Learning from history: Repression against the Puerto Rican people

On July 25, 1978, three men climbed to the top of Cerro Maravilla near Ponce, Puerto Rico, where they planned to blow up a radio transmission tower as an act of “propaganda of the deed” in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. The police were waiting for them. After a brief struggle, they surrendered to the cops, who proceeded to murder Arnaldo Diario Rosada and Carlos Enrique Soto Arrivi in cold blood.

As a later investigation was to prove, the third man, Alejandro Gonzalez Malave, though accidentally injured in the encounter, was an agent provocateur who had masterminded the entire scheme and lured the others to their deaths.

The killing of the two independentistas is but one chapter in the long history of FBI repression against the Puerto Rican people and the Puerto Rican independence movement. And Gonzalez Malave was just one of a whole stable of provocateurs.

Since the island was taken over by the United States after the Spanish-American War of 1898, there have been those in Puerto Rico and elsewhere who have worked for independence. Over the years, the United States government, aided by the island’s police forces, has done everything it can to discredit, disrupt and suppress those groups. In the process the names of anyone who speaks out for justice or the rights of the Puerto Rican people has ended up on a list of suspected independenistas – or worse.

In 1971, when J. Edgar Hoover was still head of the FBI, the decision was made to up the ante in the war against the Puerto Rican independence movement. Puerto Rican authorities presented the FBI with a plan for disrupting the independence movement (which they portrayed as being run from Cuba) with particular emphasis on creating a system of informers and agents to “neutralize” pro-independence organizations. The plan dovetailed perfectly with Hoover’s COINTELPRO program of dirty tricks against the left. Thus the Cerro Maravilla plot was hatched. Young independentistas would be entrapped into committing illegal acts so that the police could jump on them.

Cerro Maravilla went seriously wrong. The men went to the mountain in a hijacked taxi. The cops forgot to kill the taxi driver, who found a way to expose the fact that the two had been murdered, not killed in an open fight. Then one of the triggermen, frustrated by denial of a promotion, also sang. Then the Puerto Rican Senate, controlled by the pro-Commonwealth opposition to pro-statehood Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo, decided to have hearings on the issue and hired Sam Dash, of Watergate fame, to do some of the investigating.

The hearings opened a horrible can of worms for Barcelo, the FBI and the U.S. government when it became clear that the FBI was working closely with the people who planned the Cerro Maravilla setup and, very likely, had a hand in it from the outset. It was also clear that Barcelo was heavily implicated.

Eventually, a number of Puerto Rican policemen (but no FBI agents) were jailed. Gonzalez Malave was gunned down in 1986, with a shadowy pro-independence group claiming credit. We may never know if, in fact, pro-independence groups killed him for his treachery or if former colleagues killed him to keep him from telling what he knew about Cerro Maravilla.

Many are asking why the continued repression in Puerto Rico and against Puerto Rican activists living here? The answer is simple: Puerto Rico is seen by the United States ruling class as the world’s largest aircraft carrier, to be used as a base for military operations in the Caribbean, Central and South America. As social instability heats up in Latin America, providing ever-growing resistance to things like the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Puerto Rico will be seen as an even more essential resource of imperialism, and the name of anybody who seems to threaten that role may very well end up in a secret file reserved for those who participate in the fight for a free and independent Puerto Rico.



Emile Schepers is a contributor in Chicago. He can be reached at pww@pww.org