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Issued : Tuesday, June 21, 2011 11:15 AM
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UN decolonization committee eyes PR


The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization passed a resolution and adopted a consensus text introduced by Cuba’s delegate Monday calling on the United States to expedite a process “that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.”

The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization reconvened Monday to discuss Puerto Rico’s political status as part of its annual session.

The panel specifically took up the issue of a draft resolution it approved in June 2009 calling upon the U.S. government to expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.

The 29-member body said any effort to resolve the political status of the island should originate from Puerto Rico. The panel also backed a constituent assembly as an avenue to resolve the status issues from “decolonization alternatives recognized in international law.”

The delegates from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Syria and Iran and Egypt delivered stateements on the status of Puerto Rico.

Panel members voiced concern over a range of federal actions in Puerto Rico including the Vieques and Culebra cleanups, treatment of independence advocates and legal decisions in a long-running court case over milk prices.

Among the witnesses to testify Monday was Puerto Rico Bar Association President Osvaldo Toledo, who criticized the administration of President Barack Obama for its support of a plebiscite to solve the status issue.

“Now the United States aims to dictate the mechanisms for the decision on Puerto Rico’s future status exclusively through executive and legislative actions by the intervening country,” Toledo said. “That not only ignores the natural rights of Puerto Ricans, but also international norms against colonialism, neocolonialism and all foreign intervention.”

He characterized the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status report as a reaction to an increase in support for the island’s independence among Latin American leaders and citizens from Mexico south to Argentina.

Obama touched on the status issue during his brief visit to Puerto Rico last week. The president reaffirmed his support for a referendum in which island voters would resolve the matter for themselves.

“When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you,” Obama said in San Juan.

Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly to maintain commonwealth status in a nonbinding referendum in 1967. Commonwealth narrowly beat statehood in a 1993 vote. The last status plebiscite, in 1998, was derailed by a “none of the above” vote in protest of Gov. Pedro Rosselló’s decision to push ahead with the referendum in the wake of Hurricane Georges. Independence gleaned a small share of the vote in all three referendums.

The long-anticipated White House report was released in March with a wide range of recommendations that Obama has lauded as an “important road map to address the concerns and aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico.”

The 122-page report places an emphasis on the island’s economic and social issues, but opens with a 7-point series of recommendations on Puerto Rico’s century-old status dilemma.

“The task force’s public hearings and meetings revealed that status remains of overwhelming importance to the people of Puerto Rico. This task force committed to taking a fresh look at issues related to status without being bound by prior analyses or limited in the issues on which it focused,” the report reads.

The task force recommended that all relevant parties — the president, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico — work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options — statehood, independence, free association, and commonwealth — and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.

The task force leans slightly toward a two-tier plebiscite process that “allows the people of Puerto Rico first to vote on the question of whether they wish to be part of the United States or wish to be independent, and then to choose between the available status options, as limited by the outcome of the first vote.”

“If the process produces a clear result, Congress should act on it quickly with the president’s support,” the task force said.

If efforts on the island do not provide a clear result in the short term, the president should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling.

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