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FBI Files On Political Activity Angers NY Puerto Ricans
by ROBERT WADDELL
August 17, 2000
Puerto Ricans in New York expressed anger and dismay over recently released FBI files that investigated political activity on the island for nearly 30 years.
Congressman Jose E. Serrano
The controversy erupted after the Puerto Rican senate passed a resolution on March 14 calling for a probe into the allegation that the FBI persecuted leaders of the island's independence movement and other political groups in an effort to discredit them.
On March 16, during the FBI budget hearing before the Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House, New York Congressman Jose E. Serrano requested the FBI documents. On July 28th, Serrano returned eight boxes of FBI files relating to surveillance of political groups. These documents, he believed, would help the senate in their investigation.
"Delivering these documents will start the process in Puerto Rico of investigating this issue," said Serrano in a statement. "It is part of a lengthy and important process that will allow Puerto Ricans and people all over the country and the world to learn more about this ugly chapter in our history."
The major allegations against the FBI involved their investigation of students, political organizations, leaders like Luis Muñoz Marin and Don Pedro Albizu Campos in order to crush political activity on the island.
"I think its stupid," said author Abraham Rodriguez, Jr. "They give us tidbits that we're getting closer to democracy when the fiber and the heart of Puerto Ricans stays the same. Innate change will come from us not the government."
The FBI files delved into personal lives. The bureau's tactics were similar to the methods they used during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. "These documents say what the Independence movement has always said -- that the United States violated their own Bill of Rights," said Vanessa Ramos, attorney representing the American Association of Jurists.
"I was relieved to hear that the public is finally getting the entire picture of what happened to Don Albizu," said Pedro Rosado, a computer consultant in Manhattan. "I believe the FBI's acknowledgement of its role in the surveillance of thousands will help heal old wounds."
According to earlier reports about the FBI investigation, "(J. Edgar) Hoover instruct(ed) his agents to obtain information about the political leaders' weaknesses, moral values, criminal background, wives, children and family life, as well as their personal and pro-independence activities."
Puerto Rican Senator Kenneth McClintock, president of the Commission on Government and Federal Affairs.
Serrano sent the files to Puerto Rican Senator Kenneth McClintock, president of the Commission on Government and Federal Affairs. McClintock said that to date, he has gone through at least 12,000 documents and will eventually posses 1.8 million documents "over a period of time," he said.
"I don't know where all of this will lead," said McClintock. "Obviously, the old J. Edgar Hoover did illegal things during the Cold War, and Puerto Rico was not excluded." He went on to say that not only Independentistas were affected, but those in favor of statehood and common wealth status were investigated.
However, many Independentistas remain skeptical of the New Progressive Party's control of the senate and what seems like stall tactics in investigating the files.
"It is not in their best interest to reveal these documents," said Juan Rodriguez, member of the Central Committee of Puerto Rican Independence Party and a representative of the party in New York City. "The documents will reveal there was a campaign to perceive the Independence movement in a negative way."
Rodriguez said the FBI investigations, which spanned from the 30s to the 60s, were used to discredit and vilify the members of political groups on the island. The investigations were part of a systematic policy by the United States to squash the Puerto Rican Independence movement to gain greater control over the island. The information, many believe to have been fabricated and distorted, was used to incarcerate and squash political activity.
"The iceberg is beginning to melt," said Rodriguez. "The U.S. had a strategic interest in Puerto Rico. They were interested in the cage and not the bird, so they had to get rid of the birds somehow."
Haydee Morales, community activist in the South Bronx, said that she was especially supportive of Congressman Serrano and the process of "bringing light to the persecution suffered by Puerto Ricans," she said.
"The consequences of targeting leaders such as Don Pedro Albizu Campos, and in essence dismantling a movement still reverberates today," she said. "If there is a genuine desire for restitution it can be found through policy and actions such as the navy out of Vieques."