The Colonial Case of Puerto Rico


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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