine the Special Committee’s frustration that, after more than 30 resolutions in favour of self-determination for Puerto Rico, the United States remained indifferent.  The same was true in Puerto Rico.  Added to that frustration was a negative situation that was leading to despair, as people were not able to take productive measures to address the $73 billion debt.  There were no reasons to feel anything other than frustration.  Moreover, young people had few opportunities and faced limited training due to red tape.  Those who did work received low pay, he said, noting that some of his colleagues, who worked full-time for the minimum wage, had foregone food so their children could eat.  “And these are people who have jobs,” he said, stressing that hunger often brought about violence.  “Does the United States need to wait for violence in order to react?”, he asked.  Recalling other measures that were destroying the University of Puerto Rico, he urged the Special Committee — and all fraternal countries — to support efforts to achieve decolonization.

HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, it reaffirmed the right of Puerto Rico’s people to self-determination and independence.  It called for expeditious implementation of resolutions on Puerto Rico, many of which had been adopted by consensus by the Special Committee.  The Movement also called on the Government of the United States to expedite the process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

He went on to urge the Government of the United States to return to the Puerto Rican people the occupied land and installations of Vieques Island and the Roosevelt Road Naval Station.  Member States of the Movement also reiterated their concern over legislation adopted by the United States Congress to impose a fiscal control board over the government of Puerto Rico that would effectively infringing on that government’s limited power over its budget and fiscal affairs.  The political subordination of the Puerto Rican people impeded their sovereign decision-making regarding their serious economic and social problems.

LUIS MAURICIO ARANCIBIA (Bolivia), associating himself with the statement of the Non-Aligned Movement and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), welcomed the release of Oscar López Rivera, calling the Special Committee the proper forum to give space for discussing the freeing of peoples who were under various forms of colonial domination and ensuring they had territorial freedom.  Puerto Rico had a very clear cultural connection and ties to Latin America.  Its sovereignty had been violated and an unfair colonial status had been imposed.  It was time for Puerto Rico to return to the Latin American family and everything possible must be done to achieve that goal.  The Government of the United States must launch a process by which the people of Puerto Rico could pursue a path of self-determination and independence.  Bolivia reasserted its appeal to the United States to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico would regain all the lands that had been occupied and assume the costs of cleaning up the areas that had been contaminated by military exercises.

LOUAY FALOUH (Syria), associating himself with the statement of the Non‑Aligned Movement, underscored that many years had lapsed since the people of Puerto Rico began their struggle for the right of self-determination, which was guaranteed by the principles of the Charter.  He recalled that it had been 119 years since the United States had interfered with Puerto Rico, while the Special Committee had been looking at the situation of Puerto Rico for more than 40 years, resulting in the passage of many resolutions.  He hoped the draft resolution under consideration would be adopted by consensus, which would affirm the inviolability of the right of international legitimacy and the principles upon which the United Nations had been built, especially the right to self-determination.

JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua) stressed that the Special Committee must step up efforts to ensure that non-self-governing people could exercise their right to self-governance and independence.  The members of the Special Committee did not have any other choice except to intensify efforts to eradicate colonialism from mother earth.  Latin America and the Caribbean was a zone of peace and it was important that it was freed from colonialism.  Puerto Rico was a nation with an identity and history tied to the Latin America and Caribbean region, despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s right to independence had been harmed by the imposition of colonialism.  The closure of schools, cuts in government jobs, the rationing of health, education and other services important for the most vulnerable population was troubling.  Recalling that, for years, the Special Committee had called upon the General Assembly to consider in a broader way the situation of Puerto Rico, he called for an intensification of those efforts.

HORACIO SEVILLA BORJA (Ecuador) reiterated support for Puerto Rico’s inalienable right to self-determination and independence, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and CELAC.  Puerto Rico was a Latin American and Caribbean nation with its own identity.  Recalling the economic, social and financial collapse had shown the failure of the so-called “commonwealth” in terms of public affairs management and regarding the self-determination process.  The appointment of the Financial Oversight and Management Board had made clear that a colonial situation existed in Puerto Rico.  Also, 77 per cent of Puerto Ricans had decided not to take part in the so-called referendum, which had not met international standards, on the annexation of Puerto Rico as a United States state.  The international community was obliged to support Puerto Rico’s process for statehood, as was the administrating Power.

DOUGLAS NICOMEDES ARCIA VIVAS (Venezuela), endorsing the statements of CELAC and the Non-Aligned Movement, welcomed the release of Oscar López Rivera.  Much remained to be done to achieve the inalienable right to self-determination, despite more than 30 resolutions adopted by the Special Committee.  The Boricua people demonstrated the consequences of the colonial yoke, as the colonial Power’s laws had made it impossible for Puerto Rico to carry out economic agreements or join regional or subregional alliances, which had changed its Caribbean nature.  The debt owed to the United States had created a deceptive situation.  The Board determined the use of public funds and could make extreme austerity cuts, with education, transport and housing affected.  The governor, elected in 2006, had called for a plebiscite, which many politicians had found questionable.  “Colonialism is a shame for humanity and a violation of international law,” he said, calling for redoubled efforts to accelerate decolonization so Puerto Ricans could determine their sovereign system free from interference.  He urged the Special Committee to ensure the draft resolution under consideration was adopted by consensus.

ANAYANSI RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, called her people “the other wing of the bird” in describing their friendship with Puerto Rico.  Urging greater efforts to ensure that Puerto Rico enjoyed the right to self-determination, she said the “commonwealth” was means for the United States to mask its domination over the island.  Puerto Rico was under the power of Washington, D.C., meaning it was a colonial territory.  No progress had been seen, she said, calling the June referendum on self-determination “a farce” imposed by the United States.  The economy was depressed amid a $73 billion debt, which would be impossible to pay without cuts to education, health and security.  Further, the financial board had put in place spending controls and “draconian” austerity measures.  Asserting Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence, in line with resolution 1514 (XV), she urged the Assembly to consider the case in all its aspects.

RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community for Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), reiterated the importance of the Latin American and Caribbean nature of Puerto Rico, which had also been emphasized at a high-level summit in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in January.  CELAC took note of the resolutions adopted by the Special Committee and reiterated that the situation of Puerto Rico was a matter of great interest.  He welcomed the recent amnesty granted by the United States for the independence leader, Oscar López Rivera, which had been supported by all Heads of State across the continent.  He hoped that the Special Committee would continue to work in support of General Assembly resolution 1540 (1960) to ensure that the Latin American and Caribbean region became a territory free of colonialism.

JOSE NIEVES, Brigada Guarionex, said that Puerto Rico had been inhabited, governed and made the property of foreign invaders starting in 1492, when Spain invaded and robbed it by force and deceit.  A similar practice had also been carried out by the United States.  Puerto Rico did not recognize the Spanish, nor the United States, invaders.  Colonialism was illegal and in that context, Puerto Rico did not recognize the colonialist forces as a legitimate government.  How was it possible that in the twenty-first century the United States was committing such a crime against the people of Borinken?, he questioned.  Everything in Puerto Rico was under the control of the United States, which was a nation that took far more than it gave.

GERARDO LUGO SEGARRA, Partido Nactionalista de Puerto Rico, said that, since the United Nations had been established, the nationalist party had spoken out about the colonial case of Puerto Rico and demanded the recognition of its right to independence.  Puerto Rico was experiencing a profound societal crisis, which had been perpetrated by the United States Congress.  In that context, the United States had a debt to Puerto Rico due to its exploitation and the collapse of human rights, beginning with the right to life.  Given that the situation in Puerto Rico was not a domestic affair, it was important that it was recognized that the interests of those living in the territory were inalienable rights.  He called on the United Nations to submit a report on the current conditions and what had been taken by the administering Power, to ensure that Puerto Rico achieved independence.

KRYSTAL BODON RAMOS, Fuerza Resistencia Divica Boricuá, described educational activities aimed at promoting a peaceful settlement to the colonial system under which her people lived.  The civil disobedience which Mahatma Gandhi had used to address British imperialism was replaced with civil resistance, which sought to eliminate the system and create a new one based on justice, freedom and equality.  Indeed, the colonialism imposed by the United States was illegitimate.  It placed Puerto Rico into a social and economic crisis and imposed a recent fraudulent referendum.  She cautioned against collaborating with that regime in any way.  She demanded that a process be launched to achieve a sovereign national Borinken state in the General Assembly and urged the Special Committee to submit a resolution to that end.  She also urged it to break with its tradition of annual resolutions on the topic.

DAMARIS ORTEGA, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, read a statement on behalf of the National Sovereign State of Borinken, calling the 11 June plebiscite a “sick” joke.  “We most respectfully request that this Committee officially condemn this Yankee ‘plebiscite’ in the strongest terms”, as a gross violation of the right to self-determination, as well as illegal, null and void.  Had it been a genuine plebiscite, it would have been supervised by the United Nations.  The Yankees would have had to confine their military forces, security agencies, intelligence services and other activities to their military bases before the electoral process.  Afterward, Puerto Ricans would have needed a substantial period of time in which to engage freely and without fear of Yankee intimidation to educate themselves about the various options available, with free access to the media, so that genuine debate could transpire.  Before the process, a guarantee would have been needed that the will of Puerto Ricans would be honoured.  The Special Committee must proclaim that all those conditions must be satisfied for a plebiscite to be held.  Puerto Rico had complied with all the requirements for United Nations membership as a full Member State, as set forth in its 12 July 2014 letter.

LARRY ALICEA, Colegio de Profesionales del Trabajo Social de Puerto Rico, said his people had experienced repressive actions by the federal court, as well as hate crimes.  The United States House of Representatives had imposed the financial control board, which had outlined the Government’s priorities.  “Nobody voted for it,” he said, and yet it had supreme power.  Puerto Ricans’ rights, democracy and claims were not being respected, he said, citing special education for children and either limited or no access to medicine, despite that many children lived in extreme poverty.  Laws were being created in the interests of creditors.  Public universities were being undermined and there was a lack of political power to devise solutions for problems.  He urged the Special Committee to submit the case to the General Assembly and called on the United States to advance the decolonization process.  He also called for a genuine plebiscite.

Ms. RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) then introduced the draft resolution (document A/AC.109/2017/L.12), which she said sought a solution to the situation in Puerto Rico.  It outlined that Puerto Rico represented a Latin American and Caribbean nation with its own national identity, which its people had defended despite a long history of colonization.  A worsening economic and tax crisis prevented Puerto Ricans from taking sovereign decisions to define their future, particularly to address unemployment, marginalization, indebtedness, poverty, education and health.  The draft recalled that the United States Congress was the original source of power in Puerto Rico, and thus, made clear that any concession of self-governance to Puerto Rico could be unilaterally revoked by Congress.  It also recognized statements made at recent CELAC summits and welcomed the release of Oscar López Rivera.  A new paragraph took note of the June referendum, she added, expressing hope that the text would be approved by consensus.

LIU SUNG (China) expressed support for the draft text.

The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution (document A/AC.109/2017/L.12), without a vote.

Ms. RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) thanked all Special Committee members for their support for the draft resolution.  She said the approval of the text was a symbol of the efforts of the people of Puerto Rico, who would always enjoy Cuba’s support.

REINALDO MARTÍNEZ VELÁSQUEZ, Movimiento Unión Soberanista, said that, for too long, the colonial status of Puerto Rico had been swept under the carpet.  But, recent events had shown that it was indeed a colony, including a recent United States court decision that recognize that reality, which was in fact a violation of the United Nations Charter.  Calling for all to denounce the United States for holding Puerto Rico as a colony, he said the United States must take steps to let it go.  The recent referendum was illegal due to foreign intervention and the massive boycott of the process.  Given that and other colonialist actions, which violated General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960, he supported a dialogue with the United States to remedy the situation.

WALTER ALOMAR, Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins, said the Special Committee had not even listed Puerto Rico as a colony, despite repeated calls for independence.  He asked the Special Committee what needed to be done to change that, noting that the administering Powers had failed and the Special Committee had failed to hold them accountable.  Conditions were fragile, he said, including overcrowding in schools, families broken apart by poverty, and basic services were either too expensive or failing.  The Special Committee was the point of contact for the people who could decolonize Puerto Rico, he said, expressing anger that inaction had prevailed.  Colonialism involved genocide and extinction of cultures.  Puerto Rico was suffering, he said, asking the Special Committee:  “What are you doing about it?”

MARIE CRUZ SOTO, New York Solidarity with Vieques, said that 60 years of constant bombing had left Vieques suffering from environmental devastation and governmental neglect.  Loved ones were dying from cancer without so much as $5 in their wallet, which could not be explained away by citing the fact that Vieques was an island.  Militarized colonialism had degraded people who had been silenced, marginalized and made vulnerable for the benefit of others.  The environment had also been degraded not only through contamination, but also by the lack of infrastructure that would be required for empowerment and well-being.  Militarized colonialism was not a thing of the past, particularly when taking into consideration that the United States military still dictated the clean-up process there, even after having officially left Vieques in 2003.

OSVALDO TOLEDO GARCÍA, American Association of Jurists, said colonies were exploited by an imperial Power, which was indeed the case for Puerto Rico.  Facing a fiscal crisis and the war-like purposes of the colonizer, Puerto Ricans had been recruited into the United States military and prohibited from signing treaties or engaging in trade.  The United States had delegated itself plenary powers to deal with Puerto Rico, which itself had been in recession since 2006.  Governor Alejandro García Padilla had recognized the severity of the $73 billion debt burden and called for a renegotiation with creditors.  On 30 June 2016, the United States President had signed a law establishing a mechanism to restructure the debt.  Today, the Financial Oversight and Management Board refused to hear any references to that law, and instead, said it was responsible for the debt.  The United States refused to comply with international covenants, Special Committee resolutions or human rights bodies.  Labour opportunities in Puerto Rico had been limited by massive immigration.

MIRIAM MONTES-MOCK, Mesa de Trabajo por Ana Belén Montes en Puerto Rico, said Ana Belén Montes was a prisoner of conscience who had been condemned to 25 years in prison for showing solidarity with Cuba, she said, noting that Caribbean islands were fighting in solidarity with each other.  Stressing that Puerto Rico was being discriminated against, she said acts of solidarity by Ms. Belén Montes in defence of Cuba’s solidarity was part of such support.  From the Puerto Rican diaspora, her family had immigrated to the United States.  Ms. Belén Montes had tried to understand the experience of Latin American and Caribbean countries, and crimes perpetrated by the United States.  Born on 28 February 1956 on a military base in Germany, she had studied foreign relations in Virginia, and later pursued studies at George Washington University.  Employed by the Pentagon, she was arrested in 2001 for releasing information and had since lived in a restricted prison.  She now suffered from cancer and had undergone a mastectomy.  She was provided Panadol by fellow prisoners, which was the only treatment she had received.  Her efforts merited the support of all Cubans and Puerto Ricans.

HECTOR BERMUNDEZ ZENON, Grupo por la Igualdad y la Justicia de Puerto Rico, said the Special Committee had reiterated the colonial nature of Puerto Rico over the years, yet the United States had not paid any attention, despite 36 resolutions passed on the topic.  The Financial Oversight and Management Board was a trick by the United States through its Congress, where Puerto Rico did not have representation.  Such colonialism exploited his people.  “They’re millionaire thieves stealing the property of their brothers,” he said.  Like Oscar López Rivera, the people of Puerto Rico must be released.  Before he had become President, Donald Trump had defrauded Puerto Ricans through his golf courses.  The people had elected a man who admitted placing his hand under women’s skirts.  “A Puerto Rican woman, if Trump were to confront her, would give him an appropriate slap,” he said.

JUDY SHERIDAN, President of the New York State Nurses Association, described the impact of colonization on Puerto Rico’s health-care system, including the rise of “diseases of poverty”, which generated a downhill spiral of illness and disability.  Puerto Rico’s poverty was magnified by its political disenfranchisement, which had been a contributing factor in severe environmental destruction.  “Colonizing Governments view the lives of the colonized as having lesser value,” she said, recalling that Puerto Rican women had served as unsuspecting guinea pigs in the 1950s and 1960s as pharmaceutical companies tested the safety of oral contraceptives and that one third of Puerto Rican women between the ages of 20 and 49 had been surgically sterilized without appropriate informed consent.  Today, “medical tourism” speculators had explored the possibility of creating an “organ transplant mecca” in Puerto Rico, citing the availability of healthy organs due to the high death rate of young people.  Puerto Rico had also been used as a testing ground for weapons and military training.  Meanwhile, the United States’ “one-crop economy” policy on the island meant that 90 per cent of its food was imported and the Jones Act continued to foster exorbitant prices for poor quality foodstuffs, she said.

OSBORNE HART, Socialist Workers Party, said a successful struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence from Washington, D.C.’s domination was also in the interests of working people in the United States.  The United States Government and the capitalist ruling class it represented were responsible for the current unprecedented global crisis.  “This disaster comes crashing down harder on Puerto Rico’s working people and others because of its colonial bondage to Washington,” he stressed.  In the United States, workers and farmers also faced attacks by their bosses and their Government.  Describing some of his acts of solidarity with working people — including Puerto Ricans — as the Social Working Party candidate for mayor of New York City, he also vowed to stand with the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican workers forced to migrate to the United States because of the island’s economic catastrophe.  While the ruling class campaigned vigorously to convince Puerto Ricans that their survival depended on Washington, D.C., Cuba’s socialist revolution demonstrated what workers and farmers could accomplish when they organized themselves to take State power out of the hands of the capitalist class.

MARTA M. BUSTILLO, Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios, said schools were being threatened and the current situation must be addressed.  Funding reductions would affect schools’ efforts to help people break out of poverty through education.  She called on the Special Committee to denounce attacks by the colonial Power that threatened health and education services and to recognize that the University of Puerto Rico offered a great service to the population.

MARTHA QUINOÑES DOMÍNGUEZ, Asociación de Economistas de Puerto Rico, said the United States was continuing to assert its control over the island.  She questioned the source of the current debt, pointing out that no audit could be ordered.  The colonial Power had criminalized protest, which was primarily that the debt was impoverishing the people, thus removing Puerto Rico’s opportunity to improve living conditions.  The Government was persecuting the people, she said, pointing to funding reductions for schools, trade laws that favoured foreigners and court decisions that promoted pollution.

AMY RUIZ GOYCO, International Law Students Association, said the reality was that Puerto Rico was today managed by a financial oversight board, created by Congress.  Its colonial status prevented Puerto Rico from properly developing.

ANTONIO CAMACHO, Latino Law Student Association, stressed that Puerto Rico was under extermination; people were leaving, work was disappearing, schools were closing and taxes kept increasing.  The United States had lied to the United Nations and to the world when it stated in 1953 that Puerto Rico was a self-governing State.  A year ago, the United States approved, directed and sponsored a seven-member regime to manage Puerto Rico, which had complete authoritarian power.  The Special Committee had the global responsibility and integrity to ensure equal human rights for all.  For more than 30 years, people had demanded that the issue of Puerto Rico be brought to the General Assembly and that the United Nations accept that Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States, he emphasized.

ANA M. LÓPEZ, “La Coordinadora”, a collective of human rights organizations that freed Oscar López Rivera, recalled that following Mr. López Rivera’s release on 17 May from house arrest his planned participation in the National Puerto Rican Day parade had “ruffled some feathers” of the parade’s corporate sponsors.  A “disgusting millionaire media campaign”, funded by a small elite and backed by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, had also been launched against Mr. López Rivera, aimed at distorting and manipulating the facts and creating such a hostile environment that his life was put in danger.  Meanwhile, she said, the austerity measures imposed on Puerto Rico had amounted to a humanitarian crisis on the island.  “In Puerto Rico and in the Puerto Rican diaspora, Oscar has become an emblematic symbol of freedom and a role model for social justice” due to his strength, perseverance and resilience, she concluded, adding that his release had brought a glimpse of the start of a decolonization process.

JOSÉ M. LOPEZ SIERRA, Compañeros Unidos para la Descolonización de Puerto Rico, said recent events had demonstrated the grim current situation, including corporate boycotts of the Puerto Rico Day parade and decisions that had been made in United States’ courts.  Further, the United Nations had kept Puerto Rico off its list of colonies.  According to international law, the aggressor in the current situation was the United States.

MERCEDES MARTINEZ PADILLA, Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, said 500 years of colonialism had seen Spain and the United States provide education, which had evolved into a systematic process to change the culture, with the English becoming the dominant language in the curriculum.  Changes since the 1940s had given some control over education to Puerto Ricans, which had raised the literacy rate.  Yet, there was no real education philosophy that was in line with Puerto Ricans’ vision, particularly cuts for schools.

JOSELYN SANTOS VALDERRAMA, Juventud Hostosiana, underlined that for more than 500 years, Puerto Rico had been a colony, first under the Spanish flag and for 119 years under the United States Government.  She came from an island with 3.5 million inhabitants, where 45 per cent of the people lived under poverty, where unemployment rates surpassed 12 per cent and where last year 99.5 per cent of the population drank contaminated water.  That crisis had taken root under the colonialism of the United States and to tackle those issues, radical change would be required.  The United States could not remain indifferent, nor ignore the political situation there, she said, adding that it was no longer a political issue, but also a humanitarian one.

CIRILO TIRADO RIVERA, Alianza Patria, Inc., said that, normally, elections attracted approximately 70 per cent of the electorate, yet the recent plebiscite had only seen a 23‑per‑cent voter turnout, thus providing a very unclear representation of the views of all Puerto Ricans.  Puerto Rico was a colony and the United States must take the necessary steps to change that.

FAVIO RAMIREZ-CAMINATTI, El Centro de Immigrante, said thousands of lost jobs and other injustices were among current pressing problems, with the United States further exacerbating the situation with its recent decisions, including establishing a fiscal board that implemented an austerity plan.  Despite the Special Committee’s discussions over the past decade, nothing concrete had happened, he said, calling on it to ensure that a dialogue began with the United States to end colonization.

MONIKA PONTON-ARRINGTON, Indigenous Womens Knowledge, spoke as a Taino woman whose land had been under foreign colonial rule since the fifteenth century.  Noting that those rulers had worked to take away their basic human right “to be who you are”, she voiced support for the 2014 Petition by the National Sovereign State of Boriken to the Secretary-General for full membership in the United Nations, recalling that the Organization’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples guaranteed the rights to self-determination and autonomy, among others.  “We cannot trust the colonizer to protect the interests of the colonized,” she stressed, calling for a representative mechanism to facilitate access to the highest authorities and forums of the international community.  “We must have a voice in the international arena, to speak truth to power, and to hold powerful interests accountable to the basic standards of common decency and human rights,” she said.

JOCELYN VELÁZQUEZ RODRÍGUEZ, Frente Socialista, drew attention to the situation of human rights.  During the past weeks, many cases had been reported of men and women who had been arrested by the Government and detained without legal counsel or access to their families.  The resistance will not be stopped, she said.  There was an urgent need to take the current situation to higher forums to ensure that promises that had been made were fulfilled.

ISMAEL BETANCOURT, JR., Institute for Multicultural Communications, Cooperation and Development, said he believed this month would go down in history as the beginning of the end of the colonization of the Puerto Rican people under United States rule.  He recommended that Puerto Rico, once independent, should remain so for 10 years before choosing any other form of government desired by its people.  For its part, the United States would remove a colonial hole in its democracy and regain its moral standing in the international community, he said.

NELSON ROCHET-SANTORO, Concilio de Veteranos y Soldados de Puerto Rico, said the United States practised a colonial slavery in Puerto Rico, which should cause it shame, as it called itself a defender of liberty.  Stressing that Puerto Rican veterans had fought in war, he said:  “We come before you so that this Committee sends communications to the Government of the United States demanding that it respect resolution 1514 (XV),” the magna carta of decolonization.  He rejected having his country enslaved, which stemmed from the racism of white American power.  “They have made us the victims of colonial slavery,” he said, against which he protested.  “We need the solidarity for the cause of liberation for the Puerto Rican people.”

For information media. Not an official record.