FBI attacks journalists during Puerto Rico raids

MAYAGÜEZ, Puerto Rico — Voices from almost all sectors of Puerto Rican society have been raised, once again, in protest against imperial arrogance and violations of people’s rights in this colony by U.S. authorities, following FBI raids of homes of pro-independence leaders on the morning of Feb. 10 in which a number of journalists were attacked with pepper spray. All the video footage shot by different news agencies showed the FBI attacks were unprovoked.

The FBI raided five homes and one economic development agency in six municipalities, mostly in the western part of this Caribbean nation. The raids on the activists’ homes were conducted while they were away at work. All were members of Breaking the Perimeter Coordination, a group set up after the killing of independence leader Feliberto Ojeda Rios five months ago in an FBI raid.

In a press release, the FBI claimed the raids were carried out to prevent “potential terrorist attacks,” yet there have been no arrests and no apparent measures taken to prevent any of the raid’s targets from leaving Puerto Rico.

The statement, which substituted for a promised but scuttled press conference, also claimed the belligerent actions of the FBI were undertaken to “protect the public, the press and our agents during the operation.” To justify its actions, it said some items were thrown at FBI vehicles when they were leaving the area. However, it failed to note that the items were thrown at them only after they attacked and injured the journalists.

During the raid on the home of Lilian Laboy in Rio Piedra, the FBI refused to let either her daughter or her lawyers be present during the search. After the search, Laboy’s daughter went back into the building, and left the gate to the condominium’s common area open. Reporters followed. The federal agents then attacked.

“Besides it being another FBI abuse of power in Puerto Rico, it implies a violation of client-lawyer communication,” said the Puerto Rican Bar Association president, Julio Fontanet. Fontanet also said that federal rules governing search and seizures stipulate that there should be at least one person representing the owner of the premises observing the search.

The offices of Jose Morales, executive director of the Ecumenical Committee for Community Economic Development (CEDECO), were left in shambles, and computers and files were taken. Morales, a Presbyterian minister, said FBI agents had visited his office not too long ago acting as federal auditors. CEDECO develops housing using grants from both the Puerto Rican as well the U.S. government.

Teachers’ Union leader Jesus Delgado said it was “the FBI that took part in a terrorist act” by attacking the press. He said it was an attempt to smear and silence “pro-independence and socialist” activists.

The head of the FBI office in Puerto Rico, Luis Fraticelli, issued another press release claiming that journalists were at fault because they “attacked” the agents. Oscar Serrano, president of the Puerto Rican Association of Journalists, demanded charges be filed against the agents involved. Annette Alvarez of the Overseas Press Club demanded the same.

Margarita Sanchez de Leon of the Puerto Rican branch of Amnesty International said clips from the video footage of the incident “speak for themselves.” She added, “In all the tapes we saw the FBI use excessive force.”

Meanwhile, the FBI’s Fraticelli refuses to answer questions from the press.

Independence Party (PIP) legislators filed resolutions demanding the Puerto Rican secretary of justice investigate and file charges against the FBI agents. The legislative leadership of the autonomist Popular Democrats announced they would join in co-sponsoring the PIP resolution.