Nat’l. Lawyers Guild Paper on Puerto Rico to be Presented at UN Decolonization Comm. Hearings on June 21

Posted on June 19, 2010


NLG Int’l Committee on Puerto Rico at UN Decolonization Committee

Subject: Puerto Rico: NLG IC presentation at UN Decolonization Committee hearings

Here’s the paper the NLG IC will be presenting at the UN Decolonization Committee hearings on the status of Puerto Rico on June 21.


National Lawyers Guild International Committee
Presentation to the United Nations Decolonization Committee
Hearings on Puerto Rico

June 21, 2010

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color. The National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. With headquarters in New York, it has chapters in every state. From its founding, the National Lawyers Guild has maintained an internationalist perspective, and international work has been a critical focus for the Guild. Its International Committee has organized delegations to many countries throughout the world, and Guild members are involved in international organizations, such as the International Association for Democratic Lawyers and the American Association of Jurists. Presently, active subcommittees exist for Cuba, the Middle East, Korea, and the United Nations. Guild members, including myself, have a long history of defending activists in the Puerto Rican independence movement.

I. Status

A. U.S. Congress

Both houses of the United States Ccongress recently considered legislation proposed by Puerto Rico’s non-voting resident commissioner, allegedly addressing the colonial status of Puerto Rico. While its proponent publicly asserted that the bill was not an invitation to Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the union, the bill was widely seen as one promoting that very result.1 The bill, which earned lobbyists millions of dollars,2 called for allowing plebiscites in Puerto Rico, the results of which would not be binding on U.S. Congress.3 The island’s main daily newspaper�” known for its conservative position on the status question�” in an editorial denounced the “arrogant” behavior of the members of the House and Senate, and called the process “an insensitive charade,” and “another exercise in futility that continues to lacerate the self-esteem and collective spirit of the Puerto Rican people as a result of its political controversy.”4

The congressional process does not begin to approach compliance with the resolutions of this august Committee, which call upon the government of the U.S. to assume its responsibility to expedite a process that will allow the Puerto Rican people fully to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).

B. White House

There is no ministry or any formal office of the U.S. government charged with responsibility for administering the colony. However, in 2000, a President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico was created,5 which this year held two poorly attended sessions to listen to testimony from witnesses recommended by the electoral parties.6 Task Force representatives, who asserted their report would be “neutral” on the status question,7 were perceived as either lacking interest or ignorant, even by prominent supporters of statehood.8 A report is due in October, though expectations are generally low.9

II. Colonial administration continues to threaten the future of the nation

Many of the specters of disaster augured in our last report to this Committee have unfortunately come to pass�” evidence that the continuing colonial relationship is in dire need of a just solution. The pro-statehood administration on the island has laid off some 20,000 government employees, applying “Law No. 7,” which gave them emergency powers to effect fiscal measures;10 packed the Puerto Rico Supreme Court with loyal pro-statehood party members;11 attempted to do away with the Puerto Rico Bar Association, the oldest professional organization in Puerto Rico;12 threatened to privatize the government assets that remain in the public domain, including the vast system of higher education;13 slashed the budget of every cultural institution which preserves and promulgates the dynamic culture of the Puerto Rican people;14 moved against a squatter community of Dominican immigrants15 and against a longstanding, well-organized community of descendants of displaced workers,16 all the while squandering exorbitant amounts of public money lobbying U.S. Congress in efforts to influence annexationist legislation.

17 All this in the context of collapsing banks and the highest unemployment rate in years.18

In response to these crises, a delegation of our International Committee went to Puerto Rico to conduct an onsite investigation of the Puerto Rican government’s policies aimed at individuals who promote and defend fundamental human rights,19 and emerged with a plan to coordinate with the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the American Association of Jurists to denounce the retrograde laws, support the Puerto Rico Bar Association, and, inter alia, file amicus briefs in the cases involving Vieques and the CaZo Martín PeZa squatter community.20

Resistance to these violations of human rights has continued to grow on the island, with work and student stoppages and day-long general strikes which enjoyed wide participation by labor and every sector of society.21 Recently, university students are leading the fore, in a two month long non-confrontational strike, supported by parents, professors, university workers, unions, religious organizations, indeed by the whole of civil society.22 There was widespread concern for the safety and well-being of the student leaders, both during the strike and once the strike comes to an end,23 as riot police have not only assaulted the students, their parents, legal observers24 and journalists;25 but police have publicly stated their desire to commit violence,26 and their police chief, a former FBI agent, has expressed his unwavering support for his troops.27 Hopefully, the recent court-ordered negotiated settlement, in which the students emerged victorious,28 will avert the anticipated police violence.

III. Political prisoners

This year has been historically significant for Puerto Rico’s political prisoners held in United States prisons. Carlos Alberto Torres marked 30 years of prison, for his struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico, becoming the longest held political prisoner in the history of that nation. After a campaign including over 10,000 letters of support to the U.S. Parole Commission, he will be released on parole next month, in spite of persistent efforts by the Bureau of Prisons to sabotage his parole.29

Oscar López Rivera this year marked 29 years in prison. López, 67 years old, and serving a sentence of 70 years, has a release date of 2023.30 Avelino González Claudio, also 67 years old, was just sentenced to a prison term of seven years, in spite of his advanced Parkinson’s Disease.31

The harshness of the conditions under which they are held may be exemplified by Mr. López’ recent experience, when his older sister suffered a series of heart attacks and was near death in intensive care. Even though the family offered to pay for his travel as well as the expenses for staff who would accompany him, prison officials rejected out of hand the request that he be permitted to visit her bedside, focusing on the extraordinary length of his sentence, the years remaining to be served, and the political nature of the charges. The denial was dated one week before the 29th anniversary of his arrest. Not only did the warden deny the furlough request, but he even refused to allow López to purchase telephone minutes in addition to the allotted 300 minutes per month, so that he could at least stay in touch with the family.

Coincidentally, these denials came at precisely the same time that the Cuban government�” reviled by the United States for allegedly violating the human rights of those in its custody�” followed up on its promise to move Cuban dissidents closer to their families,32 though their sentences are only a fraction of those being served by Oscar and his compatriot Carlos Alberto Torres in U.S. prisons.33 Not surprisingly, the move did not satisfy the U.S. government, whose State Department spokesperson said, “We hope that the prisoners of conscience will be unconditionally set free and in the very near future.”34 It seems that the U.S. is too busy meddling in the internal affairs of other sovereign nations, and insisting on the release of “prisoners of conscience,” to tend to the human rights of its own political prisoners and comply with the international law and this Committee’s resolutions applying it.

The political prisoners remain strong in spirit, their commitment to the independence of their nation undaunted, in spite of adversity.

IV. Vieques

Puerto Rican scientists successfully unmasked the junk science relied upon by U.S. government agencies which falsely put forth that the people of Vieques suffered no adverse consequences from the dangerous toxic aftermath of decades of occupation by the U.S. Navy.35 However, the U.S. has still not taken responsibility for the clean-up, and Vieques remains on the Super Fund list.36; Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein, CNN Special Investigations Unit, “Island residents sue U.S., saying military made them sick,” CNN, February 1, 2010,; Tim Padgett, “Toxic Chemicals at Vieques: Is U.S. Accountable?” Time, September 16, 2009,,8599,1924101,00.html. Recently, the U.S. court in Puerto Rico dismissed the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the people of Vieques, finding that the U.S. government was immune from suit.37 An appeal is pending.

VII. Conclusion

The National Lawyers Guild International Committee, incorporating the requests sought by other presenters before this Honorable Committee, urges the adoption of a resolution calling for the General Assembly to consider the case of Puerto Rico; and calling on the government of the United States to:

* immediately cease the criminalization and harassment of, and attacks on, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement;

* immediately release Puerto Rican political prisoners: Carlos Alberto Torres, who has served more than 30 years in U.S. custody; Oscar López Rivera, who has served more than 29 years in U.S. custody, and Avelino González Claudio;

* identify and hold criminally liable all those responsible for the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos (2005), Santiago Mari Pesquera (1976), Carlos MuZiz Varela (1979), and other militants of the Puerto Rican independence movement;

* withdraw the FBI, the U.S. court, and all other U.S. police, repressive and military forces from Puerto Rico;

* withdraw from Vieques, formally return legal property of the land to the people of Vieques, cease detonating unexploded ordnance, completely clean up the pollution left by the U.S. Navy’s 60 year occupation through the use of proven, environmentally friendly clean-up methods, and compensate the people of Vieques for the damage to their health done to them by the same;

* cease and desist from the application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico;

* ensure that striking students are not harmed or penalized for their courageous struggle to maintain the right to quality public higher education;

* formally commit to negotiate in good faith with the people of Puerto Rico a solution to the colonial condition; and recognize the proposals that emanate from a Constitutional Assembly, initiated by the people of Puerto Rico, such as that called for by the Puerto Rico Bar Association, as the true expression of the aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico, and respond to them accordingly.

Dated: June 21, 2010 Respectfully submitted,

Jan Susler
People’s Law Office
1180 N. Milwaukee
Chicago, IL 60622

[ e-mail address deleted ]

On behalf of the National Lawyers Guild
International Committee

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