[Ppnews] Puerto Rico questions Grand Jury subpoenas

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 5 10:17:43 EDT 2008

Puerto Rico questions U.S. subpoenas


By: Tristan Dewar

Posted: 9/5/08

Controversy surrounding the subpoenas of four 
Puerto Rican activists has renewed America's 
interest in the movement for Puerto Rican independence.

Tania Frontera, Christian Torres, Elliot 
Monteverde and Jose Diaz are Puerto Rican 
citizens and members of the independence movement 
who were subpoenaed earlier this year to testify before a grand jury.

The decision angered officials both in Puerto 
Rico and the continental United States. On June 
25, New York City legislators Melissa Mark 
Viverito, Leticia James and Rosie Mendez publicly 
condemned the FBI's handling of the subpoenas.

The four activists have a history of involvement 
in pro-independence movements against the U.S. 
government, including the successful struggle for 
the liberation of the island of Vieques from the 
control of the U.S. Navy in 2003.

The activists also participated in demonstrations 
condemning the 2005 death of Filiberto Ojeda 
Ríos, leader of the a militant, pro-independence 
group Los Macheteros, as an act of political 
repression by the U.S. government against the 
Puerto Rican independence movement.

The activists and their legal counsel denounced 
the subpoenas as a means of undermining the 
independence movement. Critics cite the secret 
nature of grand jury hearings as indicative of 
the U.S.'s intent. The press and general public 
are not allowed into the hearing and the 
activists' legal representation cannot be present during questioning.

According to Will Pizio, assistant professor of 
justice and policy studies, grand juries are 
convened for two specific purposes: either to see 
if probable cause exists for parties already 
under arrest or to determine if probable cause exists for future arrests.

The activists are not charged with any crimes but 
could be held in contempt of court and face 
imprisonment if they decide not to testify. 
Supporters of the activists also question why the 
FBI has not yet stated if the subpoenas and 
hearing questions are the product of illegal communications monitoring.

If made to testify before a grand jury, each 
activist could theoretically act as an informant 
in incriminating other members of the independence movement.

"It's a judgment call that the activists and 
their lawyers have to make," Pizio said. 
"Whenever anyone is compelled to testify before a 
grand jury they must decide between the lesser of 
two evils. It's similar to the decision 
journalists make when asked to give up their sources."

The activists and their supporters say that these 
latest subpoenas are another act of grand jury 
political repression dating back to the 1930s 
when the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party was subpoenaed for its membership list.

The success of the independence movement in 
removing Vieques from U.S. control prompted the 
U.S. to reassert its authority. Ríos' death, 
which pro-independence supporters attribute to 
this escalation of control, was widely denounced 
by Puerto Ricans on both sides of the issue.

Ríos was killed in a gunfight against F.B.I. 
agents who claimed they were attempting to arrest him.

Ríos was in hiding as a result of jumping bail 
for the robbery of a Wells Fargo depot in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1990.

After Ríos' death, The Puerto Rico Justice 
Department filed a suit against the F.B.I. and 
the U.S. Attorney General for withholding 
information crucial to an internal investigation 
of the skirmish. The F.B.I. and U.S. Justice Department have yet to acquiesce.

Robert Duncan, assistant professor of political 
science, believes that the subpoenas are a move 
specifically targeting the more radical elements 
of the pro-independence movement. "[Los 
Macheteros] are disgruntled, diehard terrorists," Duncan said.

"The activists may or may not be connected [to 
militant pro-independence groups]," Duncan said, 
"but the U.S. government wants to talk to find 
out what they know about the independence 
movement. The grand jury is supposed to assess the evidence."

Senior Yasmin Casado, a Puerto Rican student and 
co-president of HUG (Hispanos Unidos de 
Guilford), does not condone a radical approach to 
independence. "I think it's pretty radical, but I 
can see why they're pushing more violently for independence," she said.

Both Casado and junior Elena Conley, also 
co-president of HUG, express concern that 
independence might not be best for Puerto Rico 
presently. "Puerto Rico has changed. It's become 
more poor and dangerous. It didn't use to be like that," Casado said.

"An independent Puerto Rico would essentially be 
a third world country right now because of how 
dependent we are on the U.S. economy," Conley said.

Conley and Casado think that obtaining statehood 
is a long term goal for Puerto Rico.

"I think it's a jip," Conley said. "We can serve 
in the army, but we can't vote for president. 
There's not a lot of communication between the 
U.S. and Puerto Rico. We follow U.S. laws, but we have no influence over them."

Both Casado and Conley feel that Puerto Rican 
statehood would ultimately be a boon for Puerto 
Rico, but recognize that becoming a state has its consequences.

"It's like the situation with Hawaii," Casado 
said. "Puerto Ricans are concerned about becoming 
Americanized and losing their culture."

"It's a give-and-take situation," Conley said. "I 
wouldn't jump into making Puerto Rico a state. 
But Puerto Ricans are very proud, and preserving 
language and culture is important. Puerto Ricans 
must do what is best for Puerto Rico for now."

© Copyright 2008 The Guilfordian

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