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Puerto Rico at the Crossroads
The Gully's complete coverage.

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Puerto Rican Activists Get Big Boost From U.N.

JULY 17, 2000. Vieques activists and Puerto Ricans working for their country's self-determination received a big boost on Wednesday, July 12 from the United Nations' Special Committee on Decolonization.

After hearing from a wide range of speakers, the Committee approved a draft resolution condemning U.S. military activities on Vieques, and supporting Puerto Rican political self-determination.

The draft is expected to be approved by the U.N. General Assembly in September.

The Resolution
The draft asks the United States to end military operations on the inhabited island of Vieques, "to return the occupied land to the Puerto Rican people, halt the persecution, arrests and harassment of peaceful demonstrators, respect their fundamental rights, and decontaminate the impact area."

It also asks the U.S. to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners whose cases are related to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence.

The U.S. was also asked to expedite "a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence."

The Decolonization Committe declared that "...the Puerto Rican people constitute a Latin American and Caribbean nation that has its own and unequivocal national identity."

Speakers came from a wide range of organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, and Statehood 2000 Puerto Rico.

Wilfredo Santiago-Valiente, United Statehooders Organization of New York, Inc., said that most resolutions proposed at the U.N. on the question of Puerto Rico had been short-sighted and counter to the principle of self-determination, because they disregarded the statehood option.

One of the three main avenues for decolonization was full political integration—statehood, he said. Puerto Ricans had been working towards statehood even before the island was acquired by the United States. There was no conflict between continued development of Puerto Rican culture and its incorporation [to the U.S.] as a state.

He asked the Decolonization Committee to discuss the question with no preconceptions and without partiality. Only 3 per cent of the Puerto Rican people had voted in favor of independence. That was why ignoring the statehood option contradicted the principles of self-determination.

Venessa Ramos, American Association of Jurists, said that her organization defended the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence. She asked the Decolonization Committee to help Puerto Rico achieve sovereignty through a process that included a constituent assembly.

She also pointed out that some ammunition used on Vieques contained depleted uranium. Those carrying out civil disobedience there represented the entire range of Puerto Rican citizens, she said.

Elliot Monteverde-Torres, Center for Constitutional Rights, said President Clinton's call last January for a referendum had been illegal, because the demilitarization of Puerto Rico must be examined in conformity with international law. It was also deceitful because the referendum offered alternatives that could only benefit the perpetrator of the criminal violations in Vieques—the United States Navy.

The United States Government had not responded to the massive peaceful anti- Navy demonstrations by surrendering its congressional control and withdrawing its armed forces from Vieques, he said. On the contrary, it had reinstated the bombing exercises and threatened to conduct other large-scale exercises in the near future.

vieques arrestIn addition, it had increased the severity of the penalties imposed on those who continued to peacefully protest the Navy's activities. He said that, in what was considered by many an insult to the people of Puerto Rico, President Clinton had met on June 28 with the leaders of the major political parties to discuss Puerto Rico's status, but not Vieques. That had been perceived as a dishonorable attempt by the United States Government to mutilate the consensus among Puerto Ricans over the Vieques issue.

Jaime A. Medina, Working Group on Puerto Rico, said that the present colonial relationship was unsustainable. The historical arguments of the United States about the strategic importance of Vieques had crumbled because the island of Vieques was being destroyed in the name of national security while, at the same time, the national security of Puerto Ricans was not being guaranteed.

Colette Pean, Nord-Sud XXI, said that her organization supported the historical fight by the Puerto Rican people to exercise the right to self- determination as guaranteed in the United Nations Charter. As evidenced by poverty, they had been denied the right to development. The unconscionable occupation and bombing of the island of Vieques was an example of a colonizer imposing its will on a colonized people.

Alfredo Marrero, Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, said Puerto Rico's colonial situation was most visible in Vieques. Many people had died in fights or as a result of bombs strewn all over the land. Vieques was contaminated with RDX, napalm, depleted uranium and other toxic materials in its water.

He said it had taken the United States Navy a long time to admit its use of depleted uranium. The Navy treated the population of Vieques like laboratory rats. The anti-Navy demonstrations had shown the unity of the Puerto Rican people and the consensus across all groups, ages and social strata.

Jose Rivera, Estadidad 2000 Puerto Rico, said that as Puerto Rican citizens, they did not have the right to participate in a presidential election in the United States. Nobody but Puerto Ricans themselves could change their colonial status. The Decolonization Committee should withdraw its recognition of Puerto Rico [as a colony] so that Puerto Ricans could hold a referendum and decide their political status for themselves.

Olga Mardach Miguel, Women for Peace and Justice for Vieques, described the large military installations in the midst of which lives the Vieques population, resulting in high rates of infant and cancer mortality. Women had been victims of abuse and rape at the hands of U.S. military personnel.

With little medical care and no hospital, women had to leave Vieques to give birth. The situation in Vieques was a blatant violation of basic human rights, she said. In addition, the militarization of Puerto Rico was an obstacle to the decolonization of Puerto Rico.

Related links:

For up-to-the-minute info on Vieques protests go to Vieques Libre.

For Complete Coverage Puerto Rico

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