[News] NLG Presentation to the UN Decolonization Comm Hearings on Puerto Rico

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sun Jun 19 18:03:09 EDT 2011

National Lawyers Guild International Committee 
Presentation to the United Nations Decolonization 
Committee Hearings on Puerto Rico June 20, 2011

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, with international 
work 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, Haiti, Palestine, Iran, Puerto Rico, 
and other nations. Guild members, including 
myself, have a long history of defending 
activists in the Puerto Rican independence movement.

I. Status

The Obama administration has joined the ranks of 
successive U.S. administrations which ignore the 
provisions of international law which this 
Honorable Committee has year after year 
conscientiously applied to the colonial case of 
Puerto Rico. In March of this year, the U.S. 
President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status ­ 
of which there is not a single Puerto Rican 
member ­ issued a report with recommendations 
proposing methods for purportedly resolving the 
status question, acknowledging that “status 
remains of overwhelming importance to the people 
of Puerto Rico,” but nowhere expressly 
acknowledging the colonial status or the 
application of international law. The report 
suggests convening a plebiscite process, polling 
the people of Puerto Rico regarding available 
status options of statehood, independence, free 
association and commonwealth. However, there is a 
significant potential for the elimination of the 
independence option. Although more than half the 
population lives in the United States, the Task 
Force suggests that “only residents of Puerto 
Rico should be eligible to vote in any 
plebiscite.” The report, moreover, does 
acknowledge that it is the U.S. Congress that 
will ultimately determine the resolution of the status.

The report also addresses multiple insertions of 
increasing U.S. programs into Puerto Rico, from 
the economy to education to labor, from health 
care to the environment to law enforcement, in a 
barely veiled attempt to increase the nation’s dependency on the United States.

Last week, President Obama made a four-hour stop 
in Puerto Rico, the first U.S. president in 50 
years to visit the island nation. He encountered 
mass demonstrations comprised of diverse groups, 
with placards and banners reading “Obama, Go 
Home!” and calling for an end to U.S. colonial 
control, independence, and the release of the 
Puerto Rican political prisoners, particularly 
Oscar López Rivera. “Obama can’t talk about 
freedom while he has Oscar and the others in 
prison,” was a theme echoed by the people.

While the White House claimed that the trip was 
related to furthering the goals of the Task 
Force, the visit was seen as a transparent 
attempt to woo the many Puerto Rican voters who 
now reside in the U.S., including in the hotly 
contested state of Florida in the upcoming 2012 
U.S. presidential election, as the people of 
Puerto Rico cannot vote for president. More than 
half of Mr. Obama’s time on the island was spent 
raising over $1 million for his re-election 
campaign. It was clear to the Puerto Rican people 
that “neither Obama nor his recent predecessors 
recognize that the Puerto Rican political case is a colonial problem.”

II. The Ongoing Crisis of Colonialism

The economy of the colony, one of the few 
economies in the world with negative growth, and 
among slowest growing in the world, cannot support the population.

Unemployment is at its highest in two decades, 
higher than any state in the U.S. There is an 
unprecedented exodus, being called “a brain 
drain,” leading to the startling statistic that 
now more than half the Puerto Rican population 
lives outside the island, and the vicious cycle 
of difficulty in building an economy when much 
talent is seduced away by the lack of job 
opportunities on the island and the perception of 
increased job opportunities in the U.S.

With lack of control over its own borders, Puerto 
Rico has been unable to stem the unstaunched flow 
of drugs, which has led to a second, underground 
economy and related crime, as well as a 
staggering murder rate: as of June 9, there had 
been 491 murders this year alone; if the murder 
rate continues, there will be 1,000 murders this 
year, making it the most deadly in Puerto Rico’s history.

In this context, in the past year, the human 
rights crisis on the island has burgeoned. The 
superintendent of Police, a former U.S. agent of 
the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], has 
overseen and applauded the unending wave of 
violent attacks on people protesting the policies 
of the colonial administration, particularly on 
striking students at the University of Puerto Rico.

Police violence has attracted the attention and 
condemnation of Amnesty International in London, 
and even the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating.

The colonial administration has taken measures to 
ensure that the courts of the colony are hostile 
to anything but the administration’s partisan 
line, leaving most litigants without an impartial 
judicial forum in which to challenge such human rights violations.

The colonial administration packed the Supreme 
Court, increasing the number of justices from 
seven to nine, in a transparently partisan 
effort, accelerating the nomination and 
confirmation process. The expansion, which 
supposedly responded to the court’s workload, was 
largely seen an excuse and has been criticized as 
unnecessary and a power grab by the governor’s 
pro-statehood party, with the criteria for 
appointment favoring strong pro-statehood 
credentials over legal and judicial experience. 
The court-packing was only one part of a broader 
plan, which included legislation to gut the 
judicial appellate process, fast-tracking appeals 
directly to the partisan higher court, often 
bypassing the intermediate appellate courts.

The U.S. federal court in Puerto Rico has been a 
full partner in ratifying the rampant violations 
of human rights, with the case against the Puerto 
Rico Bar Association as a foremost example, where 
the court blatantly assisted disaffected 
pro-statehood partisans’ attempts to not only 
dismantle the venerable institution, but to try 
to seize the building which serves as its 
headquarters as well as a cultural center, and in 
the course of which the federal court held in 
contempt and jailed the president for educating 
his constituency about the lawsuit.

The public university system has been taken over 
by partisan politics. The colonial administration 
expanded the board of trustees with four 
fast-tracked appointees and named a commission to 
restructure the university with members openly 
hostile to its existence. The administration has 
also imposed tuition hikes and curricular changes 
which undermine university autonomy and the role 
of the university as a forum for open discussion 
of issues of concern to the people of Puerto Rico.

The labor movement continues to be under attack 
by the colonial administration’s adoption of 
anti-labor measures, never having redressed the 
dismissal of some 30,000 public workers, the 
abrogation of collective bargaining agreements in 
the public sector, or the creation of 
“public-private alliances” as part of the 
privatization of essential public services, with 
the resultant hardship for workers in Puerto 
Rico. Labor union protests of these draconian 
measures have been met with indifference in some 
instances and with violent repression at other times.

The history of criminalizing the independence 
movement continues unabated. The head of the FBI 
office in San Juan was recently promoted to an 
administrative position in FBI headquarters, a 
move attributed to the “disarticulation” during 
his watch of the clandestine pro-independence 
group The Macheteros, including the 2005 
assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, the 2008 
arrest of alleged Machetero Avelino González 
Claudio, and the 2011 arrest of alleged Machetero Norberto González Claudio.

III. Political Prisoners

This year has been historically significant for 
Puerto Rico’s political prisoners held in United 
States prisons. The sole remaining political 
prisoner of the group arrested in the 1980's is 
Oscar López Rivera, who has the unenviable 
distinction of having served 30 years in prison, 
despite the fact that he was not convicted of 
harming anyone or taking a life. López, 68 years 
old, and serving a sentence of 70 years, has a 
release date of 2023. In a politically punitive move,
the U.S. Parole Commission recently refused his 
parole bid, erroneously asserting that his 
release would promote disrespect for the law. The 
decision ignored the express will of the Puerto 
Rican people and those who believe in justice and 
human rights, counting tens of thousands of 
voices across the political spectrum who have 
uniformly supported his immediate release. The 
Commission ignored the evidence establishing that 
he met all the criteria for parole and also 
ignored its own rules in the process. Among these 
many ignored voices are this venerable body, 
members of the United States Congress and many 
state legislatures of the various states; the 
city councils and county boards of many locales 
in the U.S. and Puerto Rico; the mayors of many 
towns in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, including the 
Association of Mayors of Puerto Rico; bar 
associations including the Puerto Rico Bar 
Association, the National Lawyers Guild and the 
American Association of Jurists; clergy and 
religious organizations, including the Ecumenical 
Coalition representing every religious 
denomination in Puerto Rico; the National Latino 
Congreso, human rights advocates, academics, 
students, artists, community organizations, and workers.

The Commission also flouted President Clinton’s 
1999 determination that Oscar’s sentence was 
disproportionately lengthy and that he should be 
released in September of 2009. The Commission 
ignored the fact that Oscar’s co-defendants 
released as a result of the 1999 Clinton clemency 
are productive, law-abiding citizens, fully 
integrated into civil society. Finally, the 
Commission ignored its own July 2010 order to 
release Oscar’s last remaining imprisoned co-defendant Carlos Alberto Torres.

Avelino González Claudio, a 68 year old man with 
Parkinson’s Disease, has served 3 years of his 7 
year prison sentence and is scheduled for release 
in 2012. His brother, Norberto González Claudio, 
65, was apprehended last month after 25 years in 
clandestinity. He awaits trial in federal court 
in Connecticut, facing 275 years for the same 
charges as his brother and many former political 
prisoners, accused of belonging to the Ejército 
Boricua Popular – Macheteros, a pro-independence 
clandestine force which expropriated over $7 
million from a Wells Fargo Depot in 1983, the 
proceeds to finance their struggle for independence.

They remain strong in spirit, their commitment to 
the independence of their nation undaunted, in 
spite of adversity, particularly buoyed by the 
mass demonstrations of support for their release 
during the U.S. president’s recent visit to the island.

IV. Environment

Two examples suffice to demonstrate the need for 
self-determination. The island of Vieques, a U.S. 
Superfund site, has been shamefully left to 
abandon after 60 years of military occupation 
polluted its land, air and water and consequently 
gravely damaged the health of the people and 
their economy. Yet in the face of this shameful 
abandon, the U.S. makes promises it does not 
fulfill and suggestions without remedial action.

A $450 million 92 mile gas pipeline, which the 
colonial administration euphemistically calls 
“the Green Way,” is another pending environmental 
disaster, to run across the island, threatening 
the safety and health of the people and the 
environment along the entire path, without public 
participation, in violation of all the rules, and 
replete with allegations of corruption. The 
project has generated massive public opposition. 
The role of United States agencies is suspect.

V. 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 brutality, 
criminalization and harassment of, and attacks 
on, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the 
students, and all those who exercise their 
fundamental rights to expression and association;
    * immediately release Puerto Rican political 
prisoners: Oscar López Rivera, who has served 
more than 30 years in U.S. custody, and Avelino 
González Claudio and Norberto González Claudio;
    * identify and hold criminally liable all 
those responsible for the assassination of 
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos (2005), Santiago Mari 
Pesquera (1976), Carlos Muñiz 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 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 20, 2011 Respectfully submitted,
Jan Susler People’s Law Office
1180 N. Milwaukee Chicago, IL 60622

<mailto:jsusler at aol.com>jsusler at aol.com

On behalf of the National Lawyers Guild International Committee

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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