Puerto Rico remained locked in a cycle of poverty, brain drain and sluggish economic development caused by the “imperialist” policies of the United States, the Special Committee of 24 was told today as it heard from more than 30 petitioners on the matter and approved a resolution urging the United States to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination.
Welcoming advocates from both Puerto Rico and its Diaspora community, the Special Committee — known formally 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 — heard that more than half of the island’s population lived in poverty, owing in large part to crippling trade policies imposed by the United States, the “colonial Power”.
Despite having been removed from the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 1953, Puerto Rico remained very much a colony of the “Yankee empire”, petitioners stressed, calling for the island’s independence from the United States.
In that vein, the representative of the Frente Autonomista urged the United Nations General Assembly to take action to ensure that the United States met its international obligations with regard to colonialism and took responsibility to decontaminate the Puerto Rican territory. Calling on that country to commit itself to a decolonization process, he demanded that all States help Puerto Rico with its economy and “stand on the right side of history”.
“This is an imperial situation,” asserted the representative of the American Association of Jurists, noting that the Territory was unable to establish trade relations with other countries, to the detriment of its economy. The “commonwealth” status hid the real situation of Puerto Ricans, which should be energetically condemned, he said.
The representative of the Movimiento Puertorriqueño Anticabotaje said that certain legal and trade restrictions — which had been put in place to stimulate American industry in Puerto Rico — constituted a “wall” that blocked economic development on the island. “We need access to markets which will make the flow of raw materials to the world at competitive prices possible,” she said.
The island’s economy had deteriorated in recent years, said a representative of Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico, noting that half the population lived at the poverty level. Imported foods were required, which led to poor diets and high rates of non-communicable diseases. Meanwhile, the United States Government maintained the designation of “domestic terrorism” for Puerto Rican activists, such as Oscar Lopez Rivera, who had been held for more than three decades in American prisons.
Mr. Lopez Rivera — who had been convicted of seditious conspiracy in the United States — was a central figure in today’s discussion, with many speakers calling for his immediate pardon and release. “He is a living legend in Puerto Rico,” said the representative of the National Lawyers Guild International Committee, adding that “the clamour for his release is a unifying factor, a call for justice and human rights across party lines, national boundaries, and religious and political beliefs”.
Among today’s petitioners were those who sought, not independence, but equality under United States law as the nation’s fifty-first state. “We have a half-way democracy,” said the representative of the group Igualdad, noting that, in a 2012 referendum, more than half of Puerto Rico’s voting population had rejected the island’s current status. In the United States, Puerto Rico was not represented at the federal level except for a resident commissioner who had no voice, she added.
Others stressed that the most basic right of citizenship — the right to vote for President — was still denied to more than 3.5 million Puerto Ricans. The representative of the Coalition for the Presidential Vote in Puerto Rico said that thousands of Puerto Rican soldiers had sacrificed their lives in every major war waged by the United States in defence of “freedom” and “democracy”, and yet they were denied the right to vote for those that governed them. “This harsh reality contradicts the United States’ public international discourse when it self-proclaims itself as the beacon of freedom and democracy worldwide,” he said.
Also participating today were representatives of Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Cuba, Ecuador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Syria.
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