Special Committee on Decolonization
5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)
Special Committee on Decolonization Passes Text Urging General Assembly to Consider Formally Situation Concerning Puerto Rico
Draft Resolution Calls on United States to Expedite Island’s Self-Determination
The Special Committee on Decolonization today approved a draft resolution calling on the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their right to self-determination and independence, and for the General Assembly formally to consider the situation concerning Puerto Rico, which the world body had not formally taken up since the Territory’s removal from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1953.
Pleading their case before the Special Committee.., more than 30 petitioners called on the international community to recognize the Territory’s colonial status, and for both the United Nations and the United States to acknowledge the Puerto Rico Constitutional Assembly as a valid procedural mechanism for decolonization. As explained in the relevant report of the Special Committee, the United States considered the island to have decided freely and democratically to enter into free association with it, and was therefore beyond the purview of United Nations consideration.
With Puerto Rico’s removal from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, a representative of the United States to the United Nations had indicated orally that changes in the relationship could be made through mutual consent (?? OTR ).
However, a majority of petitioners expressed dissatisfaction today with the commonwealth’s treatment by the United States arguing that the administering Power was hampering Puerto Rican decolonization initiatives and those of civil society. While many praised the Special Committee for having approved numerous draft resolutions urging action by the United States, they rued the fact that the General Assembly had yet to open a debate on the situation concerning Puerto Rico, which had allowed the United States to continue acting as a colonizing Power over a country with its own cultural identity.
Cuba’s representative, who tabled the draft resolution, noted that the Special Committee had already approved 28 texts on Puerto Rico in the span of 30 years, to little effect. Action on Puerto Rico’s status should be based on decolonization alternatives enshrined in international law, he emphasized, echoing the sentiment of many other speakers.
One petitioner, a representative of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, expressed deep opposition to plebiscites that asked the people to consider, among its many options, the choice of prolonging colonialism, in contravention of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Like others, he appealed to the Special Committee to persuade the General Assembly to open its doors on the situation concerning Puerto Rico, and to the United Nations to generate international pressure to help the island’s decolonization.
Offering evidence of various forms of discrimination practised by the United States against Puerto Rico, several speakers drew parallels between the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the kind of environmental and social abuse their island faced at the hands of “imperial power”. For example, the military invasion by the United States had led to the pollution of hundreds of acres of land with toxic waste, one petitioner said. Just as President Barack Obama required the oil company BP to take responsibility for the damage it had caused, the United States Government must do the same in Puerto Rico by acknowledging the commonwealth’s Charter and recognizing its right to self-determination.
He went on to say that imperialism had destroyed the island’s once-thriving economy, noting that the unemployment rate currently stood at 17 per cent, while 48 per cent of its citizens relied on federal welfare and 67 per cent lived below the poverty line. Given its deteriorating agriculture sector, Puerto Rico had become completely dependent, currently importing 85 per cent of its necessities from the United States.
Several petitioners also praised the victorious outcome of a massive student strike in Puerto Rico, which had succeeded in fighting off attempts by the University of Puerto Rico to cut back financial aid and increase the cost of education. The way in which the students had deliberated, exchanged views and posed their arguments was a good model to bring forth independence, one youth representative said.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m... Tuesday, 22 June, when it is expected to hear petitioners from Western Sahara and New Caledonia, and to action on draft resolutions relating to those two Territories. It was also expected to take up an “omnibus” resolution covering 11 Non-Self-Governing Territories.
The Special Committee on Decolonization met today to consider a report on the Special Committee decision of 15 June 2009 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/64/L.4), and a related draft resolution (document A/AC.109/64/L.8).
Presented by the Rapporteur, the report states that the island Territory has commonwealth status, with the United States Congress holding plenary power over Puerto Rico, which is vested with local authority over designated areas. The Territory is represented in the United States Government by a Resident Commissioner, who is a non-voting member of the House of Representatives, but a voting member of any committees on which he or she sits. United States citizenship is granted to people born in Puerto Rico, but they do not have the right to vote in presidential or congressional elections unless they reside on the mainland.
According to the report, the United States has maintained since 1953 that Puerto Rico decided freely and democratically to enter into free association with it and is therefore beyond the purview of United Nations consideration. The representative of the United States to the United Nations at the time indicated orally that changes in the relationship could be made through mutual consent, yet as recently as June 2008, the then Governor of Puerto Rico denounced this reality during hearings of the Special Committee. In June 2009, the Special Committee held a meeting with organizations requesting to be heard on Puerto Rico, but did not submit a draft resolution on the issue to the Assembly.
The report says several plebiscites have been held to determine what Puerto Ricans think the island’s status should be, sometimes with controversial outcomes. According to a 1993 plebiscite, for example, 48.4 per cent wished to retain the status quo, with close to 46.2 per cent preferring statehood and 4 per cent wanting independence. In 1998, however, when a local political party introduced a “None of the above” option, 50.4 per cent of those voting supported it, prompting President Bill Clinton to create the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status in response. The Task Force recognized only three choices for Puerto Ricans: the status quo; statehood; or independence.
In May 2009, a bill titled “The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009” was tabled in Congress, which, if enacted, would provide for a choice between retaining the present political status or choosing a new one, the report says. If the first option prevailed, the question would be revisited in eight years. If the second option prevailed, another plebiscite would follow, presenting the options of statehood, independence, or independence in free association with the United States. In July 2009, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved the draft bill, which was placed on the Union Calendar of the United States Congress in October 2009. The press in Puerto Rico reported widely that on 2 January 2009, President-elect Barack Obama sent a message to the swearing-in ceremony for Luis Fortuño, the new Governor of Puerto Rico, reiterating his intention to try and resolve the colonial case of Puerto Rico during his first term.
The report notes that apart from general political questions, three specific issues have been raised before the Special Committee in recent years: the United States military presence in Puerto Rico, particularly on the island of Vieques; the imprisonment in the United States of pro-independence Puerto Ricans accused of seditious conspiracy and weapons possession; and the application of the death penalty to Puerto Ricans convicted on federal charges. The issue of growing political persecution has also been raised.
On the western portion of Vieques, the United States Navy operated an ammunition facility until 1948, reactivating it in 1962 until its final closure in 2001, the report continues. The Navy also managed approximately 14,600 acres on the eastern portion of Vieques, where it detonated explosives. Unexploded ordnance and remnants of exploded ordnance containing hazardous substances have been identified there as well as in the surrounding waters.
The report states that in the 2007 lawsuit Sánchez v. United States, Vieques residents collectively seek health and property damages amounting to billions of dollars, claiming that the United States Navy was negligent in exposing the island’s 10,000-strong population to dangerous levels of toxins for more than 50 years, which led to a cancer rate 30 times higher than that of the rest of Puerto Rico, in addition to other long-term effects.
By the terms of the draft resolution on the Special Committee decision of 15 June 2009 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/64/L.8), the General Assembly would call upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in accordance and full compliance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the resolutions and decisions of the Special Committee concerning Puerto Rico.
Referring to the use of Vieques Island for military exercises over 60 years, and noting the inhabitants’ complaints about the use of open burning for clean-up, the text would have the Assembly urge the United States Government to cover the costs of clean-up and decontamination, which should be carried out in ways that do not aggravate the health of island inhabitants or the environment.
Also by the draft, the Assembly would express serious concern about actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters, and request the President of the United States to release Oscar Lopez Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres, imprisoned for more than 28 years, as well as Avelino Gonzalez Claudio, all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences relating to the struggle for the Territory’s independence.
ARTURO L. HERNANDEZ GONZALEZ of the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico said the group was one of the Territory’s oldest civilian institutions and the oldest professional body in the Western hemisphere. Remarking that the United Nations was still struggling to eliminate colonialism at the end of the Second International Decade, even as his own people remained under its yoke, he urged the Special Committee to treat their case with the importance it deserved. By its lack of attention, the United States Government was hampering decolonization initiatives by civil society and the people of Puerto Rico, he said, noting that the outcomes of plebiscites were being ignored.
He also denounced United States persecution of Puerto Rican citizens through aggression against journalists and even “fabricated” cases aimed against people fighting for independence. Federal territorial authorities had accused two former Governors of wrongdoing, indicating that the United States had its own de facto representatives in the Puerto Rican Government to act against the island’s best interests. The Territory was also hampered economically by its inability to enter into international and bilateral agreements to mitigate the effects of the global economic crisis. It was not allowed to develop its transportation sector at its ports because of the presence of the United States Navy, and thousands of people in Government and the private sector had lost their jobs.
Capital punishment was being imposed on the Territory’s citizens, he said, adding that the body of lawyers in Puerto Rico was urging that the Constitutional Assembly be used as the proper mechanism for decolonization. What remained was for the United States to shoulder its responsibility to refrain from hampering the process, and to acknowledge Puerto Rico’s right to convene the Constitutional Assembly. Since the Special Committee had been created to defend human rights and eliminate colonialism, it should condemn the United States for its actions and urge the General Assembly to act on the issue without delay, he stressed.
IVAN A. RIVERA REYES, of the Puerto Rican civil society organization PROELA, recalled that the General Assembly had proclaimed 2001-2010 the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, and said Puerto Rico was a “symbolic case” in that regard. In 1953, the Assembly had taken no action on what had then been a new situation. Since then, the United States Congress had continued to exercise power over the island, ignoring its international obligations. The recurrent appointment of various committees by the administering Power was intended to show others that “things were being done” to resolve the issue, but to no end.
Instead of submitting its second report to the Human Rights Commissioner on the issue, Congress had chosen to debate a draft without making concrete progress, he said. While the White House maintained a team to craft the report, President Obama had made no attempt to respect the promise to produce one. The Puerto Rican people, acting to defend their economic, political and social rights, had suffered persecution at the hand of federal agencies, he said, adding that there had been attempts to impose capital punishment through the Territory’s federal authorities.
He went on to state that the United States took unilateral decisions whose consequences ranged from affecting the price of milk to influencing the results of domestic elections, such as when it had groundlessly accused a Governor of wrongdoing. There was a need for creative solutions to eliminate the colonial situation of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, of which Puerto Rico was an example, he said, calling on the Special Committee to acknowledge the validity of the Constitutional Assembly and to request an opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Territory. He asked the Special Committee to examine ways to facilitate independence or other options for self-determination in Puerto Rico.
MANUEL RIVERA, President of Puertorriqueña Unidos En Accion (PUA), said decolonization for one of the world’s oldest colonies remained unachieved while the colonizers created obstacles to the achievement of sovereignty. Recalling the ways in which the United States Government compelled the Territory to submit to colonization by consent, he said discussion of the Territory’s situation should be conducted before the Special Committee, in order to resolve it once and for all.
It was also necessary to transfer sovereign power so as to allow the Territory’s people to exercise their right of self-determination, he continued. Any efforts undertaken to permit that should guarantee a constituent assembly to assist in deciding the political future. Furthermore, there must also be guarantees on the freeing of political prisoners fighting for independence. Given that the island had been subjected to more than 500 years of anti-colonial battles, it could not longer stand to be the result of mistakes, he said.
OMAR LOPEZ of Alianza pro Libre Asociación Soberana, recalling that resolution 1541 established the right of free association, noted that at least one of the several Member States that had come into existence through the exercise of free association should be a member of the Special Committee. Since little time was left, it was to be hoped that President Obama would stick to his word and address the situation during his first term.
Turning to the Special Committee’s work, he called its lack of activity “regrettable”, saying it prohibited the situation from being considered by the Assembly, which created feelings of abandonment on the part of the Territory’s citizens. A lack of urgency and diligence only served to perpetuate the island’s colonial status, taking away the soul and will of the people, he said, calling for a clear deadline for discussions as well as one for initiating a process of decolonization. Sanctions should be imposed on the United States unless it complied with such a process, he emphasized.
NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, said the United Nations should focus on the fundamental problem, which was one of legal and moral rights, and which was up to the United States Congress to resolve. The United States Government had awarded citizenship to Puerto Rican people, but the island’s administration remained colonial in nature. While United States citizens had the same rights no matter where they lived, that was not the case for Puerto Ricans, she said, pointing out that its people had shed blood in that country’s wars. They had worked hand-in-hand with other Americans in every aspect of American life. A vast majority of Puerto Ricans wanted statehood and Congress to implement their rights. They also wanted representation in the House and Senate, as well as the right to elect the President.
Asserting that the last Governor had been “lying to the Puerto Rican people and United States Congress”, she said fraud had been perpetrated in the last elections. Pointing out that her new book, Life-Saving Recipes, had sold three million copies, she said she was known to have helped more people than United States politicians, and had won an award for being the best teacher in the United States, of which she was proud. By becoming a state, Puerto Ricans would not pay additional taxes, as some leaders in Puerto Rico had argued. “Statehood” was a beautiful word, she said, adding that she would seek thousands of signatures on a petition for statehood.
JOSÉ ADAMES, Puerto Rican Cultural and Literary Organization, described the Territory as the fifty-first of the United States and said it had suffered discrimination for more than 100 years. When Puerto Rican people had been declared United States citizens, it had been thought that it was merely a matter of time before an announcement of statehood, as had been the case for Hawaii and Alaska. However, while those two other territories had later been declared states, Puerto Rico had not. It had eventually been allowed to elect its own Governor, but other forms of discrimination remained, despite the fact that the Territory had more people than Alaska.
Recalling that Puerto Ricans had been recruited to fight in the United States armed forces since the Second World War, he said more of them had died in that country’s wars than citizens from its other states. Half the Puerto Rican population lived in the United States, and many army reservists and retirees were Puerto Ricans, and many other American institutions had Puerto Ricans within their ranks. For its part, Cuba was using the case to distract the United Nations from the quest to create a free world, he said.
The representative of Cuba intervened to emphasize that Puerto Rico and Cuba both harboured “annexists” who opposed independence, sometimes openly and sometimes covertly, but since the issue in question was Puerto Rico and not Cuba, the Chair was urged to ask speakers to keep to the issue at hand.
Mr. ADAMES agreed to desist from mentioning other countries, and went on to stress that Puerto Ricans wanted their own senators and congressmen to represent them in the United States legislature, and they also wished to participate in electing the President of the United States. It was time for the Special Committee to put on its agenda other cases involving people who lived without freedom, and for the United States Congress to “stop playing games”.
FERNANDO J. MARTIN, Puerto Rican Independence Party, thanked the delegation that that had put forward the draft resolution on the situation concerning Puerto Rico, and called on other members of the Special Committee to support the text. He said the heads of the socialist movements in Panama and Argentina would be appearing at the meeting later, signifying the readiness of the Latin America and Caribbean region to assert its continental identity in ways extending beyond the narrow ideological barriers of the past. The draft resolution would encourage the United States to eliminate colonialism, in accordance with international law, and to condemn the repression of independence movements.
He went on to say that the text called for the release of political prisoners in the United States, and of no less importance, it called on the General Assembly to examine the case of Puerto Rico in all its aspects. In addition to insisting on the urgency of the need to decolonize Puerto Rico, it presented a “warning” against a recently adopted bill, which constituted a “farce” by seeking to offer the continuation of colonialism as an alternative for self-determination. The United Nations must generate international pressure to decolonize Puerto Rico, he said, emphasizing that the Independence Party was deeply opposed to plebiscites that contemplated prolonging colonialism, contrary to resolution 1514. The Special Committee must work to open the doors of the General Assembly to Puerto Rico’s case, he stressed.
HECTOR PESQUERA SEVILLANO, Acting President of the Comision Internacional, said the overall ecological and economical damage resulting from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could not compare to the economic and social damage caused by Puerto Rico’s colonization by the United States. Throughout history, the wave of imperialism had destroyed the island’s once-thriving economy, he said, noting that the unemployment rate currently stood at 17 per cent, while 48 per cent of the Territory’s citizens relied on federal welfare and 67 per cent lived below the poverty line. Given its deteriorating agriculture sector, the island had become completely dependent, currently importing 85 per cent of its necessities from the United States.
The military invasion by the United States had not only led to the pollution of hundreds of acres of land with toxic waste, it had also condemned the Territory to dependency and crushed its people’s self-esteem, he continued. The serious economic and social damage wreaked by the administering Power had led to the issuance of a $60,000,000,000 public debt and caused the mass exodus of more than 4 million people. Just as President Obama required BP to take responsibility for the damage it had caused, the United States Government must do the same in Puerto Rico by acknowledging the Charter and recognizing the island’s right to self-determination. Inviting the Special Committee to visit Puerto Rico and directly view its critical colonial situation, he urged it to shoulder its responsibility to present the case to the General Assembly.
EDUARDO VILLAÑUEVA MUNOZ, El Comite de Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, said 2010 was a significant year, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Puerto Rican case. The United States Congress was trying to develop, as an alternative to plebiscites, the continuation of the status quo, which was a devious ploy to interfere with the self-determination movement. In fact, no amendment could be made to the Puerto Rican Constitution if it was seen to be incompatible with the United States Constitution, the Federal Relations Act and other such congressional acts, which demonstrated Puerto Rico’s colonial status.
In 1952, a resolution calling on the United States to end the colonial regime, had been denounced by many in Puerto Rico as a monumental hoax, he said, urging President Obama to listen to his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Rigoberta Manchu and Desmond Tutu, who had called for a true attempt to enable Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to self-determination. Other examples of conditions imposed on the island against the will of Puerto Ricans included: poisoning the environment; instituting the death penalty against Puerto Ricans; phone tapping; and federalizing the criminal processes in Puerto Rico.
Calling upon President Obama to respect Puerto Rico and its sovereignty, and to allow Puerto Ricans to join the rest of the world, he said the President could not very well call for the release of political prisoners in other countries when he held political prisoners himself. Perhaps the President and the Special Committee delegates present today should take inspiration from the President’s own words, to the effect that sinful situations should be fought. Establishing a colonial regime was a sinful act which Puerto Ricans would fight until their last breath, he declared.
JAN SUSLER, National Lawyer’s Guild International Committee, said the organization had been formed as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which at one time did not admit people of colour. Since its founding, it had maintained an internationalist perspective and its Guild members had a long history of defending Puerto Rican activists. Recalling that both houses of Congress had recently considered legislation proposed by the non-voting Resident Commissioner on Puerto Rico’s colonial status, she said that, while a fellow proponent had made clear that it was not meant as an invitation for Puerto Rico to become the fifty-first state, it had been widely seen as promoting that very result.
As for the plebiscites, the outcomes of which were non-binding, she said the island’s main daily newspaper — traditionally conservative on the status question — had denounced them as an insensitive charade that continued to lacerate the self-esteem and collective sprit of the Puerto Rican people. Congressional process did not begin to approach compliance with the Special Committee’s resolutions, she said, pointing out that there was, in fact, no formal office of the United States Government charged with administering the Territory. The President’s Task Force held poorly attended sessions to hear handpicked witnesses, she said.
Certain processes undertaken by the colonial administration threatened the movement toward self-determination, she continued. The pro-statehood side had initiated policies causing thousands of Government employees to be laid off, and giving themselves emergency powers to effect fiscal measures. It had packed
the legislature with loyal pro-statehood members, attempted to do away with the Puerto Rican Bar Association, threatened to privatize the higher education system, slashed the budgets of institutions that preserved and promulgate Puerto Rican culture, moved against a squatter community of immigrants, displaced other workers and squandered public money.
Urging the Special Committee to visit the Puerto Rico, she described the popular resistance on the island to human rights violations, including through stoppages and strikes, which enjoyed broad participation by labour and other sectors of society. She also described some positive developments: the longest held political prisoner in the United States, a Puerto Rican, had recently been granted parole. However, prison officials had rejected a request by another long-serving prisoner to visit his sister on her deathbed, she added, asking the Special Committee to do what it had always done in the past, through its 28 resolutions.
WILMA REVERÓN COLLAZO, COPRONU, underlining the continuing necessity for the United States to decontaminate and clean up the island of Vieques, called for more proactive international support, saying the United States had “built a wall” around the Territory, impeding its participation in dialogue with the international community.
It was clear that the United States did not take recurrent calls for action seriously, she said, adding that the reasons for such conduct were obvious: previous pronouncements had no effect unless followed up by action, without which the United States had been allowed to “sweep the case under the carpet”. Since several fraudulent actions by the administering Power had gone without consequence, it was imperative to put the situation concerning Puerto Rico to the General Assembly, she said, urging the Special Committee to amend its outreach materials and break the wall of silence created by the United States. The Special Committee must not make itself an accomplice through silence.
MANUEL LAGUARDA, Vice-President, Partido Socialista del Uruguay, expressed, on behalf of citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean, full support and backing for Puerto Rico’s case, citing its continuing colonial status as an affront to all countries in the region. He called on the General Assembly to consider the case comprehensively, and urged the United States to begin a process that would allow for the Territory’s people to exercise their right to self-determination and independence.
Colonial arguments could not be adopted by consent, he pointed out, emphasizing that any resolution must be adopted by the people of the island and uphold their right to call for independence. In effort to involve Puerto Rico in the national endeavours of Latin American and Caribbean countries, he called on all Governments in the region to coordinate their initiatives to assist in getting the situation concerning Puerto Rico considered by the General Assembly.
MARTIN TORRIJOS, Comite de la Internacional Socialista para America Latina y el Caribe, said the rhetoric long used by those opposing the anti-colonial movement had the effect of framing the matter as being anti-United States. However, with the ending of the cold war, anti-Americanism was no longer a valid excuse for those opposing colonialism. Culturally, Puerto Rico was a Latin American country globally recognized as a major source of Hispanic culture.
The Special Committee had itself stated that fact many times, as it called for the United States to set in motion a process by which Puerto Ricans could exercise their self-determination, he recalled. Indeed, for more than 20 years, the situation concerning Puerto Rico had been restated in numerous resolutions adopted by consensus without any objection from any Member State. Puerto Rico was the only Hispanic American nation under a colonial regime, and correcting that anomaly was a matter of principle. He said his Committee stood ready to offer its good offices towards that process, which would also be valid for other peoples in the region seeking that same goal.
RICHARD LOPEZ, El Frente Patriotico Arecibeno, addressed the matter of scientific experiments conducted in the upper atmosphere which used nuclear explosions to deflect radiation back into space. Citing a report which documented the effects of the explosions, which were harmful to both people and the environment, he said the United States carried them out “with full intent”, and they constituted “an act of environmental terrorism”, since particles emitted as a result of the experiments were loaded with nuclear radiation.
Among other experiments producing the same effect were geo-engineering experiments to relieve global warming by producing seed clouds, he continued, noting that they had been brought to the attention of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since they contravened rules prohibiting the use of arms to affect the climate. As a colony, however, Puerto Rico could not take part in such international meetings, yet the military installations on the island were comparable to those in Poland, with its anti-missile shields. Such activities violated Puerto Ricans’ right to life and affected their environment, he said.
PAULA SANTIAGO, El Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, Movimiento Libertador, expressed hope that, with the help of the world’s free countries, Puerto Rico would regain its sovereignty. The Special Committee had examined the situation since the adoption of resolution 1514. Since then, the United States Government had consistently been urged to allow Puerto Ricans their right to self-determination, she said, calling also for the release of political prisoners and an end to the persecution of pro-independence fighters. She expressed concern that after approving several draft resolutions, the Special Committee had still not placed the matter before the General Assembly.
The United States continued to exploit and dominate the Territory, making it aid-dependent, she said, pointing out that federal funding for Puerto Rico amounted to several hundred million dollars, while the Territory’s own economic revenue ran only into the tens of millions. United States-based companies carried out their trade throughout the island, in a situation of unbridled exploitation typical of colonialism. Last June, the private sector had been forced to lay off thousands of workers, she said, noting that, in the meantime, the United States Government had successfully avoided reporting on its administration of Puerto Rico. The situation concerning Puerto Rico must be properly examined by the Assembly and the administering Power submit its reports as required, she stressed, while expressing gratitude to Cuba for its commitment to the cause.
ALEIDA CENTENO, American Association of Jurists, urged the Special Committee to take the necessary actions for the rights of the Territory’s people. Citing several examples of biological damage caused by military operations, she said environmental assessments of the experiments conducted by the United States military indicted negative effects from nuclear radiation. Puerto Rican authorities had formally acknowledged a statement by the United States Navy that it had used shells containing uranium, she said, noting that the Navy was known to have kept a nuclear weapons stockpile on the island since 1965, in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), among others.
The actions of the United States continued to ignore the safety, health, welfare, human rights and socio-economic development of the Puerto Rican people, she said. By evading its responsibilities, as set forth in the Charter, through “dubious legislation”, the United States was avoiding its international responsibility to the Territory and other countries affected by its military activity. That activity polluted land while also destroying agriculture and human health, she said, adding that the United States was at war with Puerto Rico and that it was imperative to bring the matter to the General Assembly.
RUBEN GIUSTINIANI, Partido Socialista de Argentina, said the Argentine Senate fully supported the case, in light of the belief that achieving freedom of self-determination was a struggle in itself. Human rights such as equality, liberty and justice should apply to all, he said, adding that the Government of Argentina deemed Puerto Rico’s cause to be its own and reaffirmed the calls for recognition of its right to self-determination and independence. Calling for the Assembly to examine the situation, he said it was “duty-bound” to do so, given that Puerto Rico remained a colony 50 years after the adoption of resolution 1514 (XV).
He appealed to the United States Government to initiate a process that would allow the Territory’s people to exercise their rights in accordance with the rules of international law. Seeking to maintain the island’s colonial status would be unacceptable because freedom of self-determination was essential to the concept of human rights and should not be subject to plebiscites. Underscoring that colonial enclaves were the result of outstanding issues in international law, he expressed hope that colonization by force would soon be consigned to the past, since the twenty-first century was a time of peace, justice and liberty.
CARMEN GONZALEZ ARIAS, Political Coalition against Capital Punishment, spoke on behalf of other like-minded organizations, which she listed, before appealing to the Special Committee to include the issue of applying the death penalty in Puerto Rico in the draft resolution, especially since the matter so dramatically impinged on the Territory’s right to self-determination. Puerto Rico was the only jurisdiction whose constituents had rejected capital punishment, having legislated its abolition and elevated the Territory’s anti-death-penalty stance to constitutional status. Yet, it remained subject to United States legislation, which still allowed that form of punishment, she said.
Puerto Rico’s federal authority had not been delegated the power to impose the death penalty, but could impose federal laws, which might include having to punish someone by death, she explained. However, because of its status, Puerto Rico lacked the power to refuse the extradition of Puerto Ricans who might face capital punishment to the United States. That aberration persisted because there was no means by which Puerto Ricans could pursue self-determination, she said, asking the Special Committee to require the United States Congress to declare a moratorium on cases leading to the death penalty, and to refer the situation concerning Puerto Rica be to the General Assembly.
NORMITA APONTE RIVERA, Comite Familiares y Amigos Avelino Gonzalez Claudio, recounted the arrest of Mr. Gonzalez Claudio and 15 others by the United States Government in February 2008. Accused of planning an illegal operation, Mr. Gonzalez Claudio had demanded during his appearance before the Puerto Rico Imperial Court that the Government comply with resolution 1514 (XV) and that he be tried in Puerto Rico, as was his right. While in prison, he had suffered inhuman treatment, she said, adding that he had contracted Parkinson’s disease. Earlier this year, he had been sentenced to seven years in prison, but doctors felt he could not survive incarceration. A campaign was under way for his release, she said.
She demanded that the Committee take a stand against the prevailing regime in Puerto Rico, and that the United States be urged to recognize the island’s right to self-determination under the relevant resolutions. She added that the administering Power should be asked to withdraw its military, legal and political apparatuses from Puerto Rico. In order for decolonization to become a reality, power must be transferred from the United States to the people of Puerto Rico, she emphasized.
BENJAMÍN RAMOS ROSADO, The ProLibertad Freedom, described the imprisonment of Puerto Rican pro-independence fighters as an “international human rights violation and an act of repression of the Puerto Rican independence movement”. While the Special Committee had made history through its ground-breaking and unified fight against colonialism, the United States continued to evade its responsibilities to the Territory. As a colonized people, Puerto Ricans were considered second-class citizens at the mercy of the foreign and domestic policy of the United States, he said, adding that those who spoke out and took action against the island’s colonization were either assassinated or incarcerated.
Making a case for the remaining three political prisoners, he said that before their incarceration, they had been involved in activities for social justice and civil rights, fighting against the “intolerable and unacceptable” colonial reality. When captured, the United States Government had issued punitive and excessive sentences, given that the accused had no previous criminal records. During their incarceration, the prisoners had experienced several violations of their human rights, he said, stressing that they should be released as they were not “terrorists or dangerous fanatics trying to destroy the American way of life”, as the United States had claimed, but rather simply Puerto Ricans “struggling for freedom and fighting against an imperial monster”.
ISMAEL GUADALUPE ORTIZ, Movimiento de Afirmaci ón Viequense, noted that the island of Vieques continued to be exposed to dangerous weapons despite the end of military operations. Thousands of bombs that had landed in the area but failed to detonate were now doing so, he said. During clean-up efforts, the United States Marines had begun to detonate them in the open air or burn them in the fields where they had fallen, burning what little vegetation those fields offered and contaminating such areas. That practice was an affront to the people of Vieques and a mockery of the international community, he said.
A major impact of the United States presence in Vieques was the general deterioration of human health and the environment, as well as economic stagnation, he said. Unfortunately, the United States had refused to carry out adequate cleaning processes, return occupied lands, or reimburse the people of Vieques for the harm done. The island’s population had proven to be generally less healthy, with a mortality rate 40 per cent higher than that of the rest of the Puerto Rican population. More than 60 years of military exercises on Vieques had yielded extremely negative impacts for the island’s people in addition to eliminating local economies, he said.
LUIS VEGA RAMOS, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico House of Representatives, spoke on behalf of a group of Puerto Rican democratic political parties, saying that the group had developed a bill rejecting any so-called decolonization procedure that predisposed the result in favour of annexation by the United States, and rejected plebiscites that included a colonial option.
He said the Special Committee must approve a draft resolution reiterating the Territory’s inalienable right to sovereignty in free association, and that the National Assembly on Status was the legitimate body to channel the right to self-determination, an item mentioned in a resolution drawn up by the group.
The group would support an accelerated decolonization process leading to the free association of sovereign States, where the power of a nation over its own people resided with those very people, he said. The world had changed and it was important to build a sovereign Puerto Rico that could become competitive in the world economy.
FRANCISCO VELGARA, Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico, spoke on behalf of a group of pro-socialist organizations, saying he had spoken many times against the actions of the colonial Power. The Special Committee should take an energetic stand against imperialism, and the United States should be made to recognize Puerto Rico’s right to pursue independence.
Touching on several issues, he noted that open detonations of explosives had destroyed Vieques and its environs, and called for a Special Observer from the United Nations to be assigned to that issue. He also spoke out against the imposition of the death penalty by the United States, which was prohibited in Puerto Rico. He called for the immediate withdrawal of United States military and legal apparatuses, and said the Territory’s current governmental apparatus was “under the hands” of the United States Government, and allowed easy trafficking of drugs and illegal weapons.
MARTIN KOPPEL, Socialist Workers Party, praised the thousands of students who had recently gained a victory in their two month strike, noting that in doing so, they had fought an attempt to increase the cost of education and reduce the number of students receiving education subsidies. The federal authorities had also been hard at work freezing salaries and firing Government workers, and in so doing, ensuring that those with “imperialist bonds” got paid, including oil industry employees.
He said the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was an example of what was happening in Puerto Rico every day. The Puerto Rican people were subject to systematic discrimination, he said, demanding freedom for various political prisoners. He cited examples in the United States whereby civil liberties were being curtailed, and pointed to the Cuban revolution, which had shown that it was possible for the people to seize power and help their country achieve true independence against colonizers.
MANUEL RODRÍGUEZ BANCHS, Spokesperson for the Movimiento al Socialismo, noted there was no bilateral pact between Puerto Rico and the United States, since the United States Constitution allowed no such arrangement. In light of the open acknowledgement by the United States that Puerto Rico was a colony, there was a strong need to find a democratic solution to the Territory’s situation, he said.
Citing several examples of human rights violations resulting from the imposition of United States federal laws, he highlighted the situation of trade unions, pointing out that the right to organize was not upheld in the Territory, and those who attempted to exercise the right to strike were harassed, pressured, suspended or thrown out of work.
Another major issue was that the United States Government imposed the death penalty, causing a compounding of tensions since the Territory strictly prohibited it. Such actions only served to “trample on the democratic rights of the people”, he stressed. Since the United States had continued its colonization of the island through the repression of social struggles, the General Assembly must take up the situation of Puerto Rico as a priority, and the United States must begin an immediate withdrawal of all its forces.
Action on Draft Resolution
The Special Committee paused its hearing of petitioners in order to take action on the draft resolution relating to its decision of 9 June 2008 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2010/L.8). The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the Special Committee had already approved 28 resolutions or decisions on the subject. The Non-Aligned Movement welcomed the consensus approval and the strong support they enjoyed among the membership, which was in full agreement with its traditional positions on Puerto Rico. The Movement called on the United States Government to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. It urged the return of occupied land on Vieques Island and the Roosevelt Roads Naval Stations. It further urged the General Assembly to consider actively the situation of Puerto Rico in all its aspects.
The representative of Venezuela, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that as a co-sponsor of the draft, his country gave its absolute and unconditional support to the people of Puerto Rico. Although the United Nations had removed the situation concerning Puerto Rico from the list of colonial territories in 1953, its people continued to be denied their right to sovereignty. Venezuela reiterated the call to the Government of the United States to assume responsibility for expediting the self-determination process in Puerto Rico, adding that the recent final declaration of the Ninth Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, made on 1 May, reiterated the commitment of those countries to Puerto Rico’s decolonization.
The representative of Nicaragua, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country continued to champion the right to self-determination and independence, particularly in the case of Puerto Rico, which was a Latin American and Caribbean nation of “extraordinary perseverance” in its fight to exercise its inalienable rights. More than 50 years since adopting resolution 1514, the General Assembly had still not considered the situation in-depth, which had led to continued suffering of the Puerto Rican people, he said.
He called on the United States to shoulder its responsibility to abide by international norms, saying it was urgent that it immediately begin implementing the 28 resolutions approved by the Special Committee in order to end its colonization of the Territory, which hampered Puerto Rican’s efforts to regain its freedom. Puerto Rico had consistently expressed its anti-colonial stance and clear-cut dissatisfaction with its current situation.
In light of the Territory’s painfully clear demands, Nicaragua continued to act in solidarity with Puerto Rican people’s “arduous struggle for emancipation”, he said, calling for the immediate release of Puerto Rican political prisoners. It was to be hoped that the Territory would not continue to be the exception to both the Latin American and Caribbean States and the United Nations, but rather a fully fledged Member State, enjoying its freedom and independence.
The representative of Ecuador, also associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, called self-determination “a human right that States are compelled to respect”, saying that human rights principles should be applicable to all, including Puerto Rico. The situation of the Territory, “a fully Latin American and Caribbean country”, had been before the Special Committee for more than 30 years, yet there had been no concrete expression that could lead to the elimination of colonization, he stressed. Ecuador associated itself with the demands for the Assembly to consider in a serious manner the situation concerning Puerto Rico in all its aspects. The Government of Ecuador supported the draft resolution and was honoured to be a co-sponsor, he said.
The representative of Bolivia, also associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the culture of colonialism based in an interventionist past systematically violated human rights. It promoted the creation of new forms of colonization which were incompatible with the desire of colonized peoples’ to obtain freedom. How would discussions on the Puerto Rican reality go when a main element of the Charter was not recognized with respect to the island’s people when the United States Constitution conferred the power of control over vital areas such as trade, worker ownership controls, communications, air and maritime spaces and education, among others?
Undeniably, most Puerto Ricans had reached consensus in their anti-colonial sentiments, and it was therefore critical to continue the decolonization process, he stressed. The Special Committee, having approved 29 draft resolutions since 1972, had reaffirmed its commitment to the Puerto Rican people’s exercise of their inalienable rights and their future within the framework of the Charter and international law. In that light, the Assembly should include the situation concerning Puerto Rico on its agenda and deal with it broadly, he said. Since the Territory desperately needed to escape its colonial status and decide its own future by virtue of its identity and culture, Ecuador urged action on the case. As long as one population remained under colonialism, the draft resolution should be adopted without delay, he said.
The representative of Syria remarked that the right sought by the people of Puerto Rico was enshrined in resolution 1514 (XV) and in the United Nations Charter. That and previous resolutions reaffirmed their right to self-determination and independence, as well as the Puerto Rican people’s identity as part of the Latin American and Caribbean community. Syria asked the United States Government to assume its responsibilities in respect of their self-determination.
Associating himself with the final declaration of the Non-Aligned Movement at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt affirmed its well-known, traditional position on the situation concerning Puerto Rico, saying his country hoped for consensus on the draft resolution, as in the past, thereby giving the issue some legitimacy.
The representative of Iran, also associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the Special Committee had been entrusted with the cause of ending colonialism, and reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination. He expressed hope that the draft resolution would be approved by consensus, which would send a strong message on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico in their pursuit of self-determination and independence.
Acting without a vote, the Special Committee then approved the draft resolution.
Following that action, the representative of Cuba said the unanimous approval of the text was of particular importance, noting that 29 decisions and resolutions had been adopted over a period of nearly 40 years. He thanked all delegates that had spoken on the draft, noting that their number had increased over the year. He especially thanked the Non-Aligned Movement, which was over 100-strong, and also acknowledged the Puerto Rican petitioners who had travelled far to appear before the Special Committee. They were a vibrant example of the long struggle of the Puerto Rican people for their rights, he said, noting that 2010 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the emblematic resolution 1514 (XV), and that the United States intervention in Puerto Rico had lasted 112 years.
Cuba and Puerto Rico were united for many reasons, he said, recalling that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had been created to achieve Cuba’s absolute independence and to assist in that of Puerto Rico, both of which had been subjected to Spanish colonial rule and military intervention by the United States. More than 2,000 Puerto Ricans had bled in the Cuban fields during the struggle for independence, which Cuba would never forget. The deep solidarity between the two countries would remain. “They were the two wings of a bird, receiving flowers and bullets in the same heart,” he said, quoting a famous poet. Cuba would always defend Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence, and hoped for the day it would join the Special Committee in fighting for the rights of others.
Resumption by Petitioners
JOSE LUIS CONCEPCION, Movimiento Patriotico Canario, said it was hard to understand that there were still Territories that had not regained their freedom, as was the case for Puerto Rico, colonized by Spain in the sixteenth century, after that Power had landed in the Canary Islands. In 1898, Spain had sold Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines to the United States. Describing colonialism as contrary to human rights principles, he said the defence of human rights was a cause of universal justice and colonialism was akin to treason.
AURA COLON SOLA of the youth group Juventud Hostosiana noted that there had been no change or improvement in Puerto Rico’s status in recent years. Decolonization would not be achieved by choosing from among a limited number of choices imposed by others, but by allowing the people themselves to choose. People needed the freedom to make economic, social and political decisions in the running of their own State, she said, adding that Puerto Rico could not be said to enjoy equality with the United States if it did not enjoy equality with other members of the international community. The Territory’s Charter, which promulgated the right to labour, public health and other rights, had been overridden by the United States Constitution, undermining the rights of the Puerto Rican people. And yet, it was through the commonwealth’s incomplete constitution that the United States claimed that the Puerto Rican people had freely chosen free association status with it.
She said that during their recent strike in Puerto Rico, students deprived of their basic needs had deliberated on each aspect of university life, including how to ensure equal access to public universities. It would appear that a new generation had sprung up over the years which valued tolerance, democracy and justice. The way in which they had deliberated, exchanged views and posed their arguments was the model that the Puerto Rican people should follow to bring forth independence, which was an inalienable right and an option that could not be withheld. It must be arrived at through a process of public reasoning, she stressed, adding in connection with the plebiscites, that a public vote on Puerto Rico’s status must take place in a context of adequate access to information and freedom to disagree.
JORGE L. LIMERES, Comite Pro Independencia de Puerto Rico de Connecticut said independence was the ultimate solution to Puerto Rico’s predicament, although some Puerto Ricans would not agree. In fact, long before it had been invaded by the United States in 1898, the island had been a nation with its own personality, he said, noting that circumstances had intervened to prevent it from achieving independence like other Latin American nations. While Puerto Rico still hesitated, it would continue to be a victim. It could decide on education, immigration, health and the economy, like any other sovereign nation, but it was fed up with having to prove its ability to exercise its sovereignty.
Describing Puerto Ricans as a people silenced by fear, he emphasized that they were, in effect, a colonized people. They had become servants of the colonial Power, which dictated all decisions, ranging from the price of milk to the kinds of spurs worn by fighting cocks. However, the resistance had always ensured that the “Empire” did not succeed, as in the “war” against the United States Navy on Vieques. In 1952, the Puerto Ricans had believed that they would gain extra freedoms in their relationship with the United States, but today, the island’s commonwealth status held it in a servile situation. He appealed to the United Nations to end the constant “to-ing and fro-ing” on the situation concerning Puerto Rico, so that the Territory could one day exercise its responsibilities as a world citizen.
ANGEL COLLADO SCHWARZ, President of the Instituto Soberanista de Puerto Rico, noted that General Assembly resolution 748 allowed the United States to cease transmitting information on Puerto Rico due to information that cited the Territory as exercising its right to self-determination. Pointing to several admissions by United States officials that Puerto Rico in fact remained a Territory, he recalled former President Jimmy Carter’s statement that its commonwealth status was both “a contradiction in terms and an embarrassment”.
White House officials had later referred to the Territory as a “hybrid” since it did not enjoy full sovereignty. Such comments proved that the decolonization process had been a farce, he stressed. As a result of colonization, Puerto Rico was in the midst of its worst economic and social period, facing several dire challenges, such as the substantial public debt, rampant crime, and high levels of drug trafficking and domestic violence. Those looming issues could not be properly resolved while sovereignty remained with the United States, he said, calling for the referral of the situation concerning Puerto Rico to the General Assembly, and emphasizing the need for a constitutional status assembly to be used as a decolonization mechanism.
ROGELIO FIGUEROA GARCIA, President of Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico, noted that his party — the island’s third most important — had presented the Special Committee with a procedural solution in 2008 which had not been considered. It had approved a draft resolution starting the United States on a process of decolonization without taking into account the suggestions of the Puerto Rican people, he stressed. Assessing the potential reasons for the ineffectiveness of the decolonization process, he said the United Nations, the United States and the Puerto Rican parties were all equally responsible.
He said the United Nations had not accepted the desires of the Puerto Rican people for self-determination, and had therefore avoided developing a decolonization process by failing to couple the approval of draft resolutions with the determination and strength to produce necessary action. Political parties in Puerto Rico were also to blame, given their focus on defending their own approaches rather than the right to self-determination itself.
However, the situation was indeed changing, he said, noting that the United Nations had begun confronting the subject in a creative and urgent manner, while the governing Democratic Party in the United States had stated in 2008 its willingness to work with various Puerto Rican groups to resolve the situation in the coming years. However, despite an energized focus on commitments, the situation remained largely unchanged, he said, highlighting the need to initiate new processes led by the Puerto Rican people. They should not be controlled or directed by the political parties, he stressed, while also urging the United Nations to reconsider his party’s 2008 proposal.