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Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples

20 February 2001

Statement to the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, Division for Palestinian Rights, Vienna, 20-21 February 2001.

Remarks were made to the meeting on behalf of the CCIA by Dr. Bernard Sabella, Executive Secretary, Department of Service to Palestine Refugees, Middle East Council of Churches

Appeal for self-determination for Puerto Rico delivered by the Rev. Eunice Santana, New York, 6 July 1999.

Una vez más comparecemos ante este distinguido Comité de Descolonización de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas en representación del Consejo Mundial de Iglesias. APRA reiterar nuestra posición en torno al caso de Puerto Rico y para solicitarles nuevamente que actúen, acorde con su mandato, asegurando que el pueblo de Puerto Rico ejerza su derecho a la autodeterminación con libertad de conciencia y libre de toda coerción.

Al hablar del pueblo puertorriqueño hablamos de un pueblo que anhela y lucha a favor de la paz y que ansia que se le haga justicia como queda evidenciado sobretodo por el caso de Vieques. Esta es la historia de un pueblo atrapado para el cual la Segunda Guerra Mundial aún no termina. Es la historia de un pueblo que está cansado de los juegos de guerra; cansado de ser cómplice de la agresión contra otros pueblos hermanos y la destrucción de la Creación de Dios. Un pueblo cansado de que se le impongan restricciones que le privan del derecho a moverse con libertad dentro de su propio territorio; de que el ruido de las explosiones les interrumpa su vida, los estudios, la hora de la cena y el recreo, el sueño y hasta los momentos de hacerse el amor. Es un pueblo cansado de vivir con el temor de que algún accidente les quite la vida y de que mientras tanto otros se la controlen. Un pueblo cansado de ver a sus hijos marcharse fuera del país en busca de mejores condiciones de vida, de no tener medios a través de los cuales ganarse su sustento y de que aún los más elementales derechos humanos les sean pisoteados y negados como lo son el derecho al trabajo, a la seguridad, a la salud, al disfrute de los recursos naturales, al desarrollo social pleno que erradique la pobreza, a la felicidad - en fin - a la Vida misma.

Esta es una historia sobre el poder y el abuso del poder: de militarismo, injusticias, destrucción del medio ambiente, contaminación de todo tipo, cáncer, arrestos, encarcelamientos, y muerte. Es una historia comparable a la historia bíblica de David y Goliat en la cual un jovencito lucha contra un gigante.

El caso de Puerto Rico nos presenta la historia de un pueblo que no se da por vencido, que vive inmerso en la búsqueda de la paz, la justicia, la defensa de los derechos humanos y el sentido de la vida. Pero es también la historia de un pueblo latinoamericano y caribeño que está cansado de ser invisible, de sentir que nadie le escucha y de no poder ejercer su derecho a la autodeterminación.
Todo este cansancio es causa de preocupación para amplios sectores en Puerto Rico, incluyendo a las iglesias. El desbalance craso entre lo que la gente desea y pide y las respuestas que recibe, por ejemplo, de la Marina de Guerra y el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, van creando las condiciones para la desestabilización social. Mientras que en Puerto Rico se ha levantado un consenso en contra de la presencia militar en Vieques y amplios sectores del pueblo repudian la utilización militar que se le da al país, Estados Unidos insiste en continuar con las prácticas militares así como incrementar estos renglones con el traslado del Comando Sur a Puerto Rico y la construcción de un sistema de radares (Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar) que incluye la isla municipio de Vieques y otro lugar en la Isla Grande. Todo esto apunta hacia unas imposiciones violatorias de derechos y una determinación unilateral por parte de EE UU de no ceder su control sobre Puerto Rico y de imposibilitar el ejercicio a la libre determinación del pueble puertorriqueño.

Otro asunto sobre el cual existe un consenso en Puerto Rico, y que está relacionado con los procesos y los derechos de los pueblos, es a favor de la excarcelación de las mujeres y los hombres, presos políticos puertorriqueños, que actualmente están encarcelados en Estados Unidos. El Consejo Mundial de Iglesias, así como otros organismos ecuménicos e internacionales, ha unido su voz a la de las iglesias en Puerto Rico y de miles de personas, dentro y fuera de Puerto Rico, que le han solicitado al Presidente de Estados Unidos que actúe a su favor por entender que éste es un reclamo justo que le compete a toda la comunidad.

Abogamos a favor de un proceso válido de descolonización para Puerto Rico bajo de los cánones establecidos por la Organización de las Naciones Unidas y su escrutinio. Somos conscientes y concurrimos con la determinación de las Naciones Unidas de que la validez de cualquier referéndum requiere el retiro de la presencia militar del país interventor del territorio invadido por esta representar un impedimento contundente al principio y al proceso de autodeterminación mismo. Además, la presencia militar es de por sí violatoria de otros derechos fundamentales, controla la economía y la ecología, entre otros renglones, y sobretodo está en abierta oposición con el principio básico e inviolable de la soberanía.

Señoras y señores miembros de este distinguido cuerpo, al igual que hicimos el año pasado, le hacemos un llamado en nombre de las iglesias y del Consejo Mundial de Iglesias para que exijan la descolonización para Puerto Rico de acuerdo a la Resolución 1514 (XV) de este Comité. Renovamos nuestra invitación anterior a efectuar una visita sobre el terreno para ver con sus propios ojos lo que aquí les presentamos y para recibir información mas detallada.

Reiteramos nuestro requerimiento de que este Comité asuma su responsabilidad respecto a los territorios que aún no ejercen gobierno propio en relación con el caso de Puerto Rico. Es necesario que este Comité actúe creando las condiciones propias APRA que pronto se dé un proceso legítimo de auto determinación para el pueblo puertorriqueño. Es necesario que la Organización de las Naciones Unidas asuma el papel que le ha sido asignado de erradicar el colonialismo a través de procesos válidos asegurando que los pueblos puedan expresar su voluntad libremente. Mientras esto no suceda en Puerto Rico su agenda está inconclusa, la humanidad sufre y la justicia y la paz permanecen como meras aspiraciones imposibles de alcanzar.

Señoras y señores, ante Uds. dejamos este reto, que representa además una oportunidad magnífica para demostrarle al mundo que la esperanza no ha muerto, que aún es posible crear un mundo temor para todas y todos en el cual los derechos colectivos y de unos/as y otros/as sean reconocidos y respetados, permitiendo así una sana convivencia entre los pueblos, lo cual a nuestro entender, desde la fe, nos acerca mas a la voluntad de Dios.

Muchas gracias.

[TRANSLATION]

Once again we appear before this disinguished Decolonization Committee of the United Nations Organization on behalf of the World Council of Churches to reiterate our position with respect to the case of Puerto Rico and to solicit again your action, under your mandate, to assure that the people of Puerto Rico may exercize its right to self-determination with freedom of conscience and free from all coercion.

When we speak of the Puerto Rican people, we speak of a people that longs and struggles for peace and that hopes that justice will be done in the case of Vieques. This is the story of a captive people for whom the Second World War has not yet ended. It is the story of a people that is tired of the war games; tired of being made accomplices of aggression against other peoples and the destruction of God's Creation; tired of the restrictions imposed that deprive them of their right to move freely within its own territory; for whom the noise of explosions disrupt their lives, their studies, mealtimes and recreation, their sleep and even their lovemaking. It is a people tired of living with the fear that some accident will take their lives while others are in control of the threat. A people tired of seeing its children leave the country in search of better living conditions, of not having the means to earn their own living and of having their most fundamental rights trampled upon and denied, rights like that to work, security, health, dispose of their own natural resources, full social development to eradicate poverty, to happiness, and - finally - to life itself.

This is a story of power and the abuse of power: of militarism, injustices, destruction of the environment, contamination of every sort: cancer, arrests, detentions and death. It is a story comparable to the bibilical story of David and Goliath where a youth struggles against a giant.

The case of Puerto Rico presents the story of a people that does not give up, that lives immersed in the pursuit of peace, justice, the defense of human rights and the meaning of life. It is also the story of a Latin American and Caribbean people that is tired of being invisible, of feeling that no one listens and of being unable to exercise its right to self-determination.

This weariness is a source of concern to broad sectors in Puerto Rico, including the churches. The crass imbalance between what the people desire and demand and the answers it receives, for example, from the Navy and the government of the United States, are creating conditions for social unrest.

While in Puerto Rico a consensus has arisen against the military presence in Vieques and broad sectors of the people repudiate the military use given to the country, the United States insists on continuing with its military exercise and has increased its forces on the ground through the moving of the Southern Command headquarters to PuertoRico and the construction of a new radar system (Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar) on the municipal island of Vieques and another site on the Isla Grande. All this points to further impositions in violation of rights and a unilateral determination on the part of the USA not to cede its control over Puerto Rico and to make impossible the free exercise of self-determination of the Puerto Rican people.

Another concern on which there exists a consensus in Puerto Rico, and that is related to the processes and the rights of peoples, is the demand for the release of the women and men, Puerto Rican political prisoners, presently incarcerated in the United States. The World Council of Churches, joined by other ecumenical and international organizations, has joined its voice with that of the churches in Puerto Rico and of thousands of persons in and beyond Puerto Rico that have asked the President of the United States, in his own interest, to respond to this appeal as a matter of justice for the whole community.

We call for a valid process of decolonization for Puerto Rico to be undertaken according to the established norms of the United Nations Organization and under its scrutiny. We are aware of and we agree with the determination of the United Nations that the validity of any referendum requires the prior withdrawal of the military presence of the intervening power from the invaded territory since this poses a serious impediment to the principle and process of self-determination. Beyond this, the military presence is in violation of other fundamental rights: it controls the economy and the ecology, among other things, and above all it violates the basic and inviolable principle of sovereignty.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of this distinguished body, as we did last year, we call upon you in the name of the churches and the World Council of Churches to demand the decolonization of Puerto Rico in accordance with Resolution 1514 (XV) of this Committee. We renew our invitation to you to visit the territory to see for yourselves what we have presented here and to receive more detailed information.

We reiterate our request that this Committee assume its responsibility with respect to non-self-governing territories in relation to the case of Puerto Rico. It is necessary for this Committee to create propitious conditions for a prompt and legitimate process of self-determination to be undertaken for the Puerto Rican people. It is necessary that the United Nations Organization assume the role it has been assigned to eradicate colonialism and through valid processes to assure that peoples may be able freely to express their will. So long as this does not occur in Puerto Rico your agenda is not concluded, humanity suffers and justice and peace remain mere hopes that are impossible to achieve.

Ladies and gentlemen, this challenge that we place before you represents a magnificent opportunity to demonstrate to the world that hope is not dead, that it is still possible to create a better world for all in which the collective rights of all are recognized and respected, thereby permitting healthy coexistence among the peoples, and to move in the direction that we believe, based on our faith, corresponds to the will of God.

Many thanks.

Appeal for justice for residents of the island of Vieques, press release on the statement presented on behalf of the CCIA, New York, 12 July 2000.

A statement delivered on behalf of the WCC's Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) to the UN Committee on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples also asked for assistance to Puerto Ricans in securing justice for residents of Vieques, one of the smaller islands of Puerto Rico just east of the main island.

The statement was presented by Eunice Santana, a Disciples of Christ minister and former WCC president who directs the Caribbean Institute of Ecumenical Formation and Action in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Speaking in Spanish, Santana said the decade for the elimination of colonialism, launched by the UN in 1990, had ended without a solution for Puerto Rico, and left one of humanity's most disgraceful situations.

She reminded the Committee that she had drawn its attention to Vieques in delivering WCC statements in 1998 and 1999, and said actions of the United States Navy there in the past 15 months showed a continuing lack of regard for the rights of the Puerto Rican people.

Hundreds of Puerto Ricans camped out in the restricted part of Vieques used by the US Navy since 1941 for practice operations - risking their lives as human shields - and many of them, including a bishop and dozens of clergy, were arrested, she said. The protesters were inspired by the liberation experience revealed in the Bible, she told the UN.

Last November, CCIA director Dwain C. Epps wrote to President Bill Clinton in support of the protests. And on 2 May, when plans for the arrests had been announced, WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser said in a follow-up letter that such arrests will hardly be understood by the churches, and urged that Clinton call a halt to this intervention immediately. However, the protesters were arrested two days later.

Santana said a referendum proposed by the US Navy to let the people of Vieques decide whether to accept US Dollars 40 million for its use of the disputed area for three years or US Dollars 50 million for permanent use was a bad joke. She said this would require the people to sell their conscience, and excluded the option most people would prefer - immediate departure of the Navy.

She appealed for a legitimate process of self-determination by the Puerto Rican people. And she appealed for the UN Committee's help in getting the United States to end bombardment of Vieques, clean up the area, compensate the people of Vieques for the damages they have suffered and return the area to them.

As the UN Committee heard a series of speakers, it had before it a resolution introduced by Cuba asserting that initiatives previously taken had failed to set in motion the process of decolonization of Puerto Rico, and noting with satisfaction that proposals had been made for a sovereign Constituent Conference of the people of Puerto Rico.

Referring to Puerto Ricans convicted of violent protest actions in the United States, the resolution welcomed the release of 11 of them last year, and called on Clinton to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898. Puerto Ricans were made citizens of the United States in 1917, and later gained the right to elect their own governor and legislature, and to send a non-voting representative to the US House of Representatives. But they do not vote in US elections or pay US taxes.

In a 1993 referendum, 48 per cent of Puerto Rican voters favoured retaining their current commonwealth status, 44 per cent becoming a state of the United States, and 4 per cent independence. However, some Puerto Ricans say the referendum did not resolve the Puerto Rican issue because of the way political parties were involved, and a new approach such as a Constituent Conference is needed.

The WCC statement to the UN Committee did not endorse the Cuban resolution, but Santana said afterwards it was compatible with the WCC position. And she reported that she was very happy when the committee approved the resolution by consensus at the end of the day's hearings. Similar resolutions were adopted in previous years, but always by divided votes, she said.