A man waves the flag of Puerto Rico. | Photo: Reuters

SAN JOSE, February 2, 2015 (TSR) – The Puerto Rican independence movement and its leader has called on the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States to help regain sovereignty for the island and break away from the United States.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, but an unhappy one. A 2012 referendum revealed that 54 percent of the population preferred statehood.  More than 900,000 voters, or 54 percent, responded “no” to the first question, saying they were not content with the current status and have supported a non-binding referendum to become a full U.S. state.

“The persistence of colonialism in my mother land Puerto Rico constitutes an affront to the dignity of Our America,” said Ruben Berrios Martinez, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, Telesur reported.

“Colonialism is a violation to the most elemental human rights: the inalienable right to free determination and independence is an absolute rule of international law,” he added.

Berrios Martinez has asked CELAC, which had a meeting in Costa Rica, to introduce a plan to make the general assembly take a stance on the case of Puerto Rico and also to demand that the U.S. government liberate Oscar Lopez, “the longest serving political prisoner in the world having been in prison nearly 34 years.”

The Puerto Rican independence activist recently turned 70 years old according to Telesur. He was convicted in 1981 of seditious conspiracy due to his participation in the Puerto Rican independence movement and sentenced to 55 years behind bars.

In his petition to CELAC, Berrios Martinez pointed out the new relationship between Washington and Cuba means that “it would be inconceivable to maintain a colonial status in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico has been a territory for 114 years and its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Residents of the island cannot vote in the U.S. presidential election, have no representation in the Senate and only limited representation in the House of Representatives.

The measure requires approval from the U.S. Congress, but President Obama has said he will respect the vote. Obama made the same promise last year when he visited the island, becoming the first sitting U.S. president in half a century to do so. If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state, its residents will have the right to vote in all U.S. elections, but will also have to start to pay federal taxes.

Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), was held in Costa Rica Jan. 28-29.

The meeting was preceded by a meeting of the foreign ministers of the member countries on Jan. 27.  Thirty-three heads of state and government officials of member countries attended.

Foreign ministers from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean member states recently met in Beijing for the two-day CELAC-China summit. China committed to invest USD$250 billion over the next decade in the 33 countries that make up the CELAC body.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hailed the meeting as “historic.”

CELAC is a coalition of the 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, and represents around 600 million people. It was launched in 2010 at the Rio Group Unity Summit in Mexico and officially launched with the signing of the Declaration of Caracas Dec. 3, 2011, in Venezuela.

CELAC was created on the impetus of former late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The late Venezuelan president sought to forge regional alliances and blocs such as CELAC, UNASUR and ALBA in order to break free of U.S. dominance in the region. Unlike the Organization of American States, the U.S. and Canada are not member countries.


Puerto Rico has a long history of colonialism. Discovered in 1493 during Columbus’ second voyage, the Carribean nation quickly became one of Spain’s most important sites in the New World. For over 400 years Spain ruled Puerto Rico as a colony, defending it from repeated attacks from Dutch and British forces.

Shortly after several political concessions were granted by the Spanish crown, the Spanish-American war of 1898 unwillingly thrusts Puerto Rico into the arms of her new master, the United States of America. Ceded to the U.S. as a war prize, Puerto Rico has sustained enormous economic growth over the last 110 years. U.S. efforts to convert the island’s economy from an agricultural to an industrial base were largely successful. However, Puerto Rico has never fulfilled its destiny as a country, or as a people, always subject to the rule of others and never in control of its own destiny.

The United States Congress granted Puerto Rico several significant concessions, most important of which was U.S. citizenship in 1917. In 1948 Puerto Ricans elected their first governor, and in 1952 established a new Constitution, subject to the Constitution of the United States.

“…The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state. ;”

Article IV, Section 3 of the United States Constitution (also known as the “Territorial Clause”)

Puerto Rico was never removed from under the control of the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution, thus maintaining all power and authority with the U.S. Congress. Puerto Rico’s representation in this Congress is limited to a single non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives.

The United Nations charter, of which the United States is a signatory, clearly states that

“…Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote […] the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories, and, to this end […] to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement;”

Chapter 11, Article 73, paragraph B of the United Nations Charter

Puerto Ricans are dissatisfied with the current political status for it does not meet their country’s needs. The people want to resolve all outstanding issues, most important of which is the removal of Puerto Rico from under the territorial “claws” of the U.S. Constitution. The independence movement seeks a path of political dignity and finality that will allow them to continue to grow and achieve their full potential, as a country and as a people.

Congress has expressed, through its relevant committees, its unwillingness to accept the terms and conditions of the Commonwealth option. They have clearly stated that to achieve these three fundamental goals, statehood is the only viable alternative. And I quote:

“…Certain elements of the commonwealth option, including permanent union with the United States and guaranteed U.S. citizenship, can only be achieved through full integration into the U.S. leading to statehood.;”

Paragraph 3 of a letter sent to the Puerto Rico Legislature by the Chairmen of the Committees on Resources, Native American and Insular Affairs, International Relationships and Western Hemisphere.

Until the debate is framed in these terms, the confusion will continue.


On December 11, 2012, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico enacted a concurrent resolution to “request the President and the Congress of the United States, to respond diligently and effectively, and to act on the demand of the people of Puerto Rico, as freely and democratically expressed in the plebiscite held on November 6, 2012, to end, once and for all, its current form of territorial status and to begin the process of admission of Puerto Rico as a State.”

On April 10, 2013, it was announced that the White House would seek $2.5 million to hold another referendum as part of Obama’s 2014 budget proposal (the money would fund both voter education and the plebiscite itself), according to AP.

Leaders of the PNP (party in favor of statehood) claimed that the announcement meant that the White House upheld the results of the 2012 referendum, while the PDP (party in favor of maintaining the status quo) claimed that the announcement meant the White House rejected the 2012 referendum, reported AP.

On June 17, 2013, Pierluisi said during a testimony before the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization that if the Obama administration refuses to act he will raise his case for Puerto Rican self-determination before the United Nations or any other appropriate international forum. Pierluisi said that the current territorial status has lost its democratic legitimacy and that the only paths forward are statehood or nationhood.

On July 10, 2013, A U.S. House subcommittee approved a budget bill which includes Obama’s requested $2.5 million for a new Puerto Rican plebiscite, though the bill’s ultimate fate is unclear because the Senate is pushing for a related yet different bill. One week later, on July 17, 2013, the House Appropriations Committee also approved the bill.

On August 6, 2013, Pierluisi had secured the support of 120 U.S. Congressional members for the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act, giving it more supporters than 97.6% of all House bills and the fourth highest in Republican sponsorship.

Until this day, Puerto Rico is still in limbo.


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