20 June 2012

U.N. Special Committee calls for self-determination of Puerto Rico

18 June 2012
General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
Special Committee on Decolonization
6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)


Also Requests General Assembly to Consider Issue Comprehensively,

Calls for Release of Political Prisoners, As More Than 30 Petitioners Take Floor

The Special Committee on Decolonization today called on the United States to expedite a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, requesting the General Assembly to consider the question of Puerto Rico comprehensively in all its aspects.

By the terms of a draft resolution, which was approved by consensus, 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—noted the broad support of eminent persons, Governments and political forces in Latin America and the Caribbean for the independence of Puerto Rico.

It again noted the debate in Puerto Rico on the implementation of a mechanism that would ensure the full participation of representatives of all viewpoints prevailing in Puerto Rico—including a constitutional assembly on status with a basis in the decolonization alternatives recognized in international law.  It was aware that any initiative for the solution of the political status should originate from the people of Puerto Rico.  It also urged the United States—in line with the need to guarantee Puerto Ricans their right to self-determination—to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba to Puerto Ricans.

Introducing the text, Cuba’s representative said that since 1972, 30 resolutions and decisions on Puerto Rico had been adopted, but in 40 years, very little progress had been made.  The people of Puerto Rico were still unable to exercise their genuine right to self-determination and the United States continued to wield power over their economy.

He said the text, among other things, took note of the Special Declaration on Puerto Rico, adopted by the Heads of State and Government of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas in Caracas in February 2012, which expressed strong support for the inalienable right of Puerto Ricans to self‑determination and full independence.  The draft also reiterated the Special Committee’s request to the United States President to release Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in the United States for cases relating to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.

Making their case before the Special Committee—also known as the Special Committee of 24—some of the more than 30 petitioners decried the island’s current Commonwealth status with the United States, which outlines the United States’ congressional authority over the island.  That status determines that Puerto Ricans living on the island do not vote in United States presidential elections, despite being United States citizens, and do not have full representation in Congress.  Their interests are supported by a Resident Coordinator, who serves as a non-voting member of the House of Representatives.

Petitioners pressed the international community to recognize Puerto Rico’s colonial status and place it on the list of United Nations Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Bringing life to that cause, José M. López, of Compañeros Unidos para la Descolonización de Puerto Rico, said the decolonization process was carried out under international jurisdiction, a fact most Puerto Ricans did not know, as the United States had convinced them it was a domestic issue.  Puerto Rico must be decolonized via the United Nations.  What justification was there to leave out the most populated and oldest colony in the world?

Another part of the equation, said Juan Dalmau Ramirez, of the Partido Independista Purtorriqueno,involved placing international pressure on the colonial power by urging Latin American and Caribbean countries to express solidarity with anti-colonization efforts at the United Nations.  Such claims would be an important contribution to the “convergence of will” towards the decolonization process in Puerto Rico.

Some petitioners favoured statehood for Puerto Rico, arguing that the territory already functioned as such, with an elected governor.  It was just missing the declaration of statehood, which would bring it the right to vote for President, and elect two senators and seven congressmen.  While some believed Puerto Rico was a free associated State, said Nilda Luz Rexach, National Advancement for Puerto Rico, the island was no such thing, as its Constitution had been tailored and authorized by the United States Congress, making it clear that federal law would overrule that of Puerto Rico on any occasion.  The Commonwealth was just a lie.

Others argued for full independence, stressing the need to liberate the Puerto Rican people and denouncing United States authority over Puerto Rican borders.  The island had become a United States testing ground for genetically modified plants and other experiments, the consequences of which had been borne by the local people.  Francisco Velgara, Frente Socailista de Puerto Rico, also voiced opposition to recent attempts to impose English as an official language, pledging to defend Puerto Rican culture.

Several agreed that the issue of status would not be solved by the conduct of a referendum.  They took issue with legislation adopted by the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) Government for a plebiscite regarding Puerto Rico’s political status to be held on 6 November.  The plebiscite would ask voters whether they agreed with maintaining the current territorial status and, further, whether they would prefer statehood, independence or free association with the United States as an alternative.  Jan Susler, of the People’s Law Office/National Lawyers Guild, said the exercise would not resolve the status question, as results would not be binding on the United States and would ignore the mandates of international law.

Integral to the status question, other petitioners said, was that of Puerto Rican political prisoners being held in United States prisons.  Their incarceration was a violation of international human rights, particularly in the cases of Oscar Lopez Rivera, Avelino Gonzalez Claudio and Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, who, prior to their arrests, had joined the Puerto Rican independence movement.  Their excessive sentences had made clear that “the goal was to punish them for their beliefs and not for the acts alleged by the US Government,” said Benjamin Ramos Rosado, of the Prolibertad Freedom Campaign.

Their crime was one of ideas, added Carlos Alberto Torres, of Futuro Sin Fala, who had been held as a political prisoner by the United States for 30 years, from 1980 to 2010.  Since United States occupation, thousands of Puerto Ricans had been jailed.  Colonialism was the real crime, not the effort to resist it.

Other petitioners addressing the Special Committee today were representatives of the following organizations:  Comité de Puerto Rico en Naciones Unidas, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, Coalición Puertorriqueña contra la Pena de Muerte, La Fundacion Andres Figueroa Cordero, Movimiento de Afirmacion Vieques, American Association of Jurists, Puertorriqueños Unidos En Accion (PUA), Alianza pro Libre Asociacion Soberana, Ithaca Catholic Workers Vieques Support Group, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican Independence Party, Socialist Workers Party, Comité de Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, Movimiento Unión Soberanista de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, Frente Patriotico Arecibeño, Comite Toabajeños Contra El Gasoducto, Centro Mujer y Nueva Familia, National Jericho Movement and Taller de la Playa.

Also speaking today were representatives of Egypt, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran, Ecuador, Syria and Cuba.

The Special Committee on Decolonization will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 19 June, for a discussion with United Nations specialized agencies on the implementation of the Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
      Read the full press release here.


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