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  • Protester wrapped in Puerto Rican flag.

    Protester wrapped in Puerto Rican flag. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 July 2017
For the Venezuelan diplomat independence is an inherent right, it’s a right that all people have.

Rafael Ramirez-Carreño, Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the U.N. and current president of the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization led a session dedicated to the colonial status of Puerto Rico last week, and here expands on the topic.

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"Within Bolivar's plans and writings was the liberation of Puerto Rico. He didn’t get to do it, he died before. Cuba and Puerto Rico were still Spanish colonies, and it was always in our thoughts to extend freedom to all former Spanish colonies. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico, as one petitioner said, became a booty of war for the United States after the war with Spain, a war provoked to take possession of the territory. (Puerto Rico) is an issue that is unfinished for Latin Americans. For Venezuelans, in particular, this is part of our foreign policy, to fight for independence, for the sovereignty of countries. It’s the same position we have in favor of Palestine, it’s the same position we have in favor of Western Sahara, which is occupied by Morocco," Ramirez-Carreño said.

But he added, "If Bolivar had made a referendum 200 years ago, we would have lost. We would have lost because people and societies get used to being under occupation."

Ramirez-Carreño, who was an engineer before becoming a diplomat at the United Nations, served as Vice-President for Political Sovereignty, Minister of Foreign Affairs, President of Petroleos de Venezuela and Minister of Petroleum and Mining. He admitted that his country's position as being in favor of decolonization is not well received by some sectors.

"Sometimes it leads to confrontation with the colonizing powers, but it is our political position, and we prefer confrontation than remaining silent by the reality of a country and a people asking for their independence," he asserted.

Although commonly referred to as the Committee of 24 or Special Committee on Decolonization, its full name is the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It was established in 1961 with 17 members and now has 29 members, most of them countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia that were once colonies themselves.

As has been the norm for the last decade, on June 19 of this year, the committee approved another resolution reaffirming Puerto Rico's right to self-determination and independence.

For the Venezuelan diplomat independence is an inherent right, it’s a right that all people have. If as an independent country, a people choose to have any kind of association agreement with the United States or with the colonizing power in question, that is another issue. "Independence is not negotiable, either it is or it is not. You can reach a free trade agreement, you can do what you like, but independence for me is a principle."

"I allow myself to speak for your people (Puerto Ricans), in a matter that concerns you, but that involves all of us. When you find a country that has so many cultural, historical, religious, and language differences with the power that is occupying it, obviously, independence needs to happen," he stated.

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Currently there are 17 territories in the United Nations list of colonial territories: Western Sahara (the territory with the largest population and geographical extent of the list, and considered as the last colony in Africa), the Malvinas Islands, several Caribbean islands such as the American Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Bermuda, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, and other territories such as Gibraltar, French Polynesia, American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, St. Helena and Tokelau.

Although Ramirez-Carreño acknowledged that this official list is missing the colonial territories that the colonial powers take for granted, for example, French Guyana and, as said, Puerto Rico.

"Independence is an inalienable right of peoples, self-determination is an inalienable right. That's our position, and we work for that. We have nothing to gain, it’s something that we do for no interest of any kind, but as a position of principle. And I think that everywhere in the planet and in the countries, there is a greater need to fight for principles. And this is one of them," he said.

The annexationist movement in Puerto Rico affirms that the island´s annexation to the United States is a decolonizing solution to the current political status of the Commonwealth. They state that annexation would offer Puerto Ricans equal treatment with the rest of the U.S. citizens. Under the current political status, Puerto Rican citizenship is not internationally recognized. When you are born in Puerto Rico you automatically become a U.S. citizen. This comes from the 1917 Jones Act, at the height of World War I, which extended US.. citizenship to people born in Puerto Rico.

The original claim for the inclusion of Puerto Rico on the agenda of the Special Committee on Decolonization was an issue solely of the pro-independence movement, but in recent years, as more people have become disenchanted with the current political status, new voices have also participated in the annual hearings on Puerto Rico, mainly those advocating for a free association agreement with the United States and annexation supporters.

This year, for example, among the 60 petitioners, most of whom advocated for independence, there also was the current Secretary of State of Puerto Rico Luis Rivera-Marin, representing the current, pro-annexation government. In his presentation, he demanded the committee not adopt a pro-independence resolution, but support annexation as the way to end colonialism in Puerto Rico. He supported his claim with the results of the last two plebiscites, in 2012 and 2017 whose results are a subject of controversy due to record low turnout.

Ramirez-Carreño clarified that the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV), known as the Main Charter of Decolonization, and by which Puerto Rico's claim was accepted by the committee by including the phrase “all other territories which have not yet attained independence,” refers only to independence, since it is also called "Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples."

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Generally, the U.N. Decolonization Committee is not a forum that organizations that promote the annexation of colonized territories to the colonizing power attend. On the contrary, the movements or organizations that ask for the intervention of this committee do so because they aspire to belong to a forum of sovereign nations.

More than a year has passed since the last hearing dedicated to Puerto Rico in the Committee on Decolonization, in which a resolution recognizing Puerto Rico's right to self-determination and independence was approved with the consensus of all members, as well as a formal request to the government of the United States for the release of former Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera.

According to the Venezuelan diplomat, they haven’t had any U.S. collaboration since then. At the end of 2016, it seemed to Ramirez-Carreño that the former U.S. administration didn’t want the issue of Puerto Rico to affect the election campaign. Then, they were on their way out. And since the new U.S. administration took over, U.S. officials at the United Nations have changed and they haven’t yet met with the committee.

"Everyone in the U.S. foreign service here has changed and we don’t have anybody to talk about this issue yet. But we have the two latest resolutions and we will insist on this issue. We will continue to pressure the United States," he said.

What was positively answered was the request for the release of Lopez Rivera. "I met with former U.S. ambassador (to the U.N.) Samantha Powell and we described to her how important it was for us and how unfair it was to have a man imprisoned for his ideas during 35 years and how that in some way represents a feeling that exists in Puerto Rico that there shouldn’t be more Puerto Ricans imprisoned for their political ideas." Lopez Rivera was granted a last-minute pardon by U. S. President, Barack Obama before he left office in January.

On May 31, 2017, the Venezuelan diplomat was elected as chair of the Fourth Commission of the United Nations, which is a higher level group than that of the Special Committee on Decolonization and a way to promote that the case of Puerto Rico and any other colonial territory is included in the agenda of the General Assembly. The Fourth Commission is dealing with issues such as decolonization, Palestinian refugees and human rights, peacekeeping, mine action, outer information, ionizing radiation and the University for Peace.

In order for Puerto Rico to be included in the list of colonial territories, the U.N. General Assembly would have to recognize its political status as colonial. The organization still considers Puerto Rico to be a self-governing territory, as was declared in 1953 after an official petition by the U.S. government, despite the fact that the Decolonization Committee's annual resolutions have consistently proven otherwise.

"(From the Fourth Committee) we would ask the General Assembly to get involved again in the issue (of Puerto Rico) and that would be a step forward," he said.

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