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Rosselló Seeks U.N. Support To Compel Washington To Act

by Nicole Winfield

July 6, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Frustrated that the U.S. Congress failed to resolve Puerto Rico's status, the commonwealth's pro-statehood governor urged the United Nations to get more involved and compel Washington to act.

Gov. Pedro Rossello asked the U.N. decolonization committee Tuesday to reverse a 1953 decision by the General Assembly and place Puerto Rico back on the list of non-self-governing territories whose status is to be resolved by 2000.

Puerto Rico was removed from the list when it adopted its present constitution and became a U.S. commonwealth. The former Spanish colony was ceded to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.

Rossello said Tuesday that placing Puerto Rico back on the list of 17 non-autonomous territories was the "only way to provoke the U.S. Congress - after more than a century of colonialism - to fulfill the responsibilities required by its own Constitution and the U.N. Charter."

Specifically, Rossello wants Congress to clarify Puerto Rico's options and stand by the results of a referendum on its future. Two locally organized plebiscites have failed to produce a majority backing statehood, but Rossello claims the statehood numbers would increase if Congress set out the options itself and promised to recognize the results.

The decolonization committee passed a resolution Tuesday evening urging the U.S. government expedite a process for self-determination. But the document omitted any mention of Rossello's request to be added to the list.

Unless the committee adopts another resolution on Puerto Rico before its session ends July 28, Rossello's only other option this year is to persuade one U.N. member state to bring the matter directly to the General Assembly.

Cuba, which chaired the committee meeting Tuesday, has campaigned annually to add Puerto Rico to the list and could be the possible instigator.

Even if the General Assembly decided to put Puerto Rico back on the list, it has no enforcement authority to make the United States abide by the three options offered territories: independence, free association, or integration - which in this case would be statehood .

David L. Scott, an adviser at the U.S. mission, said he had no comment on Rossello's effort, but noted there was an ongoing "dialogue" between the government and Puerto Rico about how to resolve the status .

The United States, which walked off the decolonization committee in 1971, has tried to keep the issue of Puerto Rico's status outside the United Nations, saying it is an internal matter.

The White House has said it wants to enable Puerto Ricans to choose their ultimate status, including the continuation of the current status, statehood, or nationhood - either fully independent from the United States or associated with it.

An administration official noted that President Bill Clinton wanted to clarify the options but that legislation to do so had failed in the Senate after passing the House.

Rossello told reporters after his testimony to the panel that Puerto Rico clearly wasn't autonomous and represented "the unfinished business of democracy for America."

"I hope that there's honest recognition that Puerto Rico still has the characteristics of a colony, where we do not participate in the decisions that directly affect the nearly 4 million U.S. citizens that reside in Puerto Rico," he said.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote for president and have no vote in Congress. They do not pay most federal taxes, receive some federal benefits, and can be drafted into the U.S. military.

The United Nations committed itself to eradicating colonies by 2000 in a 1960 declaration. The territories still on the list are Western Sahara, American Samoa, East Timor, Guam, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Tokelau, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, St. Helena, and the Turks and Caicos.

Several territories have no interest in becoming independent, but others are in the process of determining a new status, including independence: the United Nations, for example, is organizing ballots in Western Sahara and East Timor.

The French territory of New Caledonia was added to the list in 1986.

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