The Colonial Case of Puerto Rico

September 25, 2007

1. Puerto Rico is a Latin American country. It has a nationality of its own which was crystallized as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its history, culture, customs, traditions and inter- ests are totally different from those of the United States, the metropolitan colonial Power. 2. The people of Puerto Rico has a long and heroic tradition of struggle for its national independence. The common task of helping that people to win full emancipation is part of the historical patrimony of all the Latin American peoples. 3. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when the first stirrings of rebellion against the colonial power of Spain began to make themselves felt in the West Indies, the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, personally assumed responsibility for assisting and encouraging those in Cuba and Puerto Rico who were fighting for national independence. Ever since that very early time, it was the Govern- ment of the Unifed States which represented the main obstacle to the fulfillment by the Latin American patriots of their duty of solidarity. 4. On 23 September 1868, in the town of Lares, the Puerto Rican people launched its war of independence against Spain. Side by side with the people of Cuba, the inhabitants of the small West Indian island defied colonial power and fought under the very difficult conditions resulting from their insularity until the year 1898. 5. As a result of that struggle, Spain was forced to grant Puerto Rico a relatively large degree of autonomy, which was enshrined in the Constitution of 25 November 1897. Under the terms of that Constitu- tion, the people of Puerto Rico elected deputies to the Spanish Cortes, acquired the freedom to trade with all the countries of the world and exercised important powers and prerogatives of self-government representing a degree of autonomy incomparably greater than that which now exists in the island under United States colonial rule. The Constitution of 1897 provided that Spain could not modify the status of Puerto Rico without the consent of the Puerto Rican Parliament. 6. However, on 25 July 1898, the island was invaded by the armed forces of the United States, which placed the territory under military occupation, dissolved the Parliament and established United States rule by force of arms.28 7. History provides ample evidence of the expan- sionist aims of the United States with respect to the West Indies. Everybody knows the famous line written by President Monroe in a letter to Mr. Nelson, United States Ambassador in Madrid, in 1822: "Cuba and Puerto Rico are natural appendages of the United States." 8. The military occupation of Puerto Rico was one of the most flagrant acts of piracy perpetrated by rising United States imperialism. In 1898, the United States, motivated by its own imperialist interests, intervened in the war which the Cuban people was waging against Spain for its independence. 9. The Cuban liberation movement was on the verge of achieving total victory over the forces of a Spain bankrupted by its colonial war. The expan- sionist circles in Washington took advantage of those circumstances to seize the Spanish possessions with a view to establishing their own colonial empire. 10. In July 1898, Spain was preparing to surrender after the defeats suffered in the fighting in Cuban territory. On 16 July, the Spanish Army surrendered in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The following day, the 17th, the Spanish Government, through its Ambas- sador in Paris, made an offer to the United States to open peace talks. The very same day, the United States Government ordered its Navy to invade Puerto Rico. An American writer, who certainly could not be accused of hostility towards the imperialist designs of his Government, wrote quite properly: "It was not a battle against the Spaniards any longer - they were fleeing satisfactorily - but against time: to establish a fait accompli occupa- tion of the island before an unfavourable turn in the peace negotiations now in progress could deprive Miles' armies of the territory they already control- led." (Jack Cameron Dierks, A Leap to Arms, the Cuban Campaign of 1898, Philadelphia and New York, 1970). 11. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, signed between Spain and the United States, Spain "ceded" to the United States the territory of Puerto Rico (article 2 of the Treaty), thus consummating a typical act of colonial plunder in which the people of the territory concerned had absolutely no say. To that extent, the Treaty of Paris, in so far as it concerns Puerto Rico, is null and void because it was done in total disregard of the Puerto Rican Constitution and its autonomous institutions. That argument was invoked by the great Puerto Rican patriot of the time, Eugenio Maria de Hostos: "Puerto Rico is a legal entity and could not be stripped of any of its prerogatives as a nation by a war which was not of its making." In October 1935, in a plea before the United States Supreme Court, Pedro Albizu Campos, leader of the Nation- alist Party of Puerto Rico, asserted: "The Treaty (of Paris) is null and void in so far as it concerns Puerto Rico. Spain could not cede Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico was not a negotiable entity (res in commercium). Puerto Rico became a sovereign nation by virtue of the Charter of Self-Government (Carta Autonomica) which Spain could not amend with- out the consent of Puerto Rico. And the United States could not agree to the cession of the ter- ritory because it was obligated to respect the independence of Puerto Rico.... The feudal concept of international law which permitted the conquest of one nation by another through war and retention of the victim as the property of the victor, as a possession, must have been dead in the United States too. 1'* 12. By virtue of an act of imperialist plunder the people of Puerto Rico lost the autonomy which it had wrested from Spain. The territory, which had won international recognition as a separate legal entity when it was admitted to the Universal Postal Union in 1897, openly and frankly became a conquest of the United States, a colonial possession of the United States. II. THE PRESENT SITUATION 13. Since 1898, the Government in Washington has done everything in its power to crush the aspira- tions of the Puerto Rican people for independence and to make the island a part of the United States. Its efforts have resulted in total failure and the struggle of the Puerto Rican people has become irrepressible, forcing the colonial Government to resort to all kinds of manoeuvres to silence internal opposition and international condemnation of the oppression of Puerto Rico. 14. Today, United States colonial rule over all aspects of Puerto Rican life is absolute. Puerto Rico is under the legislative, judicial and execu- tive control of the United States. The United States Government has exclusive jurisdiction over all questions of citizenship, foreign affairs, defense, immigration and emigration, foreign trade, currency, postal service, radio and television, air and maritime transport. Decisions of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico can be overturned by the federal courts of the United States. All the laws adopted by the Congress of the United States automatically apply in Puerto Rico. 15. The United States exercises absolute control over the economy of Puerto Rico. American invest- ments in Puerto Rico amount to $1 billion and, even according to colonial propaganda, yield profits each year amounting on the average to 30 percent of the capital invested. American in- vestments are exempt from all taxes, corporation 0 or personal taxes, for a period ranging from 12 to 17 years. In that way, Puerto Rico has been converted into a privileged preserve for United States monopolies, which use it as a source of cheap labour and exploit the national economy without even being subject to the rules and restrictions in force in the metropolitan country. * Provisional translation29 For example, the average wage of a Puerto Rican worker is equivalent to one-third of what an American worker earns and the average income of the inhabitants of the island is half of what is earned by the citizens of the State of Mississippi, the poorest State in the United States. On the other hand, the United States has a monopoly over Puerto Rican trade, forcing Puerto Rico to depend entirely on the United States market and to carry all goods imported from the United States in ships of the United States merchant fleet, which has a monopoly over the island's shipping. The result is that the average prices of goods and basic neces- sities are 25 percent higher than in New York or other American cities. 16. The effects of this situation on the living conditions of the people are easy to imagine. According to official statistics, Puerto Rico has 100,000 unemployed, that is, 14.3 percent of the labour force. One-third of the population had been forced to emigrate to the metropolitan ter- ritory of the United States where they are subjected to harassment and discrimination, reduced to accepting the hardest and least well-paid jobs, crowded together in the ghettos of the big American cities. 17. The same statistics indicate that 81.8 percent of the population of Puerto Rico earns less than $3,000 a year. In an effort to mitigate the effects of the poverty conditions imposed on most of the population of Puerto Rico, the colonial regime has established the so-called system of "maintenance", which consists of the distribution of United States farm surpluses to needy families. On 9 September 1963, a pro-American newspaper published in San Juan, El Mundo, reported on the first page: "850,000 people are living on maintenance", that is, approx- imately 35 percent of the population of Puerto Rico. 19. One of the most brutal aspects of the United States colonial rule in Puerto Rico is the military aspect. Thirteen percent of the best arable land on the island is occupied by a vast network of military bases, including bases with nuclear weapons, which have transformed Puerto Rico into an enormous mili- tary arsenal and constitute a permanent threat to the peace and security of its population while at the same time ensuring military occupation as a means of strengthening colonial control over the territory. United States military activity also encompasses the island group of Vieques and Culebra, which are integral parts of Puerto Rican territory. World opinion has been aware of the criminal conduct of the United States armed forces, which are using the territory of Culebra as a firing range for weapons testing, thus seriously jeopardizing the lives of the people of Culebra, who are engaged in a vigorous battle for the dismantling of the instal- lations established on their island by the United States Navy. 20. Puerto Rico, as a colonial territory, has no armed forces of its own. Yet Puerto Ricans have been made liable for compulsory military service in the armed forces of the United States. Some 200,000 Puerto Ricans served in the United States Army in the First World War, 400,000 in the Second World War, and 40,000 in the aggression against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1950. The imposition of compulsory military service on Puerto Ricans is a crude display of colonialism and racism. III. THE CASE OF PUERTO RICO IN THE UNITED NATIONS 22. In 1953, the General Assembly adopted resolu- tion 748 (VIII) relieving the United States of the obligation to submit the reports referred to in Article 73 e of the Charter in the case of the Territory of Puerto Rico, because the latter had achieved commonwealth status. In operative para- graph 9 of the resolution, the General Assembly stated the following: "The General Assembly "Expresses its assurance that, in accord- ance with the spirit of the present resolution, the ideals embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, the traditions of the people of the United States of America and the political advancement attained by the people of Puerto Rico, due regard will be paid to the will of both the Puerto Rican and American peoples in the conduct of their relations under their present legal statute, and also in the event- uality that either of the parties to the mutually agreed association may desire any change in the terms of this association." The resolution was adopted in the Fourth Committee by a narrow majority of 22 countries in favour, 18 against and 19 abstentions. In order to obtain such a majority, the United States Government had not only to exert all kinds of pressure and carry out endless diplomatic manoeuvres but also to make a pronouncement in the General Assembly through its then representative, Henry Cabot Lodge, who stated as follows: "I am authorized to say on behalf of the President (of the United States) that if, at any time, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico adopts a resolution in favour of more complete or even absolute independence, he will immediately thereafter recommend to Congress that such independence be granted." 1 23. In the 1956 elections, the majority party in Puerto Rico (the Popular Democratic Party) included in its programme a call for greater self- government for the island. That party having won the elections, the legislature of Puerto Rico adopted a resolution urging the United States Congress to grant a broader measure of self-govern- ment by the Commonwealth. Immediately afterwards, the Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico in Washington, Dr. Antonio Fernos Isern, introduced in the United States Congress a bill incorporating the requests made by the Puerto Rican legislature. Public hearings were held in Washington on this bill (known as the Fernos-Murray Bill), and various executive departments of the United States Government (State, Defense and Commerce) submitted memoranda opposing its adoption. This was the same Government (the Government of President Dwight Eisenhower) which six years previously had made a "solemn promise" to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Fernos-Murray bill was never adopted. 1, Official Records of the General Assembly, Eighth Session, Plenary Meetings, 159th meeting, para. 66.30 24. In November 1962, the Puerto Rican legislature adopted a further resolution requesting the United States Congress to specify what alternatives -- based on the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico -- the United States would offer as a final solution to the political status of Puerto Rico. This resolution was again brought before the Con- gress by the Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico in Washington through the introduction of a bill in the United States House of Representatives. The bill was considered at public hearings. The op- position of the United States Government was such that the bill had to be completely redrafted, and its only consequence was the establishment of a so- called United States-Puerto Rican commission on the political status of Puerto Rico. The commission, composed of seven Americans and six Puerto Ricans, submitted a report, after several years of bureau- cratic proceedings, recommending that a referendum should be held in Puerto Rico. However, the Con- gress refused to specify what alternatives with respect to political status it was prepared to offer the Puerto Rican people in the referendum, thus reducing it to a farce. 30. In 1967 the Legislature of Puerto Rico, pressured by the United States Government, agreed to hold a referendum to allow Puerto Ricans to choose between independence, statehood and common- wealth status. There was no previous agreement by the United States Congress to accept the majority view emerging from the referendum. Nor was there any definition amplifying the autonomous framework of commonwealth status so that it conformed to the provisions of the United Nations resolution on self- determination. More than 60,000 American residents of Puerto Rico and thousands of foreigners also living on the island and naturalized as United States citizens took part as voters in the referen- dum. The referendum was organized and administered by the same colonial regime which administers the periodic elections held in Puerto Rico. In view of all the foregoing, all the Puerto Rican organiza- tions in favour of independence agreed to boycott the referendum. On 16 July 1967 they held a mass rally in San Juan to protest against it. This rally was attended by the largest crowd ever gathered together at any political meeting in Puerto Rico. 31. As part of their campaign of repudiation of the spurious referendum, the Puerto Ricans favouring independence appointed a Joint Committee which visited the United Nations in April 1967. Members of this Committee held talks with most of the repre- sentatives serving on the Special Committee and re- quested its Chairman and other members to clarify immediately the question of Puerto Rico so as to prevent the spurious referendum from becoming a fait accompli before the Special Committee examined it. As a result of this move, the Special Committee began discussion of the outstanding question of the inclusion of the case of Puerto Rico in its agenda. This discussion took place at two consecutive meetings of the Special Committee in April 1967. At the end of the second of these meetings and after four of its members had favoured the inclusion of the case of Puerto Rico and four had opposed it, the Committee agreed to postpone the discussion sine die. Since then, the Special Committee has not taken any action on the request made to it by the Government of Cuba, the Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries, and Puerto Rican patriotic organizations. IV. FALSIFICATIONS BY THE UNITED STATES AND THE TRUE STATUS OF PUERTO RICO AS A COLONY OF THE UNITED STATES 32. In order to impose on the General Assembly the adoption of resolution 748 (VIII), the United States Government shamefully misrepresented the information on the true nature of events which had taken place on the island. The resolution was adopted on the assumption that Puerto Rico had conducted a referendum in which the people had chosen a new legal status for the territory. 33. It suffices to analyse briefly the contents of the spurious referendum and the conditions under which it was held to understand that, far from constituting an expression of the right of self- determination, it was a clinical manifestation of colonialism and the negation of the most elementary national rights of the Puerto Rican people. 34. Apart from being held under full United States military occupation and in the midst of the most ferocious repression, with prisons full of patriots the so-called referendum of 1952 did not allow the voters to opt for independence. They were asked to choose only between the traditional colonial regime which had existed up to that time and a regime of so-called "disguised colonialism," namely, the same colonial regime masquerading under the false title of "commonwealth status." 35. In section II of this memorandum we have an- alysed the present situation in Puerto Rico under the so-called "commonwealth status", which is a typical case of traditional colonialism. We shall now consider how the colonial leaders themselves described the scope of United States Public Law 600 which brought into effect the already-mentioned changes in the colonial regime and the Puerto Rican Constitution of 1952. On 12 July 1949, during the hearings conducted on this question by the United States Congress, the then colonial governor of Puerto Rico stated: "In practice the Constitution will probably be very similar, following the basic lines of the Constitution now in force by action of Congress. In practice, the amount of self- government will not be different."* 36. Antonio Fernos Isern, Commissioner of Puerto Rico to the United States Congress, stated: "Public Law 600 would not alter the political, social and economic relations between Puerto Rico and the United States. It would not alter the powers of sovereignty obtained by the United States over Puerto Rico under the Treaty of Paris."* (i.e. the treaty which converted Puerto Rico into a United States colony.) 37. United States Representative, Fred L. Drawford, during the same hearings, stated quite frankly: "Everyone knows that the Federal Relations Law, as amended by Public Law 600, which deals with the matters now being negotiated, is still in force and that the people of Puerto Rico remain firmly under the supervision of Congress and under the provisions of the Federal Relations Law."* * Provisional translation31 38. On 23 June 1953, Senator O'Mahoney, Chairman of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee of the United States Senate, made the following summary of the opinions of his Committee on the so- called "modifications" introduced into the status of Puerto Rico: "The Committee has reached the conclusion that the Constitution operates within a very limited sphere. It concerns questions which relate exclusively to the local interests of the people of Puerto Rico. It deals with nothing else except the municipal government of Puerto Rico."* 39. It is not surprising therefore that the United States encountered serious difficulties in securing the adoption of General Assembly resolution 748 (VIII) by such a narrow margin of votes although in 1953 the United Nations had only half its present member- ship and at that time colonialism was still dominant in a large part of the globe. V. CONCLUSION 40. The people of Puerto Rico, like all peoples subjected to foreign domination, has an inalienable right to independence. The United Nations has promised to support all colonial peoples striving to attain self-determination and sovereignty. It has the unavoidable duty, if it wishes to respect the principles embodied in the Charter and in resolution 1514 (XV), to take all necessary steps to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico also achieve the full exercise of their national rights. 41. More than four years have passed since the Special Committee responsible for considering the implementation of resolution 1514 (XV) [explained in sections 25-29 not printed here] discussed, without reaching a final decision, the question of Puerto Rico. The struggle of the Puerto Rican people for its independence and national sovereignty continues apace. The repression unleashed by the imperialist Government of the United States and * Provisional translation the puppet authorities of Puerto Rico against the patriotic elements of the country have escalated to levels of unspeakable brutality during recent times and the Puerto Rican independence movement is again demanding the clarification of this im- portant question by the United Nations in the light of resolution 1514 (XV) of December 1960. 42. Since the Special Committee has taken no action, the General Assembly must adopt the pertinent deci- sions in accordance with the anti-colonial attitude of the majority of its Members. The Revolutionary Government of Cuba is confident that, with the support of the independent and progressive Members of the United Nations, the Organization will assist the Puerto Ricans in their struggle for complete national independence and the total and unconditional liquidation of the colonial regime which has been imposed on their territory.

Tags: Puerto Rico, colonialism, UN

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