UN committee backs Puerto Rico independence
BY HILDA CUZCO
UNITED NATIONS--The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization held hearings here July 12 on the colonial status of Puerto Rico and approved a resolution that "reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence" from the United States. The committee has approved similar resolutions since the 1970s, but it was the first time it was adopted by consensus rather than a divided vote.
The resolution, sponsored by the revolutionary government of Cuba, calls on Washington to stop U.S. Navy bombing practice on the island of Vieques and to release the six Puerto Rican political prisoners remaining in U.S. jails.
Some 30 representatives of organizations testified. A handful spoke for U.S. statehood, but the big majority testified in favor of independence. They pointed to the mass struggle that has emerged over the last year to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques.
Freddie Marrero, speaking on behalf of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, explained that Washington has used the majority of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a naval bombing range and ammunition depot for 60 years, devastating the livelihood of fishermen, contaminating the environment, and contributing to a high cancer rate among residents, including through the use of depleted uranium shells.
Speaker after speaker pointed to the fact that when a U.S. warplane dropped two "stray" bombs on Vieques, killing David Sanes, it detonated a sustained wave of protests that has not stopped. For more than a year, hundreds of demonstrators set up civil disobedience camps on Navy land. In May of this year, a force of 300 U.S. marshals and FBI agents, together with 1,200 U.S. marines, detained and evicted the protesters.
"Today there are more than 400 people facing charges in federal court" for defying the Navy, said Jorge Farinacci, a leader of the Socialist Front. "Dozens of defenders of Vieques are in jail today, including a large number of leaders of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP); its main leaders, Rubén Berríos and Fernando Martín, were convicted by this imperial court for entering territory illegally restricted by the Navy."
Martín, vice president of the PIP, also testified at the UN hearings, defying the U.S. court's imposition of parole restrictions on his freedom of travel.
Eduardo Villanueva Muñoz, of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, condemned the continuing imprisonment of six pro-independence political prisoners as another example of U.S. colonial rule. In September 1999, as a result of an international defense campaign, 11 Puerto Rican independence fighters were released; many of them had spent almost two decades in U.S. prisons.
Eduardo Pagán, from Pro-Libertad, a New York-based organization that campaigns for the release of the political prisoners, called on Washington to immediately free the six--Antonio Camacho, Carlos Aberto Torres, José Solís, Juan Segarra Palmer, Oscar López Rivera, and Haydée Beltrán."
U.S. invasion in 1898
Marisol Corretjer, vice president of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, pointed out that U.S. colonial rule of the island "results from an act of aggression perpetrated by that country in 1898 and the extension of that invasion to the present." She condemned the current "Commonwealth" status as a fraud designed to cover up and perpetrate the colonial status of her country.
Also speaking in favor of independence were José Paralitici of All Puerto Rico with Vieques; Julio Muriente, president of the New Independence Movement of Puerto Rico (NMIP); Wilma Reverón Collazo, co-chair of the Hostos National Congress; and long time independent fighters Juan Mari Brás and Lolita Lebrón. Lebrón was one of five Nationalists who spent a quarter century in U.S. prisons until their release in the late 1970s.
Death penalty controversy
One issue that has flared up in Puerto Rico recently is the death penalty. Farinacci of the Socialist Front pointed to "the U.S. government's efforts to impose the death penalty in Puerto Rico through its courts operating in our country. The death penalty is banned in Puerto Rico, as expressed clearly in the 1952 Constitution" of the Commonwealth, he said. Yet "U.S. authorities have certified 11 cases for capital punishment in Puerto Rico," showing Washington´s colonial trampling of democratic rights in Puerto Rico.
James Harris, Socialist Workers candidate for president of the United States, said that the people of Puerto Rico and the United States face the same enemy in Washington and Wall Street. "A successful struggle to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques, and ultimately for the independence of Puerto Rico, will deal a resounding blow to our common enemy. It will show," he said, "that it's possible to stand up to the most brutal imperialist power in history and win freedom from its rule."
After the UN committee approved the resolution by consensus, the Cuban ambassador called it "a victory--one whose protagonists are men and women who have fought all their lives for the independence of Puerto Rico, those who have faced long prison sentences, those arrested and mistreated these past months for defending Vieques, those who might be arrested right now in Puerto Rico or who face a future of uncertain freedom, those who are demonstrating now across the United Nations protesting the bombing by the U.S. Navy in Vieques, and those who year after year come before this Special Committee."
Across from the United Nations several dozen people gathered to demand "U.S. Navy Out of Vieques" and the release of the political prisoners. The picket was organized by the Vieques Support Campaign, Pro-Libertad, and other local organizations.