(Published in Workers World newspaper Feb. 23, 2006.)
IN PUERTO RICO
→FBI raids homes
By Tom Soto
San Juan, Puerto Rico
On Friday, Feb. 10th, hundreds of FBI agents armed with automatic weapons, and supported by Homeland Security helicopters and military vehicles, raided the homes of “independentistas" – supporters of Puerto Rican independence. All told five homes and one workplace were raided.
The island nation of Puerto Rico has been a colony of the U.S. since 1898, when it was seized by the U.S. as a territory during the Spanish-American War.
In San Juan, the FBI forcibly entered the apartment of Liliana Laboy. Boxes and suitcases of her personal property were seen being taken from the apartment complex where she lives, including her computer and written materials. Although Laboy was not arrested, during the three-hour invasion she was handcuffed and held incommunicado by the FBI. Her attorney Roxana Badillo, who was at the apartment complex, was not permitted to enter.
As news of the FBI intrusions spread, residents, family members, students and pro-independence activists began to gather outside the Condominio de Diego #444. The crowd protested the presence of the FBI, while a growing number of press began reporting the event in live broadcasts.
FBI attacks residents, students and press
That same evening all the television channels, and the next day all the newspapers, showed videos and pictures of FBI agents attacking residents and students, and even assaulting members of the press at the Condominio de Diego. Some press members were clubbed and others were thrown to the ground. FBI agents were shown using pepper gas, while other agents drew their weapons as if to fire on the crowd. A dozen reporters were injured, and some had to be hospitalized.
As FBI cars and vans left the scene at the Condominio de Diego, they were challenged by a militant crowd, who pounded FBI vehicles with rocks and bottles while chanting “A–SE–SI–NOS.” The chant, meaning “assassins,” referred to the political assassination carried out by the FBI on Sept. 23 of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, a renowned leader of the independence movement, who headed the Ejército Popular Boricua–Macheteros (Popular Puerto Rican Army–The Canecutters).
Simultaneous raids were also carried out at the homes of other independentistas in the city of Trujillo Alto (near San Juan), Aguadilla and Isabela (in the north and northwest), and in Mayaguez and San German (in the west and southwest).
In Aguadilla the home of schoolteacher Vilma Vélez was occupied. Upon returning home from work, she discovered that her sons, ages 28 and 24, had been roughed up, questioned and detained by the FBI. Many of her personal belongings, including her computer and documents, were also taken.
FBI seizes political mailing lists
Vilma Vélez is a delegate of the Hostos National Independence Movement (MINH) in Aguadilla. She has been a pro-independence activist for 15 years. One of the documents that was seized was the mailing list of the MINH members and supporters.
Another raid was carried out in Trujillo Alto at the home of Norberto Cintrón, a life long trade union organizer and former president of the Puerto Rican Workers Union. Norberto is a member of the Caribbean and Latin-American Fraternity. He was not home at the time of the raid.
Norberto comes from a pro-independence family. His father was a member of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico when it was headed by the legendary Don Pedro Albizu Campos. In the 1980s Norberto refused to recognize the authority of a federal grand jury investigating Los Macheteros, and spent 11 months in a New York City jail for refusing to testify.
Community organizations targeted
In yet another intrusion, the home and the office of Rev. José Morales (in Aguadilla and San German), president of the Ecumenical Committee for Community Economic Development (CEDECO), and the home of William Mohler in Mayaguez, who coordinates housing development programs for CEDECO, were also raided and ransacked.
CEDECO is a non-profit organization which for ten years has been working with community groups to develop housing projects which, upon completion, are turned over to low-income families. The seizure of CEDECO’s computers, documents, financial and other records puts the program at risk of being terminated, and makes it virtually impossible for the organization to finish processing the deeds and handing over more than 100 new homes to low-income families, that was scheduled to take place in the coming months.
In response to the raids, on Friday evening an emergency demonstration of 500 people was held at the Federal Building in San Juan. The protest was initiated by the Socialist Workers Movement, the Hostos National Independence Movement (MINH) and the Socialist Front. The demonstration had broad participation, including the Puerto Rican Independence Party.
At a press conference held on Saturday, Blanca Vélez of San Juan Housing Services and the Network of Supporters of Community Groups in Socioeconomic Development characterized the FBI raid as “an attempt to criminalize the work of community organizations. ... It is repugnant that the ideological affiliation of individuals working with members and leaders of community organizations should serve as a pretext to disparage the work that is realized with the poor communities throughout the country.”
Particularly critical of the FBI was the Association of Journalists of Puerto Rico, which characterized the FBI agents as “anti-democratic and revengeful.” Nelson del Castillo of the Federation of Latin American Journalists said that “U.S. federal agents were seeking to intimidate journalists at a moment when they are unleashing persecution against the supporters of sovereignty, after 107 years of colonial domination by the United States.”
While the attacks against the independence movement and the press have been widely condemned in the media, and amongst the population in general, the two bourgeois parties that administer the colonial government - the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and the Popular Democratic Party - have remained virtually silent.
Asked about the FBI actions, Governor Acevedo Vilá said, “On Friday morning the FBI called to inform me that they would be carrying out searches of homes in regards to their ongoing investigation of the Macheteros, but later in the evening they changed their story and told the press they were intervening to prevent a terrorist attack against private businesses in Puerto Rico.”
Hector Pesquera, leader of the MINH, characterized the FBI: “They are the criminals, the troops who invade our nation, assassinate our patriots and conspire against the most fundamental rights of our people.”
Rafael Bernabe of the Socialist Front called on the workers and people of Puerto Rico to remain vigilant and combative in light of the new attacks by the FBI. “Last year the FBI intervened in one of the most important unions of the country, after that they assassinated Filiberto Ojeda ... and now they carry out searches and seizures so as to later frame-up pro-independence groups and leaders.”□
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