Sanchez Valle prompts UN discussion on lack of Puerto Rican sovereignty
In 2008, Luis M. Sanchez Valle of Puerto Rico was charged in United States federal court for weapons trafficking and charged with several similar violations of the Puerto Rico Weapons Act. After his federal conviction, Sanchez Valle filed a motion to dismiss all the Puerto Rican charges on the grounds of double jeopardy. Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States took on the case of Sanchez Valle v. Puerto Rico, after months of debate, and decided that Puerto Rico does not have the same sovereignty as a state and does not fall under the double jeopardy exception. This decision demonstrates the lack of sovereignty the United States gives Puerto Rico, which leads to questions about Puerto Rico’s status before the United Nations. As demonstrated in the Supreme Court decision, Puerto Rico is not a distinct sovereign from the United States federal government. Due to the plan signed by the UN in 1952 recognizing Puerto Rico as a self-governing island, this Supreme Court decision led to a UN debate over the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico.
On June 20, the UN’s Special Committee on Decolonization met to discuss the status of Puerto Rico. Hossein Maleki of Iran kicked off the discussion, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), stating that Puerto Rico had the right to self-determination and independence based on the previously passed resolution General Assembly resolution 1514 (xv). Among many other statements, this resolution declared that all forms of colonization remove a country’s basic human right to self-determination and Maleki reaffirmed that Puerto Rico is being deprived of their human right by the United States. Maleki proceeded by calling upon the United States to allow Puerto Rico full utilization of this right and to return the lands of Vieques Island and Roosevelt Road Naval Station. He finished his opening statement by calling for the release of Puerto Rican political activist Oscar López Rivera.
Following the Opening Remarks, Alejandro García Padilla, the Governor of Puerto Rico, recalled the plan signed in 1952, in which the United States offered Puerto Rico the power to draft their own constitution. The Governor expressed his concern that the United States Government’s posture was not compatible with resolution 1514 and that the U.S. Government was adding to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. Mark Anthony Bimbela, from the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico’s bar association), built upon the Governor’s point and added that the US should refrain from issuing the death penalty to Puerto Ricans because it infringed upon the Puerto Rican judicial system’s independence to prosecute their citizens how they see fit. Edgardo Román Espada, added that Puerto Rico was one of the few jurisdictions that publically denounced the death penalty and tried to abolish it. He stated that, currently, Puerto Ricans were being extradited to US courts to face trial in English, even though most of the Puerto Rican community speaks Spanish, facing the possibility of being sentenced with the death penalty.
One petitioner, Olga I. Sanabria Dávila, argued that US Congress has further shown their colonization of Puerto Rico by demanding a fiscal control board to watch over the Puerto Rican finances and force Puerto Rico to pay $70 billion in debt in ways that will hurt the citizens of Puerto Rico. While many more petitioners argued similar points calling for the separation of Puerto Rico from the United States, some petitioners believed the US and Puerto Rico should unite to fix the problem.
Ricardo Rosselló, president and gubernatorial candidate of the New Progressive Party, declared his support of Puerto Rico entering the United States as the fifty-first state. He said that Puerto Rico’s people were tired of being governed as a colonial territory and would prefer to become a state, where they would have more self-governing powers including the right to vote. He requested that Puerto Rico be put on the list of Non-Self-Governing territories to preserve the future of the Special Committee.
The petitioners called for the good offices of the Special Committee to be opened in order to create a dialogue with the United States. The United States has yet to make a statement regarding any plans to answer calls made by the Special Committee.