UN Committee Notes Plebiscite Results, Calls for Nationhood or Statehood Action

The United Nations committee on ‘decolonization’ Monday unanimously called upon the United States for a process to replace Puerto Rico’s territory status with U.S. statehood or nationhood, whichever may be chosen by the people of the islands.

The committee, which is charged with helping to implement a 1960 U.N. resolution on self-determination and independence, has been discussing Puerto Rico’s status since 1967 and passing annual resolutions on it since 1972.

Despite committee efforts, however, the resolutions have not advanced in the U.N.  The failure is due to U.S. opposition.

The U.S. does not recognize committee jurisdiction over Puerto Rico and does not cooperate with the committee. The U.S. considers Puerto Rico’s status to be an internal matter and does not want to answer to a committee that on Puerto Rico questions has been dominated by governments unfriendly to the U.S. and less democratic than the U.S., such as Cuba and Venezuela.

The U.S. was relieved of the responsibility of reporting to the U.N. on Puerto Rico in 1953 after the territory’s constitution was approved.  Countries generally have to report annually to the U.N. on their Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Although the constitution substantially completed the U.S. process of permitting Puerto Rico to exercise self-government on local affairs, Puerto Rico did not — and still does not — enjoy self-government at the national government level.  And its local governing authority remained — and remains — subject to the authority of Congress for the governing of the territory.

This lack of democracy was recognized by a majority of U.N. General Assembly members when the U.S. was absolved of the responsibility to report on Puerto Rico.  A majority refused to vote for a U.S. resolution — made at the request of the “commonwealth” party-dominated Government of Puerto Rico — on ending U.S. reporting. Thirty-four countries either voted against the resolution or did not vote compared with 26 that voted in favor.  U.S. officials did everything that they could to pass the resolution, even obtaining a statement from President Eisenhower and overstating the territory’s autonomy.

‘Commonwealthers’ have claimed that the end of U.S. reporting meant that Puerto Rico is no longer a territory.  And the “commonwealth” party president, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, suggested that in reaction to the committee action Monday.

But U.S. officials did not agree that Puerto Rico was not a territory even when acting to discontinue reporting to the U.N. on the islands.

And perhaps Puerto Rico’s leading official on obtaining an end to U.S. reporting, later Chief Justice Jose Trias Monge, wrote, “There was little sense of triumph among” the party leadership “after the United Nations vote and even second thoughts as to whether it had been wise.”

The decolonization committee resolution noted that the people of Puerto Rico “mostly rejected” the territory’s “current status of political subordination “ in a plebiscite held along the general elections for office last November. The vote was 54% against the current status often misleadingly called “commonwealth” and 61.2% for U.S. statehood among the alternatives, with nationhood in a non-binding association with the U.S. obtaining 33.34% and independence 5.49%.

The committee also considered Puerto Rico to be a “nation” and expressed concern about unspecified alleged “actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters.” This seems to have been a reference to insular and U.S. government actions a half a century ago and earlier.

The resolution similarly called for the U.S. Government to release from prison two Puerto Rican “political prisoners.”  The two committed other crimes in the name of Puerto Rican independence.

The Committee also stated that the U.S. Government should “return … occupied land” that it acquired from owners on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra and clean the land.  The properties were formerly  used for military training, and a major cleanup effort has been underway for years.

The Cuba-written resolution was passed immediately after the committee heard from dozens of petitioners.

Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, was the most prominent, appearing on behalf of the territory’s statehood party.  He said that Puerto Rico was still a non-self-governing territory, Puerto Ricans had voted for statehood and “the will of the people” should be “respected”. But he also said that there should be a process for obtaining statehood or nationhood.

A statement on behalf of 14 “commonwealth” party leaders was at odds with their party’s leadership.  Puerto Rico House of Representatives Member Luis Vega Ramos delivered the statement.  The group acknowledged that Puerto Rico remains a territory and called for a local status assembly if President Obama’s proposal for another referendum on the islands’ status does not become law by October 1st.

“Commonwealth” party president Governor Garcia generally — but not always — asserts that Puerto Rico is not a territory and has said that he will seek a status assembly sometime next year (vs. this October 1st) if Obama’s legislation does not pass.

Pro-statehood non-territory status choice activist Ricky Rossello and the group that represented nationhood in a non-binding association with the U.S. during the 2012 plebiscite campaign called for the U.N. General Assembly to require the U.S. to resume annual reporting on Puerto Rico.