[News] NLG - Presentation on Puerto Rico to UN Decolonization Committee

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Sat Jun 19 16:55:07 EDT 2010

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 immigrants 15 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 
observers 24 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 
Boudreau and Scott Bronstein, CNN Special 
Investigations Unit, “Island residents sue U.S., 
saying military made them sick,” CNN, February 1, 
Tim Padgett, “Toxic Chemicals at Vieques: Is U.S.
Accountable?” Time, September 16, 2009, 
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,

Law Office
N. Milwaukee
IL 60622
                                 <mailto:jsusler at aol.com>jsusler at aol.com 

behalf of the National Lawyers Guild

             1Letter to the editor, “D.C. and 
Puerto Rico have more in common than not,” 
Washington Post, May 24, 
José A. Delgado, “El 2499 no es una invitación a 
la estadidad: En una carta en The Washington 
Post, Pierluisi reafirma que las consultas no 
vinculan al Congreso con sus resultados,” El Nuevo Día, May 24, 2010,
“Intenso cabildeo mediático en EU a favor y en 
contra del proyecto de status: La campaZa 
mediática sobre la aprobación del proyecto H.R. 
2499 mantiene una agresiva presencia en los 
medios estadounidenses,” CyberNews Puerto Rico, April 28, 2010,
             2See, e.g., Inter News Service, 
“PRFAA ha gastado $2.8 millones en cabilderos, 
denuncia Vega Ramos,” Primera Hora, May 23, 2010,
             3H.R. 2499, 
             4Editorial, “Otra charada 
congresional,” El Nuevo Día, May 24, 2010, 
             5As we have pointed out in previous 
presentations to this Committee, the Bush 
administration, in its reports from the U.S. 
President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status, 
virtually acknowledges that Puerto Rico remains a 
juridical colony, and is evidence of the need for 
the General Assembly to consider the case of 
Puerto Rico. The reports reveal that, regardless 
of what the U.S. said in its 1953 report to the 
United Nations in order to remove Puerto Rico 
from the list of non-self-governing territories, 
Puerto Rico remains a non-self-governing 
territory, subject to U.S. Congress’ plenary 
authority under the Territory Clause. [Report by 
the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's 
Status, December 2007, at pp. 5-6, 
Report by the President's Task Force on Puerto 
Rico's Status, December 2005, at pp. 5-6.] Under 
this power, the report says, Congress could even 
cede Puerto Rico to another nation.[Report by the 
President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status, 
December 2005, at p. 6, 
             6José A. Delgado, “Relegados los 
políticos: El comité interagencial de la Casa 
Blanca dará prioridad a la economía y a escuchar 
las voces del pueblo,” El Nuevo Día, March 2, 2010,
José A. Delgado, “Borrón y cuenta nueva: Casa 
Blanca reexaminará todo lo relacionado con el 
status,” El Nuevo Día, March 4, 2010, 
             7Ponencia del secretario de Justicia 
Tom Perrelli, copresidente del grupo de trabajo 
del presidente sobre el estatus de Puerto Rico, Primera Hora, March 3, 2010,
Yennifer Álvarez Jaimes, “‘Task Force’ de Casa 
Blanca asegura informe ‘neutral’,” Vocero, March 3, 2010,
Associate Attorney General Remarks On Puerto Rico 
Task Force, PR Newswire, May 25, 2010,

             8Frances Rosario, “‘Viven en los 
cuernos de Valencia’: Gran malestar de 
políticos,” El Nuevo Día, March 4, 2010, 
             9José A. Delgado, “Pierluisi no 
espera grandes cosas de la Casa Blanca: Piensa 
que seguirán la política de “neutralidad” en el 
tema del status,” El Nuevo Día, May 26, 2010
             10Juan A. Ocasio Rivera, “Explosions 
of Unrest Mark Puerto Rico's Economic Crisis,” 
NACLA, November 18, 2009, https://nacla.org/node/6254.
             11Editorial, “Dardos marcados al 
Tribunal Supremo,” El Nuevo Día, March 14, 2010,
Efrén Rivera Ramos, “La UPR y el Tribunal 
Supremo, El Nuevo Día, March 17, 2010, reproduced at
             12Editorial, “El Colegio debe ser 
preservado,” El Nuevo Día, March 2, 2009, 
Addressing legislation which would gut the Bar 
Association by converting it from a mandatory 
organization to a voluntary organization, in 
great part in order to wrest control from 
independentista leadership, the editorial begins: 
“The legislative majority’s assault on an 
institution whose voice and action have been 
clearly and potently raised for the past 169 
years in defense of the voiceless, is suffering a 
dangerous precedent that warrants the Country’s 
deepest rejection.” (translated from the original Spanish).
             13Manuel de J. González, “Una ley 
para privatizarlo todo,” Claridad, May 21-27, 
             14Cynthia López Cabán, “Están 
estrangulando al ICP”: Junta de Directores se 
reúne hoy para evaluar candidatos,” El Nuevo Día, 
February 26, 
“Escuela de Artes Plásticas decreta paro de 24 
horas,” Diálogo Digital, September 29, 2009,

             15Mike Melia, AP, “Puerto Rico 
accused of violating squatters' rights,” Washington Post,
April 28, 2010, 
             16 Limarys Suárez Torres, “Circuito 
de Apelaciones falla contra el Fideicomiso del 
CaZo Martín PeZa: Avaló la incautación de 
terrenos por parte del Gobierno,” El Nuevo Día, April 29, 2010,
             17José A. Delgado, “Detrás del dólar 
boricua: El gobierno boricua es el rey del 
cabildeo en Washington D.C.,” El Nuevo Día, 
September 18, 2009, 
             18Eric Dash, “F.D.I.C. Brokers the 
Sale of 3 Banks,” New York Times, April 30, 2010,
Marian Díaz, “Vuelve a dispararse la tasa de 
desempleo: Subió a 16.2%, la más alta en 17 aZos 
para el mes de marzo, El Nuevo Día, April 20, 2010,
             19“National Lawyers Guild initiates 
campaign to raise awareness of the attack on the 
Puerto Rican Bar Association,” April 6, 2010, 
http://www.nlginternational.org/news/article.php?nid=296 .
             20Inter News Service, “Abogados de 
EE.UU. consideran acto de “represalia” 
eliminación de colegiación en la Isla,” Primera Hora, March 29, 2010,
(“‘The attack on the Bar Association is 
unprecedented. In the United States, 36 states 
have compulsory membership and there has never 
been an attempt to dismantle a single one,’ said 
Dr. Jeanne Mirer, chair of the International 
Committee of the NLG and president of the 
International Association of Democratic Lawyers. 
‘I can’t imagine this happening in the states... 
if there was ever an attempt to eliminate a bar 
association for having taken political positions, 
it would result in total indignation by even the 
most right wing members of the association,’ 
commented Susan Scott, co-chair of the International Committee of the NLG.”).
             21Damien Cave, “Puerto Rico Unions 
Protest Job Cuts,” New York Times,
October 16, 2009, 
Firuzeh Shokooh Valle, “Puerto Rico: Reflections 
on the National Strike,” October 16, 2009,
Yarimar Bonilla and Rafael A. Boglio Martínez, 
“Puerto Rico in Crisis: Government Workers Battle 
Neoliberal Reform,” NACLA - North American Congress on Latin America,
January 2010, https://nacla.org/node/6341, 
https://nacla.org/files/A04301008_1.pdf (full 
article); Néstor Rosa- Marbrell, “Sindicalistas 
boricuas proclaman éxito de paro nacional,” Prensa Latina, May 18, 2010,
Vanesa Baerga, “Estudiantes de Artes Plásticas 
acampan indefinidamente hasta lograr acuerdos justos,” Claridad, June 3, 2010,
             22Omaya Sosa-Pascual and Emma Graves 
Fitzsimmons, “Student Protests Tie Up Campuses in 
Puerto Rico,” New York Times, May 20, 2010, 
Amy Goodman, “Student Strike at University of 
Puerto Rico Enters 28th Day,” Democracy Now,
May 17, 2010, 
             23Inter News Service, “Cátedra 
UNESCO pide estar alerta ante posible regreso de 
"época de escarmientos" por huelga estudiantil,” 
Primera Hora, June 4, 2010, 
Amnesty International Public Statement, “Puerto 
Rico: Amnesty International calls for police 
restraint as student strike continues,” June 2, 
2010 AI Index: AMR 47/001/2010.
              24Mady Pacheco, “Moretones, 
mentiras y esteroides,” El Nuevo Día, June 15, 2010,
              25Ricardo Cortés Chico, “Pateada a 
estudiante por un oficial de alto rango: Oficial 
niega el incidente, pero luego lo admite,” El Nuevo Día, May 22, 2010,
Benjamín Torres Gotay, “Un grave error de cálculo 
de la administración: El Gobierno subestimó de 
mala manera la capacidad de los estudiantes, El Nuevo Día, May 16, 2010,

             26Officers’ revelations on Facebook, 
including comments such as, “I finally clubbed 
somebody today, I hope things get crazy so I can 
empty out my rifle," quickly became unavailable 
on Facebook, once the public got wind of them. 
Bloggers downloads rescued them for posterity. 
See, e.g., http://postpomonuyorican.blogspot.com/.
             27“Figueroa Sancha defends police 
actions in hotel clash,” Puerto Rico Daily Sun, 
May 22, 2010, 
(expressing doubts about the authenticity of the 
Facebook comments and stating, “You always 
misinterpret. Policemen avoided further violence. 
That is why I call them heroes.”); Ricardo Cortés 
Chico, “Respaldo a su mano derecha: Figueroa 
Sancha asegura que van a investigar,” El Nuevo 
Día, May 25, 2010, 
             28Jesús Dávila, “Puerto Rico: 
Victoria estudiantil afecta credibilidad del 
gobierno,” NCM, June 17, 2010, 
Damien Cave, “Students Gain After Strike in 
Puerto Rico,” New York Times, June 17, 2010, 
             29José A. Delgado, “Liberaran a 
preso político boricua: Carlos Alberto Torres 
saldrá en julio tras 30 aZos en prisión,” El 
Nuevo Día, May 21, 
Cándida Cotto, “Sigue hostigamiento contra Carlos 
Alberto y Avelino,” Claridad, January 13, 
José A. Delgado, “Momento crucial para preso 
político boricua: Junta federal decidirá el caso 
de Carlos A. Torres,” El Nuevo Día, February 17, 2010,
             30Federal Bureau of Prisons, Inmate 
             31Alaine Griffin, “Machetero Gets 7 
Years For 1983 Wells Fargo Robbery,” Hartford 
Courant, May 26, 2010, 
mailto:agriffin at courant.comhttp://articles.courant.com/2010-05-26/news/hc-wells-fargo-heist-0527-20100526_1_support-leftist-insurgencies-los-macheteros-wells-fargo-robbery.
             32Jeff Franks and Rosa Tania Valdes, 
“Cuban political prisoners moved closer to home,” 
Reuters, June 1 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6506RB20100602.
             33Associated Press, “Inicia 
reubicación de reos políticos cubanos: La gestión 
de la Iglesia Católica con Raúl Castro comienza a 
rendir frutos,” El Nuevo Día, June 2, 2010,
             34EFE. “U.S. Demands Cuba Release 
Political Prisoners,” Latin American Herald Tribune, June 4, 2010,
Associated Press, “US, human rights leader call 
for freedom for Cuban political prisoners,” Fox News, June 02, 2010,

             35“Federal Agency to Change its 
Early Conclusions on Environmental Assessment in 
Vieques: Geographic Location: --Vieques, Puerto Rico,” November 13, 2009,
Mireya Navarro, “Navy’s Vieques Training May Be 
Tied to Health Risks,” New York Times, November 14, 2009,
José A. Delgado, “Vieques, en la botica de 
salud,” El Nuevo Día, November 12, 2009, 

             36U.S. Environmental Protection 
Agency, Region 2 Superfund, Vieques 
Island/Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area, 
Arturo Massol Deyá, “La tragicolonia de Vieques,” El Nuevo Día, March 23, 2010,
              37José A. Delgado, "’No’ a los 
viequenses,” El Nuevo Día, April 13, 2010, 

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