The Special Committee on Decolonization approved today a draft resolution calling upon the United States to assume its responsibility to promote a process to enable the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise their right to self-determination and independence.
Approving the draft resolution “Special Committee decision of 5 August 2020 concerning Puerto Rico” (document A/AC.109/2021/L.7) without a vote, it requested that the General Assembly call again upon the Government of the United States to address the Puerto Rican people’s urgent economic and social needs, which have been aggravated by hurricanes, earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic.
By other terms of that text, the Assembly would note with concern that the already weakened area in which the prevailing political and economic subordination of Puerto Rico operates is reduced further by virtue of the decision by the United States Congress, under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA, which created the Financial Oversight and Management Board.
During the morning meeting on the question of Puerto Rico, delegates called attention to recent developments and the growing demand for independence.
Yashar T. Aliyev (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, highlighted concerns facing the people of Puerto Rico and called for expeditious implementation of the Special Committee’s related resolutions. He further called upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process to allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise fully their inalienable right to self‑determination and independence.
The Special Committee — formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples — also heard from 18 petitioners from Puerto Rico.
Many petitioners expressed concern about the Financial Oversight and Management Board appointed by the United States, which oversees the payment of Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt. Some said the fiscal board only serves the interests of the United States, and that its policies have triggered worsening social and economic conditions in the Territory. Highlighting examples of such negative consequences, exacerbated by the pandemic, several petitioners called upon the Special Committee to do its part to speed up the decolonization process.
Edwin Ortiz, speaking for the Call to Action on Puerto Rico, said the colonial crisis is growing ever more dire. Privatization initiatives like LUMA Energy are exploiting natural resources, tourists are refusing to adhere to COVID‑19 restrictions and United States-based non-governmental organizations are delivering services that the territorial Government should be providing, he noted. At the same time, the United States Congress is currently discussing Puerto Rico’s status while the “empire” continues to ignore the aspirations of the people, he said.
Manuel Rivera, speaking for Puertorriqueños Unidos En Acción, cautioned against thinking that the election of a Democratic President of the United States will advance the decolonization process. Recalling that both Democrats and Republicans have treated Puerto Rico like a private hacienda for many years, he emphasized that serious discussions on the issue will only begin when the United States delegation to the United Nations participates in the Special Committee’s work and when colonialism is eradicated around the world.
Martin Koppel, speaking for the Socialist Workers Party, said the disastrous response to the pandemic by the United States has only magnified assaults on working people in Puerto Rico, including deep cuts to jobs, pensions and hard-won protections, in order to repay $74 billion to wealthy American bondholders. Working people in the United States are increasingly convinced that they cannot be free as long as Washington, D.C., maintains its colonial bondage over the Territory, he added.
Sonia Negron, speaking for Herminia Health, said Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status stymies all attempts at self-determination. The United Nations has turned a blind eye and must now recognize the human rights of Puerto Rico’s people, including their right to decide their own future, she emphasized.
John Melendez Rivera, speaking for the Frente Independentista Boricua, which represents the Puerto Rican diaspora, noted that the colonizers control the economy, media and education systems, while the Territory is subjected to ethnic cleansing and genocide amid an influx of outsiders. He called upon the United States to stop violating international law, engage in a decolonization process and transfer all sovereign powers to the Puerto Rican people.
The Special Committee also heard the following petitioners: ProLibertad Freedom Campaign; Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana; Asociación Americana de Juristas (American Association of Jurists); Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano; Puerto Rican Independence Party; Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins; Frente Socialista; El Grito; Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, Movimiento Libertador; Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; New York Boricua Resistance; Vidas Viequenses Valen; Representative at Large MVC; and Movimiento Union Soberanista.
Also speaking today were representatives of Mexico (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 24 June, to continue its work.
Question of Puerto Rico
MARTÍN KOPPEL, speaking for the Socialist Workers Party, said that assaults on working people in Puerto Rico and the United States have been magnified by the disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic by the capitalist rulers in Washington, D.C., and San Juan. Jobs, pensions and hard-won protections in Puerto Rico are being slashed to pay back $74 billion to wealthy American bondholders, he added. Noting that working people in the United States are increasingly convinced that they cannot be free as long as Washington, D.C., maintains its colonial bondage over the Territory, he said Cuba is a powerful example of how society can be transformed in the interests of the vast majority rather than those of the capitalist class.
BENJAMIN RAMOS, speaking for the ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, said it is an irrefutable fact that Puerto Rico is a colony and the victim of United States exploitation and manipulation. Most recently, the nation is protesting LUMA Energy, a United States-Canada joint venture to privatize local services that will create more unemployment, greater dependence on fossil fuels and higher electricity prices, he noted. Turning to the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act now before the United States Congress, he described the idea that a colonial Power should control the mechanism for self-determination as “ridiculous and dangerous” emphasizing that the ProLibertad Freedom Campaign opposes that bill and will not be thwarted by so-called statehood campaigns. He went on to call for Puerto Rico’s independence.
SONIA NEGRON, Herminia Health, said that the United States Supreme Court does not fully protect human rights in Puerto Rico and the United Nations has turned a blind eye. The Territory’s current commonwealth status stymies all attempts at self-determination, she noted, emphasizing that it is time for the United Nations to recognize the human rights of the people of Puerto Rico and their right to self-determination.
EDWIN ORTIZ, Call to Action on Puerto Rico, said the colonial crisis, including the LUMA Energy initiative and other efforts to privatize resources, is growing ever more dire. In addition, tourists refuse to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions, while United States-based non-governmental organizations provide services that the territorial government should be providing, she said. At the same time, the United States Congress is currently discussing Puerto Rico’s status while the empire continues to ignore the aspirations of the people, he added.
JOHN MELENDEZ RIVERA, speaking for the Frente Independentista Boricua, which represents the Puerto Rican diaspora, said the oppressive colonial situation in the commonwealth is manifested in communities across the United States. The economy, media and education systems are completely in the hands of the colonizers he noted, adding that the Territory is being subjected to ethnic cleansing and genocide amid an influx of outsiders. Puerto Rico identifies as a Latin American nation, he emphasized, calling upon the United States to stop violating international law, remove hurdles to self-determination, engage in a process of decolonization and transfer all sovereign powers to the Puerto Rican people.
MANUEL RIVERA, speaking for the Puertorriqueños Unidos En Acción, cautioned that it would be a mistake to think that the election of a Democratic President in the United States will carry the decolonization process forward. Recalling that both Democrats and Republicans have treated Puerto Rico like a private hacienda for many years, he emphasized that serious discussion on that question will only begin when the United States delegation to the United Nations participates in the work of the Special Committee and when colonialism is eradicated from the face of the earth.
MANUEL NATAL ALBELO, speaking for the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana, said his generation has felt the worst effects of past policies. Indeed, none of the supposed virtues of the pact-based relationship with the United States are evident, he added. For instance, he pointed out, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico comprises members appointed by the United States who serve the vultures of Wall Street and Washington, D.C. He went on to note that, amid the Puerto Rican people’s demand for decolonization, schools have closed and resources have been privatized, emphasizing that, despite declarations by the United Nations, it is now up the Puerto Ricans to discuss their future and put an end to the colonial situation.
VANESSA RAMOS, speaking for the American Association of Jurists (Asociación Americana de Juristas), presented recommendations, saying action is needed in a number of areas, including the privatization of resources. The right to public education is being violated, with the elimination of courses at universities and increasing tuition costs, she noted. In addition, the United States Navy has caused land contamination that continues to affect the people’s health. Those and other matters must be resolved urgently, she emphasized, reiterating that the United Nations must play its important role in ensuring the rights of Puerto Rico’s people.
ALEJANDRO TORRES-RIVERA, representing the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, requested that the Special Committee support a decolonization process that is inclusive, informed and democratic. The Puerto Rican people, especially the most vulnerable, should have access to balanced and complete information about international resources that could support the Territory’s transition to a sovereign State, he said. Instead of pressuring them with its economic, military and intelligence power, the United States should begin a genuine dialogue on decolonization, with the General Assembly paying urgent attention to the question, he emphasized.
JUAN DALMAU, representing the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said the colonial experience of the United States in Puerto Rico has failed, adding that it was never viable, and its harmful consequences can be seen today. The actions of the Fiscal Control Board have further impoverished Puerto Rico as multimillionaires from the United States buy up properties and displace entire communities, he noted. However, there are winds of change in Puerto Rico, he said, pointing to growing support for his party and appealing for greater international support going forward.
WALTER ALOMAR, speaking for the Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins, said Puerto Rico should be a free nation, adding that appearing before the Special Committee again represents a failure to take action in that regard. For years, petitioners have pleaded and demanded action, but it seems impossible to move the issue beyond the conference room, he noted. Puerto Rico should be compensated for past wrongs, he said, citing such colonial burdens as tax breaks for elites while Puerto Ricans live without electricity. That is modern-day slavery, he declared, saying the answer to the problem is simple: remove Puerto Rico’s colonial status as property of the United States. “We are not a token on your Monopoly game board,” he stressed.
ESTELI CAPOTE, speaking for the Frente Socialista, said the United States is economically strangling Puerto Rico through such measures as privatizing electricity. Citing several other examples, he said United States investors enjoy Law 2022, which gives them local advantages as the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico manages the Territory’s affairs. In addition, United States policies on COVID-19 resulted in students missing a year of school, among things. He called upon the Special Committee to ensure that the question of Puerto Rico is considered as an international matter and not a national one, as the United States would like it to be portrayed.
MICHAEL VIEIRA, speaking for El Grito, delivered his statement as a poem, saying that deception, lies, exploitation and subjugation are the cornerstones of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. It is time for accountability and the truth, he said, pointing out that “snakes are making deals” and lining their pockets while schools, hospitals, water supply and electrical grid are privatized. What if a colonizer came into your house, beat you, then put a pacifier into your mouth to silence you, he wondered, stressing that “Puerto Rico libre” is the path that must be taken.
GERARDO LUGO SEGARRA, speaking for the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, Movimiento Libertador, said the laws imposed by the imperial Government on Puerto Rico are aimed at preserving its own interests, adding that elections and referendums in the Territory have only guaranteed the perpetuation of colonization. While Puerto Rico deals with growing poverty, COVID-19, earthquakes and hurricanes, thousands of foreigners are coming from outside to establish businesses which do not benefit its people, he noted, emphasizing that the international community must find a solution to that situation.
TRILCE TORRES LÓPEZ, speaking for the Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, requested that the Special Committee provide support for independence, expressing hope that the approval of the approval of the 2021 draft resolution will go beyond paper. Emphasizing that the United Nations must deal with the question of Puerto Rico with a sense of urgency, she described colonialism as a social emergency and a humanitarian crisis, and demanded action to address the dire conditions facing Puerto Ricans. The establishment of self-government is a farce, adding that the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico is only concerned with the repayment of debt. Citing its exploitation of natural resources and slashing of public services, she said the Special Committee must now urge the General Assembly to declare that the United States is in flagrant violation of international law.
GABRIELA MALESPIN, speaking for the New York Boricua Resistance, said decolonization is not a debate, but a necessity, noting that colonialism continues to suffocate the people of Puerto Rico through austerity measures and other actions. The fiscal board is a pretext to serve Wall Street, she noted, drawing attention to such injustices as generous tax breaks for corporations at a time when no funds were allocated for COVID-19 testing. Decolonization is not annexation either, as that would not right past wrongs, she said, emphasizing that true decolonization requires cancelling debt, dissolving the fiscal board and establishing independence, among other things.
MYRNA PAGAN, speaking for Vidas Viequenses Valen, described the situation on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques following the closure of a United States Navy training range, saying deadly toxins, such as Agent Orange and depleted uranium, continue to claim the lives of local people. They include a 13-year-old girl who was unable to access proper medical care in January, she recalled, emphasizing that the time for justice for Vieques is now. She went on to call for the construction of a fully equipped hospital, adequate maritime transportation and the Navy’s completion of detonation chambers to deal with the remaining unexploded ordnance.
MARIANA NOGALES-MOLINELLI, speaking for the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana, said that the 2016 enactment of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, which created the Fiscal Control Board, accelerated the dismantling of Puerto Rican structures that had been under way for several years. She described the idea of fiscal responsibility as a farce, explaining that the Board’s actions are guided by an ideology of privatization geared towards consumption and debt-driven austerity. Decolonization cannot be postponed and must start urgently, she emphasized.
MARIA DE LOURDES GUZMAN, speaking for the Movimiento Union Soberanista, demanded a just process of decolonization following almost the century-long military occupation of Puerto Rico. Despite three decades of appearing before the Special Committee, she noted, petitioners continue their calls for independence, but the United States has used as a subterfuge the farcical claim that the Territory already enjoys self-government. Instead, the United States continues to undermine any attempt towards independence, she said, pointing to recent discussions in Congress. The Government of the United States is acting immorally and illegally, she said, recalling that the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act sought to impose a fiscal board which has led to increased poverty and deteriorating living conditions.
YASHAR T. ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for expeditious implementation of the Special Committee’s resolutions on Puerto Rico. He recalled that, at the Movement’s 2019 summit in Baku, its Heads of State and Government expressed concern about the political subordination of the Puerto Rican people, the humanitarian crises they faced in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria, and the fiscal control board imposed on the territorial government by the United States Congress. The Movement calls upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process to allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, he said.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said the question of Puerto Rico is of interest to member countries. Recalling that CELAC Heads of State and Government highlighted the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico at the Summit of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in 2017, he emphasized that member countries are committed to continue working, within the framework of international law, particularly General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), to rid the region of colonialism and colonies.
ASBINA MARIN SEVILLA (Venezuela), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement and CELAC, expressed support for the legitimate aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico to freely decide their political, economic, social and cultural future. The pandemic has only exacerbated such problems as poverty, debt and migration, she noted. Affirming the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico, she called upon the United States to speed up the process to make the Territory free, independent and sovereign, while also calling for the return of land occupied by military forces.
JASSER JIMÉNEZ (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and CELAC, said Puerto Rico’s colonial status has been clearly laid out by the Special Committee through several resolutions. The Territory requires both solidarity and support, as it cannot be an exception to the process of freedom and independence in the Caribbean, he said, emphasizing that it has every right to develop as an independent country and to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
JUAN MARCELO ZAMBRANA TORRELIO (Bolivia), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, emphasized the need to ensure the self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico so they can peacefully exercise their right to independence. Calling upon Special Committee members to recognize that right, he also called for the full implementation of the General Assembly resolution relating to the fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2021-2030).
PEDRO LUIS PEDROSO CUESTA (Cuba) noted that, since the Special Committee’s last debate on Puerto Rico, the economic and social situation in the Territory has deteriorated dramatically, with an economic downturn and a $167.8 billion public debt that cannot be repaid without sacrificing basic education, health care and public security. The military presence of the United States, meanwhile, has grown as part of that country’s plan to intervene in Venezuela, he said. Emphasizing Cuba’s commitment to the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self‑determination and independence, he said resolving that question is not an internal issue for the United States, but one that falls within the purview of the Special Committee and the international community.
The representative of Cuba, also speaking on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria and the Russian Federation, introduced the draft resolution “Special Committee decision of 5 August 2020 concerning Puerto Rico” (document A/AC.109/2021/L.7). Urging the international community to act promptly towards decolonization, he said the draft reaffirms the Territory’s inalienable right to self-determination. Its current status prevents its people from addressing their needs and defining their future, he added. The text also addresses the question of the fiscal board established by the United States and takes note of the decision by that country’s Supreme Court that Congress has the final word on Puerto Rico’s independence.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.