CERRO MARAVILLA DEATHS Police Cover-up Rock Puerto Rico

September 25, 2007

On July 25, 1978 two young inde-
pendentistas were killed by police on
a hilltop in southern Puerto Rico. At
the time, the response to the killings
broke down along predictable political
lines. The police, Governor Carlos
Romero Barcel6 and the statehood
movement defended the action as a
blow against left-wing terrorism; the
families of the victims and the inde-
pendence movement protested the
slaughter of two innocents; investiga-
tive journalists, notably from the San
Juan Star began a dogged pursuit of
discrepancies in the official version of
the case. Now, more than six years
later, the case named Cerro Maravilla
has become a major factor in Puerto
Rican politics. It could tip the balance
against pro-statehood Governor Rom-
ero in the island's November elections
and play a leading role in relations
between Puerto Rico and the United
States in the years to come.
Carlos Soto, 18, and Arnoldo Ro-
sado, 24, had been long-time indepen-
dence activists who operated on the
fringe of groups at the University of
Puerto Rico. In 1976 they formed the
Armed Revolutionary Movement
(MRA), a group which, despite its
name, did no more than meet sporadi-
cally over sodas to discuss politics.
The character of the group changed
dramatically with the arrival of a new
member, Alejandro Gonzilez Mal-
av6. The 20-year-old Gonzalez was a
card-carrying organizer of the Puerto
Rican Socialist Party (PSP) and an
outspoken advocate of armed action
over words. It was under his encour-
agement that the three MRA militants
left for the hilltop, Cerro Maravilla,
on July 25. Police were waiting, tip-
ped off by their undercover agent.
That agent was Gonzilez Malav6.
The official statements issued the
next day reported that the three were
attempting to bomb a television tower
on the hill; challenged by the police,
they charged the police position, and
Soto and Rosado were killed in the
shootout. The police actions were
praised by the governor and cleared
by four investigations between 1978
and 1980, two by the Puerto Rican
Department of Justice and two by the
U.S. Department of Justice.
In 1980, Romero's opposition, the
Popular Democratic Party (PPD), won
control of the legislature, while Ro-
mero regained the governorship by the
slightest of margins. Shortly after tak-
ing office, Senate President Miguel
Herndndez Agosto launched an inde-
pendent investigation of the deaths at
Cerro Maravilla. After three years of
tedious legwork, the Senate opened
televised hearings in the summer of
1983. By the time the first rounds
were finished in November, two po-
lice agents had asked for immunity
and presented testimony that stunned
the island.
There was no evidence that the
youths had planned to bomb the tele-
vision tower; they were carrying wire
and handguns, with the apparent in-
tention of tying up the technician and
broadcasting a revolutionary message.
They surrendered to the police after a
brief exchange of fire. The two were
Puerto Rico's pro-statehood governor, Carlos Romero Barcel6
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1984
Anne Nelson is a journalist who has
been covering Latin America since
1978. Her book on Puerto Rico will
be published next year.disarmed and beaten, then executed as
they knelt begging for mercy. Accord-
ing to police testimony, police intelli-
gence chief Angel P6rez Casillas, who
led the operation, told his men in the
days preceding the killings that "these
terrorists should not come down
alive." The police began constructing
their cover stories at the scene of the
killing itself. The cover-up was to last
five years and involve a host of Rome-
ro Administration officials.
In the aftermath of the Senate reve-
lations, both the Puerto Rican Depart-
ment of Justice and its federal coun-
terpart have re-opened their investiga-
tions, and a flurry of lawsuits have
been filed. They highlight a number
of serious questions regarding the use
of undercover operations by the
Puerto Rican police and the San Juan
bureau of the FBI, and the politiciza-
tion of the judiciary system in Puerto
Rico.
"Two Wings of the Same Bird"
Tension between the independence
movement and federal and common-
wealth authorities goes back as far as
the Commonwealth itself. It reached a
peak in 1950, when nationalists under
the quixotic leadership of Pedro Al-
bizu Campos staged an armed revolt
in the mountain town of Jayuya, at-
tacked the governor's mansion and
made an assassination attempt on
President Truman. The Jayuya revolt
was put down by the National Guard,
and government investigators made
mass arrests-including some that
were pre-emptive-in an attempt to
defuse the violence by neutralizing
the group's leadership. Prominent
nationalist leaders went through a re-
volving door of federal prisons during
the 1950s. At the same time, the op-
timism that surrounded Luis Mufioz
Marin and his Popular Democratic
Party as they pioneered the Common-
wealth over those years robbed the
nationalists of some of their support.
The 1959 Cuban Revolution as-
tounded all of Latin America, and
nowhere was the impact greater than
in Puerto Rico. The two islands had a
common colonial history (one poet
called them "two wings of the same
bird") and at the outset Mufioz Marin
was one of Castro's most enthusiastic
supporters. But as Cuba aligned itself
with the Soviet Union, Muioz regret-
fully abandoned his support, and the
Puerto Rican Left took note. The
Puerto Rican Independence Party
(PIP) had been founded in 1946 by
dissenters within Mufioz Marin's PPD
to pursue independence through elec-
toral means. Now, within months of
Castro's takeover, more militant left-
ists in the PIP broke with their social
democratic allies to form the Pro-In-
dependence Movement (MPI).
In 1972 this group evolved into the
Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP).
Like its previous incarnation, the
MPI, the party was openly pro-Cuban
and pro-Soviet. As such, it inherited
the attention of the energetic Coun-
terintelligence Program (COINTEL-
PRO) which the FBI had launched in
the early 1960s. COINTELPRO con-
centrated especially on leftist labor
unions, the MPI and its affiliated stu-
dent group, FUPI. J. Edgar Hoover
himself took a personal interest in the
program, and encouraged field agents
to carry out a series of "dirty tricks,"
which included mail opening, anony-
mous slanders and threats and infiltra-
tion of the independence movement.
"Security informants operating in-
side the groups could, under certain
circumstances," wrote Hoover in one
1960 memo, "raise controversial is-
sues at meetings, raise justifiable criti-
cisms against leaders and take other
steps which would weaken the organi-
zation." As the Cubans-and the
MPI/PSP-became more actively pro-
Soviet, these measures were redou-
bled.
During the 1970s political violence
increased in Puerto Rico. Anti-Castro
Cubans had fled to the island in
droves, and some of them struck
blindly at the Puerto Rican indepen-
dence movement as their nearest ob-
ject of revenge. Independentista of-
fices were bombed and leaders at-
tacked by mysterious gunmen; inde-
pendentista groups retaliated by plac-
ing bombs in U.S. military facilities
and corporate buildings. On the main-
land, the Armed Forces of National
Liberation (FALN) took a bloody toll
with its bombings at the Fraunces
Tavern in New York and other sites,
reaching a peak of activity in the late
1970s and becoming a priority target
for the FBI.
FBI at Cross Purposes with Police
It was in this atmosphere that
Alejandro Gonzilez Malav6 became
an undercover police agent. He was
recruited at the age of 15, without his
parents' knowledge. Soon he had pen-
etrated student groups, then the PSP
itself, drawing notice as a bombastic
orator. He was one of a network of
agents. Others, such as Luis Daniel
Erazo F61lix and Ren6 V61ez V61ez,
were encouraged by their police con-
tacts to take a leadership role in the
PSP and simultaneously infiltrate
smaller groups that might be violence-
prone.
There is no evidence that GonzAlez
Malav6 himself ever worked for the
FBI-indeed, the Cerro Maravilla
hearings showed that at one point the
FBI had PSP militant Gonzilez Mal-
av6 under surveillance, stumbling
Keystone Cops-style over a police in-
telligence operation. But the FBI had
infiltrators of its own, occasionally,
one supposes, working at cross pur-
poses with the island police.
By 1978 Gonzilez Malav6 was in-
volved with two splinter groups, the
MRA and the Anti-Imperialist Armed
Forces (FAAI). The FAAI had four
members besides Gonzalez Malav6;
the MRA three. GonzAlez Malav6
joined both groups within a few weeks
of their founding, and the subsequent
evidence indicates that he galvanized
both into action. In April 1978 two
members of the FAAI met at Gon-
zilez Malav6's apartment to assemble
a homemade bomb with materials he
provided. On May 1st they installed it
at a federal post office near the Uni-
versity of Puerto Rico. Gonzalez
Malave drove them to the scene in his
red Volkswagen. Three officers from
the police intelligence division, in-
formed in advance of the evening ac-
tion by Gonzalez Malav6, were on
hand to observe the bombing, accom-
panied by two FBI agents. No arrests
were made.
Later that month, GonzAlez Malav6
reported to his superiors that he had
used $60 in police operating funds to
buy a revolver for Arnoldo Rosado.
in
REPORT ON THE AMERICAS
REPORT ON THE AMERICAS
10Charges against the police range from murder to hijacking cosmetics.
On July 4th he drove the members of
the MRA to the university, again in
his own car. They stole seven walkie-
talkies from the campus police sta-
tion-the first and only guerrilla oper-
ation carried out by the MRA. Ac-
cording to Ram6n Rosado, the sole
surviving member of the MRA, the
group would never have dared to carry
out even such a minor activity with-
out Gonzalez Malav6's insistence.
Rosado recalls that the night before
the Cerro Maravilla incident, the
group met to talk about attending a
rally in Gudnica the next day; they
also debated going to Cerro Mara-
villa, with Gonzilez Malav6 urging
them to action and Carlos Soto pro-
testing that it was premature.
Police testimony suggests that Gon-
zilez Malav6 must have been under
considerable pressure himself.:He had
informed the intelligence division
many days in advance that an attack
on a federal tower near Cerro Mara-
villa was in the offing. At the same
time the MRA was having its last
meeting in San Juan, police agents
were in place on the hilltop; intel-
ligence chief P6rez Casillas had al-
ready informed both Governor Ro-
mero and the San Juan office of the
FBI that an operation was going to
occur. There is no doubt that young
Soto and Rosado were led into a trap;
the question is whether that trap was
set by legal means.
New Light on Entrapment
Controversy has raged in the legal
establishment for a number of years
over the propriety of entrapment. The
outcome of the John DeLorean co-
caine trial was a major new develop-
ment. In that trial, Federal District
Judge Robert Takasuki told the jury
that the entrapment defense was appli-
cable to a defendant who was induced
by government agents or informers to
commit a crime that he was "not
ready and willing" to commit. The
Puerto Rican Senate's hearings indi-
cated that Gonzalez Malav6 acted im-
properly in entrapping the two MRA
youths, and that the police then killed
them without justification.
The third, and potentially most pro-
vocative, stage of the Senate hear-
ings-an examination of the cover-
up-is scheduled to begin in Sep-
tember. Two key witnesses will be the
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1984
attorneys in charge of the first Puerto
Rican Justice Department investiga-
tion, Pedro Colton and Angel Figue-
roa Vivas. The two have been accused
of threatening and bribing witnesses,
as well as coaching the police agents
on their cover story before they made
depositions.
The U.S. Department of Justice in-
vestigations are also coming under
close scrutiny. A 1979 FBI memo ad-
vised that, "A full preliminary inves-
tigation [of Cerro Maravilla] was in-
advisable as such investigation would
be seized upon by elements of the
press in an attempt to discredit the
government of Puerto Rico, the Com-
monwealth Department of Justice and
the police."
The FBI, in other words, was
blocking an investigation for fear of
laying open to criticism the very in-
stitutions it was told to investigate.
Newly released documents from the
U.S. Department of Justice reveal that
the FBI also accepted the appointment
of Puerto Rican police intelligence
chief Angel P6rez Casillas as coordi-
nator between the bureau and the
police-the same P6rez Casillas who
planned the Cerro Maravilla operation
and told his agents that the two youths
should not come down alive.
The Cerro Maravilla case is com-
plex and remarkable, but it is not
unique. .Puerto Rico is suffering an
epidemic of police corruption and
misconduct; various officers are now
standing trial for other crimes ranging
from the murder of a New York Has-
sidic diamond merchant to hijacking a
truckload of Oil of Olay. Nor is ne-
glect and second-rate treatment from
federal agencies in Washington un-
usual; the Puerto Ricans have perpetu-
ally been obliged to go to court to
achieve equality under the law.
When U.S. forces invaded Puerto
Rico in 1898, Major General Nelson
Miles told the population, "We have
not come to make war against the
people of a country that for centuries
have been oppressed, but on the con-
trary, to bring you protection . . . and
to bestow upon you the immunities
and blessings of the liberal institutions
of our government." Unfortunately
for Puerto Ricans, those blessings can
often be bestowed very selectively.

Tags: Puerto Rico, independence, Cerro Maravilla, police violence


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