In November, 1977, as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by several news reporters, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released thousands of documents pertaining to its nefarious COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence) Program. These documents revealed the existence of a counterintelligence program directed against the Puerto Rican independence movement as well as other activists.
The program’s primary purpose against the Puerto Rican movement was to maintain the status quo of Puerto Rico as a colony and prevent any further movement toward Puerto Rican independence. In 1960, FBI Director j. Edgar Hoover instructed FBI agents in Puerto Rico and New York “that more positive efforts must be made not only to curtail but to disrupt the activities of Puerto Rican nationalists.” Counterintelligence procedures against “Groups seeking independence for Puerto Rico” were immediately established and covert operations against the targeted groups were carried out at least until 1971, when COINTELPRO was officially terminated. With this background, and faced with growing evidence of the FBI’s attempts to manipulate, control, and otherwise illegally influence the 1978 United Nations Decolonization Committee’s hearings on the status of Puerto Rico, as well as the October, 1978, United States National Democratic Primary in Puerto Rico, twelve Puerto Rican independence leaders and five organizations sued the FBI. They sought to enjoin all COINTELPRO-type activities directed against the United Nations events and the Democratic Party Primary.
Despite the impressive evidence presented by the plaintiffs, the Court dismissed their action prior to any discovery and without giving them a chance to prove the FBI’s continuing illegal interference with the Puerto Rican independence movement.
Although the dismissal of the suit was summarily affirmed (without allowing the filing of briefs or hearing oral argument on behalf of the plaintiffs) by the D.C. Court of Appeals, it generated substantial press coverage in Puerto Rico. The suit also helped to expose the continuing illegal activities against the growing movement for independence for Puerto Rico. In addition, it contributed to building unity in the various pro-independence forces. This resulted in a favorable United Nations resolution on Puerto Rico. It also aided the movement’s boycott of the Puerto Rico primary, where approximately 80% of the registered voters in the island refused to vote.
Jose Antonio Lugo, Michael Rainer