14 June 2007
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
Special Committee on
5th & 6th Meetings (AM & PM)
SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLoNIZATION CALLS ON United States TO EXPEDITE
PUERTO RICO’S SELF-DETERMINATION PROCESS
Text Also Requests General Assembly to Consider Question;
Urges Clean Up of Vieques Island, Release of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners
The Special Committee on decolonization approved by consensus a resolution calling on the United States to “expedite a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence”, and request the General Assembly to consider the question in all its aspects.
By other terms of the text, the Committee urged the United States to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island to the people of Puerto Rico, and cover the costs of clean up and decontamination of areas previously used in military exercises.
Moreover, the Committee requested the President of the United States to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for over 26 years for cases relating to the struggles for independence and peace on Veiques Island.
Further, the Committee 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, mindful that the solution to Puerto Rico’s political status should originate from its people.
The representative of Cuba, which sponsored the resolution, said considering the status of Puerto Rico had risen to its highest level ever, noting that it was the first time a resolution had requested the General Assembly to consider the question of Puerto Rico in all aspects, an important step forward in reviewing the case within the United Nations framework.
The representative of Venezuela, a co-sponsor of the resolution, added that unanimous approval of the draft made it clear that Puerto Rico was indeed under colonial power. Such a resolution would strongly support the rights of the Puerto Rican people in their independence.
Also speaking on the draft resolution were the representatives of Saint Lucia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Syria, Iran and Nicaragua.
Throughout the day, the Committee heard from petitioners, many of whom weighed the options for Puerto Rico’s future status. The representative of the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico in the United States stressed that the relationship of association between Puerto Rico and the United States must evolve to ensure compliance with present legal realities. Most Puerto Ricans treasured their United States citizenship, yet many were divided, with 49 per cent of the population supporting the status of an associated free state; 46 per cent supporting annexation; and 5 per cent supporting independence. They rejected colonialism in all its manifestations and, for that reason, the territory’s alternative status needed to be non-colonial and respectful of modern principles of sovereignty.
He said in February, a bill had been presented to the United States House of Representatives, with the help of Governor Acevedo Vila, in which Congress recognized the authority of Puerto Ricans to convene a constitutional assembly, and was committed to a formula favoured by a majority of Puerto Ricans. That draft law called for the inclusion of four million Puerto Ricans living in the United States.
Echoing that sentiment, a representative from the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico discussed two measures before the United States Congress on self-determination. While his party had not expressed a preference for either one, he demanded that any action by Congress include the option of an associated State.
The issue of contamination from weapons was touched on by a few speakers concerned about the health and environmental consequences that it imposed on the island of Vieques, where the United States Navy had previously conducted military exercises. A representative of the Ithaca Catholic Worker Vieques Support Group said the United Nations subcommittee on human rights had condemned weaponry containing depleted uranium as a weapon of mass destruction. Yet, some 9,500 residents of Vieques lived 11 miles west of the bombing range where the United States Navy was today detonating unexploded ordinance. Fine radioactive particles were forced 2000 metres into the atmosphere and carried by the winds and hurricanes to populated areas throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
As others had pointed out, cancer rates in Vieques were higher than the main island of Puerto Rico, she said. No hospital in Puerto Rico was able to test for the presence of depleted uranium, but the military’s decision to use that radioactive metal, in spite of obvious health risks, showed a blatant disregard for human life and well-being.
Also, a representative from the Frente Patriotico Arecibeño decried the United States strategy for a nuclear weapons production facility in Puerto Rico, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He explained that documents from the United States Departments of Defence and Energy, and the National Nuclear Security Administration appeared to be directed to the use of Puerto Rican territory for the production of nuclear weapons. On 17 May, a United States House Bill on the safety for Americans from nuclear weapons testing was introduced, which stated that “alternate locations for nuclear testing were being considered”.
The Committee also heard calls for investigations into the assassination of independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and efforts to guarantee respect for the human rights of all Puerto Ricans, including the rights of political prisoners condemned to excessive time in United States jails.
Almost all participants asked the Committee to urge the General Assembly to reopen consideration of the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects. The representative of the Socialist Workers Movement, for example, said the United States had used its relationship with Puerto Rico to abuse the environment, weaken the tax base and dampen independence movements. United States control over Puerto Rico had adversely impacted the island’s economic development, and he hoped the Committee would pave the way for the unconditional transfer of sovereign powers to people from whom they were illegally seized. The Puerto Rican quest for independence should no longer be sidestepped, he said, demanding that the General Assembly take up the matter.
Other petitioners at today’s hearing on Puerto Rico also included representatives of the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; Puerto Rican Independence Party; Human Rights Committee of Puerto Rico; Fundacion Acción Democratica Puertorriquena; Comité Puerto Rico En La Onu; Puerto Ricans United in Action; Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico; Socialist Workers Party; American Association of Jurists; Fuerza Electoral Puertorriquena Movement; Estudiantes de Derecho Hostosianos Pro Independencia; Frente Autonomista; ProLibertad Freedom Campaign; Vieques Si; Colectivo de Trabajo Pro-Independencial de Mayaguez; Unidad en La Acción; Coordinadora Nacional Rompiendo el Perimetro; Ithaca Catholic Worker Vieques Support Group; Movimiento Independentista Nacional; United for Vieques; PROELA; Frente Socialista; and Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico.
The Committee will meet again on Wednesday, 20 June to consider the question of New Caledonia. Two petitioners from Guam will also be present.
The Special Committee had before it a report (document A/AC.109/2007/L.3) prepared by the Rapporteur of the Special Committee per a resolution adopted on 12 June 2006. The report highlights Puerto Rico’s general constitutional and political status. It notes that under the current Commonwealth arrangements, authority over defence, international relations, external trade and monetary matters remains with the United States, while Puerto Rico has autonomy on tax matters, social policies and most local affairs. Given the current deadlock among Puerto Rico’s political parties as to whether the island’s territorial status should change, an agreement on how to address the question of future status is unlikely during the current administration, the report states.
However, the United States Congress reopened debate over Puerto Rico’s political status in early 2007. The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 was introduced in the House of Representatives in February and urged a plebiscite to be conducted no later than 31 December 2009. It called for the ballot to provide voters with two options: to continue the existing form of territorial status or pursue a path toward a constitutionally viable permanent non-territorial status. Another bill, cited as the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2007, also was introduced in February in the House of Representatives.
Regarding military developments, the report noted that three issues remained to be clarified following the official end on 1 May 2003 of the United States Navy’s presence on the island of Vieques, located eight miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico: the future development and environmental clean up of Vieques; definitive conclusions regarding the effects of military exercises on the health of residents; and the future of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the island of Puerto Rico. The Navy later announced it had budgeted $76 million for the clean up of Vieques for the 2006-2009 period.
Regarding previous actions taken by the United Nations, the report noted that the United States maintained that Puerto Rico had exercised its right to self-determination, had attained a full measure of self-government, had decided freely and democratically to enter into a free association with the United States and was, therefore, as stated explicitly in resolution 748 (III) of 1953, beyond the purview of United Nations consideration.
Adopting on 13 June 2005 a decision by consensus, the Special Committee reaffirmed the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). It reiterated that the Puerto Rican people constituted a Latin American and Caribbean nation that had its own unequivocal national identity.
Also before the Committee was a draft resolution on the Special Committee decision of 12 June 2006 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2007/L.7).
Introduction of Draft Resolution
Introducing the draft resolution on the Special Committee decision of 12 June 2006 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2007/L.7), RODRIGO MALMIERCA DÍAZ (Cuba) said the high number, and great variety of, Puerto Rican political and social forces represented at the present meeting was proof of the high interest regarding the Puerto Rico “colonial question”.
He said that, notwithstanding 30 years of effort on the Committee’s part, the Puerto Rican people remained unable to exercise its right to self-determination. The United States, the colonial power, had tried by all means to consolidate its economic, political and social domination over the people of Puerto Rico. For its part, the Committee had adopted 25 resolutions and decisions on the issue, reaffirming the right of Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).
He said the present resolution called, once again, on the United States Government to accept responsibility to foster a process allowing the Puerto Rican people to exercise its inalienable rights. It also reiterated the principle that any initiative for the solution of Puerto Rico’s political status must first spring from the Puerto Rican people. The text urges the United States Government to complete the return to the Puerto Rican people all occupied lands and the facilities in Vieques and Ceiba, and to accelerate execution and costs of the cleaning up and decontamination of the areas of impact, through methods that did not worsen the consequences of its military activities on the health of the inhabitants of Vieques Island and the environment.
He said the resolution noted statements made by the Non-Aligned Movement at its 2006 summit in Havana, in which its 118 members reiterated their solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. The draft also noted the Proclamation adopted within the framework of the Latin-American and Caribbean Congress for the Independence of Puerto Rico, held in Panama in 2006, with the participation of 33 political parties from 22 countries.
He said the resolution further reiterated the Special Committee’s deep concern for the continued “violent actions” against Puerto Rican independence fighters in Puerto Rico, and urged that investigations be conducted on such actions. The President of the United States was called on to release political prisoners that had been serving sentences for more than 26 years in United States jails, on charges related to the struggle for independence.
CELINA ROMANY SIACA, representative of the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said her organization was charged with defending the fundamental rights of Puerto Rican citizens, noting that it had opened a dialogue to advocate for self-determination for them. For years, the Puerto Rican Bar Association had advanced that position. Despite the torturous route travelled in that process, only once in the last 35 years had Puerto Rico been the subject of General Assembly discussion, in 1953.
The democratic deficit and human rights violations persisted, she said. In keeping with the current reform process of the United Nations, the time had come for Puerto Rico’s case to be brought to the General Assembly. The Puerto Rican Bar Association had reiterated that position, informed by resolution 1514, and all delays lacerated the island’s dignity. Rarely was it heard that the level of poverty in Puerto Rico doubled levels found in certain areas of the United States. Further, the island was undergoing a governance crisis.
The island was facing the gradual disappearance of its economic model and a new, post-colonial transition model was needed, she continued. Manifestations of colonialism remained, including the imposition of the death penalty for federal crimes and environmental contamination. Legislation on the issue of Puerto Rico was under consideration in the United States Congress. For the first time, Puerto Ricans were recognizing the right to self-determination and a procedural mechanism had been created to help bring that about. Another bill advocated for a plebiscite. She called for a consultative opinion from the International Court of Justice on the issue of Puerto Rico and demanded that the United Nations defend Puerto Rico’s right to free determination.
FERNANDO MARTIN, Puerto Rican Independence Party, said support for the cause seemed to extend beyond the Committee. Indeed, a build up of “continental will” in favour of solidarity with Puerto Rico was being seen among the citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean, bringing to mind the episode surrounding the transfer of sovereignty of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama. The swelling of support was evident in the success of the Latin American and Caribbean Congress in Panama last November, where members expressed support for Puerto Rico, and in the resolution passed in December 2006 by the Latin American Parliament expressing support for decolonization.
He said recognition of the failure of “the system of colonial subordination”, coupled with the trend towards the demilitarization of countries, had obliged the United States Government to re-examine its “relations of domination”. In its recent formal declaration, the United States Congress had openly recognized the colonial character of the regime in Puerto Rico. Three major political parties in Puerto Rico had unanimously voted in 2005 to call on the President of the United States and Congress to respond to the call of Puerto Ricans to provide them with alternatives that were not territorial or colonial in nature. That represented a “majority feeling” in Puerto Rico, with the exception of a minority party, including the Governor, which tended to support the status quo. The draft law on Puerto Rico, currently being examined in Congress, indicated that a process was underway to overcome the present regime, but the “colonial Governor” could derail such an initiative.
He said the people of Puerto Rico, in one way or another, must hold electoral consultations on the issue of decolonization, whether under the auspices of the United States Congress or another mechanism based in Puerto Rico itself. He thought it important that the issue was taken to the General Assembly, to exert further pressure on the United States to intensify its moves towards decolonization. He expressed support for the draft resolution submitted by Cuba, especially its provisions relating to Vieques and the demands for the freedom of Puerto Rican political prisoners. He hoped Puerto Rico would proceed on the path towards independence, and reach its goal before the end of the second decade for the eradication of colonialism.
EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUÑOZ, representative of the Human Rights Committee of Puerto Rico, requested the immediate release of prisoners held in federal jails, some as long as 27 years. The United States Congress had held discussions on the colonial status of Puerto Rico, and the release of prisoners was a precondition for any discussion. All political prisoners had been subjected to torture and degrading treatment. One prisoner had been placed in a special cell and his isolation had been intensified for years. Despite the fact he had been diagnosed with cataracts, he had not been given the opportunity to correct that problem. He faced the possibility of dying in jail. Another prisoner who had been entitled to provisional release was denied that opportunity. A third inmate, imprisoned over the Vieques situation, had been attacked in jail, however, no investigation had been conducted. He’d often been placed in solitary confinement.
The moral strength of a country was derived from its human rights actions, he said. However, how could those who imposed human rights guidelines on other countries keep prisoners in such awful conditions? The United States was violating the most fundamental human rights of prisoners.
After 27 years of unfair treatment, Puerto Rico called for the unconditional and immediate release of prisoners, he said, noting that last October, a 2,000 person march had taken place calling for their release. Further, an open letter had been sent to President Bush calling for their release. That letter had been signed by legislators, mayors and party chairpersons. A recommendation approved in the Special Committee could be a real contribution for Puerto Rico’s call for the release of prisoners.
ENRIQUE BAQUERO, Fundación Acción Democràtica Puertorriqueña, whose organization was committed to improving the quality of democracy in Puerto Rico, urged the Committee to arrange for the General Assembly to take up the issue of the decolonization of Puerto Rico. The Assembly should seize on the formal recognition by the Bush Administration of the “territorial”, and, thus, colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, to question the argument made in 1953 by the United States to the Assembly that peoples of those two countries had an “agreement” that exempted them from reporting annually to the United Nations on the economic and social development of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants.
He said it was urgent that the Assembly take action, given that the United States House of Representatives had begun considering a draft resolution on a possible plebiscite in Puerto Rico on the issue. The Committee was urged to ask the Assembly to call on the United States to organize a plebiscite that presented all valid alternatives for self-determination, in line with United Nations resolution 1514 (XV) and others, and that the plebiscite not limit people’s choices to “colonial options” alone. The current, so-called commonwealth relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico was not of a kind that the United Nations accepted. He noted that the United States, and the General Assembly in turn, had recognized the sovereignty of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.
He said that, in its resolution this year, the Committee should include a provision urging the United States Congress to deal with the issue seriously and in good faith, given that, in past years, the issue was often taken up and then left to fall by the wayside. He supported the option of establishing a Puerto Rican constitutional assembly with the authority to decide how the status of its people should be taken up. He noted that the United States House of Representatives had another bill before it, recognizing the right of Puerto Ricans to convene such a constitutional assembly. He also supported the freeing of Puerto Rican political prisoners.
WILMA RIVERÓN, of the Comit é Puerto Rico En La Onu, said that from the outset, the United Nations had included in its Charter the recognition of peoples to their right to self-determination, to freely establish their political situation, and to provide for their economic, social and cultural development. The right to self-determination was a fundamental right, she stressed, without which it was not possible to enjoy other rights. The right to decolonization was outlined in the United Nations Charter, as well as the International Declaration on Human Rights, and in many General Assembly resolutions, particularly resolution 1514, the main guideline for decolonization.
All those instruments repeated the inadmissibility of the intervention of States in the sovereignty of peoples, and protected peoples subject to colonialism, particularly their right to self-determination and independence. It should be clear that on the basis of the adoption of resolution 1514, any claims to sovereignty of a territory were no longer be valid, because they violated the principle of the right to self-determination. On the basis of new international law, old colonial entitlements no longer existed.
In the case of Puerto Rico, the “legality” that the intervening Power, the United States, used to justify its subjugation was based on resolution 748 (1953). Its position was that the Puerto Ricans had already exercised their right to self-determination by creating their own Government.
However, in the inter-agency group report on Puerto Rico adopted in April 2007, the United States reiterated that Puerto Rico belonged to, but did not form part of the United States and, thus, was subject to the full powers of Congress. That declaration served as proof that the adoption resolution 748 was truly an act of international public relations, and that the United States had no desire to comply with the law on decolonization. Puerto Ricans had denounced that situation each year in this Committee. Implementation of resolution 1514 recognized the inalienable right of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence. Some 35 years had passed and 25 resolutions had been adopted without the United States fulfilling its obligations.
The Special Committee resolution of 2006 stated what was expected of the United States, she said, noting that the inter-agency working group affirmed that Puerto Rico was subject to the congressional authority of the United States. It noted the debate in Puerto Rico for a procedure that would allow for a decolonization process. She joined denunciations of others on the expropriation and control by the United States of Puerto Rican environmental resources. She also called for the release of political prisoners.
MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriqueños Unidos En Acción, thanked Cuba and Venezuela for the unconditional support they have shown to the people of Puerto Rico, so far. He also paid tribute to the efforts of various other international supporters, such as members of the Non-Aligned Movement, whose efforts in the final months of 2006 had led to a declaration reaffirming Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination, and to the Latin American and Caribbean Congress, which had produced the Panama Proclamation in favour of Puerto Rico’s independence.
He said Amnesty International had issued a report that condemned various human rights violations by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), including the assassination of a major independence leader, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, as well as the excessive use of force by the FBI against Puerto Rican journalists. Efforts must be made to guarantee a respect for the human rights of Puerto Ricans, as they worked to achieve their self-determination and decolonization. That included the rights of political prisoners condemned to excessive jail time in United States jails, where they were submitted to psychological pressure and physical mistreatment.
The exercise of Puerto Rican self-determination must be full and just, he said, and must ensure the participation of Puerto Ricans residing in the United States, through a constituent assembly. The idea for such an assembly had received support from the Puerto Rico bar association, workers groups, the religious sector and political parties. However, the United States had taken measures to confound world public opinion regarding the true nature of its power over Puerto Rico and seemed to “discard” ideas for convening such a constituent assembly. Indeed, the United States seemed to be using its influence to prevent the issue from being taken up by the General Assembly, and to prevent the people of Puerto Rico from exercising their rights. After 500 years of struggling against colonialism, the people of Puerto Rico must be careful not make the mistake of supporting a process that failed to uphold the principles of resolution 1514 (XV).
PAULA SANTIAGO, representative of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, denounced all crimes against the Puerto Rican people, particularly colonialism. She hoped the commitment of the Committee would help to achieve Puerto Rico’s independence and membership in the United Nations system. She understood that the Committee’s work was important for Puerto Ricans’ full enjoyment of their rights within a legal framework. When resolution 1514 was adopted, the Committee had decided to examine the question of Puerto Rico.
She urged the President of the United States to help the island ensure its self-determination and desist from all actions that harmed its freedom fighters. Moreover, she called for the immediate release of those held in federal prisons, and the halting of “electronic warfare” conducted by the FBI.
Further, she said the United States Government should stop violating the fundamental human rights of Puerto Ricans, particularly in the area of health. Puerto Rico had the second-highest level of death from HIV/AIDS, but lacked the funds necessary to deal with that epidemic. Also, the United States should decontaminate areas it had ruined with experiments.
Since 1898, the United States had tried to destroy Puerto Rican nationality and imperialism again was sharpening its sword, she continued. The United States kept the island as a personal corporation and that exploitation made its citizens poor. Puerto Rico was the last significant colony in the world, and its fate was in the hands of the United States Congress. It was time for the international community to overturn the situation. Puerto Rico needed self-determination, according to international law. The island must be a free and independent nation. She asked all Committee members to help take the question of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly.
ARGIRIS MALAPANIS, representative of the Socialist Workers Party, called for the immediate release of all Puerto Rican independence fighters from United States prisons, particularly the “Cuban Five”, whose real crime was fighting for their country’s sovereignty. The fight for Puerto Rico’s independence was in the interests of the majority of United States people, he continued, noting that as long as the island remained a United States colony, the fighting capacity of the working-class movement was weakened. The United States Government had used Puerto Rico as a springboard for launching assaults on countries, from its 1983 invasion of Grenada to the occupation of Iraq. Further, it continued to use Puerto Rican youth as fodder in its imperialist wars. The successful 60-year struggle by the Puerto Rican people to remove the United States Navy from Vieques had educated millions about those realities.
The ongoing incarceration of four Puerto Rican “independentistas” was another case of turning the victim into the criminal, he said, as was the case with the 12 million undocumented immigrants. Those workers had become a growing section of the United States working class, and provided a pool of “super-exploited labour” to satisfy the bosses’ greed for profit. The United States rulers had the gall to tell the Puerto Rican people — while assaulting then on wages, job safety and living conditions -– that they had no choice but to depend on Washington and that independence would only bring them ruin. Indeed, the Committee’s condemnation of Washington’s colonial rule would serve the interest of those fighting everywhere for the right to self-determination and against oppression.
LUIS VEGA RAMOS, representative of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, said he had come to inform the Committee about the situation in Puerto Rico. In accepting Puerto Rico’s Constitution in 1952, the United States had committed to accept petitions on freedoms. It was time for the United States to respond to its lack of compliance in those matters. Puerto Rico’s claims for autonomy and self-determination had always been heard. In 1962, the development of a free associated state was urged, based on the sovereign capability of the Puerto Rican people. Further, the respect for the sovereignty and identity of Puerto Ricans was outlined in resolution 1514.
He demanded that Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination be respected. Moreover, he reaffirmed the island’s right to sovereignty, saying that since 1978, that right had included the right of free association. There were two measures before the United States Congress on self-determination, and while his party had not expressed a preference, he demanded that any action by Congress include the option of an associated State. He supported bill 1230 to establish federal mechanisms to negotiate future discussions with the United States. He also had put forward draft legislation in the Puerto Rican Chamber of Representatives, which had been developed by a multiparty committee.
Finally, he said, the United States had not complied with promoting the processes that would ensure Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination. If Congress did not adopt either draft before it, he hoped Puerto Rico, nonetheless, would become a free associated State to the United Nations. He asked the Committee to urge the General Assembly to re-examine the issue of Puerto Rico’s self-determination. He called for full membership of Puerto Rico in the United Nations, as the time had come to seek mechanisms that would allow for Puerto Rico’s full exercise of self-determination.
ALEDIA CENTENO RODRIGUEZ, Frente Patriotico Arecibeño, said her organization had spoken last year on the United States strategy to authorize a nuclear weapons production facility in Puerto Rico, in violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. She explained that Arecibo was home to the Arecibo National Astronomy and Ionospheric Centre (NAIC), which was used as an “ionospheric heater” [an array of antennae which are used for heating the uppermost part of the atmosphere]. Arecibo was also mentioned as a test-site for the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme (HAARP), in a patent filed by an individual in the United States, to conducted experiments related to ionospheric manipulation. HAARP could function as an anti-missile and anti-aircraft defence system, permit interception and disruption of communications, weather and submarine and subterranean communications, among other things. The HAARP patent papers also stated that the invention could “simulate and perform the same function as performed by the detonation of a heavy type nuclear device”.
She said Arecibo was also mentioned in connection with the Puerto Rico Karst Conservation Act, which included authorization for the deployment of a nuclear weapons production facility. Aerial photos taken in the region showed antenna-like devices directed towards the ground, present since the mid-1990s. The citizens of Arecibo had not been made aware of the consequences or possible effects of those atmospheric experiments. Statements found in the literature regarding those experiments admit to the use of laser rays aimed at the atmosphere and there have been witnesses to the use of such rays for decades. There was a high rate of cancer cases of unknown origin in that region.
She said documents from the United States Department of Defence and Energy, and the National Nuclear Security Administration appeared to be directed to the use of Puerto Rican territory for the production of nuclear weapons. On 17 May, a United States House Bill on the safety for Americans from nuclear weapons testing was introduced, which states that “alternate locations for nuclear testing were being considered”. The bill also stated that the Department of Energy, acting under the National Environmental Policy Act, would be responsible for handling cases of contamination in the United States. In addition, Puerto Rico was designated as a territory under the purview of the Radiological Assistance Programme, which was ready to intervene in cases of radioactive contamination. It would seem that that entity was in charge of the well-being of the people of Puerto Rico in case of a nuclear accident.
A document on land acquisition, available at the property registry of Puerto Rico, Arecibo Section, showed the consolidation of various estates into a single 114 acre estate purchased by the United States Government. More purchases would follow. The people of Arecibo were wary of the intentions of the Untied States Department of Defense, and denounced the fact that the people of Puerto Rico were not being included in plans that affected its security and future. The Committee was urged to refer the case of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly, and to take the necessary precautions to guarantee the security of the hemisphere.
DINORAH LA LUZ, of the American Association of Jurists, said her organization was a non-governmental organization with consultative status in the Economic and Social Council. She reiterated her call for the eradication of colonialism and support for resolution 1514, which dealt with decolonization. The General Assembly should take up the political status of Puerto Rico without delay.
She denounced the violations of human rights instruments by the United States, especially those treaties dealing with self-determination, and reiterated support for such instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the United States had not fulfilled its obligations to various international treaties, she said there was a lack of sovereignty among those governing Puerto Rico.
Turning to the issue of Vieques, she said the island was awaiting the decontamination and return of its lands. Moreover, it was a cruel punishment that Puerto Rican prisoners were under disproportionate jail terms. The United States was not complying with the General Assembly decision that stated that nations that maintained colonies should dismantle their military bases. Clearly, resolutions on decolonization and racial discrimination should be implemented. She hoped the case of Puerto Rico could be solved without further delay and that its important issues could be brought to the General Assembly.
EDUARDO BHATIA, Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico in the United States, said he stood ready to work with the Committee and the United Nations General Assembly to reach a new agreement that would reflect the political, economic and social realities of the twenty-first century. The relationship of association between Puerto Rico and the United States should evolve to ensure compliance with present legal realities, and serve the best interests of Puerto Ricans in terms of their economic and social well-being. A majority of Puerto Ricans treasured their United States citizenship; yet, there were many who recognized that there were alternatives beyond annexation, which would lead to assimilation, and independence, which spelled separation.
He said Puerto Ricans were divided into factions where 49 per cent supported the status of associated free state; 46 per cent supported annexation; and 5 per cent supported independence. Puerto Ricans rejected colonialism in all its manifestations and, for that reason, the territory’s alternative status needed to be non-colonial and respectful of modern principles of sovereignty, while also respecting the wish to associate with the United States. Various political forces in the United States and Puerto Rico were pushing certain anti-democratic processes, which must be stopped. Last year and the year before, the Governor had made clear his commitment to establishing a process of free-determination for Puerto Rico that would be inclusive; represent self-determination and not imposition; and would respect ideological differences among Puerto Ricans. It would involve participation not just from political parties, but also from of civil society.
He said the process promoted by the Governor, the Status Constitutional Assembly, enjoyed wide support among the Puerto Rican bar association, civil society leaders, and the Special Committee itself. The proposal had generated more support in last two years than in previous decades, including from Puerto Ricans residing in the United States, American Government officials and others. There was a need to turn such “historic support” into immediate action. In February, a bill was presented to the United States House of Representatives, with the help of Governor Acevedo Vilá, in which Congress recognized the authority of Puerto Ricans to convene a constitutional assembly, but also committed to a formula that was favoured by a majority of Puerto Ricans. The draft law calls for the inclusion of four million Puerto Ricans living in the United States. Members of the Committee were asked to maintain solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico to ensure that the Constitutional Assembly became a reality.
He said the “Puerto Rico Democracy Act”, H.R. 900, proposed imposing a controversial vote in two rounds, eventually proceeding to a vote where people would choose between forming a federated state or an independent one. The objective of such a strategy was to ensure annexation of Puerto Rico against the people’s will.
He said the Government of Puerto Rico stood ready to begin work to resolve the present dilemma, by establishing a non-traditional relationship of association that was free, stable and democratic, and which was underpinned by modern political reasoning.
DOMINIQUE A. GILORMINI-DE GARCIA, representing the Fuerza Electoral Puertorriqueña Movement, said his organization represented university students. For the last four years, he had encouraged young people to participate in elections and other activities that would have an impact on the development of the island. He reiterated that his organization stood ready to educate young people. Although he did not affiliate himself with a particular position on the question of status, he encouraged a fair and democratic process. In recent years, Puerto Ricans had been dragged into a sterile debate on the status of the island, and it was his understanding that a Constitutional Assembly on status had offered the best hope for the future.
The United States Congress had two bills before it, he continued. Bill 900 was designed to make Puerto Rico the fifty-first State, while Bill 1230 recognized a Constitutional Assembly. Bill 900 was the result of the poor work of the task force created by United States President Bush, he said, noting that such a bill represented an attack on the integrity of Puerto Ricans. Those imposing status on others without taking into consideration the wishes of those affected were an attacking democracy. He urged a fair, democratic and inclusive process, and asked the Committee to support the island of Vieques in calling for the clean up of its contaminated areas.
CÉSAR PÉREZ LIZASUIN, Estudiantes de Derecho Hostosianos Pro Independencia, speaking on behalf of the Law Students Association, said that since the illegal North American invasion of 1898, the people of Puerto Rico had not had an opportunity to exercise their legitimate and inherent right to self-determination, based on resolution 1514 (XV) and the pacts and covenants on civil, political and economic and sociocultural rights. Resolution 2621 (1970) stated that in territories where there had been no exercise to the right to self-determination and independence, the General Assembly must shoulder responsibility for them until their inhabitants had had an opportunity to exercise their rights. Resolution 2621 also stated that there was an inherent right for all colonial people to struggle by all means necessary against colonial powers. Meanwhile, resolution 2625 provided for a separate and different legal status vis-à-vis administering States for their territories, until they could exercise right to self-determination.
He said for national liberation movements, such as the Boricua People’s Army, must be able to take action against anybody opposing their right to self-determination through assassinations; brutal persecution by the FBI of independistas and members of the press; 60 years of bombing in Vieques; the federal Government’s seizing the best lands; and sending Puerto Rican to fight in Iraq. Unfortunately, the demands of Puerto Ricans had been ignored, and, meanwhile, the country was in danger of disintegrating. There was a 50 per cent poverty rate, high economic dependency, 30 per cent unemployment, and an economy that could not grow more than 1 per cent per year. The situation was closely linked to the relationship of subordination to the United States, and he recommended that Puerto Rico’s case be taken up to the General Assembly.
He drew attention to the 2005 report of the Presidential Task Force on Puerto Rico, which indicated a clear change in the United States position as compared to the decision of 1953, which established the status of free associated state for Puerto Rico. That status meant that Puerto Rico was no longer on the list of self- governing territories, and could not be treated as a colony; the United States Government has now changed its tune and acknowledged the colonial nature of the relationship. He urged the Committee to expose these contradictions.
ISMAEL GUADALUPE ORTIZ, Vieques Si, recalled a time when his siblings were removed from Vieques and his parents’ house destroyed. His story was the same as that of thousands of others from Vieques. Four years had passed since the navy left the area, but the land remained under federal authority, with a few plots of land handed to the municipality. The rest were under the control of a United States federal wildlife agency, which kept the people of Vieques from visiting their land.
For years, he said, the group had denounced the environmental contamination taking place in Vieques. The plan for conservation and environmental impact assessments was an excuse to maintain control over the area. The plan called for public participation, but in truth there was no room to ask for the return of that land to its rightful owners. The Navy used that land to build a system of radars, which was for purely military purposes. The type of clean up undertaken in Vieques was also suspect — they were openly detonating bombs, with support the navy. The Government of Puerto Rica and the Environmental Protection Agencyhad rejected the burning of grasses to clean the land anddetect the presence of bombs, because it was damaging to people’s health. Yet, that method was openly being proposed to the clean up group. In april 2007, civil disobedience groups intervened to protect the mangroves and the grasses, but they were nevertheless set on fire.
He said the Navy refused to listen to the community regarding their concerns. The Committee should call for a halt to the open detonation of bombs and open burning of grasses, as well as the return of decontaminated lands and a true clean up. Also, those responsible for the deteriorating health of the people must be held accountable.
MARIE MERILL RAMIREZ, representative of the Colectivo de Trabajo Pro-Independencial de Mayagüez, said she had supported independence for Puerto Rico and the release of political prisoners for 20 years. She was here today to discuss various incidents of harassment of those supporting independence, including searches by the FBI of the homes and offices of trade union leaders and community leaders. There also was unnecessary involvement of local police. Such incidents were not isolated; rather, they formed part of a long and cruel tradition against those supporting independence, and the true dimensions of such harassment were being exposed today.
Proof of repression by the United States Government against those promoting independence was seen in the 168,000 documents recently declassified by the FBI and today found in the legislative library of Puerto Rico. In the last 20 months, she recalled that a friend had reported over 40 incidents in which he and his family had been followed or investigated. Other activists had been called for interrogation without warning or reason. All those involved were ready to offer sworn statements about what had happened and some had approached human rights commissions.
She was a witness to the fact that those questioned were upstanding citizens who were respected in their communities, she said. Many had lost their jobs and all continued to cope with courage and dignity. The Committee had a great responsibility to ensure that the aspiration to eliminate colonialism was guaranteed. She urged the Committee to request the General Assembly to reopen consideration of the case of Puerto Rico.
JANNETTE RAMOS GARCIA, Unidad en La Acción, Coordinadora Nacional Rompiendo el Perímetro, urged an investigation into the Rios assassination and asked that those responsible be brought to justice. Last year, her group denounced the harassment and threats against those fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence, and she repeated the same message today. Her organization was personally familiar with such incidents of harassment. In the last few months, United States police agents acted with impunity and were a constant threat to those advocating the decolonization of Puerto Rico.
She said she had called on the FBI to provide the names of agents involved in such incidents, but the FBI had declined. But the Bar Association of Puerto Rico stood ready to investigate the matter. The United States Courts seemed to act in favour of the FBI, and seemed to provide legal cover for instances of police “insolence”; meanwhile, the people of Puerto Rico were left with no legal recourse.
She said the people of Puerto Rico grieved along with victims suffering from similar occurrences in other countries. For example, in any other incidents in Milan a few days ago, a case had arisen against 26 CIA agents, accused of kidnapping a man and bringing him to Egypt via a United States base in Germany. Her group had a deep aspiration for justice and wished to defend human rights. She called for the issue of Puerto Rico’s independence to be brought to the General Assembly.
MARY ANNE GRADY FLORES, representative of the Ithaca Catholic Worker Vieques Support Group, said she had participated in the non-violent struggle in Vieques to stop 60 years of United States Navy bombing. The United States military continued to impose itself unjustly in Vieques, and also through its proxy nations such as Israel. Recalling her recent trip to Palestine, she said that parallel struggles existed in Vieques and Palestine. Further irony lay in the fact that the United States was responsible, directly and indirectly, for colonization in both cases. Other parallels existed: the confiscation of lands, forced removal of people, demolition of homes and the holding of political prisoners were just a few. The people of Vieques believed that their struggle to remove the United States military was intertwined with the fate of others around the globe.
She said the people of Vieques demanded: the United States Navy stop detonations of unexploded bombs; the immediate removal of all hazardous materials; the immediate return of lands occupied by the Department of Fish and Wildlife; and the inclusion of Vieques citizens in the development of their island. Further, they called for a moratorium on the sale of Vieques lands to large developers.
Turning to the issue of nuclear weapons, she said the United Nations subcommittee on human rights had condemned weaponry containing depleted uranium as a weapon of mass destruction. Yet, some 9,500 residents of Vieques live 11 miles west of the bombing range where the United States Navy is detonating unexploded ordinance today. Fine radioactive particles were forced 2000 metres into the atmosphere and carried by the winds and hurricanes to populated areas throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
She added that cancer rates in Vieques were 27 per cent higher than the main island of Puerto Rico. No hospital in Puerto Rico was able to test for the presence of depleted uranium, and, like United States veterans of both Iraq wars, the people of Vieques did not have base line information about the presence of depleted uranium in people’s bodies. But the military’s decision to use that radioactive metal, in spite of obvious health risks, showed a blatant disregard for human life and well-being.
JULIO MURIENTE PEREZ, Co-President of the National Independence Hostosiano Movement of Puerto Rico (MINH), said that 25 July would be the one hundred-ninth anniversary of the United States military invasion of Puerto Rico. During all those years, the United States Government had not taken a single step to advance the decolonization of Puerto Rico. On the contrary, it had fortified its presence and control on Puerto Rico and its people in all the facets of their lives. The official political condition that prevailed in Puerto Rico was called a Free Associated State or Commonwealth. That was a fraud promoted as a decolonization process, but the international community had never given it legitimacy.
“We demand that established international law be complied with, especially United Nations resolution 1514 (XV) and its requirement that powers be transferred to the people of Puerto Rico, so that we might freely decide our destiny,” he said. Until now, the United States had acted with open impunity and defiance of the principals approved by the international community. “We should not permit international law to be reduced to a dead letter,” he stressed, recalling resolution 1514, 25 resolutions approved by the Special Committee, the forceful resolution of the Non-Aligned Movement in favour of Puerto Rico’s self-determination and independence, as well as the voice of representatives of dozens of Latin American political parties, who had asked for the same thing in Panama recently. The Special Committee had before it “an ample resolution, firm and equitable”, reaffirming those rights of Puerto Rico. He subscribed to its general content, particularly the reclamations for the people of Vieques and the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners.
As affirmed in that resolution, “all the initiatives for the solution of the political status of Puerto Rico should be taken by the people of Puerto Rico”, he said. That should take place in a Constitutional Assembly of Status, which was representative and inclusive. It would be such national consensus, together with international solidarity, that would force the Government of the United States to assume its responsibility in the case. “We are not asking you to substitute for us in this liberation endeavour, this is our responsibility and no one else’s,” he said. “All we are asking for is solidarity in a just cause, authenticated as such by this Committee on innumerable occasions.”
Action on Draft Resolution
Making a general statement before the action, the representative of Saint Lucia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the exercise of self-determination continued to be a top priority of the Non-Aligned Movement’s agenda. The inalienable right to self-determination remained valid and essential to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. She reiterated support for the Committee’s work, and urged administering Powers to give their full support to that United Nations body. The Movement renewed its call to speed the process of decolonization and the complete elimination of colonialism.
Moreover, the Movement reaffirmed its position on the question of Puerto Rico contained in the final document of the Summit Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana last September. The colonial question of Puerto Rico had been under consideration for more than 30 years and many resolutions had been developed.
While she was pleased that over the last seven years, the Committee had adopted its resolutions by consensus, she also called for the prompt implementation of those resolutions, and reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination. The Movement called on the United States to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise self-determination, and return occupied land on Vieques and at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.
Finally, she urged the General Assembly to actively consider the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects. Her delegation fully supported the work of the Special Committee and hoped the resolution would take into account the position of the Non-aligned Movement.
The representative of Venezuela, a co-sponsor of the resolution alongside Cuba, endorsed the statement made by the representative of Saint Lucia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. Venezuela had itself suffered the ignominy of colonialism in the past, and, for that reason, always sought to maintain solidarity with all people wishing to liberate themselves from colonial powers. Venezuela supported the important political statements made on the decolonization of Puerto Rico by the Latin American Congress and the Non-Aligned Movement.
He remarked that the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico now allowed its people to request Puerto Rican citizenship, bringing them closer to a concept of a sovereign Puerto Rico. Unanimous approval of the draft would make clear that the country was indeed under colonial power and that there was a need for the General Assembly to actively consider the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects. Such a resolution would go far in supporting the rights of Puerto Rican people to their independence.
The representative of Syria said Puerto Rico had struggled for many years in its right to self-determination, noting particularly that resolution 1514 granted independence to colonized peoples and lands. The Committee had dealt with the question of Puerto Rico for 30 years and adopted 24 resolutions and decisions in that regard. All those actions had been adopted by consensus, he continued, emphasizing the need for Puerto Rico to exercise its inalienable right to self-determination. Moreover, those actions had demanded that the United States Government expedite the process that would allow Puerto Rico to exercise its right to independence.
Syria fully supported the document adopted at the Summit Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana last September, he explained. He hoped that the resolution presented by Cuba would be adopted by consensus, which would reaffirm the sanctity of the principle on the right to self-determination.
The representative of Iran, aligning himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country supported the resolution before the Committee and hoped the Committee adopted it by consensus, as had been the case in previous years.
The Committee then adopted the resolution on without a vote.
RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ ( Cuba) said he was pleased that the resolution had been adopted by consensus for the eighth consecutive year. Indeed, the case of Puerto Rico had risen to its highest level ever, he continued, noting that, for the first time, the resolution requested that the General Assembly consider the question of Puerto Rico in all aspects, an important step forward in the review of the case within the United Nations framework.
The number of delegations, both members and non-members, participating in the debate was commendable, he said, highlighting the statement made by the 118 members of the Non-Aligned Movement. He said the adoption of the resolution was highly relevant for Cuba, and his country held a historical debt to the Puerto Rican people, who had provided examples of fighting for self-determination. Cuba would particularly remember sacrifices made by Ramón Emeterio Betances and Pedro Albizu Campos, among others.
Recalling the first article of the Cuban Revolutionary Party’s guidelines created in 1892, he said Puerto Rican and Cuban patriots had conspired 140 years ago to conceive what would later become the “Grito de Lares” in Puerto Rico and the “Grito de Yara” in Cuba, war cries that almost simultaneously started their respective independence struggles. Moreover, both countries had been subjected to the Spanish colonial yoke and suffered the same United States military intervention in 1898.
Despite their long colonial domination, the Puerto Rican people had kept their culture and identity, a fact which showed that the unswerving vocation for independence was deeply rooted in the island. The adoption of the resolution today was a tribute to that patriotic spirit. Puerto Rico could always count on Cuba’s unconditional solidarity, he said, adding that Cuba would continue to uphold Puerto Rico’s legitimate right to self-determination.
The representative of Nicaragua thanked the representatives of the Puerto Rican people for returning year after year to inform the Committee about their long process of emancipation. He trusted that the Committee would take the necessary steps to help the people of Puerto Rico exercise their full rights to self-determination, thereby becoming members of the United Nations. Indeed, many people had come to enjoy their right to self-determination after the passage of resolution 1514, which, in turn, had helped democratize the United Nations. Puerto Rico must no longer be the exception to that rule.
He remarked that, in recent times, great efforts had been made in Puerto Rico itself — through dialogue, discussion and the exercise of political will — leading to the withdrawal of the United States Navy from Vieques. However, he was disturbed by what had been said by leaders in Vieques regarding the environmental impact of the Navy’s actions, alongside other problems. Nicaragua joined others in the world in endorsing what was declared by the Non-Aligned Movement at the 2006 summit in support of Puerto Rican independence.
He said Puerto Rico –- a warm, loving people, which shared a strong sense of brotherhood and sisterhood with the wider Latin American family — deserved to be free. Puerto Rico must one day take its rightful seat at the United Nations, where it could begin making a contribution to the “better world” that all States “deeply yearned for”.
BETTY “COQUI” BRASSELL said she had been actively supporting the people of Vieques for the past seven years and had been a founding member of United for Vieques, a grass-roots organization in Manhattan. As a member of “Grannies against the War”, she had learned about the dangers of military contamination. While it had been four years since the United States Navy bombing of Vieques had ended as a result of a worldwide campaign to stop the bombing and contamination, the people continued to suffer the aftermath of bombings, as the Navy still detonated unexploded bombs on the island.
She said the victory for peace in Vieques, celebrated in May 2003, had not resulted in the fulfilment of the people’s four demands, namely demilitarization, decontamination, the return of the land and development. The detonations continued, releasing, among other things, lead, depleted uranium and radiation. The people of Vieques deserved an island free of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The local economy was rapidly deteriorating as developers and private land speculators bought up homes, land and businesses at inflated prices in order to gentrify the entire island. Unemployment continued to rise.
Forced immigration also continued as the people sought alternatives to the worsening economic reality in Vieques, she added. Gentrification and land-grabbing presented an ongoing critical problem for the people of Vieques. The people of Vieques deserved and demanded peace with justice. Now more than ever Vieques needed the international community’s support and solidarity.
HECTOR IVAN SANTOS, representing PROELA, a civil society organization, said for 30 years he had defended Puerto Rico’s decolonization, while others had only wanted a liberalization of the system. Full liberation was needed, as Puerto Rico was the oldest colony in the world. In the Second International Decade on the Eradication of Colonialism, he said the United States must erase its “worst stain”, and urged that Puerto Rico be considered as a separate agenda item by the General Assembly. That alone would lend a sense of urgency to the situation.
Puerto Rico had become a colony as a result of the Hispano-American war, he continued. Although the United States had granted some autonomy to the island in the form of a new constitution, he said the process of modernization had gone hand-in-hand with political repression guided by the mainland. That repression was selective and intense, as seen in the Vieques situation, the assassination of Filiberto Rios by the FBI and other violations of civil rights. For those reasons, the process of self-determination had been slow. Further, the level of self-government in Puerto Rico was limited.
In the economic and social area, Puerto Rico was dependent on the United States, meaning that any self-determination process would be difficult. A “subject economy” had been created in Puerto Rico, as shown by its isolation in terms of trade from the world. Further, the island was subject to a monopoly market favouring the United States. The United States had not been a good partner or a good neighbour, and the island had been a test area for its military, economic and cultural imperialism. He called for the immediate liberation of political prisoners and a cleanup operation on Vieques. He denounced the shameless violation of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination, and urged that the matter of Puerto Rico be taken up as a separate agenda item by the General Assembly.
MANUEL A. RODRIGUEZ BANCHS, Frente Socialista, remarked on the level of control exercised by the United States over Puerto Rico, in terms of its defence, armed forces, foreign relations, trade, customs, immigration, citizenship, and other aspects. Certain provisions of United States laws were in conflict with those internationally-protected rights, such as freedom of association. Indeed, Puerto Rico’s laws upheld the right to form trade unions, as protected under several International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. The United States itself had ratified those conventions and, in 1998, had voiced support for a separate ILO declaration which stipulated that even those Members that had not ratified such conventions were committed to respecting, promoting and realizing the freedom of association and the right of collective negotiation. Yet, under federal law, agricultural and domestic workers did not enjoy the right to organize, making it easy to replace striking workers. Also, the practice of hiring temporary and part-time workers had the effect of frustrating the freedom of association. Those who sought to exercise that right were spied upon, threatened, fired or suspended.
In addition, capital punishment, which was prohibited under Puerto Rican law, was allowed under the federal law, he continued. No part of Puerto Rican life should be subjected to laws that the people did not believe in, but, in fact, Congress enjoyed a certain power over Puerto Rico, although it pretended otherwise. It had still not implemented the results of three plebiscites on the Puerto Rican status. In the meantime, poverty continued to affect Puerto Rican youth, who were prime targets for recruitment by the United States Army for its “illegal war” in Iraq. The Committee must recommend that the General Assembly take up the matter of Puerto Rico as a priority, so that power could be transferred from the United States to the people of Puerto Rico. He also called for the unconditional release of Puerto Rican political prisoners jailed in the United States.
PEDRO COLÓN ALMENAS, Socialist Workers Movement, said his organization had been founded 25 years ago to protect the rights of workers in Puerto Rico, who were increasingly demanding that Puerto Rico be given its independence. It was “unreal” that, in the 21st century, their struggle for independence after five centuries of colonial rule — of which 10 were spent under the United States — was still not complete. He would like the Committee to reiterate its commitment to the cause and to come out against the colonial regime, by urging the General Assembly and the United States Government to respect the Puerto Rican people’s right to freedom. After all, self-determination was a human right.
He said the United States and United Nations tended to take refuge in resolution 748 of 1953, which said that Puerto Ricans had a constitutional status as an autonomous entity. Many groups, such as the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, had condemned it at the time, and their members were imprisoned and even killed for doing so. In recent decades, Puerto Rican attempts to deal with its status had been futile; “the Empire” simply ignored the numerous plebiscites, federal bills, and so on, on the issue.
He said United States used its relationship with Puerto Rico to abuse the environment; weaken the tax base; and used the Patriot Act to squelch independence movements by students and other peaceful demonstrators. The imposition of a death penalty, even though such a punishment was barred under the Puerto Rican constitution, increased tensions even further. Although Puerto Rico succeeded in ridding Vieques of the United States armed forces, that land still remained under that country’s control. Furthermore, the number of Puerto Ricans who died as a result of war was out of proportion to its population; the fact was, many found themselves obliged to become soldiers because of their poverty.
He said the United States control over Puerto Rico had a negative impact on their economic development, such that they were not competitive in regional and international markets. Puerto Rican political prisoners in United States jails continued to serve punishment out of proportion to their crimes. He hoped the Committee would declare the current situation unacceptable, and make possible the unconditional transfer of sovereign powers to people from whom it was illegally seized many years ago. There was a rumour that a group of legislators had asked the Committee to provide Puerto Rico with a seat at the United Nations as a free associated state, but such a move would only prolong the current arrangement. The Puerto Rican quest for independence should no longer be sidestepped; he demanded that the General Assembly take up the matter.
ERASTO ZAYAS NUÑEZ, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, said his father and grandfather, who were master Masons, had come before the Committee during the early years of the movement for Puerto Rico’s independence. As a third generation member of the Masonic order to address the SpecialCommittee, he demanded that the United States stop interfering in Puerto Rico’s affairs, halt the use of force and repression and end the practice of imposing its laws on Puerto Rican people.
He said the Masonic order he belonged to had joined others in Puerto Rico in calling for the release of political prisoners who had served over 25 years in United States jails. He also called for the release of those who fought to remove the United States Navy from the island of Vieques. The United States must stop damaging the island by detonating old bombs and burning land, and causing chronic health problems among the residents. The issue of Puerto Rico in all its aspects must be considered by the General Assembly. The territory’s political and socio-economic disintegration cried out for action. It was time for the Puerto Ricans themselves to find consensus through a constitutional assembly for status issues, and to uncover the best method to move towards decolonization. The Committee should, in turn, urge the United States to exercise its responsibility towards the same end.
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