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Ideological Statehood Reborn’s statement made by Zoé M. Laboy before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee of the United Nations, delivered during the Special Session of June 22, 2015 New York, NY

Good morning. My name is Zoé Laboy. I appear before this committee on behalf of Ideological Statehood Reborn (RIE for its Spanish acronym), an organization which, like many others appearing before you today, defends equality for the people of Puerto Rico. I thank RIE and this Committee for the opportunity to speak on behalf of what is the most important challenge facing the people of Puerto Rico: the island’s political relationship with the United States. This is the centerpiece of most of the problems that adversely affect our quality of life.

Let me start by saying that I am proud to be a Puerto Rican woman and I am proud to be US citizen. I am, also proud of the principles for which the United States and Puerto Rico stand. I am not proud, however, of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. I am not proud of it as a Puerto Rican, an American, and a woman. I cannot, nor should anyone, be proud of inequality. THIS is the reason why I am a statehooder.

It is the unwavering principle that inequality is fundamentally wrong that has brought about some of the greatest triumphs in human history. Slaves were freed, women and blacks were given the right to vote, communism met its demise, and the war against radical Islam will be fought and won because brave men and women believed in democracy and equality.

The essence of colonialism is inequality through systemic

disenfranchisement. This is the reality of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the federal government. So, yes, Puerto Rico is a colony. Faced with this reality,

I ask this Committee, why is Puerto Rico on the list of self-governing

territories? If it were entirely self-governing, wouldn’t the people of Puerto

Rico have a right to vote for a voting congressional delegation and for the President? And, if it were truly self-governing, wouldn’t the democratically expressed decision to end colonialism in November of 2012 be respected?

But I also call on this Committee, the deponents, and the people of Puerto Rico to ask and, hopefully, answer a more basic and, perhaps, important question. Why? Why doesn't the problem of Puerto Rico’s status get resolved? Why has it taken so long and why is it that we go back and forth belaboring over the same issue, even after calling for a change?

My conclusion is possibly unexpectedly simple. Colonialism is similar to the law of inertia when it comes to an object at rest: absent force it will remain at rest. Why do we remain a colony? Because we are a colony. And, Puerto Rico has been politically paralyzed since it became a territory of the United States at the turn of the 20 th Century.

In the early 20 th Century, the Supreme Court defined the island as an unincorporated territory of the United States. As such, the Island was and

remains subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution. Almost fifty years passed and with the enactment of the Federal Relations Act in 1950 that allowed the Island of Puerto Rico to organize a state government, then Resident Commissioner, Antonio Fernós Isern, said of

the then bill that it “would not change the status of the Island of Puerto Rico

It would not alter the powers of sovereignty

relative to the United

over Puerto Rico under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.” Our first democratically elected Governor Luis Muñoz Marín admitted this as well. These were the architects of the ill-named Commonwealth.

Fast forward 65 years and Congress still has the last word on Puerto Rico under the Territorial Clause of the Constitution. Not only can Congress make all needful rules and regulations and even dispose of this territory, as stated in the Constitution, but it can also treat Puerto Rico differently than other states in matters that do not affect fundamental rights. We witness this reality every day in key areas such as education, healthcare, public safety, and debt restructuring. This political, social and economic immobility has driven tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to leave the island and move every year, not by preference, but by necessity. Indeed, there is nothing new under the Puerto Rico sun.

What’s more troubling, however, is that the people of Puerto Rico rejected the current status in a plebiscite in November 2012. Our Resident Commissioner has presented legislation before the House of Representatives calling for the Island’s admission as its 51 st state. But without the tools of democracy that we so desperately want and need, this fight for equality, and let me stress equality not special treatment, will be an uphill battle. Without will and force, the Island, like the idle object, will not move.

There is one key difference between the inert object and our island. While the former cannot generate force or energy from within, the latter can. Puerto Rico needs the energy of its people to move the dial and demand change not only at home, but in the States and before organizations like the U.N. and the OAS. Speaking truth to the naysayers and championing the cause of equality in the plazas of our Puerto Rican pueblos and in the main streets of our stateside cities and towns. It needs the power of organizations like the United Nations to have the courage to speak out about this unresolved matter. It needs brave jurists and lawyers to question what is fundamentally inadequate and unnatural. We, as believers of equality and proud Puerto Ricans, must demand that this status that keeps us as US Appellate Judge Juan Torruella called it “separate and unequal” be changed once and for all. Just like the greatest men and women who defended equality through sacrifice and struggle, so must we answer democracy’s beckoning. Let’s be on the right side of history. Then, and only then, will the immovable object of the colony meet the unstoppable force of equality.

Thank you.