This past February 10, 2006, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation once again violently invaded the homes and places of employment of respected independentistas activists in Puerto Rico. They terrorized entire communities, assaulted members of the press covering the FBI operation and displayed disregard for the government and police of the island. The FBI’s aggression leaves unequivocally clear what is at stake now in Puerto Rico is the same old but vital question asked by Pedro Albizu Campos: either Yankees or Puerto Ricans?
When the assault troops of the FBI launched this new action, less than five months after the brutal assassination in Hormigueros of pro-independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, they proceeded as usual. They did not bother notifying either the Governor of the island or the local Chief of Police until two hours after ransacking houses and offices, arresting people and assaulting the press. Why didn’t they notify the Governor of the Chief of Police in advance? Because both the Governor and the Chief of Police are Puerto Ricans, and the FBI does not trust them.
When the FBI decided to violently invade the homes of hard-working, well-respected men and women, individuals loved and admired in their communities, they did it because the victims of their abuse are independentistas who believe in the right of Puerto Ricans to be free from colonialism.
The FBI didn’t care a dime about showing their disdain for the Puerto Rican press, making reporters victims of their imperial arrogance. They assaulted and sprayed press members with pepper spray while they were trying to cover the execution of a warrant at Condominio De Diego 444 in Rio Piedras, sending the message that the FBI perceives the press in Puerto Rico as an enemy of their actions and strategies. When the director of the FBI on the Island, with complete lack of seriousness, lied publicly and put the blame for the incidents on the members of the press, it is because he has no regards for the opinion of Puerto Ricans, the vast majority of whom -as he knows- think that the FBI is a rotten institution, as revealed clearly during the wake and funeral of the Machetero Comandante, assassinated in September 2005.
The events on February 10 are not attributable to one or two FBI agents going overboard inadvertently; this is not a case of getting carried away. The members of the press violently attacked by the FBI are collateral damage in the FBI agenda.
What the FBI has decided–as the police arm of the U.S. government in the Island- is to destroy the independentista movement, both in Puerto Rico and the cities in the mainland territories, where half of our population lives. The FBI’s goal is to get rid of the better organized, more efficient and energetic pro-independence activists, in order to prevent them from further organizing, educating and mobilizing Puerto Ricans to our political independence. They have a definite plan to attack those community organizations, labor unions, student organizations, cultural groups, and environmentalists’ organizations that are doing an effective job and in which many independentistas have a leadership role. The FBI agenda as in the past- is to damage the prestige of the pro-independence movement by attempting to link it with the so-called war on terrorism and as part of the climate of fear that they promote in the United States and would like to extend to Puerto Rico. The FBI wants to get rid of the independentistas, whether they are linked or not to the Macheteros.
Why is the United States pursing this violent and repressive policy towards the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico? There are plausible theories about this being considered in the Island. What is clear is that the pro-independence movement has in the past acted as the key force behind every significant political and economic change in Puerto Rico, regardless of its actual military and political strength at a given time. This is exactly that happened in the 19th century when Ramón Emeterio Betances, and the most advanced pro-independence leaders promoted the abolition of slavery and other political and social reforms. The same thing happened at the beginning of the 20th century when José de Diego and the pro-independence movement fought for, among other things, the preservation of our cultural heritage, our Puerto Rican nationality and the use of the Spanish language. Equally meaningful was the role of the nationalist movement under the leadership of Harvard trained Attorney Pedro Albizu Campos, between 1927 and 1965. Albizu’s commitment to the struggle for independence, his extraordinary insight of the nature of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico and his uncompromising stand for freedom led to brutal repression of the Nationalist Party and the cosmetic changes introduced by Luis Muñoz Marín, under the so called Commonwealth regime, a political design originating in Washington, D.C.
Now again, the United States government feels threatened by the recent progressive events in Latin America where more and more oppressed people are relying on revolutionary, democratic and progressive governments. These new forces are challenging U.S. domination in a region long considered by Washington, D.C. as a mere backyard and subjected for decades to the exploitation of their populations by U.S. monopolies.
It is in this context of progressive governments in Latin America and a profound social and economic crisis in Puerto Rico that we have to analyze the current repressive agenda on the island. The U.S. government wants to prevent the possibility of a massive, popular and socially progressive pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico that could become a real alternative to the outmoded political system currently in place, particularly given the increasing social inequality.
After the tremendous protests and mass mobilizations repudiating the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos in September 2005, the United States government is convinced that the pro-independence movement is the main threat to the continuance of colonialism and U.S. political domination of Puerto Rico, despite the fact that the pro-independence movement continues divided and without a clear sense of its historical role as promoters of truly revolutionary change on the island. But, I should point out, we had a similar scenario in 1999, four years prior to the U.S. Navy having to leave Vieques, with the tail between the legs, under the pressure of a mass movement and without the people having fired a single shot. In 1999, however, no one dare to predict a victory over the all mighty U.S. Navy. Yet, the people, on their own, found the right path for liberation.
GERVASIO MORALES RODRÍGUEZ is the director of Claridad, a weekly newspaper in San Juan Puerto Rico that has as main objective to be an efficient tool in the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence. Established in 1959, Claridad is the oldest still running newspaper in the Island.