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Washington - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will request authorization from the United States government to organize a mission with the purpose to examine the situation of poverty and human rights in Puerto Rico.

"The petition will go to the US Department of State before the end of 2017," told to El Nuevo Día Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, who presided over a hearing on the Island yesterday.

During the session, a coalition of civic and academic groups of Puerto Rico denounced an alarming increase in poverty, which keeps many people "in inhuman conditions" and urged the IACHR to examine the crisis on the Island on the ground.

"This was not a natural disaster. Puerto Rico has been living under terrible levels of poverty and has been imposed an oversight board that demands greater measures of austerity for people that is suffering from hunger. What Hurricanes Irma and Maria did was aggravating our situation," indicated Annette Martínez Orabona, director of the Caribbean Institute of Human Rights and the Human Rights Clinic in the Interamerican University.

Martínez Orabana, with emotion and intensity, noted that the main problem of the Island is "colonial discrimination".

Five commissioners listened to the representatives of about 25 organizations and communities, as part of the IACHR 166th Period of Sessions, dedicated to examining the situation of poverty in Puerto Rico, considering the catastrophe caused by María.

They showed a video about the destruction caused by the hurricane, which keeps at least about half the population without power and thousands without access to drinking water.

Yesterday's session was the second hearing of the IACHR - attached to the Organization of American States (OAS) - in two years regarding human rights situation in Puerto Rico.

At the end of 2015, the IACHR also expressed interest in going to the Island, but the trip never happened. May Macaulay assured that this time it will be done. "The idea is for it to be an official visit, with all the commissioners," said the Commissioner, who pleaded for the cancellation of at least part of the Puerto Rico public debt.

The Interim Permanent Representative at the US Mission to the OAS, Kevin Sullivan, said that if they receive an official request from the IACHR, "we will give them an answer." "Those visits are common," he said.

But they are certainly not common in the case of Puerto Rico.

"Subhuman conditions"

Yesterday, during the session, the Island groups had representatives from Vieques, Peñuelas and Loíza as their main speakers, who spoke about the socioeconomic crisis of their communities, in environmental, transportation and housing terms, among other issues.

In Loíza, "there are people living in subhuman conditions," said Modesta Irizarry Ortiz.

Bethsaida Bosa Matos, a graduate nurse, spoke on behalf of the communities of Tallaboa, in Peñuelas, where residents are fighting against the coal ash deposit of the AES Company.

"For over 50 years, our communities have been victims of various sources of pollution. Now, to make it worse, they are contaminating us with over 20,000 tons of toxic coal ash from a private energy company," indicated Bosa Matos.

The representative of the communities of Peñuelas related how, during the hurricanes, the AES corporation did not cover the ashes in its plant, in spite of the claims of the government. "The residents' concern is that these ashes are not only dispersed through the air, but runoff reaches aquifers and contaminates sources of drinking water," said Bosa Matos.

Khiana Shalis Figueroa Guadalupe testified on behalf of the the people of Vieques, who had to face the health consequences of US military training for six decades.

"75 days after the hurricane, there is still no power anywhere in Vieques, beaches are contaminated with black water, debris deposited in clandestine landfills and the only hospital on the Island (municipality) is closed," said Figueroa Guadalupe.

In addition, she highlighted the problems of maritime transportation they have. As an example she talked about the case of her grandfather, a cancer patient who has missed "four sessions of chemotherapy for lack of communication and maritime transportation and his cancer has metastasized."

The argument about the testimonies of the communities of Puerto Rico was given by the US government, through Ambassador Sullivan, who focused his presentation on the federal response to hurricanes Irma and María. The Ambassador said that there has been progress in restoring the power grid, although the government of Puerto Rico has not been able to determine the percentage of the population with electricity service.

He also defended the federal government of what he considers a difficult logistics, due to the "geographical" conditions of Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, State Secretary, Luis Rivera Marin, sent him a letter stating that there has been "significant progress" in the recovery of the Island, Sullivan said.

Martinez Orabona criticized that the government of Puerto Rico did not appear at the hearing. "It's a shame," said the Puerto Rican professor and expert on human rights issues.


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