After 400 years of Spanish colonial rule of Puerto Rico, in 1898 Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States, and the U.S. militarily invaded and established a military government. Over a century later, Puerto Rico continues to be a U.S. colony- one of the few juridical colonies in the world- in spite of the fact that decolonization is a peremptory norm of international law. Background Since 1972, the United Nations Decolonization Committee has approved some 25 resolutions confirming the application of this international law (General Assembly Resolution 1514(XV)) to the case of Puerto Rico.
On June 9, 2008, the U.N. Decolonization Committee convened once again to consider the case of Puerto Rico. Representatives of some 30 diverse organizations testified, the majority supporting independence. The Guild International Committee was one of the few U.S.-based organizations to participate.
A unique hearing
This year’s hearings were unique in several ways. For the first time, a sitting governor participated in the hearings. Also for the first time, representatives of all three status preferences (independence, commonwealth and statehood) agreed that Puerto Rico is a colony which lacks sovereignty. Adding to the uniqueness was testimony from two young people, Tania Frontera and Elliot Monteverde Torres, subpoenaed to a current grand jury investigating the independence movement, who will undoubtedly be jailed if they refuse to cooperate with the government’s efforts to criminalize the movement.
Many of the deponents highlighted the need for the General Assembly to consider the case of Puerto Rico, pointing to the findings of the U.S. President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status that the U.S. lied to the U.N. when in 1953 it represented that Puerto Rico was a self-governing territory, and that U.S. Congress could, if it so desired, give Puerto Rico to another country. Discussion and official resolution U.N. delegates from many Latin American countries spoke in favor of a resolution endorsing self determination, including Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Panama, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Cuba; as did delegates from Syria and Iran, and representatives from the Movement of Non Aligned Nations, the Socialist International, the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Workers Party of Brazil.
The Committee passed a resolution adopting measures that the Guild and many deponents urged: once again affirming the application of Resolution 1514(XV) to the case of Puerto Rico, recognizing that the solution should emanate from the Puerto Rican people. The resolution also called for the General Assembly to consider the case of Puerto Rico, requested the release of long held political prisoners and the clean up of military toxins left on the island of Vieques when the U.S. Navy vacated, and expressed serious concern over events such as the extrajudicial execution of independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and the U.S. refusal to cooperate with the investigation of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice into his death.