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Decolonization Committee Calls On United States To Expedite Process For Puerto Rican Self-Determination--Part 2 Of 2
June 10, 2003
CARLOS GONZALES, Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, said his organization was today claiming the right of the people of Vieques to live in peace and freedom from the inherent dangers of militarism.
They should also be free to develop a sustainable healthy economy. The presence of the United States Navy in Vieques for more than 60 years had denied its people those rights and had undermined their social progress and their right to live in a healthy environment. Four years of intensive actions and peaceful civil disobedience had paralysed the harmful practices of the most powerful armed force in world history.
Echoing the calls of previous speakers, he demanded the decontaminationof Vieques and the transfer of its land. He asked the Committee, in its future work and resolutions, to ask the United States carry out a full environmental cleanup of Vieques and to return the land to its people.
MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriquenos Unidos en Accion, said the United States Government had taken elaborate steps to confuse world public opinion regarding the character of its political and socio-economic power over Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico had been invaded with the pretext of releasing it from the colonial yoke of the Spanish Crown. In the new, uncivilized world order, must small countries be forced to arm themselves in order to maintain peace?
In the case of Puerto Rico, the United States had imposed laws of military recruitment, he said. The great majority of the United States administrations had sponsored a policy of military expansion. The United States had been at war against the whole world in the name of democracy and freedom. For the world's poor, the United States did not represent freedom, but rather a remote and terrible enemy. United Nations inspectors were also necessary in Vieques, which was a site of terrible economic disaster.
With current world events, the Special Committee's work acquired greater relevance, he said. Puerto Rico was one such case. The United States Government had used its influence to keep the question of Puerto Rico off the international agenda. It had used a variety of techniques to confuse the people of Puerto Rico. The Special Committee had a special responsibility to clarify the impressive reality of the Puerto Rican people and to protect their basic human rights. The Special Committee must give the issue priority and appeal to the United States to respect international and legal standards.
JOSE ADAMES, of "Al Frente" Channel 57, said the case of Puerto Rico was one of major historical discrimination against a whole State and race. Puerto Rico had been adopted more than 100 years ago as a Territory of the United States. Some years later, it had been politically converted into another State, under a discriminatory formula. While most of the other States of the Union had enjoyed the maximum possible development, Puerto Rico had been left behind to certain underdevelopment, with its citizens assuming a second-class position. Meanwhile, more Puerto Ricans had died in United States wars than residents of any other State. Even today, more Puerto Ricans were members of the United States Army, the National Guard and police forces.
He said that only by moving to another State of the Union did Puerto Ricans acquire the rights of first-class citizens, including the right to vote. But, if they moved back to the island, they lost it again. All military personnel of the United States received a ballot, no matter where they were stationed, but the situation of Puerto Rico had not been clearly defined. Puerto Ricans would remain second-class citizens, absent a declaration of statehood. While it was a "virtual" State of the Union, it had political and economic enemies who refused to recognize Puerto Ricans. The result of every referendum had always shown more than 90 per cent in favour of statehood. He asked the Committee to demand of the United States Government to stop that "historical discrimination".
NILDA LUZ REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, described her group as a multicultural, peace-oriented organization, which believed that one of the best ways to attain peace was by joining people through their cultures. The position of some members of the United States Congress that the final solution lay with the people of Puerto Rico was "democratically correct, but locally impossible". The Popular Democratic Party was now talking about a constituent assembly to produce a final solution. The statehood party was against participating in such a move, however, and was now proposing another referendum. The only possible solution was decolonization. The colonial status of Puerto Rico must be ended now.
She said that the United States Congress must morally and legally conclude what it started in 1917 and declare Puerto Rico the fifty-first State. That would be the most honourable and sincere message. She had interviewed thousands of Puerto Ricans on the island and they all wanted statehood. "We were adopted by the United States of America and we love our parents and we don't want to be separated from our parents", she said.
ANITA VELEZ-MITCHELL, Primavida, said that the United States was today a friend to Puerto Rico after having stopped its war games in Vieques. The people of Vieques, her homeland, were grateful. Puerto Rico was fighting to remain standing with its national dignity as participants in the human race. The goal of Puerto Rico was to become a commonwealth or State of the Union. Puerto Rico had become home to Dominicans, Haitians, Cubans and Muslims. Puerto Ricans should be respected, not only for their beautiful island, but because millions of them had fought and died in battle for the United States.
Turning to the term "Hispanic", which applied to all Spanish-speaking individuals, she said that, with the settlement in the United States of Dominicans, Colombians, Peruvians, Argentines, and so forth, those individuals must be identified as such, and not just labelled Hispanic. That term Hispanic was like a "thunderbolt" to the Puerto Rican people. Often, the media referred to criminals at large by their physical appearance and, by labelling them as Hispanic, they were often misconstrued as Puerto Rican.
JULIO MURIENTE PEREZ, New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico, said that during the last four years Puerto Rican people had intensified their struggle against foreign military occupation. The tenacious struggle of the Puerto Rican people had borne fruit. As of 1 May, the bombing and military movements at Vieques had ceased. Much of the land at Vieques, however, had been transferred to the control of other bodies of the United States. The enormous and complex task of cleaning up toxic materials remained. Thousands of Puerto Ricans had been mobilized as soldiers in the attack against Iraq. Even though most of the Puerto Rican people were against that attack, the United States had once again imposed its colonial will.
In a few weeks, Puerto Rico would commemorate the fifty-first anniversary of the founding of the commonwealth, he said. In the not-so-distant future, the colonial case of Puerto Rican would have to be considered by the General Assembly. The United States must shoulder its responsibilities. Puerto Rico was ready to struggle for its nation and culture against annexation and in favour of peace. Puerto Rico would be the principal protagonist of its history. He hoped that the Committee would recognize Puerto Rico's fight for self-determination and independence.
WILMA REVERON COLLAZO, Comite Puerto Rico en la ONU, said the victories obtained by the people of Puerto Rico were shared by the Special Committee. The Special Committee's voice had been listened to by the administering Power regarding the imprisonment of numerous Puerto Rican patriots. On 1 May, the United States Navy had left the island.
The tireless struggle of the Puerto Rican people, as well as the Special Committee's demands, had ended the attempted destruction of a defenceless people. Vieques was the clearest example of what unity could achieve. While it was a time of celebration, it was also a moment for reflection. Many years of work remained to achieve economic and ecological improvements in Vieques.
Another struggle was taking place among the people of Puerto Rico, she said, namely, the imposition of the death penalty. When Puerto Rico had adopted its constitution, it had approved banning the death penalty.
The United States had violated numerous international covenants to which it was a signatory, including the International Convention of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. She opposed the interventionist policy being practised by the United States. Cuba had for centuries supported the right of Puerto Ricans for independence. She thanked Cuba for its efforts in submitting a draft resolution that covered the aspirations of the Puerto Rican people.
NOEL COLON MARTINEZ, Congreso Nacional Hostosiano of Puerto Rico, said the colonial nature of Puerto Rico had been detailed by the Special Committee's more than 20 resolutions. The Special Committee's consistent and anti-colonial stand had always met with the stubbornness and arrogance of the United States. The United States had an active policy to encourage division among the Puerto Rican people. At present, after nearly 105 years of United States domination, a new will was emerging to confront United States colonialism and help the people claim their right to political sovereignty through a constitutional assembly.
He said he was submitting copies of two resolutions requesting authorization for the convening of a constitutional assembly. The legislative leaders of the majority party had welcomed the resolutions.
The leader of the ruling party had also come out in favour of the assembly. Puerto Rico was confronting a problem of a lack of political definition. The arrogance of the United States Government had unforeseeable manifestations, which was why he was requesting greater international support.
The General Assembly took action on the case of Puerto Rico in 1945 by including it on the post-war list of dependent territories, he said. In 1953, it had decided to remove Puerto Rico from the list of Non-Self Governing Territories, leaving it in a political limbo until the Committee took up the issue again in 1972. He hoped that efforts to deal with colonialism would be echoed in the Organization that had the responsibility of speeding the process of decolonization. He called for the Special Committee's continued support for the decolonization of Puerto Rico.
ROGER CALERO, Political Rights Defence Fund, said immigration authorities at the Houston airport had recently arrested him upon his return to the United States. Hundreds of letters of protest had flooded the Houston office and a defence campaign on his behalf kept growing.
The attempts by the immigration police to revoke his permanent residency struck a chord among many. He was invited to address various audiences, where he learned that many others caught in the net of American injustice faced what he faced. Thousands of outraged people had taken to the streets of Los Angeles to protest his case. The daily factory raids and deportation of hundreds of workers each year were aimed at aiding bosses and driving down the living standards of workers.
The attempt to use the death penalty in Puerto Rico was one more example of how the people of his country were denied the right to self-determination, he said. During his tour, he discovered numerous examples of resistance to worker attacks. He had found that those fighting exploitation were most interested in learning the truth about the colonial rule of Puerto Rico. He would soon be going on tour again and he planned to speak about the struggle to release all political prisoners.
MARTIN KOPPEL, Social Workers Party, said that the United States Government had used Puerto Rico as a base to commit aggression against peoples around the world, including in Grenada and Yugoslavia. Now that Government was trying to make others pay for its plunder and occupation of Iraq. It had stepped up its threats against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by using the same "slogan" and calling for the non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons. That track record of aggression was nothing new and had not begun on "9/11"; that was American imperialism unmasked. Now, the war against terrorism was being used to justify military force around the world, in order to rescue the world imperialist order, which was starting to decay.
He said that the war against terrorism also covered up the activities of United States Government against its own workers. It was trying to build up production, while, at the same time, reducing working conditions and job and health benefits for the workers. There were many Puerto Ricans in the work force in the United States who suffered, along with the other oppressed peoples in that country. There was racist prejudice and reaction to Puerto Ricans here, attacks on affirmative action and police violence, including very recently when two Puerto Rican workers were killed by police. Puerto Ricans had been imprisoned in United States' jails for voicing their support for the independence of Puerto Rico. They should be released, along with the five Cuban revolutionaries who had been locked up on trumped up charges.
Washington was he common enemy and the common oppressor.
LUIS ROSA-PEREZ, Puertorican Human Rights Committee, said he was fighting for the freedom of Puerto Rico and to free its prisoners of war and political prisoners. He was released from prison in 1999, thanks to the efforts of a brave nation that refused to surrender, despite a long history of colonialism. Since his capture in 1980, the Special Committee had approved many resolutions. Those had helped raise consciousness about the situation and had sparked acts of solidarity, but he did not believe that Puerto Rico's liberation lay in the United Nations building, or in the resolutions passed there.
The nation that had subjected his people to colonialism and the multinational corporations that had exploited them must be condemned, he continued. The effects of such actions were seen in the malnourished children of Puerto Rico, and on the island of Vieques, where people were dying a slow, torturous death from cancer. The United States Government had refused to hand over the land in Vieques, because it did not want topay reparations to the victims of the criminal and noxious activities of the United States Navy. For 104 years, Puerto Ricans had struggled long and hard to break the chains of colonialism. Puerto Rican political prisoners had been locked up in United States' prisons for two decades now just because they struggled for democracy and freedom.
RICARDO GABRIEL, Hostos Puerto Rican Club at Hunter College, President, Student Liberation Action Movement, said there were currently more than 3.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States. They were among the poorest and most disenfranchised in the United States today. They had been economically exploited and socially and politically repressed. Puerto Rican youth had been subjected to police brutality and an equally brutal political system. The United States Government would rather imprison them, than allow them to receive quality education.
At the same time, he said, Puerto Ricans were grossly over-represented in the United States military and in the prison system, which shamefully boasted more than 2 million men, women and children overall. The condition of Puerto Ricans in the United States was undeniably connected to the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.
For decades, Puerto Ricans had been economically displaced. The human and natural resources of its homeland had been misused by the "imperialist power". That had resulted in the involuntary migration to the United States of many thousands of Puerto Ricans unable to find employment on the island.
Thus, the colonial reality of Puerto Ricans on the island was being transplanted to the United States, as Puerto Ricans faced racism and limited employment and educational opportunities. As a consequence, the majority of Puerto Ricans found themselves stuck in a cycle of poverty.
The health care and school systems in their communities were neglected and under-funded. Forthcoming tuition increases and budget cuts would force thousands of Puerto Ricans and other people of colour out of school. Puerto Ricans in the diaspora would continue to fight alongside their counterparts in Puerto Rico for their human rights and self-determination. Puerto Rico would never stop producing freedom fighters, for as long as their oppression continued.
ANTHONY MELE, Sixty-fifth Honor Task Force, said his organization was a coalition of American soldiers who bore silent, but eloquent testimony for the decolonization of Puerto Rico. The testimony of Puerto Rican soldiers reverberated back to the actions of Lieutenant Pepe Diaz, who, in 1789, gave his life expelling British forces from Puerto Rico, thereby aiding an obscure group of 13 colonies that later became the United States. Quoting from General Douglass McArthur on the role of Puerto Rican soldiers during the Korean War, he said such testimony continued to today, as Puerto Rican soldiers combated terrorism, including in the recent battle in Iraq.
He appealed to the nations of the world to look upon the humble, freedom-loving people of Puerto Rico and urge the United States to grant them self-determination. The American citizens of Puerto Rico would decide for themselves which course of action best served their ability to adapt to the geo-political challenges of the new century.
Action on draft resolution
Cuba's representative introduced the draft resolution, saying Cuba's historic commitment to Puerto Rico dated back many years. The historic link between Cuba and Puerto Rico, two wings of one bird, had supported each other in their right to self-determination. That support had been maintained up to the present day. The text took up basic elements that had been adopted in the past and included the necessary updating. The draft recognized the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination. It reaffirmed that the people of Puerto Rico constituted a Latin American nation with its own national identify and that it had overcome 105 years of attempts to eliminate the Puerto Rican culture.
The Special Committee had appealed to the United States to stop the military manoeuvres at Vieques, he continued. A few weeks ago, the United States Navy ended its bombing exercises there. Undoubtedly, it was an important step. For the people of Vieques, the withdrawal constituted a victory that must be completed with the return of the territories used for military exercises still occupied by the Department of the Interior. The years of bombing had damaged the health of the people of the island, as well as its beaches and waters. The immediate decontamination of the island was another priority. The struggle for Vieques continued to be given broad international support.
The representative of Venezuela, speaking in explanation of position, reiterated Venezuela's support for decolonization and the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination.
The draft reflected, in a well-balanced way, the main elements of the problem.
Acting without a vote, the Special Committee then approved the draft resolution.
Speaking after the decision, the representative of Cuba said the withdrawal of the United States military from Vieques was an historical event. Cuba expressed appreciation for the adoption by consensus of the twenty-second resolution on the subject. The resolution should become a practical tool, and not understood as a mere formality. He expressed gratitude for the broad presence of petitioners, who had made a substantive contribution to the Special Committee's work.
He said he was pleased at the presence of a delegation from the United States in the meeting. The Special Committee welcomed dialogue with all administering Powers. The resolution should also serve as a useful instrument for the administering Power, which was asked to agree to a discussion on the status of Puerto Rico. The resolution sought to have that process begin, so that the people of Puerto Rico could exercise their right to self-determination. The resolution sent a clear message on the vital need to begin the process of decontamination. Immediate attention must be given to the inhabitants of Vieques for their economic, social and health needs. Lands must be returned to their only owner, the people of Puerto Rico.
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