Speakers Voice Concern about Environmental, Fiscal Challenges of Puerto Rico as Special Decolonization Committee Approves Annual Self-determination Text
Panel Hears Petitioners Describe Health-care Woes, Increased School Closures, Sell-off of Assets to Foreign Interests
Noting with concern the way in which political insubordination impedes Puerto Rico’s ability to tackle its serious economic and social problems, the Special Committee on Decolonization approved a draft resolution today that calls once again upon the United States to shoulder its responsibility to facilitate the realization of the right of Puerto Ricans to self‑determination.
More than 50 petitioners from Puerto Rican advocacy groups and international allies addressed the Special Committee, with many denouncing the colonial occupation of the Territory by the United States. Several called for Puerto Rico to be reinstated on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories; others suggested that it be admitted to the United Nations as the Sovereign State of Borinken. Speakers also called attention to the Territory’s environmental challenges, including climate change and the devastating aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
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 promote a process that enables Puerto Ricans to fully exercise 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 in which the prevailing regime of political and economic subordination in Puerto Rico operates is reduced any further.
The Special Committee further expressed serious concern about 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.
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 — said that the only way Puerto Rico can only exist as a Latin American and Caribbean nation is by becoming an independent and sovereign nation. Otherwise, it will lose its national identity, culture, language and way of life. “What’s happening in Puerto Rico is the culmination of colonialism,” he said, emphasizing that it is time for the General Assembly to rectify the mistake it made in 1953 when it took Puerto Rico off the list of NHon-Self-Governing Territories.
Agreeing, Edgardo Roman-Espada of the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico added that the Special Committee should recommend to the General Assembly that it ask the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the international status of Puerto Rico and the fiduciary responsibility of the United States. Trilce Torres Lopez of the Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico said that Puerto Rico’s absence from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories means it cannot access support and services from the United Nations.
Many speakers drew attention to the impact the Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico is having on the social, economic and political life of Puerto Rico and its estimated 3.2 million inhabitants. Established through the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), adopted by the United States Congress in 2016, that entity oversees the payment of Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt.
Julio Ortiz-Luquis of the Boricuas Unidos en la Diaspora said the Board is imposing austerity measures while robbing the pockets of the people. Millions of Puerto Ricans are going elsewhere while the island’s assets are being sold off to foreign interests.
“We need to revise our relationship with the United States,” said Maria de Lourdes Santiago of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, who emphasized that Puerto Rico has yet to recover from the devastating impact of fatal hurricanes in 2017. The United States has a moral imperative to give Puerto Ricans the right to decide their own future, she added.
Walter Alomar of the Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins said hundreds of schools in Puerto Rico are closed and rotting due to fiscal austerity measures. Also underlining the challenges faced by health‑care workers, he said Puerto Ricans have become a permanent underclass. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say this systemic sociocultural process of dismantling the education system is intentional,” he said.
Puerto Rico cannot participate in the global economy, nor can it care for its own needs, he said, emphasizing also its vulnerability to climate change. He said the Assembly should address the situation in Puerto Rico, adding that the Special Committee should call for a free Puerto Rico, which should have the opportunity for independence and self-determination.
“The legacy of United States colonialism in Puerto Rico has been, is now and will always be one of racism, exploitation, forced relocation, repression, assassination and incarceration,” said Benjamin Ramos Rosado of the ProLibertad Freedom Campaign.