NiLP Guest Commentary: Bringing the Colonial Case of Puerto Rico to the Full UN

By Marta Moreno Vega

The National Institute for Latino Policy, Inc.

The NiLP Report (February 8, 2018)

The response to making public the conditions and need for first voice on the challenges our people on facing in Puerto Rico and bring the human rights and right to life violations to international governmental bodies has generated the coming together of community-based organizations, community leaders and others to organize Town Meetings in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora. We must stand up, we must mobilize and have a united agenda and course of action led and guided by our people in Puerto Rico with support from the Diaspora. The aim for the sustainable long-term recovery of the island led by Puerto Ricans is the goal driven by the imperative for self-empowerment and sovereignty.


Community-based organizations in New York City and Puerto Rico are organizing Town Hall Meetings in collaboration with human rights lawyers collecting testimonies from Puerto Ricans displaced by hurricanes Irma and Maria. We are currently in the process of assisting community-based organizations and representatives organize towards a community tribunal to present documented evidence to the United Nations on International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2018.

On my recent trip to Puerto Rico, as I visited areas devastated by the hurricanes, it is clear that the news we are receiving through the mainstream media is not reporting the level of devastation and extreme lack of support of the United States in helping basic recovery. efforts They are not reporting the violations of our people’s human rights, the right to water, communication, home and health. If Puerto Rico were independent of colonial rule, more assistance from other countries would be forthcoming in helping the island.


We have already held two Town Hall Meetings. One was held on December 11, 2017 at Manhattan Neighborhood Network in New York City and the second on January 9, 2018 at El Centro de Estudios Avanzino’s de Puerto Rico y El Caribe on the Island. At these community-based sessions we heard testimonies from individuals directly impacted by hurricanes Irma and Maria.


The need to make certain that the broadest possible public is made aware of the devastating conditions, human rights violation and genocidal conditions being faced by our people on the island is imperative.  The goal of the Town Hall Meetings is to gather the testimonies of people who are experiencing the violation of their human rights and present these findings to the United Nations and other international organizations that need to  hold the United States accountable.


The involvement of international governmental organizations must be part of holding the United States accountable to the human rights violations and genocidal conditions impacting the lives of our people since in this time in history the island is a colony.  To date there is, for example, no accurate count of the deaths caused by the hurricanes. The New York Times estimates the death toll at approximately 1600, the result of increased sicknesses and suicides, off the chart unemployment caused by the imposed fiscal crisis and business closures, homelessness and mass foreclosures continue to escalate.


Hurricanes Irma and Maria assaulted Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with massive physical devastation that has revealed the hidden underbelly of the actual historical colonial crimes that our islands have been subject to as colonial “possessions and victims of the United States.” To contextualize the reality of Puerto Rico, it is important to understand the dominant power of the colonial country, the United States, by going to the dictionary definitions to fully understand the control.


By definition and by the declaration of the United Nations, our beloved island of Puerto Rico is a colony, defined as a country controlled by a more powerful country. The  United States is that “more powerful country” that has had total control over the internal and lack of international relations of the island. Like a parent relationship to their children, the parent/colonizer is in control and manages the financial and blueprint of their children’s (in this case Puerto Rico’s) actions.


This is the case of Puerto Rico: it is a puppet of the United States. Similar to predatory college loans that are strangling our youth, that bankruptcy can’t eradicate those loans from Wall Street to Puerto Rico that have been predatory with clear knowledge of the devastation that would be caused to the financial well-being of Puerto Rico. Laws like the Jones Act have established the isolation of Puerto Rico from any beneficial international governmental relations, forcing an economic relationship solely with the United States.


Puerto Rico has the power to bring the colonial status to the full United Nation as a colony of the United States, as it has done since 1972 before the UN Decolonization Committee. In 1953, the United States forced the United Nations to take Puerto Rico off its list of non-self-governing territories (colonies), with only a 40% vote of the UN members. Despite this history of UN General Assembly neglect, this year we plan to bring the case of Puerto Rico in ways that highlight the devastation of the hurricanes and the massive debt crisis and the criminally negligent and racially discriminatory response by the federal government.


Let us not forget that Puerto Ricans on the island can’t vote for US President yet have lost an extraordinary amount of young men and women to wars of the United States. As victims of a colonial power, the conditions historically and now continue to be framed to blame the victim, Puerto Rico, rather than the predator, the United States, to assume responsibility for its “rape” of the island.


That our people are warriors, committed and intentional in restoring the challenges faced is without question. On the island and in the Diaspora, mobilization for a sustainable long-term recovery is occurring and intentional. So many young people elders are committed to remaining on the island and its recovery, although there has been a mass exodus. There is no shame in seeking health and survival for our children and families by those who have had to leave. Schools are closing on the island or functioning erratically as they struggle with a lack of electricity, water and teachers who are dealing with their own traumas.


I call on our communities to hold Public Town Hall meetings to gather testimonies as we build towards a People’s Tribunal to forge ahead to hold the United States accountable before the United States or the human rights violation and genocidal conditions existing in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, the next Town Hall will be in Humacao, followed by one in The Bronx in New York City. The dates will soon be announced.


It is us that we have been waiting for. 

It is us that must stand up for us.

Accept that we are the warriors we have been waiting for!


Collaborating Organizations (list still in formation)

  • Afrodescendencia Puerto Rico Inc.
  • Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe
  • Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
  • Center for Constitutional Rights
  • COPI
  • DeAlmas
  • Defend Puerto Rico
  • LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • Manhattan Neighborhood Network
  • National Institute for Latino Policy
  • #OurPowerPRnyc
  • Pao Lebrón
  • PR on the Map #PRontheMap

 To organize Town Hall Meetings in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora, contact:

The Creative Justice Initiative



Marta Moreno Vega, Ph.D. is President of the Creative Justice Initiative Inc. She founded the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) in 1976 and served as its Executive Director until recently. She has served as the second director of El Museo del Barrio, one of the founders of the Association of Hispanic Arts, Network of Centers of Color, the Roundtable of Institutions of Color and the Global Afro Latino and Caribbean Initiative (GALCI). She is chief editor of Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora (Arte Publico Press) and author of The Altar of My Soul (One World/Ballantine, 2001) and of When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing Up Nuyorican in El Barrio (Three Rivers Press, 2003, Black Classic Press, 2018), and co-editor of Voices from the Battlefront: Achieving Cultural Equity and Actualidad de las Tradiciones Espirituales y Culturales Africanas en el Caribe y Latinoamerica. She can be reached at


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