The Non-Aligned Movement has reaffirmed and underscored the validity and relevance of its principled positions concerning the right to self-determination of peoples under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination. Through successive summits and ministerial declarations since the Movement’s inception, NAM leaders stressed the fundamental and inalienable right of all peoples, including all non-self governing territories, as well as those territories under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination to self- determination, the exercise of which, in the case of peoples under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination, remains valid and essential to ensure the eradication of all these situations and to guarantee universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In compliance with these principles, the Non-Aligned Movement has reaffirmed the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence. Puerto Rico is a subtropical Caribbean territory which is urbanised, industrialized and relatively prosperous. United States won control of Puerto Rico in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. It granted citizenship to the island’s residents in 1917—which conveniently allowed 20,000 of them to be drafted into service in the First World War the following year.
Although boricuas, as Puerto Ricans call themselves in homage to the indigenous name for the territory, set up their own government in 1952, their legal relationship with the federal government remained the same. 1967, the people of Puerto Rico chose the commonwealth option in the only government-organized and federally-sanctioned plebiscite to date that asked the people of Puerto Rico whether they preferred to remain a commonwealth, become independent, or join the Union as a state. In 1993, a similar plebiscite was held, and the commonwealth option won by a slight margin, statehood came in a close second, and the remaining small percentage of the votes went to independence and other options In 1998, a third plebiscite was held, but this time the commonwealth option was excluded. The majority of voters selected the “none of the above” alternative. 2012, a plebiscite asked the people of Puerto Rico two questions. First, it asked whether they wanted to maintain the existing commonwealth status.
The result was that 53.97 percent of voters answered “No” to the first question. Second, it asked whether the people of Puerto Rico would prefer statehood, independence, or become a sovereign free and associated state no longer under the Territorial Clause. In regard to the second question, 61.34 percent voted in favor of statehood, 33.34 percent in favor of a sovereign state, and most of the remaining votes went for independence.
NAM’s position on Puerto Rico’s right to self- determination has been consistent with the positioning of the United Nations. On 23 June 2014, The Special Committee on Decolonization once again called on the United States to again expedite a process that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence, as well as take decisions, in a sovereign manner, to address their economic and social needs. Also by the text, the Special Committee — formally known as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples — would have the UN General Assembly reiterate its request to release Oscar López Rivera and Norberto Gonzalez Claudio.
Both individuals were political prisoners serving sentences in the United States for cases relating to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. The text also expressed concern about the actions carried out against Puerto Rican independence fighters and encouraged an investigation of those actions. In the meeting, Iran’s representative, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, supported the right of Puerto Ricans to self-determination and independence on the basis of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), Cuba, another prominent NAM member state remarked that the text of the resolution reflected the international community’s urgent call to end the colonial status of Puerto Rico, which had been unable to exercise its right to self-determination and independence, despite 32 previous resolutions.
In addition, the Cuban representative also mentioned Puerto Ricans had rejected the current status of political subordination in November 2012. Earlier a few days ago in the NAM Ministerial meeting at Algiers, leaders had reaffirmed the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence on the basis of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), and expressed its unwavering support to the resolutions on Puerto Rico adopted by the UN Special Committee on Decolonization; and called for their immediate implementation. Likewise, the Movement called for the release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners, including Oscar Lopez Rivera who has served more than thirty years in prison; and welcomed the release of Carlos Alberto Torres in 2010.
The demand for Puerto Rico independence is consistent with one of the Non-Aligned Movement’s cherished objectives of decolonization. Colonialism or neo-colonialism in any form is essentially anti-democratic, and through its support to the active Puerto Rico cause, NAM is continuing to be a major global organization in fighting the remaining vestiges of imperialism.
By Dr. Ankit Srivastava, Editor