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Decolonization Committee Urges United States To Halt Military Manoeuvres On Vieques Island, Return Occupied Land To People Of Puerto Rico ; Acting Without A Vote, Committee Also Calls For Expedited Process To Allow Puerto Rican Self-Determination
June 11, 2002
JULIO MURIENTE, Nuevo Movimiento Independentista Puertoriqueno, congratulating the people and Government of East Timor for their heroic achievement of independence, said that in less than two months Puerto Ricans would mark the anniversary of the invasion of their country by the United States. While there was no doubt that there was an unresolved political problem, there were differences about which path to follow in resolving it. The main obstacle was the lack of political will on the part of the United States.
Worse was the fact that the Government of the United States refused to recognize that there was a colonial problem that had lasted more than a century, he said. It could be seen with ever-greater diversity and breadth of scope that there was a need to end bombing exercises on Vieques . People from all political parties had expressed their will in the referendum, in which 80 per cent of the voting public had participated. Almost 70 per cent of those had voted for the end to bombing and the withdrawal of the Navy.
The response of the United States to that overwhelming rejection had been to resume bombing two weeks later and to imprison the Mayor of Vieques , he noted. Although President George W. Bush had pledged to remove the Navy, the great question now remained: how much will remained among the Puerto Ricans regarding the annexation of their country? Draft laws were being promoted in Congress for direct control of rivers, as well as annexation. Such proposals threatened the fiscal integrity and resources of the nation.
HECTOR L. PESQUERA, on behalf of Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, said that since the adoption of the Committee's resolution in July 2001, important events had taken place which violated the human rights of the people of Puerto Rico .
At present, Vieques fishermen, members of the religious community and other civilians were in prison. Through environmental colonialism, the United States Navy was destroying archaeological and aquatic sites, carrying out exercises with harmful substances. In addition, before the United States Congress was a draft law, which would appropriate more than 100,000 hectares of land in northern Puerto Rico . Also, a draft law, adopted in the House of Representatives, would affect three major rivers in Puerto Rico . That draft was currently before the Senate. He called on the United States to decontaminate more than 79 areas, which had been used by the United States military in the past and since abandoned.
The people of Puerto Rico had come up against the federal Government in exercising the rights enshrined in the Constitution, which was adopted 50 years ago, he said. In the past year there had been constant violations of that Constitution by the United States Government. Among them was the imposition of the death penalty in Puerto Rico , which was prohibited by the Constitution of Puerto Rico . First of all, the case of Puerto Rico should be included as a separate item on the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly. Second, it should be recognized that the only people that could change the Constitution of Puerto Rico were the Puerto Ricans themselves.
Third, he continued, the United States must respect the rules and laws established by Puerto Rico in the management and protection of Puerto Rico 's natural resources. He invited the Special Committee to visit Puerto Rico to witness the damage caused by military exercises on Vieques . Fourth, the people's assembly should be involved in the decolonization of Puerto Rico . He rejected any proposal to integrate Puerto Rico into the federal system of the United States. Fifth, the United States Government should respect the outcome of the referendum conducted in July 2001, which called for the immediate withdrawal of the United States military from Vieques . Sixth, amnesty should be granted to all Puerto Ricans involved in the freedom struggle for Puerto Rico .
FRANK VELGARA, Vieques Support Campaign, said the continued bombing on Vieques not only represented a clear and present danger to the lives, health, social and political well-being of the island's inhabitants, but also a direct example of the colonial political control exercised by the United States since 1898. The people were affected by mercury poisoning of the air, water, flora and fauna, in addition to continuing to live in a vast death trap that could only be described as death on the instalment plan.
The reality of Puerto Rico exposed the lie of participatory democracy claimed by the United States, he said. Hundreds of people had been arrested in Puerto Rico , in the United States and elsewhere for demanding an end to bombing and other harmful practices. The racist treatment of those arrested stood clear for the world to see.
Just a few weeks ago, the world had seen an attempt by anti-democracy forces to stage a coup in Venezuela, he recalled. In the past, Vieques had been the launch pad and rehearsal site for invasions of the Dominican Republic and Grenada. In Vieques , all Puerto Ricans could see their colonial status, as well as the racism and discrimination that had been the lot of all nations under colonial domination.
According to a Puerto Rican saying, one could not cover the sky with one hand. In other words, a colony remained so under any other name.
WILFREDO SANTIAGO VALIENTE, United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc., said that self-determination did not necessarily imply independence for a group of people.
If the Committee wished to support the decolonization of Puerto Rico , it was imperative that any resolution adopted by it recognize resolution 1514 (XV) and other relevant resolutions, which endorsed three options for the decolonization of a territory. The case of Puerto Rico brought up the issue of sovereignty, not autonomy. In international law, autonomy referred to political decentralization. On 25 July, Puerto Rico would celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its Constitution. He wanted a referendum on statehood or independence to determine the future status of Puerto Rico .
ELSIE VALDES, Puertoriquenos ante la ONU, Inc., said that, while the alternatives of political status had been discussed for several years, it should be remembered that Puerto Rico was subject to the territorial laws of the United States, whose Congress could unilaterally decide its destiny.
There was no bilateral pact whatsoever between Puerto Rico and the United States. Puerto Rico was an unincorporated territory, or colony, and had no sovereignty.
The United States could have solved the issue of Puerto Rico 's political status as a domestic matter, but it had not done so, she said. Likewise, the United Nations, where solutions for such matters were presented, had also not resolved it. Only resolutions had been presented. While her organization believed firmly in American citizenship and desired permanent union with the United States, it would respect the choice of the majority.
Puerto Rico was a colony and would remain so until a permanent definition was established, she emphasized. The independence movement in the territory had only been able to achieve 45 per cent in support for its cause. Although commonwealth status had its sympathizers, it would not eliminate the colonialcondition, but only perpetuate it. Puerto Ricans had been American since 1917, but were prevented from enjoying the same privileges as other Americans without losing their identity as a people.
HAYDEE RIVERA, Puertoriquenos Pro Estadidad, Inc., said that her organization had called for a resolution of the political problem of Puerto Rico though the granting of statehood. In 1953, representatives of Puerto Rico and the United States, before the General Assembly, had stated that people of Puerto Rico had exercised their right to self-determination, and a resolution had been adopted removing Puerto Rico from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories -- resolution 748 (VIII). However, the people of Puerto Rico had not been allowed to determine their status, as called for in resolution 1514. General Assembly resolution 748 (VIII) had never been fully enforced. The people needed to select one of the options outlined in resolution 1514.
Her organization had maintained that statehood would be the most effective way of ensuring the aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico . Congress should recognize permanent legal status for the island. Statehood would provide for equal participation in the political process. That was decision that should be left up to the Puerto Ricans .
LUIS VEGA RAMOS, PROELA, said the discussion was taking place in light of the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the commonwealth's Constitution. While that document reflected the right of future Puerto Ricans to decide their political status, claims to greater self-determination or autonomy had not been thoroughly heard, and another mechanism was required to address that concern.
He said claims for sovereignty had followed the adoption in 1960 of resolutions 1540 and 1541 by the United Nations General Assembly. The claim for sovereignty had been reaffirmed in the 2000 elections. Free association was nothing but full autonomy of the commonwealth. The resolution adopted by the Committee in 1978 reaffirmed its right to self-determination and sovereignty.
The United States had not complied with the prerequisites of integration or the right of accession as contained in resolution 1541, he said. It was because of that lack of right of accession that there had already been a civil war in the United States. The Mayor of Vieques was among hundreds of Puerto Ricans imprisoned for demanding an immediate end to bombing and a clean-up of the island. Ending the bombing was a right and should not be a subject of negotiations, he said.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), introducing the draft resolution on Puerto Rico , said that the common history and special relationship between Cuba and Puerto Rico could be summed up in the words, "Cuba and Puerto Rico were the two wings of the same bird." The text before the Committee reiterated the basic elements of resolutions previously adopted by Special Committee. Since 1973, resolutions of the Special Committee had reaffirmed the inalienable right of
Puerto Ricans to the right to self-determination and the applicability of resolution 1514 to Puerto Rico . After more than 100 years of political domination and military occupation, Puerto Ricans had shown their determination to maintain their distinct cultural identity.
A consensus existed among Puerto Ricans to put an end to the situation in Vieques , he noted. According to environmental studies, it would take decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to clean the areas affected by the bombings. New sections of text drew attention to the referendum held last July regarding United States withdrawal from Vieques and requested the United States President to release Puerto Rican political prisoners. He called on the Committee to adopt the text by consensus.
NELSON CANALS, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico , paying tribute to the people of East Timor on the occasion of their independence, said his organization had been appearing before the Special Committee since 1972. Successive generations of Puerto Ricans had committed themselves to achieving social and economic freedom, as a result of which many were now held in United States prisons.
Freedom fighters had been forced to go into hiding or flee their homeland to escape oppression, he said. Their right to return must be guaranteed. Puerto Rican determination to end repression had most recently been made clear through the tenacious resistance to the military operations on Vieques .
That had led to the arrest of protestors and their sentencing to disproportionate jail sentences.
Noting that the Puerto Rican legislature had repealed the death penalty since 1929, he said it remained banned under the 1952 Constitution. Attempts to introduce that barbaric measure was another flagrant violation of Puerto Rican sovereignty. Gran Oriente denounced such attempts and hoped the Special Committee would take action to end the situation in Puerto Rico , the world's oldest colony.
ANITA VELEZ MITCHELL, Primavera, Inc., said that she was born in Vieques . As a child, she was witness to the agrarian fall of Vieques . The United States naval base might finally leave the island in 2003. Puerto Ricans were now going through an identity crisis. Eight hundred Puerto Ricans perished on 11 September. However, they were counted among the Hispanics. When they were called to war, they were identified as Americans. After the hideous attack in Central Park, they were labelled as Puerto Ricans , even though there was only one Puerto Rican in that group of men, that too a "New Yorican". The idea was to find a way to recover the dignity of the people of Puerto Rico .
JOSE ADAMES, Al Frente, said that despite being one of the best democracies in the world, United States history was filled with discrimination. Even some map makers did not include Puerto Rico in the maps of the United States. Puerto Rico was a victim of discrimination in many ways. It became a territory of the United States before some States of the Union. Its Government was equal to that of any other State of the United States.
Puerto Rico , he said, should have received statehood. It had more United States citizens than some American States. Puerto Rico was a State of the United States in every way. Puerto Rican soldiers and police had given their life for the United States. He called on the President of the United States to put a stop to that historical insult by submitting a declaration of statehood to the United States Congress.
NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, stressed that there was no moral or legal principle that could justify leaving more than
3 million people without self-determination. The disenfranchised Puerto Rican people included thousands who had given their lives in American wars, and yet they had no right to political representation in the United States. There was no legal definition for the former and present status of Puerto Rico , which was neither free nor associated.
She said it had long been clear that the Constitution of the United States would supersede the will of the Puerto Rican people on any occasion. Puerto Rican culture remained the same mixed culture that had always existed on the island, yet English was now being imposed on the territory. Full statehood was the only solution, she stressed.
The Special Committee must not be misled by clever manipulation of the Vieques issue, she cautioned. That situation was the fault of inaction by Congress, which had failed to safeguard health, peace and order on the island.
In addition, the people of Puerto Rico demanded that President George W. Bush end historical discrimination against the Puerto Rican people, who fully deserved the status of American citizens of the union's fifty-first State.
ROGER CALERO, Socialist Workers Party, demanded the immediate withdrawal of the United States Navy from Vieques and the release of all those imprisoned in that regard. A successful struggle for independence was in the interest of not only the Puerto Ricans , but also the people of the United States. It would show that it was possible to stand up to the mighty power of the United States. For more than a century, the United States had maintained Puerto Rico as its colony, a fact which it had unsuccessfully tried to cover up. Today, the United States was turning to its military might to impose its power. The establishment of a United States-dominated protectorate in Afghanistan exposed that Washington's so-called war on terror was just a war on other peoples and nations.
Today, he said, there were still five Puerto Rican political prisoners detained in the United States, due to their ideas and actions with regard to Puerto Rico 's independence. He joined others in demanding their immediate release. Puerto Ricans in the United States represented a significant portion of the country's workforce. Since Washington invaded Puerto Rico over a century ago, it had been used as a launching pad for military action against other countries, such as Grenada.
The militarization of Puerto Rico reinforced the United States' intention to establish military bases in other Latin American countries.
VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists, said that the word "American" in her organization's name sought to embrace all countries of the Americas, with the understanding that many of the conflicts had been the result of intervention by the United States. The Association defended the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence.
She reaffirmed that the United States Navy must immediately and unconditionally stop its military activities and dismantle all warlike equipment
stored on Vieques . The Navy's experimentation with depleted uranium and other unconventional weapons was a blatant act of environmental racism that had also been perpetrated in Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines and elsewhere.
Citing Amnesty International, she said the Navy had used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. Members of the Navy had fired upon them using mace, rubber bullets and other projectiles, as well as subjecting them to humiliating physical searches. The Association condemned the politically imperialistic nature of the excessive sentences imposed on the demonstrators, who had acted according to moral dictates. It was essential that President Bush free all Puerto Rican prisoners serving long sentences related to their country's independence struggle.
The representative of Venezuela expressed support for the process of decolonization, particularly the right of the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination. She urged the Committee to adopt by consensus the draft text before it, which embodied in a balanced form the main components of the issue.
The representative of Iraq hoped the draft resolution would be adopted once again by consensus, so that the Committee could reaffirm the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination.
Iran's representative fully supported the content of the draft resolution and believed its adoption by consensus, demonstrated the Committee's support of the right to self-determination of the Puerto Rican people.
The Committee adopted the draft resolution without a vote.
The representative of Chile said that he had gone along with the resolution in order to ensure a consensus. However, that should not be interpreted as support for every point in the text. Other views existed in Puerto Rico which were not represented in the text. He welcomed the expressed intention of the President of the United States to end military manoeuvres in Vieques by 2003 and remained convinced that the achievement of a satisfactory resolution of the matter would require a decision taken by Puerto Rico and the United States.
Cuba's representative said that for the third consecutive year the Committee had adopted a resolution on Puerto Rico , which represented the common position that had developed on the issue. Once again, the Committee had fulfilled its mandate and heeded the calls for action made by the people of Puerto Rico . However, the role of the Committee could not end with the adoption of the text, and further efforts were required to implement the resolution and transform it into a practical tool.
Today, he added, a large number of petitioners were heard, the majority of whom had voiced the concerns of the people of Puerto Rico . He hoped that it had also been useful for the United States delegation. It was his hope that the adoption of the text could pave the way for achieving significant progress towards the exercise of true self-determination, the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico.