Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) Criticizes FBI For Cracking Down on Independence Movement in Puerto Rico

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Several members of Congress are calling for an investigation into recent raids conducted by the FBI targeting pro-independence activists in Puerto Rico. Last week, hundreds of members of the FBI’s counterterrorism unit conducted six simultaneous raids targeting members of the pro-independence group known as the Macheteros. We speak with Jose Serrano, Democatic Congressmember of Puerto Rican origin and representing a major Puerto Rican district of the Bronx. [includes rush transcript]

The FBI claimed it was attempting to thwart a possible domestic terrorism attack. At one of the raids, FBI agents beat and pepper sprayed journalists who attempted to conduct interviews. The raids come less than six months after the FBI shot dead Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Serrano, we want to switch gears for a moment and ask you about what’s happening in Puerto Rico with the F.B.I. sweep that was launched last week, they say to prevent a, quote, “domestic terrorist attack.” You’ve held a news conference on this issue. Are they using these sweeps as a guise for something else? Is there a real threat here?

REP. JOSE SERRANO: I think there’s a real threat. You know, one of the things I said at that speak-out forum/press conference was that just at the time when I was able to get the F.B.I. to release — and they’ve released so far 155,000 files on the whole Puerto Rican Independence Movement — just when that is beginning to happen, we are now in a situation, where I’m sure that five-ten years from now, we’ll be on this show again talking about releasing the current files since September 11, because it seems that the F.B.I. is taking September 11, like most federal agencies, and using it as an excuse to go after people. The problem is that now they claim that it’s par with terrorism.

Last week, the subcommittee that I sit on, an appropriations committee of Homeland Security, I asked the director, Chertoff, I said, “If the attacks in Puerto Rico, the sweep, was related to terrorism, then you were involved, right?” You know something — not that this shocks anybody about this particular gentleman — he claims he had no knowledge that the F.B.I. was claiming that this was terrorism-related. And it wasn’t, because, as you know, a few hours later, they dropped the terrorism comments, they dropped the fear of a terrorist attack comments, and now they can’t explain why they swept through Puerto Rico and attacked all of these homes and created this situation.

The problem they committed this time, the mistake they made, is they went after some folks in your profession. As you know, there is live videotape that shows the macing of journalists who were trying to get the story, and the F.B.I. was just spraying them and creating havoc. And so, most of what is happening in Puerto Rico right now, interestingly enough, is politicians defending the press and asking questions about the press. And that’s historic, because we politicians never defend the press.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your reference earlier to the files that were released by the F.B.I., that’s the files of the F.B.I.’s persecution of and surveillance of independence supporters over decades, right?

REP. JOSE SERRANO: Absolutely, which you reported, Juan, after you came to our office and looked at these files. Now, two files are given at all times. One file is given to my office, and one file — well, two are given to my office. I send one to the Puerto Rico Senate, and they claim that they’re doing something with it. I’m not sure what, but they will be giving it at least to some of the institutions down there to look at.

Then my personal file — I have no use for — I give to a centro at Hunter College. They have a website where they’re exposing these things, and people are being able to go online and analyze them. And, you know, one of the interesting things, and ironic, is that during that period of time, then Governor Luis Munoz Marin thought that he was doing a great service to the people of Puerto Rico by helping the F.B.I. with some of these missions, if you will, only to find out in these files, as you found out, that during that period of time the F.B.I. was surveilling him and trying to discredit him, while he was trying to help them perhaps discredit other people.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Serrano, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Democratic Congress Member of New York.

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