At the United Nations yesterday morning, one thing was immediately clear: as the member nations of the Decolonization Committee noted, there is tremendous and lasting interest in the case of Puerto Rico and its political status. The Committee noted that, this year, the number of presenters and speakers during the hearing on Puerto Rico doubled from that of last year’s hearing, which to them is indicative of the relevance and interest in Puerto Rico’s colonial situation. Indeed, the crowds gathered in front of the United Nations main entrance were witness not only to the strong breezes of an oddly cool morning but to an assembly of Puerto Rico’s most well known and most committed political leadership: Ruben Berrios Martinez, Juan Mari Bras, Fernando Martin, Ismael Guadalupe, Hector Pesquera, and other similarly committed regional leaders such as Miguel Sanchez and Vanessa Ramos. Important organizations such as Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño, Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, and La Coordinadora Nacional Rompiendo El Perimetro made their presence felt as well.
The Committee, formally titled The Special Committee On The Granting Of Independence To Colonial Countries And Peoples, was formed to oversee and facilitate the process of decolonization of the world’s remaining colonies. Named after UN Resolution 1514 (Resolution On the Granting Of Independence To Colonial Countries And Peoples), it has reviewed the case of Puerto Rico since the early 1970s, passing resolutions consistently at the conclusion of its hearings calling for Puerto Rico’s self-determination and independence. Its member nations include Venezuela, Mali, Iraq, Cuba, Congo, Argentina, Iran, Saint Lucia, Papau New Guinea, India, Chile, and others.
There were several significant aspects of this year’s presentations. First, for the first time, representatives of international organizations took to the podium to support the call for Puerto Rico’s independence. Gustavo Carvajal, of the Conference of Political Parties of Latin America, clearly called for an end to the colonial status of Puerto Rico and openly supported its independence, insisting that Puerto Rico was a Latin American nation and as such must join that community of nations. He also demanded that the General Assembly once again review the case of Puerto Rico, something not done since 1953. Raul Alfonsin, a former President of Argentina, representing the Committee of Latin America of the Socialist International, an organization representing over 100 government across the world, was another distinguished presenter. Following the theme of Latin American unity, Alfonsin also insisted that Puerto Rico is an integral part of Latin America. He stated that colonialism is a practice that runs contrary to the notions of democracy and stated that the independence of Puerto Rico has been on the agenda of Latin America since the 19th Century. He reiterated that the island has an inalienable right to freedom and independence, demanded that the island join the international community as equals, and poetically emphasized that the entire territory of Latin America must be free in order to meet the mandate of its founders.
Presenters denounced the environmental degradation occurring in Puerto Rico, with respect to water resources, nuclear weapons, and experimentation in land, air, and sea. Presenters from the island of Vieques denounced the current process of gentrification that is occurring on the island, forcing many Vieques residents to move to St. Thomas and other neighboring islands as the price of land is being driven up by realtors and land-grabbers. They also denounced the navy’s practice of detonating remaining bombs on the island as a method of cleaning target areas, saying this will continue to damage the health of the already afflicted residents.
Juan Mari Bras, a significant and highly respected leader in the independence movement, gave an impassioned presentation demanding action by the Decolonization Committee. He proposed several amendments to the Resolution, including demanding that language be included which conveys the urgency of the need to address Puerto Rico’s colonial situation and language which clearly condemns the assassination of revered revolutionary leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Mari Bras demanded action from the Committee after the dozens of resolutions the Committee has passed regarding Puerto Rico and called on the General Assembly to once again review the case of the archipelago. His testimony and furious delivery brought the public to its feet and drew a standing ovation from them as well.
Presenters from the Nationalist Party demanded an end to the current wave of political persecution, a theme repeated by Miguel Sanchez from the Coordinadora Rompiendo El Perimetro (Coordinating [Committee] Breaking the Perimeter], a group formed after the assassination of Ojeda Rios and which figuratively and literally works to break FBI perimeters such as the one that prevented help from reaching the wounded and dying Ojeda Rios last September. Sanchez gave a highly detailed and shocking account of the current experiences of Puerto Rican activists being persecuted for their political work. Accounts of small planes and helicopters flying and hovering over peoples’ homes, unmarked sedans following people around, FBI visits to the homes of neighbors and friends, obvious interception of phone calls and cell phone reception, all actions designed to intimidate activists who are merely working people, professionals, who simply are working to organize fellow citizens around the issues of importance. He proclaimed that these activists are not terrorists and demanded that the General Assembly become involved to address these serious violations in the colony.
The Pro-Libertad organization called for the release and freedom of the Puerto Rican political prisoners as part of any decolonization process and recounted a brief history of the prisoners, their incarceration and conditions of imprisonment. It denounced, along with other presenters, the current incarceration of Antonio Camacho Negron. Recent reports indicate that Camacho is being now held in solitary confinement, having unknown drugs administered to him, in an effort to silence and discredit him. Camacho had been very active in Puerto Rico denouncing the murder of Ojeda Rios and organizing a new national Decolonization Conference and organization. He had previously served 15 years as a political prisoner and was re-arrested this year by the FBI, who claimed he still had time left on his sentence–a claim rejected by his lawyers and movement leaders.
Many other organizations testified and were brilliant, but the emotional high point of the day was when Edgardo Ojeda, son of Filiberto Ojeda Rios, testified in front of the Special Committee. His voice breaking with emotion, Ojeda siad that he was there to demand justice for his father. He described what the family knows about the murder and later recounted how his father, while surrounded by hordes of FBI agents, demanded to meet with a reporter. Having this demand rejected, Ojeda Rios continued to resist the effort to assassinate him until the one bullet pierced his clavicle. He was left to bleed to death by the FBI agents present, who waited until the following day to enter the house. Edgardo Ojeda proudly recounted how his father consistently and brazenly defied the agents who were obviously there to murder him, continuously yelling patriotic slogans from inside the house such as, “Asesinos Fuera de mi Patria”, “Yanqui fuera de mi patria”, “Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre”, etc. Once his wife was removed from the scene, no one knows exactly what took place in the final moments. Egardo Ojeda’s forceful demand for justice and emotional delivery shook the public section of the audience, many of whom also in tears, stood and gave his testimony a prolonged standing ovation.
The resolution (A-AC-109-2006-L7), sponsored by both Cuba and Venezuela, was passed by consensus by the Decolonization Committee, without a vote and without objection. It was yet another victory for the subjugated nation of Puerto Rico, a proud people with a rich history, which has seen some of the most brutal elements of colonialism. This was evident yesterday when statehood supporters (one of which carried an American flag with her everywhere she went) pathetically made their own presentations calling for the UN to make Puerto Rico the 51st State of the U.S. (something completely out of its jurisdiction). This unfortunate affliction is a direct result of centuries of having our island and our people controlled, governed, abused, and manipulated by another country. That is colonialism. However, the beauty of such a hearing at the United Nations was that although most understood that this will not bring freedom and independence tomorrow, surely history will record and reflect that there are Puerto Ricans who have overcome the noxious and demoralizing effects of collective enslavement and correctly and justly continue to demand that God-given right which is the right of all souls born unto this Earth–freedom and the right to forge their own destinies.
JUAN ANTONIO OCASIO RIVERA can be reached at: email@example.com