10 June 2008
The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation for the second consecutive year has adopted a resolution calling for the U.N. General Assembly to deal directly with the issue of the self-determination of Puerto Rico.
This provision is contained in Operative Paragraph 7 of the resolution (reprinted below) which “requests the (U.N.) General Assembly to consider the question of Puerto Rico comprehensively in all of its aspects.” The same language was included in the 2007 committee resolution on the issue, and most speakers reiterated the view that the General Assembly must examine the case of Puerto Rico which had been removed from the U.N. list of non self-governing territories in 1953 following the adoption of an ‘autonomous’ status in their 1952 Constitution.
The U.N. also ‘de-listed’ the Netherlands Antilles in 1953 on the same premise that the arrangement of the six islands and Suriname on the South American coast was sufficiently autonomous. As it turned out, the Dutch had a better case than the Americans in terms of ‘autonomous sufficiency’ given the continued applicability to Puerto Rico (and the other four U.S. – administered territories) of the infamous Article IV(3) (2) of the U.S Constitution which states that the U.S. Congress has the right to “make all needful rules for territory or other property of the U.S.”
Equating territory (including colonised countries) with property still remains a rather sensitive subject into the 21st century, so other softer designations were invented over time to describe the territories, such as insular areas, offshore areas and the like. The terms ‘possessions’ and ‘offshore possessions’ still remain a favourite of the U.S. Congress in its legislation on the territories. It seems that equating territories as any ‘other property’ is very much alive. Changing this anachronistic terminology in future legislation where the territories are referenced might be a worthy project for the non-voting delegates of the territories.
The issue of a full measure of self-government became more complex in 1960 when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the “Decolonisation Declaration” (Resolution 1514 XV) which confirmed the inalienable right of self-determination of the people in those territories. The General Assembly on the same day also adopted the companion Resolution 1541 (XV) which identified and defined the three legitimate options of political equality, namely integration, free association and independence.
The question at that stage was whether the de-listing of territories before the definition was adopted was premature, and should be re-visited. While there was significant sentiment to that effect, there was not enough political will to act, given the composition of the U.N. in 1960 when most of Africa and Asia remained under colonial rule. The two resolutions did serve to intensify the momentum for self-determination in colonies throughout the world, including in Puerto Rico.
Since that time, the self-determination of Puerto Rico was kept very much alive by Puerto Ricans in the territory, as well as those who resided in other parts of the world. Political parties such as the Puerto Rico Independence Party, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party joined with non-governmental organisations to pressure the United Nations to keep the issue of the self-determination of Puerto Rico on the minds of U.N. member states. This resulted in a compromise decision by the Special Committee on Decolonisation to examine the case of Puerto Rico and adopt a decision on its self-determination. It was determined that the Special Committee decision would not be forwarded to the General Assembly for action (although the decision is contained in the committee’s report).
After some 26 resolutions and decision of the Special Committee regarding Puerto Rico – and now the 27th - it appears that the critical mass has been reached for the logical step to be taken by the General Assembly to act. It is observed that the earlier interest by a number of groups in having Puerto Rico‘re-listed’ appears no longer to be a consideration. In any event, both methods, re-listing, or having the case of Puerto Rico self-determination taken up directly by the General Assembly, would require Assembly approval. It appears that the consistent frustrations expressed by representatives of other territories already listed regarding the lack of implementation of decolonisation resolutions did not fall on deaf ears in Puerto Rico,and appears a determining factor in the Puerto Rico approach to bypass the re-listing process in favour of direct General Assembly consideration. This may prove to be a wise strategy.
This approach will undoubtedly require a considerable lobbying efort among U.N. member states who would be subjected to an expected political pressure directly to the political leadership on their respective capitals. If there is adherence to the resolutions of the Non-Aligned Movement(NAM) on this matter, then such pressures should not matter, and a comfortable majority for support should emerge.
A summary of the United Nations press release on the United Nations on Puerto Rico appears below, along with the text of the resolution.
United Nations Press Release
SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION ADOPTS TEXT CALLING ON UNITED STATES
TO EXPEDITE SELF-DETERMINATION PROCESS FOR PUERTO RICAN PEOPLE
9th June 2008
The Special Committee on Decolonization today called upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people fully to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.
In a resolution adopted by consensus, the decolonization body –- known formally 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 -- requested the President of the United States to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences for cases relating to the Territory’s struggle for independence and to the Vieques Island “peace struggle”.
The Special Committee, also known as the “Committee of 24”, urged the Government of the United States to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques Island and in Ceiba; respect the fundamental human rights to health and economic development of their inhabitants; and expedite and cover the costs of decontaminating the areas previously used in military exercises.
Introducing the text, Cuba’s representative said that, while the Special Committee and the General Assembly had been adopting resolutions and decisions reaffirming the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence, the United States, as colonial Power, had tried by all means to consolidate its economic, political and social domination over the “brotherly Latin American and Caribbean country”. Because of its culture, history, traditions and especially its people’s unswerving will, Puerto Rico would continue to be a Latin American and Caribbean nation, with its own national identity. After the Special Committee’s adoption of the text, he said: “The adoption of this resolution today is a tribute to the patriotic spirit of the Puerto Rican people and the tradition of struggle led by their heroes, who are also the heroes of Cuba and all the Americas.”
This morning, the Special Committee heard 18 petitioners, who presented the views of various Puerto Rican groups, parties and organizations. Many requested the General Assembly to call on the United States to begin a just and equitable process to allow the people of Puerto Rico to exercise their right to self-determination, confirming to resolution 1514 (XV). Puerto Rican people could no longer tolerate that consideration of Puerto Rican self-determination be “parked in a corner of chimeras” by the Assembly, a representative of the Puerto Rico Bar Association said.
Among the issues that required attention, petitioners mentioned the imposition of the death penalty for federal crimes, despite its prohibition by the Constitution of Puerto Rico; extradition of those facing death penalty; occupation and environmental contamination of Vieques; political prisoners serving disproportionate sentences in United States jails; and rising federalization of Puerto Rican life.
Anibal Acevedo-Vilá, Governor of Puerto Rico, said the process of self-determination for the Puerto Rican people had not been concluded in 1952, when the General Assembly, on the request of the United States, had concluded that a new constitutional status had been reached that had attributes of “sovereignty”. The United States Government had not complied with its promises to the international community, and a recent White House report on the matter stated that Puerto Rico had only two options: integration as a federal state, or independence.
He recalled having written in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States had perpetuated a “monumental fraud”. The Department of State must officially notify the United Nations of its current position. While supporting neither statehood nor independence, but rather the autonomous status supported by the majority of Puerto Ricans, he was asking the Special Committee, as an elected official, to request the United States to explain inconsistencies between its position in the 1950s and its current position.
Accusing the Governor of supporting the status quo, State Senator José Carriga Pico said true self-determination would make Puerto Rico the fifty-first State of the United States, while Luis Vega Ramos, a Member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, called for independence in free association with the administering Power.
Kenneth D. McClintock, President of the Puerto Rico Senate, disagreeing with many other petitioners, said that the Territory’s ultimate political status was essentially a domestic matter of the United States, to be decided by its citizens residing in Puerto Rico and the Congress. It was not incumbent upon the Special Committee or the General Assembly to take action on the status of Puerto Rico.
Speaking prior to the adoption of today’s draft resolution were the representatives of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Panama, Venezuela, Dominica (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Syria, Iran, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Cuba.
The full U.N. press release can be found at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/gacol3176.doc.htm
Resolution adopted by United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation
on Puerto Rico
9th June 2008
The Special Committee,
Bearing in mind the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, contained in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, as well as the resolutions and decisions of the Special Committee concerning Puerto Rico,
Considering that the period 1990-2000 was proclaimed by the General Assembly, in its resolution 43/47 of 22 November 1988, as the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, and that by resolution 55/146 of 8 December 2000, the General Assembly declared the period 2001-2010 the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism,
Bearing in mind the 26 resolutions and decisions adopted by the Special Committee on the question of Puerto Rico, contained in the reports of the Special Committee to the General Assembly, in particular those adopted without a vote in recent years,
Recalling that 25 July 2008 marks the one hundred and tenth anniversary of the intervention in Puerto Rico by the United States of America,
Noting with concern that despite the diverse initiatives taken by the political representatives of Puerto Rico and the United States in recent years, the process of decolonization of Puerto Rico has not yet been set in motion,
Stressing the urgent need for the United States to lay the groundwork for the full implementation of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the resolutions and decisions of the Special Committee concerning Puerto Rico,
Noting that the inter-agency Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status designated by the President of the United States, which submitted its report on 22 December 2005, affirmed that Puerto Rico is a territory subject to United States congressional authority and that initiatives concerning Puerto Rico’s status have been subsequently presented to the Congress of the United States,
Also noting the “Panama Proclamation”, adopted by the Latin American and Caribbean Congress for the Independence of Puerto Rico, which was held in Panama from 17 to 19 November 2006 and attended by 33 political parties from 22 countries of the region,
Further noting the debate in Puerto Rico on the search for a procedure that would make it possible to launch the process of decolonization of Puerto Rico, and aware of the principle that any initiative for the solution of the political status of Puerto Rico should originate from the people of Puerto Rico,
Aware that Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, was used for over 60 years by the United States Marines to carry out military exercises, with negative consequences for the health of the population, the environment and the economic and social development of that Puerto Rican municipality,
Recalling the decision of the Government of the United States to put an end to the bombings and military exercises on Vieques Island from 1 May 2003, which was the outcome of the prolonged process conducted during years of peaceful protests carried out by the people of Puerto Rico as well as the wide campaign of international solidarity, which has been appropriately reflected in the work and documents of the Special Committee,
Noting the consensus existing among the people and the Government of Puerto Rico on the necessity of ensuring the clean-up, decontamination and return to the people of Puerto Rico of all the territory previously used for military exercises and installations, and of using them for the social and economic development of Puerto Rico,
Also noting the complaints made by the inhabitants of Vieques Island regarding the continued bombing and the use of open burning for clean-up, which exacerbate the existing health problems and pollution and endanger civilian lives,
Further noting the consensus among the people of Puerto Rico in favour of the release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners who have been serving sentences in United States prisons for more than 27 years for cases related to the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence, as well as those serving sentences for cases related to the Vieques Island struggle for peace,
Noting the concern of the people of Puerto Rico regarding violent actions, including repression and intimidation, against Puerto Rican independence fighters in Puerto Rico, including those that have recently come to light through documents declassified by federal agencies of the United States,
Also noting that in the final document of the Fourteenth Summit of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, held in Havana from 11 to 16 September 2006, and at other meetings of the Movement, the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence is reaffirmed on the basis of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV); the Government of the United States is urged to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence; the Government of the United States is urged to return the territory and occupied installations on Vieques Island and at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station to the Puerto Rican people, who constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation; and the General Assembly is urged to actively consider the question of Puerto Rico in all its aspects,
Having heard statements and testimonies representative of various viewpoints among the people of Puerto Rico and their social institutions,
Having considered the report of the Rapporteur of the Special Committee on the implementation of the resolutions concerning Puerto Rico,
1. Reaffirms 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 the fundamental principles of that resolution to the question of Puerto Rico;
2. Reiterates that the Puerto Rican people constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation that has its own unequivocal national identity;
3. Calls upon the Government of the United States of America 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 General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the resolutions and decisions of the Special Committee concerning Puerto Rico;
4. Notes the broad support of eminent persons, governments and political forces in Latin America and the Caribbean for the independence of Puerto Rico;
5. Also notes 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, aware of the principle that any initiative for the solution of the political status of Puerto Rico should originate from the people of Puerto Rico;
6. Expresses serious concern regarding actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters, and encourages the investigation of those actions with the necessary rigor and with the cooperation of the relevant authorities;
7. Requests the General Assembly to consider the question of Puerto Rico comprehensively in all its aspects;
8. Urges the Government of the United States, in line with the need to guarantee the Puerto Rican people their legitimate right to self-determination and the protection of their human rights, to complete the return of 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; and expedite and cover the costs of the process of cleaning up and decontaminating the impact areas previously used in military exercises through means that do not continue to aggravate the serious consequences of its military activity for the health of the inhabitants of Vieques Island and the environment;
9. Requests the President of the United States of America to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences in United States prisons for over 27 years for cases relating to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico, as well as those serving sentences for cases relating to the Vieques Island peace struggle;
10. Takes note with satisfaction of the report prepared by the Rapporteur of the Special Committee,1 in compliance with its resolution of 14 June 2007;
11. Requests the Rapporteur to report to the Special Committee in 2009 on the implementation of the present resolution;
12. Decides to keep the question of Puerto Rico under continuous review