Subversive Activity: The Bureau Goes to San Juan

By Davidson, Osha; Jordan, Manuel et al. | The Nation, November 7, 1988 | Go to article overview

Subversive Activity: The Bureau Goes to San Juan


Davidson, Osha, Jordan, Manuel, Velez, Dianna, The Nation


massive campaign of illegal surveillance and harassment has been carried out for decades against Puerto Ricans (who are U.S. citizens) by a law enforcement agency with close links to both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and anti-Castro terrorists. The campaign, waged by the Intelligence Division (I.D.) of the Puerto Rico Police Department, was originally aimed at members of the Puerto Rican independence movement, known here on the island as independentistas; but eventually it grew to include more than 150,000 environmentalists, student leaders, feminists, Labor union leaders and antinuclear protesters, as well as professors, lawyers, journalists, writers and artists suspected of harboring "leftist sentiments." It is by far the largest domestic intelligencegathering operation, legal or illegal, run by a non-Federal agency in the history of the United States.

Although the I.D. was officially disbanded in 1987 and the practice of investigating individuals not suspected of a crime has been ordered stopped by Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon, Puerto Rico police continue to use the I. D.'s 16,557 files and 135,188 note cards, which contain information on citizens and groups investigated solely because of their ideology. The fate of the controversial files and note cards will be decided by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

The existence of the files came to light on June 15, 1987. William Colon Berrios, a former I.D. policeman serving a jail term for the 1978 execution-style slaying of two independentistas on a remote mountaintop called Cerro Maravilla, said in a radio interview that the I. D. maintained files on "subversives and separatists" that list even the Chief of Police. Two weeks later, the socialist newspaper Claridad printed a list of 998 individuals and groups that its anonymous source alleged were the subject of I. D. investigations, The list read like a sampling of the island's intellectual and political elite. While the police denied that the Claridad roll was authentic, they admitted that the files described by Colon Berrios did in fact exist. Public outcry was fierce and immediate.

The practice of political surveillance on the island goes back to the turn of the century. Soon after the United States seized Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War, it felt the need to root out those Puerto Ricans who were anything less than enthusiastic about the idea of North American rule. A secret police report dated February 1900 concerning an islandwide inventory of alleged subversive activity gives an indication of how broadly the authorities here have always defined "subversive."The report notes that "on Washington's birthday, no American flag was raised in Utuado [a town in central Puerto Rico] until eleven o'clock."

While various government agencies (including the F.B.I. and several branches of military intelligence) continued to create files and lists of suspected independentistas, the practice emerged in its present form during World War II with the creation of the Bureau of Internal Security (renamed the Intelligence Division in the 1950s), which was set up as an appendage to the F.B.I. within the Puerto Rico Police Department and was also responsible for tracking draft resisters.

For the first half of this century there was in fact a sizable movement in Puerto Rico that supported armed struggle as a means of achieving independence from the United States, primarily members of the Nationalist Party under the radical leader Pedro Albizu Campos. But that violent group was silenced by a brutal campaign waged by the F.B.I. and the I.D. in the late 1950s. Since that time, tiny groups such as the Armed Forces for National Liberation (F.A.L.N.) and the Macheteros (who are now on trial in Connecticut for the 1983 robbery of a Wells Fargo depot), have sought independence through force. The F.B.I. and the insular police, however, have continued to subject all independentistas, violent or nonviolent, to the same harsh treatment. …

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