Grand Juries Against Puerto Rican Activists

by Will Potter on January 16, 2008

in Terrorism Court Cases

Through my reporting, I focus on how the “War on Terrorism” is being used to target environmental and animal advocates. But one thing I try to hit home again and again is that this “Green Scare” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The attacks on environmental and animal advocates are strikingly similar to other eras of government repression, such as the communist witch hunts in the Red Scare and COINTELPRO-style surveillance in the 60s (and beyond). What’s happening to environmental and animal advocates now is not unique, historically, and it’s unfortunately not unique in a contemporary context either.

That’s disheartening, of course. It’s easy to think, “Well if this stuff has been going on for so long, and it’s still happening, what’s the point in trying to stop it?” But it’s a mistake to fall victim to that kind of thinking. In some ways, I see it is a bigger opportunity to do something positive, like building relationships with other social movements and other communities, learning from their experiences, and working together on shared visions.

That’s a long introduction to a feature on called “Movement Watch.” I’ll highlight non-eco news, in the hopes of making connections between the “Green Scare” and what’s going on elsewhere.

First up: grand jury subpoenas for Puerto Rican activists.

The FBI/NYPD Anti-Terrorism Task Force has been visiting Puerto Ricans in New York City, and ordering them to appear before a Brooklyn grand jury. The grand jury is investigating a violent Puerto Rican pro-independence groups called the Macheteros.

From Juan Gonzalez at the NY Daily News:

In addition to the young Pabon, Tania Frontera, a graphic designer, and Christopher Torres, a social worker, have been subpoenaed.

Frontera and Torres were active several years ago in the successful movement to end the Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range, acquaintances say. Protests over the grand jury investigation are expected Friday here and in Puerto Rico.

Serrano fears the federal government is once again using grand juries and law enforcement surveillance to intimidate Puerto Ricans engaged in legitimate dissent.

Back in 2000, at the congressman’s request, former FBI Director Louis Freeh declassified and released thousands of internal agency documents about the FBI’s activities in Puerto Rico.

Those documents revealed a massive campaign by the agency to disrupt and persecute independence groups from the 1930s to the late 1970s. The surveillance even targeted longtime governor of Puerto Rico Luis Muñoz Marin.

According to BreakAllChains, in one recent case the FBI claimed to be investigating “the extremist group: The Welfare Poets.” The Welfare Poets is a collective of artists and activists.

The danger of grand juries is that they’re a legal black hole. The government can haul in activists, question them about their political beliefs and political associations, and throw them in jail if they refuse to cooperate. Even if activists walk in the grand jury room, but don’t answer questions, it still creates mistrust among other activists because grand jury deliberations are secret.

The government has been using grand juries to harass environmental and animal rights advocates for years. Recently, grand jury subpoenas for Tony Wong and Brandon Elder were dropped, apparently because prosecutors got the picture that the two weren’t going to cooperate in a political witch hunt.

Previous post:

Next post: