Puerto Rican independence fighters denounce colonial rule
BY OLGA RODRÍGUEZ
UNITED NATIONS—Nearly three dozen people from Puerto Rico, the United States, and several other countries testified on Puerto Rico’s colonial status before the UN Special Committee on Decolonization June 9.
A resolution cosponsored by the Cuban and Venezuelan governments calling on the U.S. government to end colonial rule of Puerto Rico was adopted by consensus at the end of the day. The 26th such resolution adopted at the annual hearing, it also renewed the decolonization committee’s request that the UN General Assembly place the question of Puerto Rico’s status on its agenda.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, was among those who testified. Despite calling for more sovereignty, his Popular Democratic Party continues to support the colonial status of Puerto Rico as a “commonwealth.” Several members of the New Progressive Party, which supports statehood for the island, also spoke.
A majority of speakers advocated independence, many detailing the effects of the 110-year history of oppression and economic underdevelopment that has marked U.S. colonial rule of the island.
20 percent unemployment
Hiram Lozada Pérez, of the Puerto Rican chapter of the Association of American Jurists, pointed to today’s 20 percent official unemployment rate on the island and said, “they admit today that 72 percent of the population lives in precarious conditions of poverty and 44.9 percent live below the poverty level.”
Normahiram Pérez of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation Support Committee in New York, which organized solidarity for the 10-day teachers’ strike on the island earlier this year, said Washington has sought to control public schools and the unions in Puerto Rico. She urged support to the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation, which is fighting decertification by the Acevedo Vilá government and a move by officials of the U.S.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to replace it with a different union that is affiliated with the SEIU.
Elliot Monteverde Torres of the Hostos Grand Jury Resistance Campaign testified about independence supporters, including himself, who have been called to appear before federal grand juries supposedly investigating the pro-independence Macheteros group. He reported that he, along with Christopher Torres and Tania Frontera, “are not accused of committing any crime and there’s not a single accusation against us. Despite that, the U.S. government cynically tries to deny us our freedom because we have chosen—in the best traditions of the independence movement—not to collaborate” with the grand jury. Monteverde, along with another independence supporter from the island whose name has not been released by activists, is supposed to appear in federal court in Brooklyn on June 13.
Longest-held political prisoners
Many petitioners called for the release of Puerto Rican independence fighters in U.S. jails—Haydée Beltrán Torres, Oscar López Rivera, and Carlos Alberto Torres, who are among the longest-held political prisoners in the world. The fourth and newest, Avelino González Claudio, was recently arrested by the FBI in Puerto Rico and is being held without bail in a maximum security federal prison in Connecticut awaiting trial.
Róger Calero, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. president, said, “A successful struggle for the freedom of Puerto Rico will deal powerful blows to our common exploiters and oppressors—the tiny class of billionaire families that rules the United States… . As long as Puerto Rico is under the U.S. colonial boot, Washington and Wall Street will be strengthened, and the fighting capacity and solidarity of working people in the United States will be weakened.”
Following adoption of the resolution, Cuban ambassador Rodrigo Malmierca said “The Puerto Rican people can always count on our unconditional solidarity. Cuba will continue to uphold the Puerto Rican people’s legitimate right to self-determination and independence to the bitter end.”
Representatives from the governments of Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria, Ecuador, Iran, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica gave their support to the resolution.
Others who spoke for independence included José Castillo, of the Nationalist Party; Rubén Berríos, Puerto Rican Independence Party; Frank Velgara, Vieques Support Campaign; Antonio Cafiero, president of the Permanent Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Political Parties; Romenio Pereira, Workers Party of Brazil; Ben Ramos, ProLibertad; Héctor Pesquera, Hostos National Independence Movement; and Wilma Reverón-Collazo, Puerto Rico Committee at the UN.
Following the hearing, a reception organized by the Puerto Rico Committee at the UN at the offices of SEIU Local 1199 and a forum sponsored by ProLibertad at Hunter College provided a way for those who participated to continue the discussion on the issues raised by the pro-independence delegation to the United Nations.