President Raul Castro of Cuba spoke before the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the UN.
His remarks provided an overview of issues around the world that continue to concern Cuba, from climate change to Syrian conflicts.
He also spoke about Puerto Rico.
“We reaffirm our conviction that the people of Puerto Rico deserve to be free and independent,” Castro said, “after more than a century of colonial domination.”
Puerto Rico has been a possession of the United States for more than a century, and was for four centuries before that a colony of Spain. Many observers see Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States as a continuation of that colonial status, and the people of Puerto Rico voted in 2012 to end their territorial status. The continued sovereignty of the United States over Puerto Rico in a relationship they have rejected is an uncomfortable situation.
However, there is currently movement toward a final, federally-sponsored plebiscite on the relationship. The federal government has stated that, with the territorial status rejected, statehood and some variety of sovereign nationhood are the only viable options for Puerto Rico.
Independence is not a popular option in Puerto Rico, and the administration has stated repeatedly that the status of Puerto Rico should be the choice of the people of Puerto Rico. For the United States simply to declare Puerto Rico independent is therefore not an option.
President Obama did not mention Puerto Rico in his remarks, but he did speak of “the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.”