Pro-independence marchers in Puerto Rico. Photo: minhpuertorico.org
By Caribbean News Now contributor
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Allegations that multibillion dollar frauds may have exacerbated and are still contributing to the ongoing financial crisis in Puerto Rico are likely to provide new ammunition for pro-independence groups on the island, including the Boricua Popular/People’s Army, the remnants of the violent Los Macheteros group.
On June 24, 2015, a 23-page legislative report released by the government of Puerto Rico outlined how government officials conspired with Wall Street firms to commit $11 billion dollars in financial fraud.
According to the report, PREPA paid previous bondholders with capital received from new investors, which is the classic hallmark of a Ponzi scheme.
Last week, a US District Judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit against Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the world’s largest fuel oil suppliers for perpetuating an extensive fuel oil fraud upheld claims that the defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and denied motions to dismiss the suit.
In the original RICO complaint, filed February 24, 2015, in the US District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico residents and businesses accused PREPA and 20 defendants of perpetuating an extensive fuel oil fraud, resulting in users of electricity in Puerto Rico being overcharged by more than $1 billion dollars for electricity since 2002.
The suit states the defendants received kickbacks and payments for colluding to raise fuel oil prices that were directly passed to users of electricity, by agreeing to use non-compliant fuel oil and falsifying lab tests.
Not only is it likely that the court’s ruling will reinforce questions as to the apparent failure of the local FBI office and the US Attorney in Puerto Rico to pursue any investigation into these allegations, there is concern that the massive frauds apparently perpetrated on the island’s poor people by perceived white American “gringos” may trigger renewed and possibly violent unrest.
Since 1952, the island has been a free associated state of the United States, an unincorporated territory with broad internal autonomy, and the issue of independence for Puerto Rico has had an often violent history.
Macheteros logo. Source: VivirLatino
In 2001, then FBI director Louis J. Freeh linked the clandestine Boricua Popular/People’s Army (Ejército Popular Boricua in Spanish), also known as Los Macheteros (The Machete Wielders), to acts of terrorism.
However, Freeh also made an unprecedented admission to the effect that the FBI had engaged in egregious action, quite possibly involving the FBI in widespread crimes and violation of constitutional rights against Puerto Ricans.
He stunned a congressional budget hearing by conceding that his agency had violated the civil rights of many Puerto Ricans over the years and had engaged in “egregious illegal action, maybe criminal action”.
The FBI’s operations against the pro-independence movement on the island dating back to the early 80s included mass arrests of members of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) led by Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, who was on the FBI’s most wanted list.
The FALN served as the predecessor of the Boricua Popular/People’s Army. Several of the organization’s members were arrested and convicted for conspiracy to commit robbery and for firearms and explosives violations.
A poster distributed by the ProLibertad Freedom Campaign to raise awareness about Puerto Rican political prisoners and Puerto Rico’s independence struggle
On August 11, 1999, then president Bill Clinton offered clemency to 16 of the convicted militants on the condition that they renounce any kind of violent activism. This decision prompted criticism of the Clinton administration from figures that included the US Attorney, the FBI, and the US Congress.
Puerto Rico lawmakers last week approved a moratorium on debt repayments in an effort to mitigate the imminent effects of the territory’s insolvency while efforts are still ongoing to persuade the US Congress to grant the island bankruptcy protection that it does not currently enjoy.
However, in the meantime, the fact that Puerto Rico’s effective bankruptcy may be, in part at least, blamed on Wall Street greed and fraud is causing some embarrassment and recriminations on the part of those Puerto Ricans who in years past advocated against independence in favour of maintaining ties with the US.
A well respected Puerto Rican former US intelligence operative with direct knowledge of the history of the independence movement on the island, said it appears that all the effort and hard work collectively done from the 1980s to the present day in the hope of neutralizing the left leaning, pro Fidel Castro ideology has now been derailed by the greed of the “gringos”, and most pro-US Puerto Ricans who joined up to work in the law enforcement and intelligence communities are waking up with egg all over their faces.
“How can so much capitalist gringo/Wall Street greed undo so much successful work done by all the patriotic US Puerto Ricans who are still risking their lives to protect the security of the United States?” he asked.
As recently as January of this year, Ruben Berrios, leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) proposed that the island’s main political parties lobby Washington with a single voice to demand that a binding referendum be held to determine the island’s status once and for all.
The Hostosiano National Independence Movement (MINH) endorsed the proposal.
“The PIP proposal should be backed by all independence movements, and, even more, by all the Puerto Rican people,” the MINH said in a statement regarding the “need for unity among patriotic forces” to resolve the question of status.
Pedro Pierluisi, the leader of the main opposition New Progressive Party (PNP), which supports US statehood for the island, said he also agreed with the PIP proposal.