SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Attempting to close a painful chapter in
U.S.-Puerto Rican relations, Gov. Pedro Rossello on Tuesday offered
money to thousands of suspected independence supporters subjected to
police spying operations in this U.S. Caribbean territory.
The $5.7 million offer is an attempt to end 300 lawsuits filed after the
government admitted in the 1980s that it had been keeping secret dossiers
on more than 135,000 people since the 1940s. Plaintiffs have demanded
more than $100 billion in damages, saying their lives were destroyed by lies
leaked from the files.
"I want to offer a solemn and sincere apology to those affected citizens
their families for the concoction and maintenance of these files," Rossello
said at a news conference where he announced the offer.
The decision comes as Puerto Ricans re-examine their often contentious
relationship with the United States, which wrested the island from Spain in
1898. President Bill Clinton's release in September of 11 pro-independence
militants jailed some 20 years ago for seditious conspiracy and weapons
possession, combined with a battle with the U.S. Navy over a bombing
range on an outlying Puerto Rican island, has reinvigorated the island's
pro-independence movement and fueled a new burst of nationalism.
Rossello offered $6,000 each to lawsuit plaintiffs with more than 30 pages
their dossiers. Others with lengthy files who have not sued would receive
$3,000 apiece, he proposed.
Police began collecting information on suspected independence advocates
after the government passed the so-called Gag Law of 1948, which made it
illegal to show the Puerto Rican flag, sing nationalist songs or hold "seditious"
The program was part of former Gov. Luis Munoz Marin's efforts to rein
more radical groups as the Puerto Rican government moved toward its
current commonwealth arrangement with the United States.
Fears that independence supporters were allied with communists prompted
the government, with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to
expand the program into a vast network of undercover agents and
The operation was exposed during investigations into the police killing
young independence supporters in 1978 during an attempted "terrorist
attack" on a television antenna in southern Puerto Rico. An investigation by
the territory's legislature revealed an undercover police agent actually
planned the attack and lured the youths into a police ambush.
In 1987 the island's supreme court ruled such surveillance illegal, and
the next five years the government released more than 8,700 files to their
Stunned residents -- from housewives to prominent journalists _ discovered
old friends had been transcribing their conversations, co-workers had been
taking secret photographs of them and neighbors had been stealing their
mail. More than 6,800 unclaimed files -- as well as lists of undercover agents
and informants -- remain sealed in a building in central San Juan.
Plaintiffs have been trying since 1992 to have the lawsuits combined into
single class action suit, but the effort has been tied up in courts. The Puerto
Rican Independence Party also sued for $500 million, claiming the dossiers
amounted to political persecution.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.