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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

For the 40th time, UN panel votes for PR’s right to self-determination

The resolution in favor of Puerto Rico’s self-determination was presented by Cuba and co-sponsored by Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Syria, Russia, and Antigua and Barbuda.

By The Star Staff

The United Nations Decolonization Committee approved on Monday -- by consensus -- a resolution calling for Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence.

The vote marked the 40th time the committee has called for a self-determination process to allow Puerto Rico to select its political status. It comes as the U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to vote on legislation that would allow Puerto Ricans to choose between statehood, free association and independence.

A demonstration was slated to take place in front of the United Nations headquarters to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the debates on Puerto Rico in the Special Committee on Decolonization, which have not managed to advance to the General Assembly of the organization. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. commonwealth since 1952, a status that allows it some self-governance in tax matters but is subordinated to U.S. jurisdiction in most other areas.

Pedro Luis Pedroso, the Cuban ambassador to the U.N., presented the resolution, arguing that the colonial status of Puerto Rico “is not an internal matter of the United States.”

“It is up to the Decolonization Committee and the entire international community,” Pedroso said.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Syria, Russia, and Antigua and Barbuda. There were also remarks of support from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), represented by Argentina, and the Non-Aligned Movement, presented by Azerbaijan.

“CELAC reaffirms the Caribbean and Latin American identity of Puerto Rico,” said the representative of Argentina.

Jorge Arturo Reyes, minister counselor of the Venezuelan mission, said the support of the Latin American and Caribbean region for the cause of decolonization “has been firm and unwavering.”

As in previous years, the session of the Special Committee on Decolonization was attended by dozens of Puerto Rican and international organizations, institutions, and political and social forces to express their support for the island and discuss the issue.

The resolution asked for the General Assembly to call again upon the United States government to address the Puerto Rican people’s urgent economic and social needs, which have been aggravated by hurricanes, earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic.

The text notes with concern that the prevailing political and economic subordination in which Puerto Rico operates is compounded by virtue of the decision by the United States Congress, under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA, which created the Financial Oversight and Management Board.

Gregorio Igartúa, a pro-statehood lawyer, was one of more than 40 witnesses who sent written testimonies because they were given between three to five minutes to speak.

Igartúa said that notwithstanding the conflicting views of the legal and political relationship of Puerto Rico to the United States, its gradual assimilation since 1898 by Congress in transit to statehood cannot be ignored.

In 2022, the ties between the United States and Puerto Rico have strengthened and evolved in such a way, and with such constitutional significance, that the island is definitively a de facto incorporated territory of the United States on its way to statehood, one where the fullness of the U.S. Constitution applies, just as the U.S. Supreme Court did in 1954 by deciding Brown v. Board of Education.

“The theory of a permanent non-incorporated territorial status does not fit within the U.S. constitutional framework,” the San Juan-based attorney said. “Discriminatory treatment of the 3.3 million American citizens of Puerto Rico will only be eliminated when Congress adopts a resolution certifying Puerto Rico as an incorporated territory of the United States and in transit to statehood with a definite date of admission. This resolution most certainly will be required a priori to the Act of Statehood. The adoption of such a resolution is 124 years overdue.”

Similarly overdue, Igartúa said, is a resolution by the Decolonization Committee demanding that the United States comply with its international obligations under treaty law and grant the 3.3 million American citizens of Puerto Rico their full constitutional rights, including their right to vote in federal elections, so that they be afforded their right to have government by consent of the governed.

He said the fact that Puerto Rico has not been declared an incorporated territory, nor a state, has created great confusion among legal scholars, legislators, government officials and federal judges as to what Puerto Rico’s legal status is.

“Moreover, if one considers the participation in this debate of clever politicians who attempt to propose answers without any legal and or economic basis in support, many decisions affecting Puerto Rico are based on what Puerto Rico might be, and not on what it is,” Igartúa said, “Nevertheless, Puerto Rico is more assimilated into the federal government today than were many other territories before becoming states. Your Committee must consider support based on what we are, American Citizens, not on what hypothetically we can be, as some members of your Committee pretend.”

“The appearing witness has been defending the incorporation of Puerto Rico as the only legally viable status that fits into the U.S. constitutional framework for the past 40 years,” he added. “This statement explains, justifies and evidences this legal fact using various judicial opinions and other authorities in support. The time is due for Congress to declare that Puerto Rico has met all of the requirements to be an incorporated territory in transit to statehood at this time …, and for the American Citizens in Puerto Rico to be granted full constitutional rights.”

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