UN decolonization panel: PR plebiscite spurned current political subordination
By a draft resolution approved by consensus Monday during its annual meeting, the panel reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, and reiterated that the Puerto Rican people constituted a Latin American and Caribbean nation with its own unequivocal national identity.
The decolonization committee has now agreed on 32 resolutions and decisions on the Puerto Rican issue, the latest 14 of them presented by Cuba and adopted by consensus. The latest draft resolution was introduced by Cuba and co-sponsored by Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Cuba’s representative cited the broad agreement on the need to end Puerto Rico’s colonial status. He said little progress had been made towards a solution so far, but 115 years of colonialism had not been “sufficient to crush the will or culture of the people of Puerto Rico or to wipe out their identity or feeling of nationhood.”
The panel has taken up the issue of Puerto Rico’s status every year for four decades, but the UN General Assembly has not acted on the resolutions. In a new element, the draft approved Monday took note of the November plebiscite “rejecting Puerto Rico’s current status of political subordination.”
In the first question of the two-part referendum, 54 percent of voters said they were not content with the current commonwealth status.
The second question asked what status was preferred. Of the about 1.3 million voters who made a choice, nearly 800,000 supported statehood, some 437,000 backed sovereign free association and 72,560 chose independence. But nearly 500,000 left that question blank.
The White House has said “the results were clear, the people of Puerto Rico want the issue of status resolved, and a majority chose statehood in the second question.”
The Puerto Rican Independence Party and New Progressive Party maintain that the results of the two-step plebiscite represent a clear rejection of the continuation of the current territorial status. Those voting “no” included statehood supporters, as well as advocates of independence and free association.
Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and his commonwealth Popular Democratic Party argue the ballot was rigged against the current status and that the empty ballots represent a protest against commonwealth’s exclusion from the second question. The governor says the blank votes dropped support for statehood to just 44 percent.
The $3.8 trillion fiscal 2014 budget President Barack Obama sent to Congress includes $2.5 million for voter education and the first federally sanctioned plebiscite in Puerto Rico on options that would “resolve” the fundamental question of the island’s future political status.
Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s sole representative in Congress, has filed legislation aimed at putting Puerto Rico on the path to statehood.
Pierluisi’s Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act hinges on a proposed federally sanctioned “yes” or “no” vote on statehood in Puerto Rico. The measure proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would ask Puerto Rican voters, “Do you want Puerto Rico to be admitted as a state of the United States?” A majority vote for statehood would trigger a 180 deadline for the president to certify the results of the plebiscite and lodge legislation in Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a state the union “on an equal footing” with other states.
The draft resolution approved by the decolonization panel would also have the UN General Assembly urge the U.S. to complete the return of all occupied land and installations on Vieques land in Ceiba to Puerto Ricans, and to release Oscar López Rivera and Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, two “political prisoners” serving sentences in federal prisons for violent cases relating to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. The text also expressed serious concern about the actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters and encouraged investigation of those actions.
Several other Latin American members of the committee echoed the references to Puerto Rico’s culture, affirming its clear Latin American and Caribbean identity. Nicaragua’s representative promised her full commitment to the Puerto Rican cause until the commonwealth’s representative’s were “seated where they are meant to be seated,” as a full member state of the United Nations.
More than 40 petitioners addressed the special committee, urging the international community to end Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the U.S.The majority of speakers favored full independence. Also speaking today were representatives of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Syria.
Juan Dalmau of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said the most significant recent event was the November referendum. With a turnout of 78 percent, 54 percent of voters had rejected continuing the commonwealth’s current status, but despite that “full rejection of colonialism”, the U.S. government continued to defend colonialism, he said.
Pierluisi said the plebiscite had fundamentally changed the terms of the debate on Puerto Rico’s political status, pointing out that 61 percent of voters favored statehood, also the position of his political party. The referendum had eliminated any legitimacy attached to Puerto Rico’s current colonial status and people clearly preferred integration, he said.
PR not on UN’s list of colonies
The UN committee continues to take up the issue of Puerto Rico’s unresolved political status despite the fact that it doesn’t hang the “colony” tag on the island.
In 1917, Puerto Ricans were collectively made U.S. citizens via the Jones Act, and in 1952 the U.S. Congress turned the territory into a commonwealth after ratifying the island Constitution. The U.S. government then declared the territory was no longer a colony and stopped transmitting information about Puerto Rico to the United Nations Decolonization Committee. As a result, the UN General Assembly removed Puerto Rico from the UN list of non-self-governing territories.
Petitioners before the panel have pressed the international community to recognize Puerto Rico’s colonial status and place it on the list.
The non-self-governing territories are American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Western Sahara. The administering Powers are France, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.
Members of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Chile, China, Congo, Ivory Coast, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, Syria, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, United Republic of Tanzania and Venezuela.