[News] Destroyed’ FBI Puerto Rico Files Prompt Cover-up Charges

Anti-Imperialist News 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 (D–New 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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