[Ppnews] Puerto Rico Nationalist, Long A Fugitive, Faces Sentence For 1983 Wells Fargo Robbery

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 12 18:30:09 EST 2012


courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-macheteros-1113-20121112,0,7504363.story


    Puerto Rico Nationalist, Long A Fugitive, Faces Sentence For 1983
    Wells Fargo Robbery

By EDMUND H. MAHONY, emahony at courant.com <mailto:emahony at courant.com>

The Hartford Courant

5:01 PM EST, November 12, 2012


Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio, a leader in the underground movement for 
Puerto Rican independence, faces a five-year prison sentence Wednesday 
for planning a notorious, $7 million armored car robbery in West 
Hartford and eluding authorities for nearly three decades.

When the FBI captured Gonzalez in Puerto Rico last year, he was one of 
two fugitive members of the militant group Los Macheteros still wanted 
for the 1983 Wells Fargo robbery. The other, Victor Gerena of Hartford, 
remains at large.

The Wells Fargo robbery, once the largest cash robbery in U.S. history, 
is one of a string of violent acts attributed to Los Macheteros in the 
1970s and 80s. The clandestine group, long a target of the FBI, claims 
to be fighting a war for the independence of Puerto Rico, a U.S. 
territory referred to as a Commonwealth.

A succession of popular votes in Puerto Rico on the island's political 
status shows that more than 90 percent of voters are roughly split 
between remaining a territory and trying to become a state, while fewer 
than five percent support independence.

Documents seized from Los Macheteros by the FBI in the mid-1980s show 
that Gonzalez, 66, was an influential member of the leadership 
committees that set policy and planned operations for the organization 
in the months before and after the robbery.

The records reflect the recruitment of Gerena as the inside man in the 
robbery and how the organization later modified motor homes to smuggle 
Gerena and the money to Mexico and, ultimately, to Cuba. The government 
of Cuba, which provided money, training and weapons to Los Macheteros in 
the 1970s and 1980s, kept about half the money and provided refuge to 
Gerena, according to Cuban sources and material collected by the FBI.

Federal prosecutors are expected to ask Senior U.S. District Judge 
Alfred Covello to impose the five-year sentence it has negotiated with 
Gonzalez, saying the sentence is comparable to those imposed on others 
previously convicted of planning the robbery. Prosecutors also said it 
would have been difficult to try a case that has lain dormant for 29 years.

Gonzalez has pleaded guilty to federal charges related to a conspiracy 
to steal the money and smuggle it out of the country. He pleaded guilty 
as well to illegal possession of a machine gun.

The FBI discovered the weapon during a search of Gonzalez's home at the 
time of his capture in the central Puerto Rico town of Cayey on May 10, 
2011. With the machine gun were two revolvers, a variety of ammunition, 
two bullet-proof vests, a bomb-making manual and documents entitled "Our 
military strategy and tactics"; "military preparedness," "recruitment 
policy," and "communications security."

In a sentencing memo filed in court, federal prosecutors said they would 
have argued, had the case gone to trial, that Gonzalez helped plan, but 
not carry out, the Wells Fargo robbery. The prosecutors said a 
typewriter ribbon seized during an unsuccessful effort to arrest 
Gonzalez in 1985 shows that he was responsible for the series of press 
communiqués in which the group claimed credit of the robbery.

The prosecution memo lists other attacks the FBI attributes to Los 
Macheteros, including an armed assault on a U.S. Navy bus in Puerto Rico 
that killed two sailors and wounded ten, a bombing of nine National 
Guard airplanes at an airport in Puerto Rico, and separate rocket 
attacks on federal courthouses in Puerto Rico.

Military investigators determined that one of the courthouse attacks was 
carried out with a weapon abandoned by the U.S. in Vietnam and provided 
to Los Macheteros by Cuba.

Supporters of Gonzalez and of an independent Puerto Rico, were planning 
a protest Wednesday at the federal building in the Hato Rey district of 
San Juan to coincide with his sentencing in Hartford. In a press 
release, the supports asserted that the U.S. "pursues, imprisons, 
tortures and kills" those who, like Gonzalez, fight for an independent 
Puerto Rico.

Gonzales has been imprisoned without bail since his arrest. His attorney 
could not be reached.

Federal prosecutors asked Covello to require Gonzalez to submit to five 
years of court supervision upon his release from prison in an effort to 
prevent him from becoming active again in the violent wing of the 
independence movement.

"To be clear, the government does not regard the defendant as likely to 
engage in armed robbery or other violent crimes, given his advanced 
age," the prosecutors said in a written sentencing argument. "Los 
Macheteros not only remains active in Puerto Rico, but continues to 
issue communiqués calling for armed struggle against the commonwealth of 
Puerto Rico and the federal government. Continued association with Los 
Macheteros therefore presents an ongoing public safety concern."

The government believes that there were 19 participants in the Wells 
Fargo conspiracy. Only Gerena has not been apprehended.

Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant <http://www.courant.com/>

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