Panel Hears Petitioners Describe Rising Poverty, School Closures, Other Woes
Spotlighting the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico’s already serious economic and social challenges — including unemployment, insolvency and poverty — the Special Committee on Decolonization approved a draft resolution today that would call upon the United States to shoulder its responsibility to facilitate the realization of the right of Puerto Ricans to self‑determination.
In addition, more than 40 petitioners from Puerto Rican advocacy groups and international allies addressed the Special Committee, many denouncing the colonial occupation of the Territory by the United States. They described the situation as one of genocide and “economic terrorism”, characterized by multinational corporations — facilitated by the United States — exploiting Puerto Rico’s resources even as that country’s Government implemented austerity measures that had forced schools to close and pensions to go unpaid. Others expressed outrage over the Government’s lack of support for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017, noting that the world had witnessed the “insulting” and “mocking” scene of President Donald Trump throwing paper towels into a crowd after the storm.
Approving its annual draft resolution on Puerto Rico without a vote, 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 — called on the Government of the United States to expedite a process enabling the people of Puerto Rico to exercise fully their right to self‑determination and independence, and to take decisions in a sovereign manner to address their challenges. It also noted with concern that, by virtue of the decision by the United States Congress under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act — known as PROMESA — the already weakened area outside which the prevailing regime of political and economic subordination in Puerto Rico operated had been reduced even further.
The Special Committee further expressed deep concern over actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence activists and encouraged investigations into those actions, while also requesting that the General Assembly comprehensively consider the question of Puerto Rico and decide on the issue as soon as possible.
Walter Alomar of the Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins joined other petitioners in accusing the United States Government of having intentionally failed to support Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in order to displace the island’s population and pave the way for gentrification. Residents had been denied funding to repair their homes and given relocation vouchers, while hospitals on the island had been instructed not to report deaths to the Department of Health so as to impede an accurate victim count. “While Trump is tossing out paper towels to my people, mocking their plight and insulting them, we were coming together and rising up,” he said, citing Puerto Ricans and others who had cleared roads, cooked meals and offered medical care to neighbours.
Antonio Camacho of the Latin-X Law Student Association said “economic terrorism” had seen Puerto Rican schools forced to close, taxes raised and the local Government intimidated and manipulated into becoming an instrument of the United States. He demanded that the Special Committee hold the “Trump regime” accountable for throwing paper towels into a crowd after 4,624 people had died as a result of Hurricane Maria. “This is a way of disposing [of] our race,” he said, demanding also that, after 120 years of occupation, the United States Government be held accountable.
Darlene Elias, National Co-Chair of the Green Party of the United States, said the suffering of Puerto Ricans following the hurricane had been “multiplied tenfold” by the silence of the United States Government and its inability to act. That Government had only sat back, placing bets on how many lives had been lost, with its President telling Puerto Ricans to “clean up their own mess”. Recalling that the United States had rejected offers of supplies and other assistance from nations including Cuba and Venezuela, she said the hurricane‑related deaths — twice the number of those resulting from the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks — were a direct consequence of colonialism.
Oscar López Rivera of Fundación OLR Libertá — a Puerto Rican political prisoner held in the United States for more than 35 years and released in 2017 by former President Barack Obama — asked why the General Assembly had not yet taken up the question of eradicating colonialism in Puerto Rico. Pressing the Special Committee to consider investigating the nefarious activities of the United States over the last 120 years, including its efforts to depopulate the Territory, he said the Puerto Rican economy was dysfunctional as a result of United States policies and the actions of its banking industry.
Judy Sheridan‑González of the New York State Nurses Association, describing the health impacts of Puerto Rico’s colonization, said the Territory had suffered from high indices of morbidity and mortality, diabetes and cardiovascular and pulmonary disease even before Hurricane Maria. Poisonous detritus from military exercises and water contamination, among other factors, had contributed to cancers, respiratory and endocrine disorders. The Jones Act, meanwhile, had made importing healthy food unaffordable. Following the hurricane and the apathetic response of the United States Government, the situation had morphed into a form of genocide. “We cared for families who suffered the trauma of helplessly watching ill relatives die before their eyes, unable to get to the few functioning hospitals,” she said.
The Special Committee also heard the following petitioners: Colegio de Abogados y Abogados de Puerto Rico; Union de Trabajadores de la Industria Eléctrica y Riego; Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico; National Jericho Movement; A Call to Action on Puerto Rico; National Sovereign State of Borinken; Indigenous Womens Knowledge; Mesa de Trabajo por Ana Belen Montes en Puerto Rico; Fuerza de la Revolución; Puerto Rican Independence Party; Committee for Puerto Rico at the United Nations; National Hostos Movement for the Independence of Puerto Rico; New York Cuba Solidarity Project; Movimiento Nin Negron; American Association of Jurists; Comite Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico; Alianza Patria; Movimiento Union Soberanista; Comites de la Resistencia Boricua; Puerto Rican Coalition against Death Penalty; Instituto Puertorriqueno de Relaciones Internacionales; Generacion 51; Puertorriqueños Unidos en Accion; Colegio de Profesionales del Trabajo Social de Puerto Rico; Socialist Workers Party; Consejo Amplio Unitario de Solidaridad y Acción; Vidas Viequenses Valen; Junte de Mujeres; Partido de Pueblo Trabajador; and Brigada Guarionex.
Also participating were representatives of Venezuela (on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement), El Salvador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Syria and China.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 June, to continue its work.
Question of Puerto Rico
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA, Fundación OLR Libertá, asked why the General Assembly had not taken up the question of eradicating colonialism in Puerto Rico as promised in resolution 43/47. He pressed the Special Committee to consider investigating the nefarious activities of the United States over the last 120 years, saying its goal was to depopulate Puerto Rico. The Territory’s economy was dysfunctional thanks to the policies of the Government of the United States and the banking industry, he said, adding that any capital generated was transferred to banks in the United States, while Puerto Rico’s Government was encouraged to issue bonds to pay its debts and to privatize its most productive public corporations, such as the Puerto Rican Telephone Company and the public hospital system. The United States‑imposed Fiscal Control Board decided how public funds collected by the territorial Government were spent, but both the United States Governments and the territorial Government had refused to undergo an audit. More than 500 public schools had been closed and if the Board carried out its plan, education in Puerto Rico would be under threat, forcing Puerto Ricans to emigrate, he said, adding that hedge fund promoters, investors and developers would replace them. “Puerto Ricans will never give up struggling for an independent and sovereign Puerto Rico” and for their right to self‑determination, he emphasized.
EDGARDO ROMAN-ESPADA, Colegio de Abogados y Abogados de Puerto Rico, said he regretted that the case of Puerto Rico had not been brought to the attention of the General Assembly. Emphasizing that the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico was one based on subordination, he said today, there was no process of decolonization, and violations of human rights on the Territory continued. Puerto Rico’s economy faced dangerous stagnation and decline, he said, adding that employment figures were equally concerning, and that precarious employment had doubled from 2000 to 2014. The public debt could simply not be repaid, he stressed, denouncing the austerity measures adopted by people who were unelected but rather unilaterally appointed by the federal Government. Recalling the mass destruction caused by last September’s hurricanes Irma and Maria, he said that some 4,000 people had died, citing a recently released Harvard study and warning that more would die unless urgent steps were taken to help them.
ANGEL FIGUEROA, Union de Trabajadores de la Industria Eléctrica y Riego, condemned the colonial Government that had imposed fiscal control over unions through a law instituted by a seven‑member board established by the United States Congress. It had taken away all tax rights in Puerto Rico and measures taken by that board had caused serious harm to the people and economy of Puerto Rico. “This means we are more politically and economically insubordinate to the United States than ever before,” he said. Stressing the need to improve access to energy, he warned against the National Electric Power Authority falling into private hands. Puerto Rico had become extremely vulnerable following last year’s hurricane season, and privatizing basic services could severely worsen the situation.
JOCELYN VELASQUEZ, Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico, said she represented thousands of workers demanding the right to self‑determination. “The fight is a fight of survival of our people,” she said, stressing that urgent measures were needed to prevent the deaths of thousands more people. “The international community must hear us and step up because the lives of thousands of people are at stake,” she warned. The worsening situation in Puerto Rico had made the Government more brutal, and it continued to arrest people who voiced outrage. “The United States is an impediment to our future,” she added.
JUDY SHERIDAN‑GONZÁLEZ, New York State Nurses Association, discussed the health impacts of the colonization of Puerto Rico, noting that even before the hurricanes had hit Puerto Rico in 2017, nurses had noted higher indices of morbidity and mortality, diabetes as well as cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. Poisonous detritus from military exercises, water contamination from pharmaceuticals and coal ash deposits, among other factors, had all contributed to cancers and to respiratory and endocrine disorders. The Jones Act, meanwhile, had made importing healthy food unaffordable, while discriminatory federal funding and the privatization of health services had created an overwhelming lack of access and quality care. The situation had morphed into a form of genocide after the United States Government’s apathetic response to Hurricane Maria in 2017, she said. “We cared for families who suffered the trauma of helplessly watching ill relatives die before their eyes, unable to get to the few functioning hospitals.” The health crisis could only be resolved by cancelling the illegal debt, dismantling the “fiscal junta” and repealing the Jones Act, she declared.
JIHAD ABDULMUMIT, National Jericho Movement, said his organization championed the release of political prisoners at home and abroad. In the United States, there were political prisoners incarcerated for their efforts to fight against police brutality and State violence, and the impoverishment and exploitation of poor communities, he said. Describing Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States, he said that since the latter’s victory over Spain and subsequent acquisition of Puerto Rico, hundreds of corporations had been given the freedom to pay little to no taxes. “Colonizers do not listen to the cries of the colonized people,” he said, adding: “We witnessed President Trump throwing rolls of paper towels to a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria during his visit to a disaster relief distribution centre in San Juan.” Bragging and boasting about the beneficial relationship that the colonizer had cultivated in caring for the colonized had always been plagued with lies and distortions to hide and obscure the reality of the conditions under which most were forced to live, he said. “Thus, the illusion of prosperity, or hope for prosperity, is perpetrated and many times even believed by the colonized people themselves.” It came as no surprise that many parts of Puerto Rico still lacked power and that people there were forced to decide whether to live under blue tarps or move to a homeless shelter in New York.
NORMAHIRAM PEREZ, A Call to Action on Puerto Rico, said the imperial fiscal control board and the continuing “clear colonialism” of the United States against Puerto Rico violated the right of the Territory’s people to self‑determination. The colonial empire continued to ignore the voices of Puerto Ricans in plebiscites and referendums, abuse the environment, apply unequal regulations and suppress the right of Puerto Ricans to freedom of expression and protest. Teachers were struggling with the closure of schools while health care across the Territory had been privatized. Demanding the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners and calling for an end to the application of the death penalty — which the vast majority of Puerto Ricans opposed — she expressed concern that Puerto Rico’s resources were controlled by foreigners and it suffered under an economic and financial embargo imposed by the United States.
RAMÓN NENADICH, head of state, National Sovereign State of Borinken, said his was not a political organization but in fact a provisional government, of which there were many precedents in recent history. Emphasizing that “we are not reinventing the wheel”, he said the National Sovereign State of Borinken had approached several delegations at the United Nations, requesting an observer seat in the General Assembly, but those requests had been denied. “If you really want to do something to end colonialism in our country, supporting our request is the way to go,” he said, noting that Puerto Rico’s colonizers had actively impeded the Borinken government’s requests as part of their long‑standing subjugation of the Territory. The United States Government was complicit in genocide against Puerto Ricans, and even the Special Committee was contributing to the problem as it had long failed to stand up to that country. In that regard, he asked its members to introduce a draft resolution requesting that the National Sovereign State of Borinken to be granted an observer seat at the General Assembly’s upcoming session.
MONIKA PONTON‑ARRINGTON, Indigenous Womens Knowledge, said that the ongoing imposition of restrictive laws and regulations on Puerto Rico by the United States, as well as that country’s careless and cavalier approach to the death and damage occasioned by the recent hurricanes, were continued proof of the colonial relationship between the Territory and the United States. Puerto Ricans were taxed and regulated by the United States, but not permitted representation within that country’s Government — the very definition of colonialism. Whether the damage done to the Puerto Rican people was the result of malignant intent or benign neglect was of little consequence to the people who suffered in silence, having neither a voice nor recourse, she said.
MIRIAM MONTES-MOCK, Mesa de Trabajo por Ana Belen Montes en Puerto Rico, noting that those “who do not move don’t notice their chains”, said Puerto Rico continued to suffer under a dictatorial board that responded solely to the whims of corporations at the cost of the people. “The result is tragic,” she said, citing the desperate exodus of Puerto Ricans to the mainland. The history of humanity was plagued by enslaved people, she said, adding that Ana Belen was a revolutionary imprisoned in a United States prison. Given the historical reality of the Puerto Rican people, she demanded: “Should we be like lambs marching to the slaughter or should we resist and demand a dignified life?” Turning to the conflicts between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Venezuela, she pointed out that while the United Nations Charter promoted friendship between nations, economic and political superiority had become the law of the land. Puerto Ricans must choose sovereignty, she emphasized.
WALTER ALOMAR, Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins, said the United States Government had intentionally failed to provide support to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, resulting in the worst disaster recovery and relief in Puerto Rico’s history, as well as thousands of deaths. At the same time, the people had been denied funding to repair their homes and relocation vouchers were being provided to disaster victims, paving the way for gentrification, which was directly tied to colonialism. As far as the United States Government was concerned, Hurricane Maria was the best thing that could have happened, having forced thousands out of Puerto Rico and exacerbated the already rapid migration of islanders to the mainland. Following the hurricane, hospitals had been told not to report deaths to the Department of Health because the Government did not want an accurate victim count, he said, describing such actions as abusive, intentional and outrageous. The conversation about ending colonialism must move beyond conference rooms to allow for real change, he emphasized. “While Trump is tossing out paper towels to my people, mocking their plight and insulting them, we were coming together and rising up,” he said, pointing to those who cleared roads, cooked meals for entire communities and offered medical care to neighbours. Puerto Rico may have been knocked down, but it was stronger and more determined than ever, he stressed.
RADHAMES MORALES, Fuerza de la Revolución, recalled specific efforts suffered by the Puerto Rican people — living just miles from his own country, the Dominican Republic — to deprive them of their freedom and identity. While the world had largely turned away from colonialism, the United States continued to imperialistically dominate the Territory, imposing its minority view and denying Puerto Ricans their rights. The prestige of many multilateral organizations was falling because they had been unable to ensure respect for human rights treaties, he said, citing the inhumane treatment of the Borinken people after the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, emphasizing: “Justice will prevail, the Puerto Rican people will be free.”
MARIA DE LOURDES SANTIAGO, Puerto Rican Independence Party, said the Financial Oversight and Management Board — which operated shamelessly like a dictatorship in Puerto Rico — was adding even more salt to the wound, attacking the poorest people on the Territory and making them pay for the problems of colonialism with even more colonialism. FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and other United States agencies had done little to address the urgent needs of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria, and the President’s flagrant disrespect had been witnessed around the world, she noted. Efforts had long been under way to eradicate the Territory’s colonial system but the results had been unsatisfactory to date. Voicing support for the draft resolution before the Special Committee today, she called on the United Nations to ensure a swift decolonization process and Puerto Rico’s right to self‑determination.
AURORA MURIENTE, Committee for Puerto Rico at the United Nations, noted that the United Nations decolonization process was not yet complete after more than seven decades of effort. Citing the imposition by the United States of fiscal control over Puerto Rico and its long‑standing colonization of the Territory, she recalled that the United States Supreme Court had ruled that governance over Puerto Rico lay with the United States Congress. That faulty decision had been used to halt attempts to bring the case of Puerto Rico before the United Nations, she said, calling for the Organization’s various bodies — as well as Member States themselves — to promptly discharge their decolonization duties.
WILMA REVERON, National Hostos Movement for the Independence of Puerto Rico, said that the colonial situation in Puerto Rico had submitted its people to a huge humanitarian crisis. More than the devastation of the hurricanes was the crass disregard for the people, which had caused the death of thousands. The inaction of the colonial Power had prevented the arrival of critical aid from Cuba and Venezuela, he said, noting that, instead, the United States had given priority to its businesses, acting with complete impunity and “wild capitalism”. Genocide, repression, the plundering of civil and human rights, death and destruction were rampant, she said, demanding that the United States comply with the principles of self‑determination and sovereignty.
FRANCISCO VELGARA, New York Cuba Solidarity Project, said that Cuba and Puerto Rico had a long history of fighting oppression and colonialism in solidarity since the invasion by the Spanish empire. The United States had been tightening its hold on Puerto Rico since 2016, with its PROMESA [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act] law and complete disregard for the population in the face of Hurricane Maria. Turning to individuals imprisoned for their political beliefs, he said Nina Droz Franco and Ana Belen Montes remained behind bars and his organization was part of a building movement to demand their release. “I ask this Committee, whose member nations fought for their own independence from brutal colonial subjugation, to stand with use once again, pass a resolution calling for the United States to respect the rule of international law as defined in resolution 1514 (XV) for the decolonization of colonial peoples and territories, and to request that the General Assembly take up the case of Puerto Rico,” he said. “Let us stand on the right side of history.”
PEDRO CRUZ AYALA, Movimiento Nin Negron, said there was little doubt that Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States. It lacked control over its basic social services, he said, reiterating the need to bring the situation of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly. Independent nations of the world must condemn the colonial situation in Puerto Rico and the United States must comply with international law and related resolutions, he emphasized.
OSVALDO TOLEDO GARCÍA, American Association of Jurists, said the current United States Administration had failed to deal with the situation in Puerto Rico. There were still communities lacking electricity and water, and the situation remained precarious. The link between poverty and political representation was very clear in Puerto Rico, as was the lack of democracy, he said, citing the situation of political prisoners. Puerto Rico’s case must be considered and reviewed by the General Assembly, he stressed.
EDUARDO VILLANUEVA, Comite Pro Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, said Puerto Rico was still under the rule of a dictatorial board that determined how many social services would be cut and how many schools closed. Neoliberal policies were bordering on genocide, he said, adding that Puerto Rico’s debt was illegal. The United Nations should send representatives to Puerto Rico to document the poverty, labour violations and gentrification. “Puerto Rico is being depopulated,” he added, expressing concern that the Territory was losing its culture. “Donald Trump fears us and is trying to build walls,” he added, emphasizing that any resistance to Puerto Rico’s fiscal control board was now being criminalized.
DARLENE ELIAS, National Co‑Chair, Green Party of the United States, paused for 30 seconds in honour of the thousands of Puerto Ricans who had died after Hurricane Maria in 2017, before asking the United Nations and the United States Government to finally recognize that “colonization is extinction”. She added: “The tragedy felt by my people with the hurricanes has been multiplied tenfold by the silence of the United States Government and their inability to act accordingly.” Indeed, that Government had only sat back, placing bets on how many lives had been lost, and its President had thrown paper towels at Puerto Rican crowds telling them to “clean up their own mess”. Nations including Cuba and Venezuela had offered assistance, including sending supplies and doctors in the wake of the storm, but the United States had not wanted any interference. “Puerto Rico and people are not to be treated as some political football game,” she emphasized, pointing out that those who had died after Hurricane Maria were twice the number lost in the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. They were a direct consequence of colonialism, and in that context, the United Nations must move forward by any means necessary to demand Puerto Rico’s decolonization and impose sanctions on the United States if it failed to comply.
NINA DIMARIE VALEDON, Alianza Patria, urged the United States to begin a decolonization process in Puerto Rico and the Special Committee to deploy a visiting mission there. Promises by the United States Government to protect the island and ensure self‑government had turned sour, she said, noting that “the United States has been drowning us in false promises”. The recently implemented PROMESA programme was cutting pensions, repealing laws protecting workers and increasing public university costs, she said, adding that the oversight Board it had established was allowed to override Puerto Rican laws and policies. “The General Assembly must re‑open the case of Puerto Rico” and the United States must be subject to scrutiny for its policies on the island, she stressed, describing that country’s policy as “disaster colonialism” through which it had used Hurricane Maria to purposely displace Puerto Rican residents, including by denying them assistance.
MARIA DE LOURDES GUZMAN, President, Movimiento Union Soberanista, said Puerto Rico remained a colony of the world’s most powerful nation, which continued to operate with complete impunity. For more than 120 years, the United States had denied Puerto Ricans their own wealth and resources, trying to deceive the United Nations in 1952 with the farce that Puerto Rico had its own governance. Noting that no such self‑governance existed, she said “insult to injury” had arrived with the creation of the Fiscal Control Board, which had further humiliated the Territory by forcing it to pay back exorbitant debt. Puerto Rico had long looked to the United States for protection, but instead that country had reaped billions of dollars of profit from the Territory even as its poverty levels continued to rise. Following Hurricane Maria, thousands had been forced to abandon Puerto Rico and the United States Government had even attempted to hide the number of deaths, she said. Against that backdrop, she demanded that the issue of Puerto Rico’s decolonization be brought before the General Assembly.
MANUEL ENRIQUE MELENDEZ, Comites de la Resistencia Boricua, described a situation of government corruption and a long‑standing war waged against the Puerto Rican people. Those policies, aimed at dismantling the island, included the closing of schools, the redesign of curricula, the denial of Puerto Rico’s history, kidnappings, harassment, arbitrary arrests and the deployment of mercenary companies such as Blackwater. However, there was also a rising struggle to resist those tactics, he said, describing efforts to fight back against the “empire of the conservative right”. In that context, he expressed hope that the Special Committee would continue to focus on Puerto Rico and that, this year, its annual draft resolution on the situation would include recognition of the Puerto Rican people’s right to resistance.
MADELIN COLON PEREZ, Puerto Rican Coalition against Death Penalty, said that since the nineteenth century, major progress had been made towards globally abolishing the death penalty. The right to life was inherent and must be protected by law, she emphasized. The United States had adopted a federal law on the death penalty in 1976 and a large number of capital offences had been introduced at the federal level in 1994. Noting that Puerto Rico had made up 20 per cent of death penalty cases before the federal court between 2012 and 2014, she said such trials were not trials of one’s peers. “We do not want the death penalty to be imposed on Puerto Rico by another country,” she stressed, urging the Special Committee to condemn capital punishment as another colonial imposition on Puerto Rico.
KEVIN RIVERA MEDINA, Instituto Puertorriqueno de Relaciones Internacionales, said that Puerto Rico had been patient and would remain tenacious like bamboo until it was finally liberated. Noting that it had been 120 years since the United States had intervened militarily in Puerto Rico, he urged the United Nations to follow up on the Territory’s decolonialization. Puerto Rico had done all in its power to change its status. Noting that austerity was crushing all social services, he said the United States had prevented international assistance after the hurricane and, instead of investing in the recovery process, had worked to make its companies rich. Patience was bitter but its fruit was sweet, he said, calling on the General Assembly to ensure that Puerto Rico would be successful in its efforts.
EDWIN PAGAN, Generacion 51, said the colonial situation of Puerto Rico was shameful, asking: “What is the difference between the system of discrimination created in South Africa and the unequal system in Puerto Rico in 2018?” What was preventing the United Nations from discussing the self‑determination of Puerto Rico? Its people were suffering from a lack of political representation and those who chose not to act affirmatively would be punished by history, he said.
Mr. SUAREZ (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, reaffirmed that group’s support for the Puerto Rican people’s right to self‑determination and independence, in line with General Assembly resolutions. Calling for their swift implementation, he expressed hope that the Special Committee would once again approve the annual text on Puerto Rico by consensus. During their recent meeting, he recalled, Non‑Aligned Movement ministers had reaffirmed their belief that the General Assembly should take up the question of Puerto Rico, as well as their understanding that, due to their current political situation, the Puerto Rican people could not make their own decisions. They had also reaffirmed the need to deliver humanitarian assistance and restructure Puerto Rico’s debt and expressed concern over the decision by the United States to impose the Fiscal Control Board. They had urged the administering Power to return Vieques and other islands to the Puerto Rican people and called upon its Government to speed up the process of decolonization, leading to the free exercise of the right to self‑determination.
RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), recalled all the resolutions on Puerto Rico adopted by the Special Committee, stressing that they all remained a major issue of interest to the Community. Reiterating the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico, she said CELAC member countries remained committed to working together within the framework of international law, particularly General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), to make Latin America and the Caribbean a region free of colonialism.
ANAYANSI RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba) recalled that after the devastating hurricanes of 2017, her country had offered Puerto Ricans solidarity and support that had unfortunately been rejected by the colonial Power. Noting that Puerto Rico was in no way a state of the United States, she emphasized that it was undoubtedly not free. Instead, it was subject to clear colonial domination, completely subject to the power of Washington, D.C. “In other words, it is an American possession — a colonial territory,” she added. In 2017, she recalled, a farcical, alleged “consultation process” on self‑determination options had been held, with only a minority of voters participating. Moreover, since the 2017 session, Puerto Rico’s economic and political situation had worsened considerably. Its public debt now stood at $72 billion, which was impossible to repay, and the United States Government had implemented draconian fiscal control measures. The cash deficit and the slow response of the colonial Government had amplified the crisis following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, she noted. Poverty levels had jumped from 45 per cent to about 60 per cent of the population, leading to massive migration and seriously affecting the Territory’s efforts to achieve sustainable economic development. Recalling that Heads of State of CELAC had recently reiterated the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico, she reiterated Cuba’s own unequivocal commitment to its people, saying it was based on a shared history and common struggle.
LUIS MAURICIO ARANCIBIA FERNÁNDEZ (Bolivia), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and CELAC, stressed that the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico was absolute. The Territory must be able to exercise its right to independence, he added, urging the United States to shoulder its responsibility in that regard. Puerto Rico must be able to make decisions on matters of employment, education, health and economy. He urged the United States to pay for the clean‑up of areas used for military testing and other purposes. Noting with concern issues relating to the distribution of resources following hurricanes Irma and Maria, he said continuing colonialism prevented and severely hindered economic and social development.
Mr. ZAMBRANO (Ecuador), associating himself with CELAC, said that hurricanes Irma and Maria had greatly exacerbated the economic crisis of Puerto Rico, leading to rising poverty levels, mass migration and the severe restriction of economic development. Reiterating that the Puerto Rican people were Latin American and Caribbean in nature, he urged the United States Government to allow them to exercise fully their inalienable rights. He also reiterated Ecuador’s commitment to working with the international community to ensure that the Latin America and Caribbean region was free of colonialism.
Mr. ESCOTO GONZALEZ (Nicaragua), associating himself with CELAC and the Non‑Aligned Movement, noted that his country had fought for many years to win its liberation. Recalling that the economic crisis and recession affecting Puerto Rico had been intensified by last September’s hurricanes, he said a recent Harvard study had concluded that 4,645 people had died due to a lack of basic services following the hurricane. Emphasizing the Puerto Rican people’s right to self‑determination, he said that for many decades, the Special Committee had called upon the General Assembly to examine the question of Puerto Rico.
MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, reaffirmed his delegation’s solidarity with the Puerto Rican people, noting that on 25 July, they would mark the 120th anniversary of the United States occupation. All relevant General Assembly resolutions affirmed the Puerto Rican people’s right to self‑determination, he said, adding that the United States must shoulder its responsibility to begin a process allowing their exercise of that right.
SONG LI (China), expressing support for the draft resolution, voiced his delegation’s hope that it would be adopted by consensus.
MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriqueños Unidos en Accion, said recent events had led to new challenges in the Puerto Rican people’s fight for sovereignty and decolonization, among them three unprecedented hurricanes. The first had been Irma, the second Maria, which had caused more than 4,000 deaths and destroyed the Territory’s infrastructures. The third and most devastating had been the imposition of United States austerity measures, which had exacerbated poverty while increasing the wealth of Wall Street. The United States Government had capped Law 80 — which protected workers’ rights — while slashing the pensions of such public workers as teachers and raising taxes, the cost of such basic services as water and electricity, and closing public schools. That was not in line with basic international humanitarian law, he stressed, noting that the United States was placing a variety of obstacles in the way of the Puerto Rican people as they attempted to exercise their right to self‑determination, in accordance with the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
LYDAEL VEGA OTERO, Colegio de Profesionales del Trabajo Social de Puerto Rico, said it was disturbing that despite Puerto Rico’s dire situation, the issue had still not been brought before the General Assembly. The situation was not a crisis but a result of 120 years of colonial oppression, she said, emphasizing that Puerto Ricans were on the verge of social and economic genocide. Thousands of residents were leaving every year, and 14 per cent of the population was expected to be lost by 2019. “A country without culture loses its identity,” she stressed, adding that the lack of power was the core challenge. “We count on you to achieve decolonization of the oldest colony in the world,” she added.
ANTONIO CAMACHO, Latin-X Law Student Association, said Puerto Rico was under terrorist attack and its people were engaged in an epic political and economic battle. Natalie Jaresko, President of the United States‑appointed Board, earned more than $500,000, funds taken from Puerto Ricans with the aim of influencing Puerto Rico’s Government. “This is economic terrorism,” he said, pointing out that the Board had closed schools, increased taxes, manipulated the law and intimidated Puerto Rico’s Government into becoming an instrument of the United States. He demanded that the Special Committee hold the Trump regime accountable for throwing paper towels to more than 4,624 people who had died after Hurricane Maria. “This is a way of disposing [of] our race,” he said, demanding that, after 120 years of occupation, the United States regime be held accountable for its oppression.
JOHN STUDER, Socialist Workers Party, said he had met recently with workers, unionists, fishermen and students in Yabucoa, Humacao and other areas hit by Hurricane Maria, who were protesting that, nine months after that disaster, tens of thousands still lacked electricity. Calling the hurricane’s impact a “social catastrophe created by colonial domination and capitalist rule”, he said the United States‑appointed Fiscal Control Board had slashed jobs, closed schools and increased tuition at the University of Puerto Rico. Emphasizing that the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence from Washington was in the interests of working people in the United States, he said there was a growing understanding among both nations that the social disaster stemmed from the capitalist system, he said, citing Cuba’s socialist revolution as an example to emulate.
GERMAN RAMOS-SANTIAGO, Consejo Amplio Unitario de Solidaridad y Acción, said that for more than 40 years, Puerto Ricans had petitioned the Special Committee, denouncing the illegal colonization of their land. The United States defined Puerto Rico as a territory belonging to them, using the immoral and illegal claim to full sovereignty over its people. They used Puerto Rico as a laboratory for their purposes, including military ones, he said, adding that they also continued to discriminate against, torture and kill Puerto Ricans. The United States aimed to depopulate Puerto Rico and had imposed the Fiscal Control Board which exercised full control over the Territory in the most arbitrary way, he said, citing the drastic slashing of the pensions of elderly people. The structural, colonial crisis had a viable solution, he said, urging Member States to support Puerto Rico’s right to its own seat at the United Nations.
MYRNA PAGAN‑GOMEZ, Vidas Viequenses Valen, said “we are pawns in a capitalistic system that is killing us”, adding that Vieques was the colony of a colony that had been hit hard by Hurricane Maria. Calling upon the United Nations to audit the mounting number of hurricane‑related deaths, she denounced the criminal disregard for the rights of Puerto Ricans by the lame duck Government and the United States Navy in cleaning up a contamination site. “Now is the time to take the case of Puerto Rico to the United Nations General Assembly,” she emphasized. “Let us work together to bring peace and justice to Borinquen.”
ALEXANDRA LUGARO, Junte de Mujeres, said she had been the independent candidate for Puerto Rico’s governorship during the last election. Since 1946, she recalled, the Territory had been discussed at the United Nations, with leaders exposing the colonial nature of the archipelago and its consequences time and time again. Asking whether the United States truly controlled the United Nations — and whether, as some said, its treaties applied to all States except the United States — she declared: “We simply cannot understand why this [Special] Committee on Decolonization […] has not been able to get the General Assembly to require the United States, the administering authority, to begin the process of decolonization.” Citing the administering Power’s severe austerity measures and their negative effects on Puerto Rico, she said the seven individuals making up the unelected Financial Oversight and Management Board were now mortgaging the island’s future. Puerto Ricans had been made to feel as if they were asking the Special Committee for a favour, but they need not petition it as beggars, she emphasized. Instead, they should come before the Special Committee and the General Assembly full of pride and indignation.
MARIANA NOGALES-MOLINELLI, President, Partido de Pueblo Trabajador, cited the unequivocally colonial nature of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, and said the Board appointed under the PROMESA law was a violation of international law and the dignity of peoples. That colonial, despotic oligarchy intervened in the archipelago’s environmental, education, economic and other matters, causing its people to suffer and even pay with their lives. Noting that the Board enjoyed complete control over Puerto Rico’s budget, she said its individual members stood to benefit from its austerity measures. “The Board either buries us or removes us from our lands.” The poverty rate was rising sharply and there had been massive closures of schools without applying any objective criteria, which imperilled the economic future, she warned.
JAVIER TORRES, Brigada Guarionex, describing colonialism in all its forms as a crime, asked how it was possible that, in the twenty‑first century, the United States could get away with committing such a blatant crime? “They take from us more than they give,” he added. The massive debt was not Puerto Rico’s debt, but in order to pay it, the Fiscal Control Board was closing schools and cutting basic services. “We need to be free so then we can accept assistance from other countries,” he emphasized, recalling how the United States had prevented aid from other countries from reaching Puerto Rico during the aftermath of the hurricanes. The Boricua nation had a right to exercise full sovereignty, he stressed, urging the Special Committee to take action to end the colonization of Puerto Rico.
Ms. RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), Chair of the Special Committee, introduced the draft resolution titled “Decision of the Special Committee of 19 June 2017 concerning Puerto Rico” (document A/AC.109/2018/L.7) in her national capacity. Noting that its co‑sponsors had drafted the annual text in response to the will of the Puerto Rican people. As witnessed by the entire world, the draft acknowledged that in the context of the significant worsening of Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic crisis, its population remained unable to take action to meet its own needs or shape its own future. The text included concerns over the imposition by the United States Congress of a fiscal control board, which gave it authority over Puerto Rico’s civil servants and legislative elected officials, as well as all economic issues. It also referred to the outcome of the April 2018 Non‑Aligned Movement Summit, which had expressed concern about the Puerto Rican people’s inability to take action in response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, leading to rising poverty and mass migration. Among other things, the draft also recognized the outcomes of recent CELAC summits, she said, expressing hope that the Special Committee would approve the text by consensus.
The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.
Ms. RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), Special Committee Chair, said it was significant that the resolution had been adopted by consensus, decisive proof of support for Puerto Rico’s cause. Emphasizing the need to work towards the decolonization of all peoples, she said the text was a well‑deserved tribute to the many people who fought against colonialism. Cuba would continue to defend the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination, she reaffirmed.