go to original
UN: Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling on United States to Expedite Self-Determination Process for Puerto RicoMembers Hear Petitioners Speak up for Independence, Statehood, Free Association The Special Committee on Decolonization this afternoon approved a draft resolution calling upon the Government of the United States to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. By the terms of that text, which the Special Committee approved by consensus, the decolonization body -– 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 -– requested that the President of the United States release all Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences for cases relating to the Non-Self-Governing Territory’s struggle for independence -– including two who had been imprisoned for more than 28 years. It expressed serious concern about actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters and encouraged rigorous investigations of those actions, in cooperation with relevant authorities. The Special Committee, also known as the “Committee of 24”, urged the United States Government to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques island and in Ceiba to the Puerto Rican people; respect their inhabitants’ fundamental human rights to health and economic development; and expedite and cover the costs of decontaminating the areas previously used for military exercises. Introducing the draft resolution, Cuba’s representative said Puerto Rico was a Latin American and Caribbean country with its own national identity, and its long struggle for independence was deeply rooted in a sense of identity. Notwithstanding 27 resolutions and decisions approved by the Special Committee and the General Assembly, the people of the Commonwealth were still unable to exercise their legitimate right to genuine self-determination and independence due to continuing economic, political and social domination by the United States, the colonial Power. The Special Committee also heard 32 petitioners present the views of various Puerto Rican groups, parties and organizations. Many reiterated the Special Committee’s request that the General Assembly call on the United States Government to begin a just and equitable process to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to self-determination, in accordance with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) and the Special Committee’s numerous resolutions and decisions on the matter. Petitioners also called on the United States Government immediately to suspend the death penalty in Puerto Rico, which was prohibited by the Commonwealth’s Constitution. They raised concerns about racial discrimination and economic exploitation, disproportionate prison sentences handed down to Puerto Rican independence fighters in United States jails, the supremacy of United States federal law over local legislation, and the environmental damage caused by the United States industries and nuclear testing on Puerto Rican islands. Fernando Martin, Executive President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said it was particularly important that the General Assembly consider the question of Puerto Rico, since 2010 would mark the end of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, as well as more than 200 years of emancipation and independence in the rest of Latin America. The Assembly’s consideration of the issue would exert moral and legal pressure on the United States Government to stop using pretexts and excuses to avoid complying with its decolonization obligations under international law. But while some petitioners advocated independence, others were in favour of statehood. Jose Adames of the Literacy Center Anacona, said more than 95 per cent of Puerto Rico’s population had consistently voted either for direct statehood, as the fifty-first state of the Union or in a free association arrangement with the United States. Anthony Mele, Chairman of the Sixty-fifth Infantry Regiment Honour Task Force, said Puerto Ricans enjoyed citizenship and equal protection under the United States Bill of Rights. However, the sovereign rights of those 4 million people to vote in national elections were obstructed by arcane legislation that the United States Congress could amend easily. It was a national disgrace that Puerto Rican soldiers fought and died in wars under the United States flag, but were unable to vote for representatives in Congress. Statehood for Puerto Rico was a right, and the Special Committee must call on the United States Government to grant it. Hector Ferrer of the Popular Democratic Party, however, favoured enhanced Commonwealth status, which would be non-territorial and non-colonial. Despite President Barack Obama’s commitment to resolving the case of Puerto Rico and guaranteeing a voice for the Commonwealth in discussions on its status, Congress had recently passed a bill which contravened that commitment. Two rounds of voting proposed in the bill was intended to manipulate the results in favour of statehood and did not provide for the commonwealth option. A constitutional assembly on status would be the best mechanism for determining Puerto Rico’s future. Other petitioners addressing the Special Committee were representatives of the following organizations: Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico; People’s Law Office (on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild International Committee); American Association of Jurists; El Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico; Movimiento Liberador; PROELA; Puertorriquenos Unidos en Accion; Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano de Puerto Rico; Comite Puerto Rico en la ONU; Frente Autonomista; Coalicion Puertorriquena contra la Pena de Muerte; El Comite de Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico; Colectivo de Trabajo por la Independencia de Puerto Rico Area de Mayaguez; Soho Art Festival; Socialist Workers Party; National Advancement for Puerto Rican Culture; Alianza por Libre Asociacion Soberana; Frente Patriotico Arecibeno; Primavida Inc.; Accion Democratica Puertorriquena; DC-6; Colectivo Puertorriqueno Pro Independencia; Hostos Grand Jury Resistance Campaign; Ministerio Latino; Movimiento de Afirmacion Viequense; Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques; Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico; and Comite Familiares y Amigos Avelino Gonzalez Claudio. Members of delegations speaking today were the representatives of Dominica (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Venezuela, Bolivia, Syria and Iran. The Special Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, 16 June, to consider the questions of New Caledonia and Western Sahara. Background 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 from Puerto Rico. Committee members had before them a report prepared by the Rapporteur (document A/AC.109/2009/L.13), which notes that, under the current arrangements, authority over Puerto Rico’s defence, international relations, external trade and monetary matters remains with the United States, while the Commonwealth has autonomy over taxes, social policies and most local affairs. While eligible for United States citizenship, people born in Puerto Rico do not have the right to vote in that country unless they reside on the mainland. In addition, the Commonwealth’s Supreme Court has recognized the existence of Puerto Rican citizenship in a court decision subsequently certified by the island’s Department of State. According to the report, the United States has maintained that Puerto Rico had exercised its right to self-determination, attained a full measure of self-government, decided freely and democratically to enter into a free association with the United States and was, therefore, beyond the purview of United Nations consideration, as stated explicitly in resolution 748 (III) of 1953. However, Puerto Rican forces in favour of decolonization and independence have contested this affirmation. The document further highlights the continuing deadlock among Puerto Rico’s parties as to whether the island’s territorial status should change: the Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) favours the status quo while the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) favours full United States statehood and the smaller Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP) supports independence for the island. The United States Congress reopened the debate over the island’s political status in 2007. Introduced in the House of Representatives that year, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act called for a plebiscite no later than 31 December 2009, and for the ballot to provide voters with two options: to continue the existing form of territorial status or pursue a path towards a constitutionally viable permanent non-territorial status. According to the report, another bill, the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, would recognize the right of the island’s people to call a constitutional convention through which they would exercise their natural right to self-determination and establish a mechanism for congressional consideration of such a decision. By the terms of the amended Democracy Act, passed in subcommittee in October 2007, if, in the 2009 referendum, Puerto Ricans would choose to continue their existing status, a new referendum would be held every eight years. If the other option were to win, a separate referendum no later than 2011 would give Puerto Ricans the option of statehood or becoming a sovereign nation, independent from or in free association with the United States. The report also outlines the outcome of the November 2008 general election in which Luis Fortuño won the island’s governorship and his PNP consolidated its control of the legislature. PNP’s Pedro Pierluisi won the office of Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C. It is estimated that a significant number of those who voted for PNP did so to punish PPD, in particular former Governor Anibal Acevedo Vilá, for poor administration and a number of unpopular measures. A link has been made between the former Governor’s defeat and criminal charges brought against him and his associates by the United States for violations of electoral funding regulations. Some political commentators have expressed the view that the charges were aimed at damaging Mr. Acevedo Vila’s electoral possibilities, since he and his party have supported Puerto Rican sovereignty and expansion of the powers of the Free Associated State to several areas now under the powers of the United States Congress. PPD and the former Governor have also called for the General Assembly to examine the issue of Puerto Rico. The report points out that the press in Puerto Rico reported widely that, on 2 January 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama sent a message to the swearing-in ceremony for Governor Luis Fortuño in which he reportedly reiterated that he would try to resolve the colonial case of Puerto Rico during his first term. He explained that self-determination was a basic right of Puerto Ricans and that he would work with all relevant sectors to guarantee that the Commonwealth had a voice to discuss the topic in Washington, D.C. Among other questions relating to the status of Puerto Rico and its relationship with the United States, the report also addresses the latter’s military presence, particularly on the island of Vieques; the imprisonment on the mainland of pro-independence Puerto Ricans accused of seditious conspiracy and weapons possession; and the imposition of the death penalty against Puerto Ricans convicted on federal charges. The Special Committee also had before it a draft resolution on the Special Committee decision of 9 June 2008 concerning Puerto Rico (document A/AC.109/2009/L.7), by which the Special Committee would call upon the United States Government to expedite a process that would allow the full exercise of the Puerto Rican people’s inalienable right to self-determination and independence. It would note the broad support of eminent persons, Governments and political forces in Latin America and the Caribbean for the Commonwealth’s independence. By further terms of that draft, the Special Committee would express serious concern about actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters, and encourage the investigation of those actions with “the necessary rigour” and the cooperation of relevant authorities. Also by the text, the Special Committee would urge the United States Government to complete the return of occupied land and installations on Vieques island and in Ceiba; respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to health and economic development; and expedite and cover the costs of decontaminating the areas previously used in military exercises. The Special Committee would, by further terms of the text, request that the United States President release Oscar Lopez Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres, who have been serving sentences in mainland prisons for more than 28 years, as has Avelino Gonzalez Claudio — all of them Puerto Rican political prisoners serving sentences for cases relating to the struggle for independence — as well as others serving sentences for cases relating to that struggle. Introduction of Draft Resolution ABELARDO MORENO (Cuba), introducing the draft on the Special Committee decision of 9 June 2008 concerning Puerto Rico, said the massive presence of petitioners before the Special Committee today clearly illustrated the high level of interest in and attention to the colonial question of Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth’s people remained unable to exercise their legitimate right to genuine self-determination, while the United States, the colonial Power, maintained its economic, political and social domination over that brotherly Latin American and Caribbean nation, which had its own national and cultural identity. Despite the 27 resolutions and decisions of the Special Committee and the General Assembly, little progress had been made to reach a definitive solution. He said the text before the Special Committee stressed the urgent need for the United States Government to foster a process allowing the Puerto Rican people to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination, as established by resolution 1514 (XV) and numerous resolutions adopted by the Special Committee. It also expressed concern that, despite several initiatives by political representatives from Puerto Rico, a decolonization process that would meet the Puerto Rican people’s aspirations had not been set in motion. As in previous years, he continued, the draft stated that, because of its culture, history, traditions and particularly its people’s unswerving will, Puerto Rico was and would continue to be a Latin American and Caribbean nation with its own national identity. As in previous years, the draft called on the President of the United States to release three political prisoners serving sentences in mainland jails and reiterated its request that the General Assembly review the question of Puerto Rico in a comprehensive manner and in all its aspects. Petitioners Many petitioners urged the Special Committee to adopt the draft resolution, insisting that, despite assertions of autonomy, Puerto Rico was still one of the world’s few remaining colonies. Speakers described their people’s fight for self-determination and independence, requesting that the Special Committee urge the General Assembly to take up the matter by 2010 and call on the United States Government to begin a just and equitable process to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to self-determination, as called for in resolution 1514 (XV). In his 27 February statement during the Special Committee’s inaugural session, the Secretary-General had stated that the decolonization process had remained unresolved for far too long, and that concrete results were needed. ARTURO HERNANDEZ GONZALEZ, President, Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, echoed the sentiments of many speakers when he said that Puerto Rico’s decolonization process must be determined by Puerto Ricans, not the United States Congress. FERNANDO MARTIN, Executive President, Puerto Rican Independence Party, said it was particularly important that the Assembly consider the question of Puerto Rico, since 2010 marked the end of the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism as well as more than 200 years of emancipation and independence in Latin America. The Assembly’s consideration of the issue would put moral and legal pressure on the United States Government to stop using pretexts and excuses to avoid complying with its decolonization obligations under international law. JAN SUSLER, People’s Law Office, speaking on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild International Committee, said that the April 2009 Summit of the Americas had illustrated the consequences of United States colonial control over Puerto Rico, which continued to be deprived of a seat at the table among the nations of the world. Like many other petitioners, she called for the release of Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar Lopez Rivera, who for almost 30 years had been serving sentences harsher than imposed on people convicted of similar and more serious crimes. The United States Government should immediately stop criminalizing, harassing and attacking all Puerto Ricans fighting for independence, immediately release Avelino Gonzalez Claudio, an independence fighter arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2008, and dismiss all pending charges against him. Further, she called on United States officials to identify and hold criminally liable all those responsible for the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Rios, Santiago Mari Pesquera, Carlos Muniz Varela and other militants of the Puerto Rican independence movement; withdraw from and formally return Vieques to the Puerto Ricans living there; cease detonating unexploded ordinances there, completely clean up the pollution caused by the United States Navy’s 60-year occupation of the island and compensate the local people for related damage to their health; and end the death penalty in Puerto Rico, which contravened Puerto Rican legislation, among other things. Several speakers stressed that Puerto Rico was a Caribbean and Latin American nation with its own distinct national identity, but its colonial status had made it difficult to preserve its cultural heritage and achieve sustainable development. Puerto Ricans were a minority in the United States suffering racial discrimination and exploitation. CARLOS HERNANDEZ LOPEZ, member of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, said many people still supported the belief that Puerto Ricans should remain politically and economically dependent on the United States, and many in that country took advantage of the Commonwealth’s political divisions to avoid the issue of its political status. The Special Committee merely approved the same resolution year after year. Puerto Ricans deserved better from the United Nations, particularly Latin American Member States. There was a need for solidarity and action to force the United States to respond seriously to the issue. He said he stood ready to put the proposed Constitutional Assembly in place so that all ideological sectors could reclaim justice and dignity, and negotiate a better future for Puerto Ricans. EDGARDO ROMAN ESPADA, Coalicion Puertorriquena contra la Penal de Muerte, proposed that the Special Committee incorporate the issue of the death penalty into the list of issues relating to Puerto Rico’s self-determination, noting that, beginning as early as 1900, the Puerto Rican people had expressed themselves against it on many occasions. With the approval of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a clear expression of rejection of the death penalty had been incorporated into the Bill of Rights, but the Government of the United States had unilaterally imposed it by means of federal legislation. “The United States authorities can impose the death penalty upon the citizens of Puerto Rico in spite of the fact that we have not given them the right to end the life of any one of us,” he said, requesting the Special Committee to evaluate how such an anomaly affected the Commonwealth’s right to self-determination. Puerto Rico was the only nation in the world in which the processes in cases of capital punishment were conducted in a language different from the native one. While Spanish was spoken in Puerto Rico, English was the language used by the Federal Court. Pointing out that there were currently five cases pending before the Federal District Court for the District of Puerto Rico in which the death penalty could be imposed, he said there was a serious conflict between the right to self-determination and imposition of the death penalty. The United States must immediately and totally suspend its application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico. As several speakers demanded the immediate release of all Puerto Rican political prisoners, SAM MANUEL, Socialist Workers Party, said they were serving “draconian sentences in US jails for the ‘crime’ of fighting for the independence and dignity of their country”. Carlos Alberto Torres and Marie Haydée Beltrán Torres had been locked up for 29 years, and Oscar Lopez for 28 — “some of the longest-held political prisoners in the world”. Avelino Gonzalez Claudio had been jailed for two years without bail. EDUARDO VILLANUEVA MUÑOZ, El Comite de Derechos Humanos de Puerto Rico, pointed out the contradiction of federal law defining as crime fighting another crime –- maintaining a colonial regime. The clause of supremacy forced the United States federal authorities to prevail wherever there was a conflict with Puerto Rican local laws. President Obama demanded respect for human rights in many countries, but maintained a colonial regime in Puerto Rico. The existence of the death penalty and political prisoners were not conducive to Puerto Rico’s self-determination. The people of Puerto Rico had limited civil rights and the United States discriminated against those whose ideas were different from those of its Government. RICARDO PARET VELEZ, Colectivo de Trabajo por la Independencia de Puerto Rico Area de Mayaguez, said the most serious problems facing Puerto Rico were rooted in colonialism. They included environmental degradation, quick loss of arable lands, forests and coastal areas as a result of the activities of so-called developers, as well as the chemical, pharmaceutical and other industries. Among other priority issues were an alarming increase in criminality and drug use, high suicide rates and poor medical services. In addition, the privatization of public agencies had led to mass dismissals in the interests of the wealthy and of major transnational and United States corporations. Mr. MANUEL recalled in that regard that tens of thousands of unionists and students in Puerto Rico had taken to the streets last week, demanding an end to the Government’s plans to lay off 30,000 workers. Today, Puerto Rico’s official unemployment rate stood at nearly 15 per cent, 50 per cent higher than that of the United States. Under the new “fiscal emergency” law, Luis Fortuno’s administration would freeze wages and essentially tear up the union contracts of public employees. He said imperialist investors had demanded sharp assaults on what they called Puerto Rico’s “welfare state” -– federal payments such as food stamps and housing subsidies — upon which Washington had relied for decades to cushion the effects of super-exploitation. The people of Puerto Rico and workers and farmers in the United States shared a common enemy –- billionaire families in the United States and their Government in Washington. For that reason, a successful fight for Puerto Rico’s independence was not only in the interests of its own people, but also that of the vast majority of people in the United States. NILDA LUZ REXACH, Executive Director, National Advancement of Puerto Rican Culture, said Puerto Ricans had United States citizenship and, during recent elections, most of them had voted for Puerto Rico, which already had an elected Governor, to become the fifty-first state of the United States. If Congress could vote to send Puerto Rican soldiers to war, than Puerto Ricans should be able to vote for representatives in Congress. The Special Committee should listen to those voices calling for statehood. HECTOR J. FERRER, Popular Democratic Party, said PPD defended the right of Puerto Ricans to decide their future through self-determination, favouring enhanced Commonwealth status, which would be non-territorial and non-colonial. During his presidential campaign, President Obama had promised that his Administration would try to resolve the case of Puerto Rico and that he would work to guarantee that the Commonwealth had a voice in discussions on its status. He had rejected the statements that sovereignty could be transferred to Puerto Rico unilaterally by the United States. Even though the President was committed to working with the Congress, a bill had recently been presented to Congress which contravened the President’s determination. Two rounds of voting proposed in the bill was intended to manipulate the results in favour of statehood and did not provide for the commonwealth option. A constitutional assembly on status would be the best mechanism for determining Puerto Rico’s future. JOSE ADAMES, Literary Center Anacaona (CLAHI) advocated a declaration of statehood by Puerto Rico, insisting that the Commonwealth was not a colony and that Puerto Ricans were already American citizens. “How would you feel if every year someone asked you: ‘Do you want to lose the citizenship you had since you were born?’” The Puerto Rican government was working like that of any state of the Union, and all that was missing was a declaration of state to start eliminating all the discrimination that its people were suffering at the hands of their own Government. The so-called decolonization of Puerto Rico was pushed by those looking to distract the attention of the Special Committee. Those calling for independence, self-determination, plebiscite or any similar kind of definition represented the past and were promoting their miniscule interests over those of the majority, he said. “Please stop this relentless and insensitive […] debate. We are plying with the citizenship and American passport of millions of people.” More than 95 per cent of Puerto Rico’s population had consistently voted for statehood, 45 per cent for direct statehood and 40 per cent for free association, while independence had received below 5 per cent. ALEIDA CENTENO-RODROGUEZ, Frente Patriotico Arecibeno, like other petitioners, addressed the consequences of several nuclear tests carried out by the United States, characterizing them as “acts of environmental terrorism”, adding that colonialism in Puerto Rico was degenerating into an ecological disaster. ANITA VELEZ-MITCHELL, Primavida Inc., said Puerto Ricans were United States citizens, but they could not vote in mainland presidential elections and had no voice in the United Nations unless invited by Cuba to speak. Hopefully, there would be hope for a change in how the Organization perceived Puerto Rico, which should be accorded the voice and respect it deserved, moving it away from its vulnerable position as a colony and towards the security of statehood at independence. ANTHONY MELE, Chairman, Sixty-fifth Infantry Regiment Honour Task Force, said the 1914 Jones Act granted full United States citizenship to all Puerto Ricans on the island and their progeny. It afforded them equal protection under the law and was guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The United States could not honour its signature to the United Nations Charter while it denied sovereignty to one segment of its own citizenry, justified by an arcane piece of extraneous legislation. He called upon the Special Committee to remind all Member States that the sovereign right of 4 million Americans to vote in national elections was obstructed by legislation that could easily be amended by Congress. It would be a national disgrace if soldiers who fought, bled, died and were buried under the United States flag continued to be denied equal medical treatment. “We are not begging for a fifty-first star on the United States flag. What we are saying is the price for placing that star on the United States flag has been paid in full with the currency of blood. Our account is satisfied.” Several petitioners addressed the situation on the island of Vieques following 60 years of exercises by the United States military. FRANCISCO VELGARA, Movimento de Afirmacion Viequense, said the United States Armed Forces had left great environmental damage on the island and there was a general deterioration in people’s health. Heavy metals were to be found in the soil and the pollution of local waters made it risky to eat fish. The bombs used by the United States Navy contained dangerous and toxic substances, and despite the withdrawal of the Armed Forces, explosions of remaining ordnance continued. Thus, the bombing of Vieques had not ended, all of which pointed to violations of the human rights of the island’s inhabitants. The United States Navy should be held accountable for the damage it had inflicted. MYRNA V PAGAN, Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, said the local communities had no human rights, being the victims of bombing and expropriation. Depleted uranium had been dropped on the island by mistake and continued to poison the people. “We may never recover from that mistake.” Yet the Navy refused to accept responsibility for decimating the health of thousands of people as a result of land, water and air contamination. It was encouraging that the Director of the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry had recently agreed publicly to take a fresh look at the Vieques situation, she continued. Yet, in recent years, the people of the island had enjoyed the freedom from bombing, but still remained victims of the control and whims of the Federal Government and the lack of independent action on behalf of the Estado Libre Asociado, which danced to a colonial tune, “and the devil take the men, women and children of Vieques who continue to sicken and die”. On 18 May 2009, the United States Department of Justice had used “sovereign immunity” in the legal case in which 7,100 Viequenses had filed suit against the United States Navy. The Navy should not be allowed to hide the truth about its actions, its violation of laws and regulations, and the harm it had caused to the health of the people of Vieques by using the “sovereign immunity” defence. The Special Committee was invited to stand with the people of Vieques in the spirit of truth and justice and in honour of its own affirmations of fundamental human rights. The United States Government should compensate the islanders for the harm they had suffered. GIOVANNIA ANGELICA ACOSTA BUONO, Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico, said the fact that Puerto Rico remained a colony was not in doubt, and the colonial situation must be considered by the General Assembly. Yet some said Puerto Rico was a colony because it wished to be. At the same time, there had been campaigns of harassment against those protesting against colonialism as well as aggression against groups of journalists, growing repression of Latin American nationals coming to work in Puerto Rico and increased recruitment of Puerto Rican citizens into the United States Army. Given the increased United States presence and control, the United States military, legal and political mechanisms must withdraw from Puerto Rico and release political prisoners. HARRIET NESBIT, Harriet Nesbit Halfway Houses, advocated statehood for Puerto Rico, saying it was not a colony. It had an elected Governor and appreciated the billion it received in aid from the United States. The Constitution of the United States said “all American citizens have constitutional rights” and the progressive people of Puerto Rico were making their unique contribution to the betterment of society. With its beauty, tourism and industrialization, Puerto Rico was an asset that enhanced the image of the United States. SANTIAGO FELIX, Ministerio Latino, said Puerto Rico had never accepted the idea of being a colony and had opted for Commonwealth status. The United States had granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans, but it was not quite understandable how such people could be citizens without having a right to elect the President of the United States. Petitioners also addressed the Commonwealth’s fiscal autonomy, voting rights and the treatment of Puerto Rican political prisoners by the United States, among other issues. Action on Draft CRISPIN GREGOIRE ( Dominica), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said decolonization and the exercise of the legitimate right to self-determination of peoples continued to be a top priority for the Movement, which reiterated its strong support for the Special Committee’s work and urged the administering Powers to grant it their full support and cooperation. The Movement also renewed its call upon Member States to speed up the decolonization process towards the complete elimination of colonialism, including by supporting effective implementation of the Plan of Action of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010). The Movement also reaffirmed its position on the question of Puerto Rico, contained in the Final Document of the Ministerial Meeting of the its Coordinating Bureau, held in Havana in April 2009. The colonial question of Puerto Rico had been under consideration of the Special Committee for more than 35 years and had yielded a total of 27 resolutions and decisions, he said. The Movement welcomed the fact that, over the last 10 years, the Special Committee had adopted its draft resolutions on that issue by consensus. It strongly supported those resolutions, which were in full agreement with the Movement’s traditional position on the question of Puerto Rico, and called for their expeditious implementation. The Movement reaffirmed the Puerto Rican people’s right to self-determination and independence, and called on the Government of the United States to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that would allow them fully to exercise that inalienable right. The United States should also return the occupied land and installations on Vieques island and at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station to the Puerto Rican people, who constituted a Latin American and Caribbean nation. JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO ( Nicaragua) stressed the importance of decolonizing Puerto Rico and expressed hope that the Special Committee would adopt the draft resolution by consensus. The text reflected the Special Committee’s commitment to the exercise of the Puerto Rican people’s legitimate right to self-determination. Nicaragua would always defend the right of peoples to independence and would never tire of saying that Puerto Rico was a Latin American and Caribbean nation. Its people were standard bearers in the fight for freedom against colonialism and imperialism, showing an aspiration for full sovereignty, self-determination and independence. Information provided by the petitioners was very valuable, he continued, noting that Puerto Rican patriots had spoken out against the death penalty, called for the release of their compatriots and expressed hope that the General Assembly would immediately consider the question of Puerto Rico. The Special Committee had considered that situation for many years and there was an urgent need to start implementing the relevant resolutions. At the end of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Puerto Rico still did not exercise its right to self-determination, and its full sovereignty must be recognized without delay. Puerto Rico should not be the exception in Latin America and the Caribbean. It had much to contribute to the community of nations. GIANCARLO SOLER TORRIJOS ( Panama), noting that Latin America would celebrate the bicentennial of its fight for independence in 2010, pointed out that one Latin American nation had not attained self-determination and the resolution of that situation must be a priority. The Special Committee must call for a review of the existing status quo to guarantee full implementation of the Declaration contained in the historic resolution 1514 (XV). The report of the United States Government’s working group on Puerto Rico recognized that the nation was subject to a colonial regime. Panama joined those who believed that the question of Puerto Rico should be placed on the General Assembly’s agenda. It was up to the Puerto Rican people to make any final decision on their country’s status. Hopefully, once adopted by consensus, the draft resolution would repeat a request that the matter be placed on the General Assembly’s agenda. MARIA FERNANDA ESPINOSA ( Ecuador), speaking in explanation of position before action on the draft resolution, said 11 of the General Assembly’s resolutions on Puerto Rico made reference to the call for it to take up the matter. Ecuador was a co-sponsor of the draft resolution before the Special Committee, which represented its commitment to the island’s cause and aspirations, as a Latin American and Caribbean nation with its own national identity, to be able to join the concert of independent nations in the near future. CAMILLO GONSALVES (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said the Puerto Rican people’s right to self-determination was accepted by most nations and had been reaffirmed during the April 2009 Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement Coordinating Bureau in Cuba. Puerto Ricans may be in favour of independence, statehood, autonomy or a continuation of the status quo. The decision was theirs alone. The voices raised today were not intended to offer solutions, but to express solidarity with that cause. The Special Committee was ill-equipped to divine the breadth and depth of the constituencies that the petitioners before the Committee purported to represent. He said that what seemed beyond debate, however, was the responsibility of the United States to follow through with the logical consequences of its decision to end its bombing and military exercises in Vieques island and carry out a safe and effective, environmentally friendly clean-up. It must also expedite the process that would allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to self-determination in a way that respected the rights of all Puerto Ricans, regardless of political alignment. JULIO ESCALONA ( Venezuela) said his country was a co-sponsor of the draft resolution and defended the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination. During its 515 years of existence, Puerto Rican had been fighting for its independence under hostile and difficult conditions, necessitating many heroic actions. The Special Committee had expressed its solidarity with Puerto Rico, but the Commonwealth remained under the political, economic and social domination of the United States. Venezuela reiterated its appeal to the United States to provide for a process that would allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. PABLO SOLÓN-ROMERO ( Bolivia) said the twenty-first century should be a time for multilateral action leading to tangible results. Political will and visions of renewal were needed in order to accept changes and structural transformations in societies. That was important for the restoration of international public trust in the United Nations system. Solutions must respond to people’s true expectations. He said the cause of Puerto Rico was one of the challenges that the United Nations must face if it wished to contribute to a solution that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. Bolivia fully supported giving the Puerto Rican people an opportunity to decide their own future on the basis of their Latin American and Caribbean identity. The petitioners heard today confirmed the will of the Puerto Rican people to continue fighting for independence. MANAR TALEB ( Syria) said the 27 resolutions and decisions reaffirming the inalienable right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence also reaffirmed that they were part of the Latin American and Caribbean region. Syria urged the United States to assume its responsibility to accelerate the process that would allow them to exercise their right to self-determination. Syria had fully endorsed the outcome document of the July 2006 Fourteenth Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, which reiterated the Movement’s traditional stance regarding Puerto Rico. The document requested implementation of relevant decisions on Puerto Rico, and Syria looked forward to the Special Committee’s consensus adoption of the draft. AMIR HOSSEIN HOSSEINI (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the issue of decolonization should remain a top priority on the agenda of the United Nations as long as millions of people in the Non-Self-Governing Territories hoped to receive help towards achieving independence. They certainly deserved a better life and should be able freely to decide their own future. Iran hoped that, by approving the draft by consensus, the Special Committee would be able to help the international community take decisive steps to help the Puerto Rican people exercise fully their right to self-determination. The Special Committee then approved the draft resolution on Puerto Rico by consensus. Following that action, the representative of Cuba thanked delegations for approving the text for the tenth consecutive year. For Cuba, the draft resolution was not only a fundamental duty, but proof of its historic commitment to the sister nation of Puerto Rico and patriots there, who for several centuries had been setting inspiring examples in their fight for self-determination and independence. More than 100 years of colonial domination had not been enough to deprive the Puerto Rican people of their culture and identity, he said. That fact alone showed the unswerving vocation for independence that was deeply rooted in that Latin American and Caribbean island. All those years of endurance and struggle entitled Puerto Rico to hope, and Puerto Ricans could always count on the solidarity of Cuba, which would continue to uphold the legitimate right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and independence.