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Dialogue Opens About FBI/Carpeta Questions

by Rep. José E. Serrano

April 9, 2000
Copyright © 2000 HISPANIC LINK NEWS SERVICE. All Rights Reserved.

It was a historic moment in the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico when Louis J. Freeh, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acknowledged the agency's role in an operation to discredit and persecute the independence movement in Puerto Rico.

Freeh did so in response to the issue I raised at the March 16 FBI budget hearing before the Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

The questions I asked Freeh involve up one of the darkest periods in the history of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. What role did the FBI and other federal agencies play in persecuting and trying to discredit the independence movement from the 1950s to the 1970s? In the process, was the FBI involved in violent acts? Particularly, did the FBI play any role in torturing the leader of the independence movement, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, while he was in federal prison?

The rumor persists among people in the Puerto Rican government, and elsewhere, that the FBI participated with federal prison officials in torturing Albizu Campos, who led independence efforts from the 1930s to the 1960s. He spent 27 years in federal prison, including a stay at La Princesa jail in Old San Juan, directly related to his support for the independence of Puerto Rico. He died shortly after his release.

Freeh's response was direct and candid, opening dialogue about an issue people have been seeking answers to for years.

 According to Freeh, the U.S. government's role goes back to a period, particularly in the 1960s, when the FBI operated what was known as COINTELPRO, its counterintelligence program that harmed many people in this country and Puerto Rico.

COINTELPRO was designed by the United States government in 1956 to uncover organizations or individuals who were considered threats to national security. At the time, the independence movement in Puerto Rico was targeted as one of those groups. COINTELPRO and the FBI allegedly interfered in the 1967 plebiscite on the island's political status to undermine independence efforts.

Though Freeh was not the FBI director at the time, he says he is willing to find out the truth. At the March 16 hearing, Freeh said he will investigate his agency's possible role in the preparation of about 135,000 political dossiers on supposed subversives, known locally as carpetas, kept by local police authorities.

In 1977 the FBI took some steps to notify people in Puerto Rico who were the subjects of these inquiries and investigations, and to make their files available, Freeh said. More important, he plans to make an inventory of the extent of the FBI's participation.

A day after the hearing, Freeh sent a letter to me, announcing that a task force is being formed to explore the agency's possible role in the creation of political dossiers. ``I instructed that a task force be formed within the FBI to locate, process and release any relevant records we may have about the issue you raised,'' he wrote. ``The process of doing that began today.''

With the help of Sen. Manuel Rodríguez Orellana of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, I am writing a letter to the FBI as a follow-up to the questions I asked Freeh at the committee hearing.

Why am I raising this issue?

As the ranking Democrat on the CJSJ subcommittee, which funds the FBI and other federal agencies, I have an obligation to ensure that we appropriate funds in a responsible manner. And if at one time the FBI was using government monies illegally to target a given group, it is our obligation to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican government has established a fund to compensate people targeted by this operation for their losses. The Puerto Rico Senate passed a resolution March 14 calling for a probe into the federal government's role in the creation of political dossiers on members of the Independence Party.

Sometime in the not-too distant future, the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico will be decided. To understand where we're going, we must know what has happened between us during the 101 years.

As ugly as it is, the FBI/carpetas issue is a part of Puerto Rico's history. Once we obtain the facts, let's allow people to make their own judgments.

U.S. Rep José Serrano represents the 16th Congressional District in the South Bronx, New York, and is a native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

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