UN panel urges self-determination for Puerto Rico, once again

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Special Committee on Decolonization reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence last week, calling on the United States to “expedite a process that will allow” the Caribbean nation to exercise its inalienable right to choose its own destiny. The June 13 action was but the latest in a decades-long series of similar appeals.

The resolution urges the U.S. to return the land it occupies at Vieques Island and Ceiba, to clean up and decontaminate toxic areas polluted by the Pentagon’s military exercises and target practice, to respect human rights, and to release Puerto Rican political prisoners who have been jailed for fighting for the island’s independence or for opposing the U.S. Navy’s bombardment of Vieques.

It also expresses “serious concern” about actions against Puerto Rican independence activists in recent months, alluding to the Sept. 23, 2005, FBI raid that killed 72-year-old Filiberto Ojeda Rios, a pro-independence leader, among other actions.

The measure was unanimously adopted by the Special Committee, which includes about two-dozen member states from all continents, without a formal vote.

While colonialism, as a system, suffered heavy blows in the 1960s, a number of nations remain under the economic and political thumb of big Western powers. Puerto Rico is a case in point. The U.S. continues to dominate the island, and U.S. corporations continue to extract enormous profits from Puerto Rico — to the tune of $31 billion a year.

Cuba introduced the draft resolution. Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, Havana’s representative, said, “The people of Puerto Rico still cannot exercise their legitimate right to self-determination because the United States continues its attempts to reaffirm its economic, political and social domination over the territory.”

Over 40 speakers addressed the committee. Most of those who spoke from Puerto Rico favored independence. Supporters of independence argued that, in accordance with the principle of self-determination, the choice must be left up to the people of Puerto Rico.

Hector Pesquera of the Hostos National Independence Movement said that U.S. treatment of Puerto Rico had become worse with the passage of time. He said U.S. laws, such as those that require the use of U.S. ships for bilateral trade, “are strangling the Puerto Rican economy” by adding 20 percent to the cost of commodities.

In the case of the FBI shooting of Ojeda, Pesquera said he and others had demanded to see the longtime independence leader after he had been shot. But the FBI refused and instead allowed Ojeda to bleed to death. Ojeda “could have been captured and arrested alive,” Pesquera said. Media reports said Ojeda had requested the assistance of a reporter to give himself up during the raid.

“The fact that the Puerto Rican people favor decolonization is not in doubt,” said Fernando J. Martin of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. He said Puerto Rico is the one nation whose destiny is unfulfilled in the wake of the Independence Congress of 1836, headed up by Simon Bolivar.

Carlos Dalmau Ramírez, spokesman for the pro-autonomist Popular Democratic Party, said the UN should discuss the case of Puerto Rico in the General Assembly. He called on the UN to defend Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination by working in favor of a constitutional convention of Puerto Ricans. He said that “no one should have any doubt that the Puerto Rican people constitute a nation,” in an obvious reference to the pro-statehood forces, who say Puerto Ricans are just an ethnic grouping within the U.S. nation.

The pro-statehood New Progressive Party did not send anyone to testify at the UN, preferring to try to work with the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration to impose statehood on Puerto Rico.

Among the outspoken international supporters of Puerto Rico’s independence were former Argentine President Raul Alfonsin of the Socialist International’s Committee for Latin America, and Gustavo Carvajal of the Conference of Political Parties of Latin America.

Imeria Nuñez De Odreman, Venezuela’s spokesperson, said, “Venezuela firmly and categorically favors the total independence of Puerto Rico, with the understanding that any solution in that regard must originate with the Puerto Rican people.”