FBI campaign in Puerto Rico lasted more than 4 decades
Documents released by agency detail surveillance, disruption
BY JUAN GONZALEZ
New York Daily News
NEW YORK -- For more than 40 years, the FBI pursued a secret campaign
surveillance, disruption and repression against Puerto Rico's independence
movement -- but only now is the full story coming out.
The revelations began in March, when FBI Director Louis Freeh
congressional budget hearing by conceding that his agency had violated the civil
rights of many Puerto Ricans over the years and had engaged in ``egregious
illegal action, maybe criminal action.''
``Particularly in the 1960s, the FBI did operate a program that
destruction to many people, to the country, and certainly to the FBI,'' Freeh said
in response to questions from Rep. Jose Serrano, the ranking Democrat on the
House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FBI budget.
To redress past injustices, Freeh told Serrano he was ordering
virtually all agency
files on the secret campaign declassified and made public.
A few weeks later, the director notified Serrano that the FBI's
Puerto Rico file --
about 1.8 million documents -- was being prepared for him, with only the names of
living informants blacked out.
Last week, two FBI agents delivered the first installment on that
Serrano's Washington office -- 8,600 pages in four plain cardboard boxes, and the
following day Serrano allowed The Daily News an exclusive look at what's inside.
Most files in the first batch concern the agency's investigation
pursuit of the small but extremist Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and its fiery
leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, who died in 1965 after many years in prison on
terrorism and sedition charges.
The first FBI agent arrived in Puerto Rico in 1936, after the
local U.S. attorney, A.
Cecil Snyder, complained to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that Albizu Campos
was doing terrible things like publishing ``articles insulting the United States'' and
giving ``public speeches in favor of independence.''
Although he had no proof, Snyder said he suspected Albizu Campos
several unsolved bombings of federal buildings.
Within months of the first agent's arrival, Albizu and several
top party leaders were
indicted and convicted of sedition and hauled off to a federal prison in Atlanta.
Even after the arrests, the federal government remained worried
1940s about the potential for violence by the Nationalists. In 1943, the documents
show, Albizu was paroled from federal prison. He moved to New York City and
refused to report to a parole officer. The Roosevelt administration, against the
wishes of Hoover and Justice Department officials, would not order him back to
prison for fear of unrest on the island.
The bombshells in these first boxes, however, have little to do
Among the most surprising files:
Nov. 11, 1940: Hoover writes the FBI's San Juan office ordering
it to ``obtain all
information of a pertinent character . . . concerning Luis Muñoz Marin and his
Muñoz, the most popular Puerto Rican leader of the 20th
Century, was at the
time president of the Puerto Rican Senate. He would become the island's first
elected governor and the father of its commonwealth constitution. Yet the FBI
kept him under surveillance for more than 20 years, with agents compiling
information about his personal debts and his mistresses, and periodically
updating psychological portraits of him.
June 12, 1961: Hoover, who had given his San Juan agents the
green light for a
campaign to disrupt the independence movement, writes:
``In order to appraise the caliber of leadership in the Puerto
movement, particularly as it pertains to our efforts to disrupt their activities and
compromise their effectiveness, we should have intimate detailed knowledge of
the most influential leaders. . . .
``We must have information concerning their weaknesses, morals,
records, spouses, children, family life and personal activities other than
Dec. 21, 1961: A San Juan agent notifies Hoover that he has met
with the editor
of El Mundo newspaper and gotten him to agree to publish an editorial
condemning a radical university group, FUPI, without disclosing that the piece
was authored by the FBI.
The dozens of memos from Hoover in these boxes show that the legendary
chief paid very close attention to events in Puerto Rico.
COINTELPRO, the FBI's infamous 1960s program to disrupt dissident
had a far more devastating impact in Puerto Rico than in the States. The
commonwealth government has already admitted that -- helped by the FBI and
Naval Intelligence -- it illegally kept files on more than 140,000 pro-independence
dissidents. Many were blacklisted for years.
``For such a small population, Puerto Ricans must be the most
people in history,'' Serrano said Monday.