14 June 2006
Speakers in Decolonization Committee Stress Need to Clarify Puerto Rico's Status
NEW YORK, 13 June (UN Headquarters) -- As the Special Committee on decolonization concluded this morning its second and final day of hearings of petitioners on the Puerto Rico question, Committee Chairman Julian Hunte (Saint Lucia) highlighted several important issues emerging from the meetings which deserved due consideration by the United Nations.
Petitioners, including the representatives of three main political parties in Puerto Rico, gave overwhelming support for the General Assembly to take up the issue of self-determination of Puerto Rico. Such a development, Mr. Hunte noted, was consistent with operative paragraph 6 of the resolution adopted by the Special Committee on 12 June 2006, which "reiterates once again the hope that the General Assembly will give comprehensive consideration to the questions of Puerto Rico in all its aspects". Puerto Rico's status must be clarified so that its people could move ahead in exercising their right to self-determination, he said.
Some petitioners questioned the implications of the interpretation of the 2005 White House report defining Puerto Rico as an "un-incorporated territory" and requested clarification from the administering Power as to whether the report's findings meant a change of the United States policy presented to the United Nations in 1952, which had resulted in removing Puerto Rico from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Several petitioners called for a United Nations visiting mission to Puerto Rico. Others questioned whether the rationale of Assembly resolution 748, which removed Puerto Rico from the list, should be revisited. The meetings also shed light on the various methods by which Puerto Rico could exercise its right to self-determination, as well as the cultural affinity and historic linkage of Puerto Rico with the wider Latin American and Caribbean region.
Petitioners participating in this morning's meeting included: Manuel Rivera, Puertoriquenos Unidos de Acción; Anita Velez-Mitchell, Primavida Inc. Theater Arts; and Phillip Arroyo, Young Professionals for Puerto Rico Democracy.
The Special Committee will meet again at a time and date to be announced.
The Special Committee, formally known as 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 hear petitioners under its agenda item on the Special Committee decision of 13 June 2005 concerning Puerto Rico.
For more background information, see Press Release GA/COL/3138 of 12 June.
MANUEL RIVERA, Puertorriqueños Unidos en Acción, said that developments in the Territory since the final months of 2005 had raised new challenges to the Puerto Rican struggle for national sovereignty and independence. They had faced a wave of violence and human rights violations unleashed by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), whose premeditated and deliberate assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Rios, with the support and consent of the National Security Council and the White House, raised fundamental issues of international law and questions concerning the United Nations Charter.
He said the evidence before the Special Committee revealed 108 years of systematic and severe violations of the most fundamental rights of Puerto Ricans as a result of United States colonial domination. The tactics used to attack independence-seekers demonstrated all the features of premeditated murder. Only three decades ago, those same acts of violence and human rights violations had been pervasive in Latin America. Augusto Pinochet had been supported in his persecution and assassination of dissidents, and the Cuban mafia in Miami had been used to carry out their illicit work. North American colonialism today allowed the use of FBI special forces.
Any exercise of self-determination and decolonization must guarantee respect for the human rights of Puerto Ricans, he stressed, adding that it must also include liberation of those condemned to disproportionate jail sentences merely because they aspired to independence and decolonization. Similarly, for self-determination and decolonization to be thorough and equitable, the participation of Puerto Ricans living in the United States was necessary. Members of the diaspora should be able to elect delegates to a people's assembly. The United States Government had used its influence very effectively to keep the issue of Puerto Rico off the General Assembly's agenda. It had also used a series of techniques to confuse the people of Puerto Rico and obviate many attempts to exercise their sovereign rights as a people. The time had come for world public opinion to attach priority to the plight of Puerto Rico.
ANITA VELEZ-MITCHELL, Primavida, Inc. Theatre Arts, said a lot of Puerto Rico's history had been left out of the history textbooks. Known as the gem of the Caribbean, the island should be treated as a treasure by the United States. It was the entrance to the Caribbean and faced the Panama Canal. The United States Federal Government had better pay attention.
The great-grandmother said that when she was a young girl the United States Congress had passed the Good Neighbour Policy, under which the best of Latin America and the Caribbean islands were welcomed into the United States -- tall, dark and handsome actors, delicious food, lively dance music and the arts from the Hispanic world. North Americans had learned how to be at ease with the "greenhorns" and architects in big cities had learned the value of balconies on tall buildings. Hopefully, that that policy would be passed again.
PHILLIP ARROYO, Young Professionals for Puerto Rico Democracy, said that General Assembly resolution 748, adopted in 1953, acknowledged that the federal-territorial association established by congressional authorization and the approval of a locally adopted constitution was not a permanent, final or ultimate political status. Rather, it contemplated an ongoing self-determination process. The resolution represented a determination by the United Nations that the adoption of a local constitution gave the inhabitants a sufficient degree of self-government to achieve further self-determination and ultimate status resolution. Later resolutions further clarified and more precisely defined the political status options available to Non-Self-Governing Territories. Those status options had been and remained available to Puerto Rico.
He said that the White House report issued in December 2005 provided the basis for Congress to now sponsor an informed act of self-determination. It provided a legally sound and politically realistic framework for the completion of the decolonization process for Puerto Rico. The report recognized the need for the Federal Government to take affirmative steps to define the options for status resolution. Nevertheless, the local political party that favoured the continuation of the current commonwealth status was supporting a process of self-determination through the creation of a local constitutional convention. Such a process would merely repeat the same internal political dialogue that had failed to produce a status resolution for five decades.
The present commonwealth system of self-government had been a step forward in 1953, but its legal nature had been misrepresented in the internal political status debate, and it had become an anachronism, he said. All political parties in Puerto Rico sought a non-territorial status with full democratic self-government at the national level. That was not possible through any statutory measures allowing special or substitute political rights under the commonwealth structure of internal self-government. Therefore, to complete the decolonization process, the current state of annexation and partial integration must be ended in favour of full integration, free association between sovereign nations, or independence as recognized under United States and international law.
JULIAN R. HUNTE (Saint Lucia), Special Committee Chairman, said in a closing statement that a number of issues had emerged from the discussion, including: the possible future inclusion of the question of Puerto Rico on the United Nations agenda and a possible United Nations visiting mission to Puerto Rico; the limitations on expanded participation by Puerto Rico in international organizations, even as such categories as observer status or associate membership were enjoyed by other Territories; and the applicability of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) to Puerto Rico on the right to self-determination and the relevance of Assembly resolution 1541 (XV), particularly as it related to the political status option of free association and integration.
He said that further emerging from the discussion were: the implications of the interpretation of the 2005 White House report defining Puerto Rico as an "un-incorporated territory" and a clarification from the administering Power as to whether the report's findings meant a change of United States policy presented to the United Nations in 1952, which had resulted in the removal of Puerto Rico from the list of Non-self Governing Territories; the question of whether the rationale of General Assembly resolution 748, which had removed Puerto Rico from the list, should be revisited; the various methods by which Puerto Rico could exercise its right to self-determination, including by way of constitutional convention, plebiscite or other means; support expressed by various intergovernmental bodies in favour of a self-determination process in Puerto Rico; recognition of Puerto Rico's cultural affinity and historic linkage with the wider Latin American and Caribbean region; the political and economic implications of applying United States federal law and jurisdiction to Puerto Rico, including that of law enforcement agencies and maritime trade regulations; responsibility for restoring and cleaning up Vieques in the context of land use and ownership; and the impact of multinational corporations in the context of economic ownership and control.
Those complex issues, which had been articulated by many petitioners, as well as a representative of the Governor of Puerto Rico, deserved due consideration by the Special Committee and the United Nations as a whole, he said. The overwhelming support for the General Assembly's taking up of the self-determination of Puerto Rico by many petitioners, including the representatives of three main political parties, had been clearly expressed and such a development was consistent with operative paragraph 6 of the text adopted by the Special Committee on 12 June 2006, which reiterated the hope that the Assembly would give comprehensive consideration to the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects. Such issues should be clarified so that the Puerto Rican people could move ahead in exercising their right to self-determination.
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