by Jim Grilli
The U.S. antiwar and solidarity activists under attack by the FBI are facing repression of the sort that many other fighters for freedom and justice have had to face. The movement for Puerto Rican independence in particular has suffered egregiously at the hands of the FBI.
Indeed, since the 1930s the grand jury has been one of the U.S. government’s key tools in suppressing activists fighting for a country that has been under American dominance since 1898. In the 1980s Puerto Rican Independistas were thrown in jail after refusing to testify before a grand jury. One victim, Norton Cintron Fiallo, a former president of the Puerto Rican Workers Union, was jailed for 11 months in a facility in New York City for refusing.
Fast forward to 2006, when FBI agents in the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, raided the home of another activist. Just like the folks from Minneapolis, Chicago, North Carolina, and Michigan, she also had her belongings carted off, but under even worse circumstances; during the raid the victim was withheld from consulting with her attorney, who was on the premises.
This was one of several simultaneous raids on that day. As the media began to provide coverage of what had happened, they, along with others protesting, were subjected to brutality at the hands of the agents. But that did not deter the 500 protesters who turned up at the federal building in San Juan a few days after the raids.
Similar invasions of rights reciprocated by strong demonstrations of solidarity also took place on the U.S. mainland. In Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Chicago, protests were held to support three New York-based independence activists who had been subpoenaed in January of 2008.
The FBI attacks on both antiwar and Puerto Rican activists both have come as an attempt by the U.S. government to reassert itself during a time of mounting opposition. U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing increasingly unpopular. No one is fooled by the lies put forth by the Obama administration that the Iraq war is winding down. Indeed, 50,000 troops remain there, along with slews of mercenaries.
Israel’s deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the Obama administration’s virtual silence in regard to it, have only further tarnished the image of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in the eyes of the public. All of this, in combination with the economic crisis, makes it a necessity for the government to try to stifle dissent.
In Puerto Rico it’s a similar story. Following the 2003 removal of the U.S. Navy from the island of Vieques by activists, the repercussions have been deadly as the U.S. government tries to tighten its grip on Puerto Rico. After the Navy was ousted, 12 activists were prosecuted for tearing down Navy equipment that was only going to be scrapped anyway.
Two years later, in 2005, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, a long-time independence activist and member of Boricua People’s Army-Machateros, was shot and murdered by the FBI. This was on Sept. 23, when Puerto Ricans commemorate the first attempt at independence from Spain that took place in 1868–a day known as the Grito de Lares.
Following the reclaiming of Vieques and the murder of Ojeda, activists have frequently been subjected to abuses by U.S. government agents. Puerto Rican independence activists have been labeled “terrorists,” as the FBI continues to “investigate” the Macheteros. The idea is to quickly snuff anything that resembles organized opposition.