[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
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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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