[News] Destroyed FBI Puerto Rico Files Prompt Cover-up Charges
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 25 11:42:00 EDT 2006
Destroyed FBI Puerto Rico Files Prompt Cover-up Charges
by Michelle Chen
Aug. 25 In the wake of an activist's death at
the hands of FBI operatives, the agency's
revelation that it may have destroyed records on
the independence movement in Puerto Rico has
aggravated tensions over the government's presence on the island.
In a recent response to a Freedom of Information
Act request by the Chicago-based legal advocacy
group People's Law Office, the FBI admitted that
it could not locate records relating to the
activities of a prominent Puerto Rican
nationalist. It also stated that its field office
in San Juan, Puerto Rico may have destroyed the
documents when purging its files years ago.
The subject of the requested records was José
Paralitici, leader of the activist group Todo
Puerto Rico con Vieques, which opposed US Navy
weapons testing on the island of Vieques. The
group helped stop the Naval bombardments of the
island in 2003, and since then Paralitici has
continued to organize around Puerto Rican nationalist issues.
In a June 29 letter reviewed by The NewStandard,
the FBI's Records Management Division denied the
request. The Bureau admitted that "records which
may be responsive" to the group's query "were
destroyed on February 2, 1989." Claiming that the
action was part of the Bureau's routine
record-disposal process, Section Chief David
Hardy wrote, "Since this material could not be
reviewed, it is not known if it actually pertains to your subject."
Jan Susler, the attorney who filed the request on
Paralitici's behalf, said by phone from Puerto
Rico that she was unsure whether the FBI did in
fact expunge records, or if it was simply trying
to block access to the information. But either
way, she said, the denial was symptomatic of a
"very sordid history" of intervention in the island's political struggles.
"What business do they have destroying records,"
Susler said, "unless it's to cover up their own
misconduct or criminal conduct with respect to
the independence movement?" She noted that any
destruction of records in 1989 would have
followed a string of federal crackdowns on Puerto
Rican dissident activity during the first part of the decade.
While the FBI's response has ignited political
tensions, the request initially cited educational
motives. The original letter to the FBI on May 11
stated that Paralitici, a professor and
historian, was seeking the documents "as part of
his ongoing efforts to publish and disseminate
articles, presentations and books about Puerto Rico."
In recent years, the FBI has begun declassifying
hundreds of thousands of pages of intelligence on
independence activists and organizations in
Puerto Rico, which is considered a commonwealth
of the United States. US Representative José
Serrano (DNew York) negotiated the release of
the documents in 2000, after then-FBI director
Louis Freeh publicly conceded that the Bureau had
made extensive efforts to track and squelch political subversion on the island.
The documents have elucidated longstanding links
between federal authorities and the suppression
of the independence movement. Dissidents have
struggled against the local and federal political
regimes throughout Puerto Rico's colonial
history, which has been punctuated by violent
clashes and assassinations of activists.
On Tuesday, Serrano issued a letter demanding
that the FBI "suspend any further destruction of
records concerning organizations and individuals
related to the Puerto Rican independence
movement." He also requested a full record of
such activities conducted in the past, warning
that a commitment to greater transparency would
be crucial in order to address "concerns about
the Bureau's modus operandi in Puerto Rico."
The FBI's admission that it eliminated files has
churned another controversy surrounding its
operations in Puerto Rico: the recent killing of
fugitive leftist leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.
Ríos, who led the clandestine rebel group Los
Macheteros during the 1970s and 1980s, was gunned
down by agents with the San Juan field office
last September. An inspector general's report
released this month ruled that the FBI had acted
within the law in killing Ríos, who was wanted
for a 1983 bank heist. But Ríos's supporters view
the incident as an assassination and accuse the FBI of a cover-up.
Pointing to mounting evidence of the Bureau's
instrumental role in crushing activism on the
island, Susler said: "They have a lot of
accounting to do to the people of Puerto Rico
It's one thing that they don't want it to come to
light, but it's another thing to hide and to destroy the evidence."
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