December 14, 1999
Puerto Rico offers settlement to targets
of anti-independence spying campaign

                  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 and
                  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 in
                  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 in
                  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
                  surveillance operations.

                  The operation was exposed during investigations into the police killing of two
                  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 over
                  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 a
                  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.