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Decolonization Committee Calls On United States To Expedite Process For Puerto Rican Self-Determination--Part 1 Of 2
June 10, 2003
Meeting in its resumed 2003 session today, the Special Committee on Decolonization called on the United States to expedite a process allowing the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
Approving a draft resolution without a vote, the Special Committee urged the United States Government to return to the people of Puerto Rico the occupied land on Vieques Island, to respect their fundamental human rights, to assume the execution and costs of the decontamination process of the impact areas previously used in military manoeuvres, and to take care of the serious consequences to the health of the inhabitants of Vieques.
Prior to acting on the draft, the Special Committee heard appeals by 24 petitioners for Puerto Rico to reverse the "colonial reality" of the island and respect the urgent need for its people to exercise their right to self-determination. While the withdrawal of the United States Navy from the island of Vieques on 1 May was heralded as a victory, both for the people of Puerto Rico and for the Special Committee, speakers agreed that the lingering environmental, mental and physical effects of nearly 60 years of military manouveurs had overshadowed the event and must be addressed by the United States Government.
Petitioners also opposed the imposition by the United States of the death penalty for crimes considered federal, as that was prohibited by Puerto Rico's constitution. With more men and women from Puerto Rico serving in the armed forces of the United States than perhaps from any other State, several speakers insisted that their right to statehood and their right to vote in congressional and presidential elections was an imperative. Attention was also drawn to the plight of the numerous political prisoners and to Puerto Rican youth, which had faced police brutality and an equally brutal political system.
The representative of Cuba introduced the draft resolution on Puerto Rico. The Venezuelan representative explained his support for the text.
Addressing the situation concerning Western Sahara earlier today, a petitioner for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) reminded the Special Committee that 40 years ago it had outlined the way ahead. The Settlement Plan, which had been endorsed by both the Security Council in 1990 and accepted by the two parties directly involved -- the POLISARIO Front and Morocco -- should not be abandoned. The Security Council had been wise recently to put a limit on the situation, while continuing to reaffirm the validity of the "only path to a just and lasting solution", he said.
Petitioners for Puerto Rico were from: Frente Socialista; PROELA; Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; Concern Puertorican Americans; Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico; Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; Vieques Support Campaign; United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc.; ProLibertad Freedom Campaign; Partido Independista Puertorriqueno; and American Association of Jurists.
Also, Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques; Puertorriquenos Unidos en Accion; Al Frente; National Advancement for P.R. Culture; Primavida; Comite Puerto Rico en la ONU; New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico; Congreso Nacional Hostosiano of Puerto Rico; Political Rights Defense Fund; Social Workers Party; Puertorican Human Rights Committee; Hostos Puerto Rican Club at Hunter College; and the 65th Honour Task Force.
Created by General Assembly 1645 of 1961, the Special Committee examines and makes recommendations on the applications of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and makes suggestions on the progress and extent of its implementation.
The Special Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 12 June, to continue its work.
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to discuss Western Sahara and Puerto Rico.
The Committee also had before it a report prepared by its Rapporteur on Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2003/L.3), which states that in February 2003 the Governor of Puerto Rico announced her decision to postpone indefinitely all efforts to move forward on the status issue due to lack of consensus among the island's principal parties. She noted that without a broad Puerto Rican consensus, it was unlikely that there would be favourable climate for the United States Congress to deal with the issue.
Apart from general political questions, three specific issues have been raised before the Committee resulting from the particular political status of Puerto Rico and its relationship with the United States.
These are the continuing United States military presence in Puerto Rico, and particularly on the island of Vieques; the imprisonment in the United States of pro-independence Puerto Ricans accused of seditious conspiracy and weapons possession; and the application of the death penalty to Puerto Ricans convicted on federal charges.
The United States Navy ceased all military training on Vieques on 1 May, after which they would use alternative training sites in the south-eastern United States and at sea, the report states. Following the Navy's withdrawal, three related issues remain to be clarified: the future development of Vieques and its environmental clean-up after more than 60 years of military exercises, definitive conclusions regarding the effects of the military exercises on the health of Vieques residents; and the future of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the main island of Puerto Rico.
Also before the Committee is a draft resolution on Puerto Rico, sponsored by Cuba (document A/AC.109/2003/L.7), which would have the Special Committee call on the United States Government to assume its responsibility of expediting a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
In addition, it would urge the United States Government to return the occupied land on Vieques Island to the people of Puerto Rico, respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to health and economic development, assume the execution and the costs of the decontamination process of the impact areas previously used in military manoeuvres, and take care of the serious consequences to the health of the inhabitants of Vieques Island and the environmental degradation.
Further by the text, the Committee would request the United States President to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for cases related to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.
Statements on Puerto Rico
JORGE FARINACCI GARCIA, Frente Socialista, said today he came to demand that the Special Committee pronounce itself against the colonial regime in Puerto Rico and urge the United States to respect Puerto Rico's right to freedom. Since 1999, the organizations appearing before the Special Committee had intensified their denouncement of the situation caused by the United States military in Puerto Rico. He thanked the Special Committee for its support of resolutions that had approved the exit of the United States Navy from Vieques. While the Navy had departed, ecological problems persisted, however. More than 1,200 peoples had been labelled as criminals in their fight for the just cause. Eight people, classified as domestic terrorists, were victims of continuous harassment.
Another matter of concern was the intention to impose the death penalty in Puerto Rico, he continued. The United States had certified 14 such cases, despite the prohibition of the death penalty in Puerto Rico's constitution. The Puerto Rican people were against political subordination to the colonization regime and would not accept anything less than full right to self-determination. He demanded the immediate withdrawal of all military and political operators in Puerto Rico. Hesupported the resolution submitted and urged the case of Puerto Rico to be put before the General Assembly as soon as possible.
ANGEL ORTIZ-GUZMAN, PROELA, said his organization sought to achieve free association between Puerto Rico and the United States. The United States Government has been indifferent to the desire of Puerto Rico for free association. For 50 years, Puerto Rico had made proposals for its democracy without response by the Congress of the United States. He regretted that the United States Government had not complied with its commitment in dealing with the demands for self-determination.
He said the draft resolution before the Special Committee did not take into account the option for free association. There was an urgent need to resolve the current situation. Free association had been recognized as an alternative by various General Assembly resolutions.
He requested the Special Committee to include a new reference to the alternative of free association in resolutions on Puerto Rico in 2003.
He urged the United States to submit a plan for decolonization for the people of Puerto Rico, in accordance with United Nations resolutions.
He urged the Committee to submit two joint resolutions, which had as their purpose convening a referendum and constitutional assembly on the status of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.
LEDA BERTHAIDA SEIJO, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico (College of Lawyers of Puerto Rico), thanked the Committee for allowing the group to appear before the Committee for the past three decades to repudiate its status as a colony of the United States. In fact, it was the oldest colony in the hemisphere. The College of Lawyers of Puerto Rico, which included all lawyers of the country, had consistently repudiated the current colonial system. It had constantly demanded of the Special Committee that Puerto Rico should benefit from General Assembly resolution 1514 of 1960, which expresses the right of a people to self-determination and establishes the need to put an end to colonialism in all its forms.
She said the College of Lawyers was "demanding" that the people of Puerto Rico be allowed to exercise their right to determine the country's future. It was not possible to continue to live under the unjust situation imposed upon it. In 1970, the General Assembly said it was the inherent right of a colonial people to struggle, by all necessary means, against a colonial Power. Puerto Ricans were like political prisoners. Many were serving long sentences in United States' prisons for having struggled for independence, or for having exercised their freedom of expression. At the current stage, the situation could no longer be neglected. She was asking the Committee to declare that Puerto Rico had not achieved its self-determination, and that it had the right to do so.
SALVADOR VARGAS, Concern Puerto Rican Americans, said that more than 1,000 "POW" Muslim men remained in concentration camps. The United Nations could not keep on appeasing the conquerors and world dominators, forgetting why it was formed in the first place. The economy of Puerto Rico was in shambles, as it had been denied free trade with other nations. It could not afford 145 more years of the same treatment. Its land, sea and skies must be controlled by one people and one nation.
He said he was grateful for the departure of the United States military from Vieques and to Cuba for helping Puerto Rico gain access to the Special Committee. Nevertheless, the United States had been allowed to "clamp down its jaws on our small country". The United Nations must become aware of the dangers of allowing the United States to be the supreme power on earth. That country was not content to only rule Puerto Rico; it wanted to dominate the entire world.
ALICE HERNANDEZ, on behalf of the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said Puerto Rico was the oldest colony in the hemisphere. The United States had not allowed a true decolonization process in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican oppression took various forms. Many Puerto Ricans were struggling for just causes, such as the withdrawal of the military from Vieques, but the names of some Puerto Ricans appeared on lists of terrorists. The empire gave it mere crumbs. Puerto Rico was at the mercy of the United States.
She said colonialism was not only a political and socio-economic attack, but also an emotional one. Puerto Rico had the right to enter into the assembly of free and sovereign nations. The United States must withdraw its military forces. The independence of Puerto Rico would be a giant step forward for human rights.
MIGUEL OTERO CHAVEZ, on behalf of Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, said his organization had appeared before the Committee since 1972 to denounce the current situation in Puerto Rico. Generation after generation, Puerto Rican men and women had struggled for political and socio-economic freedom. Many were imprisoned in the United States as a result of that struggle. He requested the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners.
Recently, the United States Navy had left the island of Vieques, he said. That victory, however, was incomplete. Most of the land was still in the hands of the United States and was contaminated with radioactive material. He looked to the future with faith that the Special Committee would take the action necessary to end the situation of the oldest colony in the hemisphere.
The United States must comply with its moral and legal obligations for damages caused at Colabra and Vieques, he said. Vieques, an island at the heart of all Puerto Ricans, was one of three islands under the political domination of the United States. Santa Thomas and Santa Cruz enjoyed a flourishing tourism industry, whereas Vieques suffered from contamination from 60 years of Navy bombing.
FRANCISCO VELGARA, Vieques Support Campaign, explained that the Campaign was formed in May 1999 in support of the demands of the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico, for the demilitarization, decontamination, and devolution of their lands, as well as for sustainable development.
Today, more than at any other time since the Second World War, the global political, diplomatic, military and economic threats to national sovereignty and self-determination stood as a clear challenge to all nations and peoples. Increasingly, pre-emptive war, military sabre rattling, economic coercion and blackmail, and high-tech genocide continued to make headway in the international community.
He said, in that environment, millions around the globe had dared to stand up to war and especially to the United States-led attack on national sovereignty and self-determination. Nowhere more than in Palestine and Puerto Rico, and now Iraq, had the "gauntlet of liberation and justice" been so clearly laid down before the community of nations.
On 1 May, following militant and consistent civil disobedience, international support, public pressure, and more than 1,600 recent arrests, the people of Vieques and their allies had been able to close the United States Navy's bombing range in Vieques. There was 27 per cent more cancer in Vieques than on the mainland, as well as more respiratory illness of all types, mercury poisoning, and a contaminated water supply.
Vieques also continued to bear witness to economic devastation, with an official unemployment rate of more than 40 per cent, he went on. It still stood as a training ground and harbinger of war and military invasion of all kinds. Although the bombing range had been closed, the United States Government and military still asserted that they would resume using it in the event that it was required for their national security. They no longer felt they had to exhibit even a pretence of consultation with the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico. The Campaign sought the international community's reaffirmation for the complete demilitarization of Vieques, the return of the lands to its people, the decontamination of its environment, and support for sustainable economic development.
BETTY BRASSELL, United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc., said that the organization was a multicultural working group of concerned individuals committed to one common cause -- peace for Vieques, Puerto Rico. Its goal was to create awareness and to keep the civil society properly informed about the health hazards, ecological and economic destruction by the United States Navy in Vieques since 1941. The second goal was to inspire others to actively participate in and protect their communities. The group would also create and foster a correspondence of friendship and hope between the children, including in the schools of Vieques.
She demanded that the United States Navy cease immediately and permanently all bombing activity on Vieques and its waters. The contamination from more than half a century of bombing and other military action must be cleaned from the land and waters. Also, every inch of land must be returned to the people of Vieques, who had a vision for their development. The island's Spanish language and culture were non-negotiable. She was proud to be an American, but she also respected the right of all people to be proud of their country.
BENJAMIN RAMOS, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, said with the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism in full progress, the question of Puerto Rico remained a critical component at the forefront of that strategic plan. If the United States were to dissolve its colonial control over Puerto Rico, it would cause a domino effect among other administering Powers. The Special Committee had made history in its cry against colonialism. Despite clear language contained in its resolutions, the United States had not acted on any of the recommendations set forth by the Special Committee.
The Puerto Rican people, although able to travel between Puerto Rico and the United States, were still a colonized people, he said. They were the first to be sent to war. They were denied the right to representation in Congress and denied the right to their own land. He made the case for the six remaining political prisoners, who were community activists, parents and grandparents. They found Puerto Rico's colonial reality to be unacceptable, leading them to join the Puerto Rican independence movement. They had served more than 20 years in federal prisons. Their sentences were punitive and excessive. The goal had been to punish them for their beliefs and not for acts. The Puerto Rican political prisoners had been model prisoners since their incarceration.
The colonial reality of Puerto Rico, the military presence in Vieques and the incarceration of political prisoners were all violations of international law and human rights, he said. The United States had used its exempt status from the transmission of information under Article 73 e of the United Nations Charter as a loophole to commit human rights violations in Puerto Rico and its territories. He implored the United Nations to intercede and monitor the human rights and environmental violations that were being perpetrated by the United States Government against Puerto Rico and its people.
FERNANDO MARTIN-GARCIA, Partido Independista Puertorriqueno, said there was no doubt that the United Nations was immersed in one of its greatest crises since its foundation. The war against Iraq placed the Organization in the position of becoming a mere rubber stamp for decisions made in Washington, D.C. The Security Council had been able to resist the blackmail to which it was subject, saving the Organization from bankruptcy.
He said there had been severe pressure to sabotage the resolution before the Special Committee. The resolution constituted not only a refection of solidarity for the right of Puerto Rico's sovereignty, but also a contribution to the independence of the United Nations, given the whims of a super-Power that went beyond international law. He trusted that the Special Committee would act according to its duties by approving the resolution before it.
VANESSA RAMOS, American Association of Jurists said the Association, a non-governmental organization with consultative status in the Economic and Social Council, was firmly committed to the struggle for self-determination. She was here today to defend the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to their independence, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514. She thanked the Committee for its resolutions calling upon the United States to end the "war" against Vieques. The Puerto Ricans, by means of massive acts of civil disobedience, had obliged the most powerful navy in the world to withdraw from Vieques in May.
She said, however, that much remained to be done to bring the case before the General Assembly. Although the Navy had ceased its military activities in Vieques, the lands had not been transferred and the danger persisted that those lands, once again, would wind up in the hands of the United States Navy. He demanded the devolution of all of Vieques' land occupied by the Navy. He also requested its decontamination.