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Puerto Rican independence front and center at CELAC

January 29, 2015

Puerto Rican independence was a prominent topic during the plenary session of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on Wednesday in San José.

Several leaders — including Cuban President Raúl Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — mentioned the topic that was the subject of a special declaration earlier in the week during the meetings of foreign ministers. But none made quite the splash that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega did when he ceded his time to address the summit to a pro-Puerto Rican independence advocate, Rubén Berríos.

Ortega, accompanied by his wife, First Lady Rosario Murillo, introduced Berríos, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, giving him a symbolic spot at the CELAC roundtable otherwise reserved for heads of state.

“The continuance of colonialism in my homeland, Puerto Rico, constitutes an affront to the dignity of our America,” Berríos said. “Let Puerto Rico be as free as Latin America.”

Berríos urged CELAC members to support a motion for the United Nations General Assembly to rule on the status of Puerto Rico and demand that the United States release the “patriot and political prisoner” Óscar López, who has been in jail 34 years.

López was sentence to 55 years in prison for seditious conspiracy. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (1992-2000) offered López conditional clemency in 1999, but he refused it.

“It’s time that CELAC move from words to actions,” Berríos said.

Berríos cited a 2012 plebiscite where 54 percent of respondents voted against Puerto Rico maintaining its current status. The results of that vote have been called into question, however, regarding a second question on “non-territorial options” for the island. Only 5.49 percent of voters in the 2012 plebiscite supported independence for the island. More than 61 percent supported statehood and 33.3 percent free association. As many as 500,000 voters, however, did not respond to the plebiscite’s second question, according to the Congressional Research Service, leading critics to say that the results were inconclusive.

Puerto Rico has been under U.S. rule since 1898 following the Spanish American War. Puerto Ricans hold U.S. passports and have limited self-rule. There have been no major changes in the island’s status since 1952.

The decision to let a civilian speak at the summit of world leaders sparked a brief flare-up between President Luis Guillermo Solís, who headed the meeting as the president pro tempore of CELAC, and Ortega.

After Berríos concluded his statement, Solís said that the act broke with CELAC protocol. Ortega bristled at the comment and accused the Costa Rican leader of disrespecting his voice as president.

“Here Nicaragua is speaking as a state, as a nation, and the voice of Puerto Rico is the voice of Nicaragua, so I’m asking you for a little respect,” Ortega said, interrupting Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela’s speech.

Foreign Minister Manuel González downplayed the interruption during a press conference immediately after Ortega’s address ended, calling the event a “misunderstanding,” adding that Solís was merely commenting on the need for order.

Dr. Ramón Nenadich, president of the Sovereign National State of Borinken (ENSB), another pro-independence group, told The Tico Times on the sidelines of the summit that they had presented a letter to the Solís administration and Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño of Ecuador, the incoming president pro tempore of CELAC, requesting a seat at the 2016 summit. They had yet to receive a response when this article went to press.

Nenadich said that his organization wanted Puerto Rico to control its own international commerce and diplomatic relations as strategic first steps before taking on full independence.

Nenadich said that his organization was looking forward to the Ecuador summit.

“We’re asking for a seat at the table,” Nenadich said.

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