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Special Committee Calls On U.S. To Expedite Puerto Rico Self-Determination Process
13 June 2005
UNITED NATIONS, June 13 -- The United Nations issued the following press release:
The Special Committee on decolonization, recalling that the initiatives taken by Puerto Rico and the United States had so far failed to set in motion Puerto Rico's decolonization process, called on the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
By adopting that traditional Cuban-led text by consensus, following a day-long hearing of petitioners on the Puerto Rico question, 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.
Further to the text, the Special Committee urged the United States Government to return the occupied land and installations on ViequesIsland and in Ceiba to the people of Puerto Rico. It called on that Government to respect fundamental human rights, assume responsibility for and cover the costs of decontaminating the areas previously used in military exercises, and address the serious consequences of its military activity for the health of the inhabitants.
Also, the resolution 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, based on the principle that any initiative for the solution of Puerto Rico's political status should originate from the people of Puerto Rico, themselves.
Key themes emerging today from the petitioners' quest to resolve the political status of the island centred on what they deemed was a terribly flawed arrangement with the United States, which included impediments to economic development and the lack of representation in the Federal Government. The imposition of capital punishment for Puerto Ricans, although banned on the island in 1929 and prohibited under its 1952 Constitution, was also deplored, as was the use of the ViequesIsland by the United States Navy for military exercises. Word of broad support for the holding of a constitutional status assembly to gauge the aspirations of the Puerto Rican people had also been highlighted.
Speaking for ProLiberatad Freedom Campaign, a self-described broad-based anti-imperial and anti-colonial campaign in existence for the past 11 years, Benjamin Ramos Rosado said that Puerto Ricans were second-class citizens at the mercy of the United States' foreign and domestic policies. They could not vote in presidential elections, nor did they have congressional representation. They had an American citizenship imposed on them, but they were denied the basic rights that early Americans had earned in a revolution. The United States considered itself a bastion of democracy and freedom, yet it was currently occupying Puerto Rico, Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan and several other countries.
Calling it ironic that a country that fought for its independence against a colonizing Power would use the same methods of repression against others, he said that the United States considered itself a human rights champion, yet the colonial reality of Puerto Rico, the military presence in Vieques, and the incarceration of political prisoners and prisoners of war were all international human rights violations, which the United States was doing nothing to rectify. Puerto Rico could not allow such injustice to continue against people whose only crime was struggling for freedom and fighting against an "imperialist colonial monster".
Julio E. Fontanet Maldonado of the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, said that, although capital punishment was prohibited under Puerto Rico's Constitution, the United States Government, which Puerto Ricans did not elect, had called for the death penalty in several offences committed on Puerto Rico's territory. He drew particular attention to political prisoners in United States' prisons, whose sentences had been disproportionate to their so-called crimes. In addition, the participation of Puerto Rican youth in the wars of the United States had been "forced" through legislation, and the number of Puerto Ricans who had fallen had been, once again, disproportionate to the overall casualties.
On behalf of the Ithaca Catholic Worker Vieques Support Group, Mary Anne Grady Flores said that the people of Vieques had been clear that their struggle to remove the United States Navy was intertwined with the fate of others around the globe bearing the brunt of United States military imperial power. Vieques' 9,500 residents lived 11 miles east of the United States Navy bombing. Each detonation redistributed depleted uranium dust, which was carried by the famous trade winds west to the people. The cancer rate in Vieques was 80 per cent higher than the main island of Puerto Rico. She called for the immediate removal of all hazardous materials, including radioactive depleted uranium dust and shells, as well as for the immediate return of lands now occupied by the United States Fish and Wildlife Department.
Seeking to achieve greater clarity about the problem afflicting Puerto Rican society and what was needed to resolve it, Speaker of the House Jose Aponte-Hernandez explained that Puerto Ricans, in January, had put a Governor in place, with the aim of promoting the relationship of association with the United States, without a shadow of any colonialist element. The Puerto Rican Government had also advanced the cause through legislation. By February, Puerto Ricans had embarked on a real process of self-determination through legislation, beginning with public hearings and the adoption by the legislature of a consensus resolution, so that the wishes of the vast majority of Puerto Ricans would not be hamstrung.
He said the Puerto Rican people demanded from the United States President and Congress a commitment to respond to the cause of Puerto Ricans to resolve their political status problems through full democracy, non-territoriality, and non-colonial options. All legislative bodies had unanimously committed to resolve the island's long-standing political status problem. At the same time, promising developments were occurring in Washington, D.C., and he trusted that, this time, the outcome would be dramatically different than the "disillusioning failures of the past". Given the present political realities, Puerto Ricans must determine and clarify, once and for all, the United States Federal Government's role.
Participating petitioners this morning included: Jorge Farinacci Garcia, Frente Socialista; Fernando Martin-Garcia, Partido Independista Puertoriqueño; Hiram Lozado, Esq., American Association of Jurists; Luis Barrios, Iglesia San Romera de las Américas; Francisco Velgara, Vieques Support Campaign; Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz, !Vieques, Si!; Rosa Meneses Albizu-Campos, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico; and Ivan Torres, Committee of Rescue and Development of Vieques.
Also: Wanda I. Resto, Fellowship of Reconciliation; Martin Koppel, Socialist Workers Party; Yuliana Pecunia, Juventud de Izquierda Revolucionaria; Betty Brassel, United for Vieques, Puerto Rico, Inc.; Eduardo Villlanueva Muñoz, Comité Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico; Nelson W. Canals, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico; and Wilma E. Reveron Collazo, Comité Puerto Rico en la ONU.
This afternoon, the petitioners were: Nilda Luz Rexach, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture; Jose Adames, Al Frente; Eduardo Bhatia, on behalf of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Acevedo Vila; Julio Antonio Muriente Perez, Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano; Anita Velez-Mitchell, Primavida, Inc.; and Elba Cintron Pabon, Hormiguero Pro-State 51.
The Special Committee on decolonization will meet again on Wednesday, 15 June, to continue its work.
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to discuss Puerto Rico.
The Special Committee had before it a report prepared by its Rapporteur, Fayssal Mekdad (Syria) on the Special Committee decision of 14 June 2004 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2005/L.3). Outlining latest political developments, the report notes that general elections were held in Puerto Rico in November 2004. Voters elected the Governor and the delegate to the United States Congress, members of the local Senate and House of Representatives, as well as candidates for various municipal and local positions. In the gubernatorial race, the PPD (Partido Popular Democratico) candidate, former Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, defeated the former Governor Pedro Rosello Gonzalez of the PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresista), replacing Sila Maria Calderon, who chose not to seek a second term.
With 0.2 per cent of the votes separating the candidates, the election was submitted to a recount on 8 November, the report states. Mr. Acevedo Vila was declared winner with a margin of only 3,228 votes. The official election result was not announced until 23 December, however, as Mr. Rosello Gonzalez contested the validity of certain ballots cast during the elections. From Puerto Rico's Supreme Court, who ruled in favour of Mr. Acevedo Vila, the case moved up to the First Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, Massachusetts, where three judges ruled that it was a question of state law, not federal law, and was, therefore, in the jurisdiction of Puerto Rico's Supreme Court.
The report notes that the main issues of the elections were the economy, corruption, crime and, to a certain extent, the future financing of the state medical insurance plan and the pension system. Educational reform as a means of increasing job opportunities was also raised by both candidates. According to some observers, the question concerning Puerto Rico's political status did not seem to weigh heavily in the campaign. Governor Acevedo Vila's stated priorities for his term include battling crime, reforming the prison system, helping small and medium-sized businesses, job creation, decentralizing the government and addressing the phasing out in 2005 of Section 30A of the United States tax code, under which United States companies in Puerto Rico enjoy certain tax benefits.
Regarding Puerto Rico's political status and its relationship to the United States, the report recalls that the debate was brought to the forefront in April 2002 when both the Senate and the Legislative Assembly approved a resolution recommending the establishment of an assembly on the status of the Puerto Rican people as the most viable and appropriate mechanism to determine the island's future status. In July 2004, the Legislative Assembly approved a resolution recommending the establishment of a constitutional assembly on the status of the Puerto Rican people. A referendum is expected to be held in 2005 to choose a preferred mechanism through which to deal with the status issue. The options will be a constitutional assembly or a process initiated by the United States Government.
Apart from general political questions, three specific issues have been raised before the Special Committee in recent years, namely the United States military presence in Puerto Rico, particularly 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.
Concerning the military issue, the report notes that Puerto Rico, for many years, has held an important military-strategic position within the United States Southern Command. In addition to its other military operations in Puerto Rico, the United States Navy operated from 1941 to 2003 on the island of Vieques. Vieques was used for naval gunfire support, air-to-ground ordnance training and amphibious assault exercises. The departure of the United States Navy from the island of Vieques followed a period of often violent protests in Vieques and various political initiatives by the United States and Puerto Rican representatives to clarify the Navy's future activities on the island. Three related issues remain to be clarified, including the future development of Vieques and its environmental clean-up; 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.
The Committee also had before it a draft resolution submitted by Cuba on Special Committee decision of 14 June 2004 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2005/L.7). By the terms of the text, the Special Committee would reaffirm the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the applicability of its fundamental principles to the question of Puerto Rico.
Reiterating that the Puerto Rican people constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation that has its own unequivocal national identity, the Special Committee would call upon the United States Government to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people fully to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in accordance with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the resolutions and decisions of the Special Committee.
By further terms, the Special Committee would note 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, based on the principle that any initiative for the solution of Puerto Rico's political status should originate from the people of Puerto Rico. It would also urge the United States Government to return the occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba to the people of Puerto Rico; respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to health and economic development; assume responsibility for and cover the costs of decontaminating the impact areas previously used in military exercises; and address the serious consequences of its military activity for the health of the inhabitants of Vieques Island and the environment.
The Special Committee would also, by further terms of the text, request the United States President to release all Puerto Rican prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for cases relating to the struggle for independence of Puerto Rico and to the ViequesIsland peace struggle.
JORGE FARINACCI GARCIA, Frente Socialista, expressed his support for the resolution tabled by Cuba and Venezuela, and deeded the floor to Mr. Maldonado.
JULIO E. FONTANET MALDONADO, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, stressed that capital punishment was prohibited in Puerto Rico's Constitution, yet the United States Government, which Puerto Ricans did not elect, had insisted on calling for capital punishment in a number of offences committed on Puerto Rico's territory. He drew particular attention to the existence of political prisoners in United States' prisons. Their sentences had been disproportionate to the crimes, in a flagrant violation of dignity that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. There were currently four political prisoners, who must immediately be freed, in order that the parties could begin to address colonialism.
Turning to the issue of Puerto Rico's full economic development, he said that United States federal laws had been a "kind of blockade and embargo" against Puerto Rico's economy. Moreover, he opposed the use of his territory for United States military bases and exercises. Several efforts had been undertaken to see to it that all armed forces of the United States leave "our country", but some of the territory was still under the control of those forces. Participation by Puerto Rican youth in the wars of the United States had been "forced" through legislation, and the number of Puerto Ricans who had fallen had been, once again, disproportionate to the overall casualties. That had raised several questions about how Puerto Rican soldiers were treated and used in those wars.
The current situation was unacceptable he said, adding that Puerto Rico was taking definitive steps to resolve its status. The only remaining issue was which machinery would best turn its options into reality. He asked the Special Committee to pay particular attention to that question.
FERNANDO MARTIN-GARCIA, Partido Independentista Puertoriqueno, said the resolution reaffirmed the Committee's jurisdiction on the question of Puerto Rico, reaffirmed the rights of the people of Puerto Rico to independence and called the United States Government to assume its responsibility. It also stressed that the case must be kept under review. In recent Committee resolutions, certain optimism had been expressed about the possibility of holding a constitutional status assembly. Unfortunately, the Government had said that Puerto Rico's status was not colonial; holding the assembly would be a way to continue perverting the decolonization concept. The assembly was nothing other than a repetition of the deception of 1953.
The hour was late, he said. He was delighted to see that the resolution omitted references to the assembly, closing the door on those who wanted to betray the rights of the people to full sovereignty. Recently, three political parties in Puerto Rico had arrived at a historical agreement voting on a draft law proposing the holding of a referendum next month, calling also on the United States President to resolve the issue of Puerto Rico's political status before the end of 2006. Postponing the referendum was a shameful triumph for those wishing to continue the island's colonial paralysis.
HIRAM LOZADO, Esq., on behalf of the American Association of Jurists, said that year after year for more than three decades, the representatives of Puerto Rico had asked before the world to exercise their right to independence. Following adoption in 1953 by the United Nations General Assembly of resolution 748 VIII, United States representatives and some Puerto Rican officials had alleged that Puerto Rico had achieved a "kind of condition of self-government", in line with the tenor of Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter. The manoeuvres, machinations, pressures and political force then brought to bear to prove that point had astonished and alarmed. Those actions had proclaimed that night was day, and day was night. Back home, the so-called alleged government had no fundamental authority, either in terms of the power to trade or protect its borders, its mountains its basins and waters.
Moreover, he continued, alien wars had been imposed on Puerto Ricans by the United States Government. Puerto Rico's supposed self-government had been an outgrowth of a supposed convention between Puerto Rico and the United States, but after 50 years, not one of its amendments for Puerto Rico's autonomy and power had been attained. Today, United States Government authorities painfully acknowledged the colonial vestiges of their political formula. Federal agencies and United States Army and Marines controlled Puerto Rico's best lands and beaches; a civil battle was being waged to rescue them and to eliminate the toxic waste their exercises produced. No one in Puerto Rico of sound mind denied its colonialist status. Puerto Rico remained subject to United States' congressional authority. Puerto Ricans had done everything to achieve independence. He asked that a colony be called a colony, and that freedom be called freedom. Puerto Ricans would resume the only path possible towards independence.
LUIS BARRIOS, Iglesia San Romera de Las Americas, said the United States, since its invasion, had been occupying Puerto Rico militarily for years, imposing a colonial regime that violated all international norms. It had been an invasion, not an invitation. The United States presence in Puerto Rico was the outpost of a colonial relationship manifested by United States expansionism. To say that the Puerto Rican people had been justly treated was untrue. The current system kept intact a colonial psychology. Psychological terrorism had resulted in a lack of self-respect and fantastical notions of what was actually happening.
Regarding elections, he said they were called carnivals at home and perpetuated the current colonialist formula, invalidating the entire election process. Elections were merely an attempt to validate the United States presence. It was just one example of the current way of life. For those reasons, he asked that Puerto Rico continue to be called a United States colony and that the resolution be adopted.
FRANCISCO VELGARA, Vieques Support Campaign, said that while the bombs had stopped falling on the people of Vieques two years ago, the United States Navy did everything to avoid cleaning up the contamination of the land. The military presence remained, as did their political influence. Public buyouts and back-room negotiations with the current Popular Democratic Party administration by United States hotel chains and developers threatened to steal the future of a hard-fought struggle by the people of Vieques. Today, the struggle must continue. The international community must be heard in order to make a reality the four D's - demilitarization, decontamination, devolution of the land and development of a sustainable nature in the hands of the people of Vieques.
The bombings had ceased, and the firing range had been closed, yet Puerto Rico's civilian population on the island continued to live in a vast death trap, which could only be described as "genocide on the instalment plan". The urgency of speaking out against Puerto Rico's colonial status and for looking for real alternatives to genuine decolonization was more evident now than at any other point in recent history. Under the cloak of the "war against terrorism", the continued colonialization of the Puerto Rican nation and the dire situation in Vieques were being systematically ignored by the colonizing Power. Colonialism by any other name remained a reality of occupation.
The people of Puerto Rico demanded a fifth D, mainly decolonization. Puerto Rico would continue to struggle for its national liberation and to end its colonial control at the hands of the United States. Puerto Ricans lived and died under its military boot and the Puerto Rican diaspora suffered racism and discrimination. Decolonialization was an inalienable right. It was not a matter of options, but a matter of life and survival. The people of Vieques and Puerto Rico deserved nothing less.
ISMAEL GUADALUPE ORTIZ, ¡Vieques, Si!, denounced the fact that the United States Navy had infringed upon the rights of Puerto Ricans. Two years after insisting that the lands of Vieques be restored, the United States Navy showed no sign of withdrawing. In fact, the situation was becoming more entrenched. The Navy's plan had won the sympathy of people around the island in the 1980s. Now, the Federal Government showed no interest in returning the land to its rightful owners, and it had ignored all appeals by the Special Committee. The Federal Government was "holding sway", stripping the people of Vieques of their ability to enjoy their lands and preventing their population from growing normally. The demands of Vieques had been clear-cut -- the United States must restore and decontaminate the land, allowing for development and autonomous decision-making.
He said that, not only had the Federal Government refused to do that, but it was engaging in subterfuge. The Navy's study of the land had determined that the western portion was not polluted. That finding had been rejected by Vieques' advisers as inadequate and invalid. Behind the Navy's methodology lurked a deliberate attempt to sidestep responsibility and dodge a clean-up that would cost billions of dollars. The Navy had begun openly burning and detonating bombs, which was polluting Vieques' ecosystem. The Navy had alleged that failure to detonate those bombs might pose a risk, but it rejected all alternatives to burning and detonating. Those abuses continued to flout the rights of the people of Vieques to live in peace and a pollution-free environment. He demanded that the United Nations reaffirm its backing to restore the land and clean it up.
ROSA MENESES ALBIZU-CAMPOS, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, said that the world over desired peace based on justice. An international organization was needed that looked after human rights in all parts of the world, on an equal basis; one that defended the right to decolonization for people subjected to colonialism. In 1953, resolution 748 had sought to validate the United States' claim, resulting in a "bad arrangement" called a free state of association. There was no democracy in Puerto Rico; the Empire had allowed its subjects to remain connected to a chain, a captive market for United States-based multinational corporations. Puerto Rico's economy, therefore, had remained stagnant, owing to its lack of power. That "intervention-mindedness" imposed, among other things, capital punishment on a people that loved life and human beings.
Moreover, she stressed, an X-ray of that arrangement had resulted in high rates of unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, suicide and death. Puerto Rico was a picture of total civil, moral, political and ethical bankruptcy. That same intervention impulse had taken the lives of 36 Puerto Ricans in an unjust war. That same Government continued to explode bombs and polluted places with uranium, as winds carried that radiation to the people of the island. That was all done under the pretext of achieving environmental cleanliness.
IVAN TORRES, the Committee of Rescue and Development of Vieques, said Vieques had been used as the main training ground for the United States Navy. The Navy had damaged the land, air, water and subsoil of Vieques, detonating explosives such as napalm and depleted uranium. The people of the island had to cope with irreversible damage, suffering higher cancer rates than any other area in Puerto Rico.
Peace was far more than an end to bombing, he said. Peace would only be achieved through the realization of the four D's, namely demilitarization, decontamination, devolution and development. Some 60 years later, the Government was taking possession of the land, declaring it a wildlife refuge. For more than half a century, the people had called for compensation for their reduced quality of life. They had also demanded, among other things, compensation for the health problems they suffered and the monitoring of the environmental clean-up by international observers. The people of Vieques deserved to live in peace. They were at the end of their rope.
BENJAMIN RAMOS ROSADO, ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, explained that the Campaign was a broad-based, anti-imperial and anti-colonial campaign that had been working consistently for the past 11 years to secure the freedom of the Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war and Puerto Rico's decolonization by educating, organizing and mobilizing various communities throughout the United States. Imprisonment of Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war was an international human rights violation. With the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2000-2010) in full swing, the question of Puerto Rico remained a critical and defining component at the forefront of that strategic plan. The Special Committee had made history with its groundbreaking and unified cry against colonialism. Yet, despite its clear and resolute message, the United States had not yet acted upon any of its recommendations. Today, he was petitioning the Committee, once again, not as a free and sovereign nation, but as a colonized people experiencing racism, discrimination, imposed poverty and exploitation.
He said that Puerto Ricans were second-class citizens at the mercy of the United States' foreign and domestic policies. They could not vote in presidential elections, nor did they have congressional representation. They had an American citizenship imposed on them, but they were denied the basic rights that early Americans had earned in a revolution. The United States considered itself a bastion of democracy and freedom, yet it was currently occupying Puerto Rico, Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan and several other countries. It was ironic that a country that fought for its independence and self-determination against a colonizing power would then use the same methods of repression against others. The United States also considered itself a champion of human rights, often condemning other countries for their human rights violations. Yet, the colonial reality of Puerto Rico, the military presence in Vieques, and the incarceration of political prisoners and prisoners of war were all international human rights violations, which the United States had done nothing to rectify. Puerto Rico could not allow such injustice to continue against men and women whose only crime was struggling for freedom and fighting against an "imperialist colonial monster".
WANDA I. RESTO, Fellowship of Reconciliation, said her organization had, since 1915, worked to replace violence, war, racism and economic injustice with non-violence, peace and justice. Although the people of Vieques had, through non-violent civil disobedience, won a victory with the cessation of bombing on the island, their human rights continued to be disregarded. In May 2003, the Navy had turned over nearly all its land on Vieques to the United States Department of the Interior. In a manoeuvre that avoided responsibility for pollution in the heavily bombed Live Impact Area, the United States Congress had designated the former bombing range a pristine wilderness, prohibiting human entry on the pretext of protecting wildlife. The limited use of their land for sustainable economic development and the negative impact on the health of the people constituted a systematic violation of human rights.
The future of the people of Vieques was at the mercy of the United States Navy, the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency, she said. Their vision for Vieques, a vast wildlife refuge surrounded by expensive resorts and vacation homes, was already becoming a reality. One of the deficiencies in the United States justice and legislative system was the lack of a domestic forum with which the people of Vieques could vindicate their rights. It was imperative that the right of the people of Vieques to sustainable economic development and a healthy environment not be diminished for the convenience of the United States Navy and other agencies.
The aggressive recruitment of Puerto Rican people into the United States Armed Forces was a further form of colonial exploitation, she added, urging the Committee to make note of such militarization as an abhorrent form of colonial rule. She also urged the Committee to continue its constant vigilance on Puerto Rico and include in its resolution the issue of the toxic legacy of United States military activities in Vieques as a serious human rights and decolonization issue.
MARTIN KOPPEL, Socialist Workers Party, said that a successful fight for Puerto Rico's independence was in the interests of the vast majority of Americans. Workers and farmers there had absolutely no interest in Washington's colonial rule over Puerto Rico. United States' leaders always talked in terms of "we Americans", but that was a lie. Working people in the United States had no common interests with the owners of General Motors, Boeing, Cargill, or Exxon. Instead, they faced a common oppressor and exploiter - the tiny class of United States' billionaire families and their Government. As long as Puerto Rico was under "Washington's colonial boot", the fighting capacity and solidarity of the working-class movement in the United States would be weakened.
Today, he said, more revelations were emerging about the torture and degradation of prisoners locked up by the United States Government at GuantanamoBay. Those crimes showed the "true face" of United States imperialism. That brutalization was an extension of what the United States' rulers routinely did to prisoners inside the United States. Washington was the "number 1" jailer in the world, with 2 million men and women behind bars. Three independence fighters had been locked up in United States prisons for a quarter of a century -- Carlos Alberto Torres, Haydee Beltran, and Oscar Lopez. Jose Perez Gonzalez and Jose Velez Acosta remained imprisoned for activities against the United States Navy's presence in Vieques. "Release them all now!" he said. He also joined the call for the release of five Cuban revolutionaries framed by the United States Government on espionage and other conspiracy charges.
Indeed, the United States Government had used Puerto Rico as a springboard for launching assaults on countries around the world, from its invasion of Grenada in 1983 to the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, and the war against and occupation of Iraq, he said. It continued to use Puerto Rican youth as "cannon fodder in those imperialist wars". He saluted the students at the University of Puerto Rico who were telling the truth about that fact as they campaigned against the use of university campuses by the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The successful 60-year-long struggle to get the United States Navy out of Vieques had also helped to educate millions about those realities. Today, United States' rulers were carrying out their biggest transformation of their armed forces and military strategy since the eve of the Second World War. He opposed the drive by Washington and its imperialist allies to prevent Iran, North Korea, Brazil, India and other oppressed nations from developing nuclear power and other energy sources to expand access to electricity, which was a precondition for economic and social advances.
YULIANA PECUNIA, Juventud de Izquierda Revolucionaria, said there was no greater abuse of human rights than the perpetuation of colonialization. Puerto Rican youth reaffirmed Puerto Rico's existence as a Latin American and Caribbean nation. That right had been illegally usurped as a result of the United States military invasion and occupation. She demanded the immediate return to Puerto Rican sovereignty. Puerto Rico's economic and government structure and culture were moulded in the image of a United States model, serving the interests of the dominating country. The fact that it was allowed to continue was irresponsible.
The Puerto Rican independence movement had not disappeared, she said. It was a historic movement linked to other movements throughout the island. The fight for independence was still alive, as seen by workers, students and communities facing private developers. The militarization of the island must not be dismissed. Militarization was a tangible manifestation of United States control. That occupation went hand in hand with United States corporations, who used the territory as a private gold mine. Decolonization was a responsibility incumbent on all. Puerto Ricans were doing their part. It was up to the Committee to do its part.
BETTY BRASSELL, United for Vieques, said the goal of the group was to create awareness and 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 own communities. She continued to support the demands of the people of Vieques for the following: demilitarization; decontamination; return of the land; and development. Towards the latter, the people of Vieques had a vision for the future development of a free Vieques -- free from the military, free from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and free from land speculators and greedy developers. The island's Spanish language and culture were non-negotiable. Americans had "god-given rights" to remain Americans and let the Viequenses and Puerto Ricans remain Viequenses and Puerto Ricans.
Today, she said, the Navy had turned over the control of the lands to the Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid its responsibility for the clean-up. Yet, because of continued live detonations of bombs in Vieques, environmental contamination continued, threatening health and safety. Those explosions of live bombs released lead, depleted uranium, white phosphorous, Agent Orange, radiation, aluminium, chromium, napalm, chaff, dioxins, and arsenic, among other contaminants -- causing cancer, heart problems, hyptertension, diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses. Funds must be provided to promote sustainable economic development for the people of Vieques, whose livelihoods had been devastated as a result of the Navy's presence. Today, United States and British military personnel continued to use uranium munitions, although that had many adverse health and environmental effects.
Recently, the Pentagon and Bush Administration officials had sought exemptions for the military to the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservations Recovery Act, which controls government hazardous waste, she noted. They claimed that existing pollution laws could block the firing of even non-explosive ammunition. Environmentalists, congressional democrats, and state and local officials correctly argued that the military should meet its existing legal obligations. The United States Defense Department accounted for more than 10 per cent of the country's top priority Superfund clean-up sites. According to Government estimates, the Department had generated 16.5 million pounds of toxic waste in 2002, alone. Military servicemen and women and their families would suffer the most if the Defense Department got those exemptions. She appealed to the world community to hear the voices of the people of Vieques for peace and life in a home free from contamination and cancer.
EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUÑOZ, Human Rights Committee of Puerto Rico, said while the United States could not hold prisoners for ideological reasons, there could be no other explanation for the excessive prison sentences given to Puerto Rican prisoners. Among the prisoners was Oscar Lopez Rivera, who suffered from such human rights violations as sleep depravation while in prison. The United States had been charged with prisoner abuse. Puerto Rican prisoners had nothing to do with terrorism and Iraq.
At present, Puerto Rico had been discussing the need to establish mechanisms to achieve a solution to its colonial status, including the holding of a constitutional assembly, he said. Under any such mechanism, international law required the release of all political prisoners. The Puerto Rican political parties had generally supported the release of political prisoners. The prisoners had conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion while in custody. Maintaining political prisoners in horrible conditions with trumped up sentences had undermined United States foreign policy around the world. He asked the Committee to formally request the General Assembly for the immediate release of political prisoners.
NELSON W. CANALS, Gran Oriente Nacional de Puerto Rico, said his organization was fighting to build a society based on justice, peace and social reality. The patriotic masons of Puerto Rico were committed to defending the right of Puerto Ricans to self-determination and independence. The fight for sovereignty was a very uneven and difficult one, to which many Puerto Ricans had dedicated their lives. Some of them had been killed; others had been imprisoned. And, still others had been forced to go into exile to escape repression. The struggle required the Special Committee's solidarity to dispel the lack of clarity surrounding the political prisoners and freedom fighters. It also required the Committee's backing to see to it that the lands of Vieques were cleaned up and returned to their original owners.
He said that the vast majority of people around the world repudiated capital punishment, which the United States continued to impose on Puerto Rican citizens. Puerto Rico had revoked that practice in 1929 and had prohibited it in its 1952 Constitution. He reiterated his opposition to that barbaric homicide. A real decolonization process must be carried out in Puerto Rico, and launched by Puerto Ricans. That process would be strengthened if the case was discussed in the United Nations General Assembly, and he, thus, reaffirmed his request to take Puerto Rico's case before that body. The United States Government must also recognize the sovereignty of Puerto Ricans and negotiate with them. No pains should be spared in the quest for a way out of the colonial situation, within the parameters set up by the United Nations.
MARY ANNE GRADY FLORES, Ithaca Catholic Worker Vieques Support Group, said the world watched with horror at the colonization of Iraq, the most blatant and current example of United States transgression. The people of Vieques were very clear that their struggle to remove the United States Navy was intertwined with the fate of others around the globe bearing the brunt of United States military imperial power. The Group called for the immediate removal of all hazardous materials, including radioactive depleted uranium dust and shells. It also called for the immediate return of lands now occupied by the Fish and Wildlife Department. It also called for a moratorium on sale of the Vieques lands to big developers.
The 9,500 residents of Vieques lived 11 miles east of the bombing range where the United States Navy was detonating unexploded ordinance today, she said. With each detonation, the explosions redistributed depleted uranium dust, which was carried by the famous trade winds west to the people. According to an October 2004 health study, the cancer rate in Vieques was 80 per cent higher than the main island of Puerto Rico. Everyone in Vieques knew someone with cancer. The United States military's decision to use depleted uranium in spite of its obvious health risks displayed a blatant disregard for human life and well-being. She urged the Committee to consider the evidence and recognize the need for self-determination by the Puerto Rican people.
JOSE APONTE-HERNANDEZ, Speaker of the House, informed on efforts to resolve, once and for all, the problem of Puerto Rico's political status. He also sought to add to the Special Committee's records, with a view to achieving greater clarity about the problem afflicting Puerto Rican society and what was needed to resolve it. Following a ballot in 2004, Puerto Ricans in January 2005 put a Governor in place, which promoted the relationship of association with the United States, without a shadow of any colonialist element. The Puerto Rican Government had also advanced the cause through legislation, in both the upper and lower Houses. By February, it had become possible for Puerto Ricans to start a real process of self-determination through legislation.
He said that both legislative bodies immediately began a process of public hearings, which had produced some historic outcomes. The three parties had unanimously produced a consensus document in which everyone sought to advance decolonization as never before. In July, a "yes or no, up or down vote" would take place. The Puerto Rican people demanded from the United States President and Congress a commitment to respond to the cause of Puerto Ricans to resolve their political status problems through full democracy, non-territoriality, and non-colonial options. All legislative bodies had unanimously committed to resolve the island's long-standing political status problem. Even the Governor stepped back from his public position and committed his party and its people to real progress in that regard. The legislature then adopted a consensus resolution not to allow the wishes of the vast majority of Puerto Ricans to be hamstrung.
At the same time, promising developments were occurring in Washington, D.C. which must recognize the right of Puerto Ricans to enjoy full self-governance, he said. Efforts were being made in the United States Congress to take up the matter. Such efforts had failed in the past, but the present ones had been given merit by senior United States officials. Unless the rules of the game were changed fundamentally, the final word had to be spoken in Washington. He trusted that, this time, the outcome would be dramatically different than the disillusioning failures of the past. Given the present political realities, Puerto Ricans must determine and clarify, once and for all, the Federal Government's role. Puerto Rico had done its part. The Special Committee must deal with the case of Puerto Rico.
WILMA REVERON COLLAZO, on behalf of the Comité Puerto Rico en la ONU, said her organization was celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of its efforts to put Puerto Rico on the Committee's agenda. With the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement, Puerto Rico had enjoyed the backing of many socialist countries for the first time. Since 1972, the Committee's resolution had grown from a single paragraph to several pages. She applauded the Committee's efforts, particularly those of Cuba, which enjoyed historic ties. With each year that passed by, the Puerto Rican people were increasingly hemmed in and unable to articulate their claims and demands as a people. Their calls for political power had been ignored, fought and frustrated by the United States Government.
The Puerto Rican people were entitled to seek their solutions for the issues facing them, she said. It was time to move from paper to action. It was time for the Puerto Rican people to decide for themselves their own future. Any initiative to resolve the island's status must stem from the people themselves. The Committee must be tireless until Puerto Rico achieved its natural destiny, independence.
NILDA LUIS REXACH, National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture, said Puerto Rico was not a colony as it had an elected governor. The focus should be on a problem of legal and moral rights that should have been solved by the United States Congress years ago. Puerto Ricans did not want to lose their United States citizenship. They wanted statehood and the right to vote for the President. The current situation in Puerto Rico was terrible. People lived in fear, many coming to the United States until the problems were resolved. No one could question the contribution of Puerto Ricans to the United States, including the life of those who had fought for the country. Yet, they had no representation in the United States Congress. As the fifty-first State, Puerto Rican would not lose its culture. The 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States had demonstrated that.
She said there was only one solution to the problem of Puerto Rico, namely, statehood. Puerto Rico was State 51. Puerto Ricans lacked only the right to be represented in Congress and the right to elect the United States President.
JOSE ADAMES, Al Frente, said that the Government of Puerto Rico had been organized in the same way as all other State governments in the United States. It recognized the State supreme court as in the other States and it elected a governor, like the other States. Officially, Puerto Rico was a State like all others in the nation. All Puerto Ricans were American citizens, except that they were discriminated against in many ways, owing to the lack of declaration of statehood. That was keeping Puerto Rico from its constitutionally mandated right in the Congress and the Senate, and keeping its residents from the right to vote for President of the United States. Puerto Rico wanted the same recognition as all other States.
He said that for almost 100 years, Puerto Rican soldiers - American soldiers - had given their lives for the democracy, freedom and interests of the United States. In certain wars, they had suffered more casualties than any other State. Yet, those soldiers did not enjoy the same rights as others, simply because they resided in Puerto Rico. In a United States presidential election, voting ballots were sent to American citizens around the world, but Puerto Rico's residents were not allowed to participate in the election, because of the absence of a declaration of statehood. If any Puerto Rican moved to the mainland, as had occurred in the case of more than 3 million Puerto Ricans, they instantly became first-class citizens, with the right to elect representatives to the Congress, the Senate and to the office of the President. More than half of all Puerto Rican families were affected by that long-term discrimination, he said.
EDUARDO BHATIA, on behalf of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Acevedo Vila, said the process of discussing the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States had been long, costly and frustrating, diverting attention from such fundamental issues as education, job creation and security. The Governor was committed to the process of self-determination that should develop independent of partisan affiliations regarding status options. The official position was to develop a democratic, inclusive plan, a plan of self-determination and not imposition. Only by setting divisiveness about status preferences aside could a consensus be shaped in order to deal with the matter democratically. Allowing the people to decide was the only way to make their aspirations a reality.
In 1953, the General Assembly had affirmed that utmost deference would be given to the aspirations of the people if they wanted to change their association with the United States, he said. To define those aspirations the Government advocated a new procedural mechanism, namely, the constitutional status assembly. Outlining the main points for the process, he said it must begin in Puerto Rico and could not be subjected to the monopoly of political parties. The process had to be fair, accompanied by a process of interaction with the President and the Congress, and the people had to be consulted in a year other than a general election year regarding the process. The Committee had recognized that mechanism in the past.
The process of the constitutional status assembly incorporated all of the aspirations of the people, he said. Puerto Rico could no longer continue to have a fragmented debate. The Governor was committed to dealing with the matter. Although the Governor was in favour of the constitutional assembly, it was up to the people to choose a procedural mechanism. The Governor would abide by the decision of the people, if they did not decide in favour of the constitutional status assembly. If it prevailed, a special election would be held to elect the delegates for the assembly. The proposal involved not only the participation of all political parties, but also civil society.
The new proposal had been supported by broad sectors of Puerto Rican civil society, elected United States officials and the many Puerto Ricans in the United States. The decision could not be left in the hands of political parties -- rather, it must be in the people's hands. The constitutional status assembly would be an exercise of representative democracy. By its nature, it would be an ongoing mechanism and its establishment would be based on the decision of the people.
JULIO ANTONIO MURIENTE PEREZ, Co-Presidente del Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, said his pro-independence organization supported the draft resolution before the Special Committee. The text was broad and inclusive and contained fundamental elements on the prevailing situation. He had been particularly encouraged by the recognition in the text of the 23 resolutions and decisions adopted by the Special Committee on that situation in past decades, particularly those adopted in recent years without a vote. It was very important that the Committee take note of the debate in Puerto Rico regarding the search for a procedure to make it possible to decolonize the homeland. He attached enormous importance to the discussion in recent years about the holding of a constitutional status assembly, inspired by a proposal of the Puerto Rican bar association.
He said that that debate had been moving forward by "leaps and bounds". It had been controversial, but such an assembly was being given consideration as an indispensable instrument towards achieving the consensus of Puerto Ricans regarding their independence. He had undertaken constant efforts to ensure that the constitutional status assembly would fulfil the objective of contributing to decolonization, self-determination, and Puerto Rico's independence. In that way, Puerto Rico would overcome tribalism, sectarianism and fragmentation to which it had been subjected for a very long time. That would also convey firmly to the United States that it must recognize Puerto Rico's national freedom and sovereignty. Puerto Rico suffered many ills at the hands of the United States, including drug trafficking, dozens of suicides and murders yearly, soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and a structural economic crisis.
Six decades ago, when Puerto Rico's transformation had begun from a poor sugar plantation into a modern industrial centre, a massive outflow from the island was promoted and a better life was ensured for all those who emigrated, as well as for all those left behind. Yet today, 4 million residents of Puerto Rico now lived in the United States, totalling more than the number living on the island, and 58 per cent of them lived below the poverty line. In the United States, most Puerto Ricans also lived in deplorable conditions. Many of the social and economic problems confronting Puerto Ricans were shared with others around the world, but Puerto Rico was shouldering the burden of 107 years of United States colonialism and 405 years of Spanish colonialism. Never in its history of more than five centuries had it had the chance to take decisions freely. It was high time for Puerto Rico to leave behind its status as a colony and join the global community of sovereign nations.
ANITA VELEZ-MITCHELL, Primavida, Inc. said Puerto Rico was an ancient nation in the Americas. It was a commonwealth, as was Massachusetts and other States. Puerto Ricans had been obligated to fight in every war, yet they were politically disenfranchised. The term "Hispanic" did not indicate a country or a race. Puerto Ricans shared the same racial background as so-called Indians, Europeans and Africans. Each nation comprising the Americas had a distinct culture and society. Puerto Ricans could not be lumped together as if they were cigars in a box.
She hoped that an anti-racial resolution could be adopted, one that did not categorize people by race. Puerto Rican was a nationality, not a race.
ELBA CINTRON PABON, Hormiguero Pro-State 51, said that everyone needed to help each other and speak the truth. "Let us put an end to all of this; let us decide on the status of Puerto Rico." If the decision was that it was within the United States, fine, but "let us reach a decision", in order that Puerto Ricans could move on with the good life, she said.
Action on Draft
Special Committee Chairman JULIAN HUNTE (Saint Lucia) expressed appreciation for the petitioners' statements and for the information they had furnished to the Committee. He then drew members' attention to the text of the resolution contained in document A/AC.109/2005/L.7 and to the report of the Committee.
Introducing the draft resolution on the question of Puerto Rico, Cuba's representative said it was an honour to introduce the text because of Cuba's history with Puerto Rico, dating back to the time when both countries were subjected to Spanish colonial domination. Many years after their republic status was proclaimed, Cuba and Puerto Rico had become the last two Spanish colonies in Latin America, until 1898 when they were occupied by United States "invaders". The Cuban and Puerto Rican patriots offered mutual support from each other in the struggle for independence, as though they were from a single homeland. More than a century later, the links forged in that common struggle persevered.
He said that the draft took up the fundamental element of the resolutions previously adopted on the subject by the Committee, with the necessary updating. It also preserved, as in the past three decades, in its first operative paragraph, recognition of the inalienable rights of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 1514 and the applicability of the fundamental principles of the resolution to the question of Puerto Rico.
The draft was the result of a broad process of consultations with representatives of different political sectors of Puerto Rico, many of whom had come today as petitioners, as well as with all Member States of the Special Committee, he said. It also reflected the view of the members of the Non-Aligned Movement, which, in their 2004 ministerial declaration, had reiterated their commitment to the question of Puerto Rico and had asked the Special Committee to continue to examine that subject. Adoption of the text for the past five years without a vote had clearly illustrated the unity and consensus existing in the Committee with regard to the Puerto Rico question.
Venezuela's representative explained that he had joined the resolution as a co-sponsor because of the mandate of his country's Constitution that it promote the principle of non-intervention and self-determination. He reaffirmed his unswerving support for Puerto Rico's self-determination and independence. He also supported the search for a procedure to make it possible to advance the process of resolving Puerto Rico's political status on the basis of the people of Puerto Rico, themselves, such as through the convening of a status assembly.
Acting without a vote, the Special Committee next adopted the resolution on the question of Puerto Rico.
Chairman HUNTE thanked the petitioners for their interventions and the Special Committee members for their focused consideration of the draft.