Pro-State Violence in Puerto Rico: Cuban and Puerto Rican Right-Wing Terrorism from the 1960s to the 1990s*

Of course, the good terrorists are those who respond to the interests of the State, those who become allied with them. Bear in mind that the governments of Puerto Rico and the US very much feared the development of Puerto Rican independence movements in the 60’s and the 70’s.

They were afraid because the independence movements were very strong in those years. Then, these other right wing groups –paramilitary, death squads –  that feed off of Vietnam veterans, people from the PNP and Cuban exiles were the base that the State had there, on the street, and obviously they were operating according to the interests of the State.

Then, the State looked at them with sympathy because they took a bit of pressure away. Because the State did not have to set the bombs, these people set them against the independence movement.1


One of the less studied aspects of colonialism is the collaboration between the different socio-political and economic actors involved in colonial conflict. Colonial processes not only entail conflicts between colonizer/hegemonic state and the anti-colonial/counter-hegemonic movements, but involve multiple negotiations with other political actors, states and economic interests. This is illustrated by the close relationship of the colonial state with extreme right-wing and paramilitary organizations in repressing anti-colonial, counter-hegemonic and leftist movements, producing the phenomenon of colonial state terrorism.2

The Puerto Rican colonial case is one of the best examples of such collaboration. Throughout the 113 years of colonial history under US imperial/colonial power, there have been different levels of complicity between the US government, the Puerto Rican colonized state, and extreme right-wing organizations. This complicity, which has traditionally been obscured, has maintained the colonial system through the oppression, criminalization and ‘violent attempts of eradication’ of Puerto Rican independence movements.

The highest levels of pro-state and state terrorism occurred between the 1960s and the 1990s. Cuban exiles and Puerto Rican right-wing organizations played a central role, with open complicity and tolerance on the part of the so-called democratic governments of the US and Puerto Rico. This article analyzes the strategic relationship established between Cuban exiles and the Puerto Rican right-wing organizations since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, under the sponsorship and encouragement of the US and PR governments.

We must bear in mind that at the beginning of the 1960s, the Cuban exiles, opposed to the Cuban government and to the Communist system, as well as to any leftist and independence movements in Cuba, PR and the US, began to organize themselves into right-wing paramilitary organizations – in most cases under the direct auspices of the US government, its security and intelligence agencies (such as the CIA and FBI) and with the support of the colonized state of Puerto Rico. Cuban exiles and Puerto Rican extreme right-wing organizations conducted approximately 106 terrorist acts between 1967 and 1986 in PR, but only a few members of these organizations were prosecuted.3

In order to explain this particular phase of pro-state violence in the Puerto Rican colonial conflict I will discuss 1) the historical relationship between Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the socio-political conditions that led to the formation of the Cuban exiles’ organizations in PR; 2) some of the terrorist acts perpetrated by Puerto Rican and Cuban extreme right-wing organizations against Cuban citizens and Puerto Rican members of the independence movement between the 1960s and the 1990s; and 3) the attitudes of the US and PR governments to those activities, and how these attitudes made the terrorist campaigns against PR independence movements possible. In so doing, I will show how state terrorism and right-wing terrorism, in the colonial context, unite to repress the independence and anti-colonial movements.

Cuban Revolution, Cuban Exile and Puerto Rico

With the Revolution of 1959, Cuba took a decisive step toward political and economic self-determination. Puerto Rico was a central part of the Cuban liberation agenda. These two Caribbean islands share a common history and language, and a strong cultural relationship. They were united in their struggle for independence against Spain and, more recently, through solidarity and strategic support given by the Cuban Revolution to Puerto Rican independence movements.

The US responded to the Cuban Revolution with an economic embargo and with a ‘dirty war’ against the Cuban population. It also encouraged a massive migration of those Cubans who opposed the Revolution. Some authors have argued that an important outcome of the Cuban Revolution was the displacement of thousands of Cuban citizens to the US and Puerto Rico (García 1996). This migration has been broadly analyzed by various scholars;4 in Garcia’s words: “most Cubans who arrived after 1959 came in three distinct periods: immediately after the Revolution from 1959 to 1962; during the ‘freedom flights’ from 1965 to 1973; and during the ‘Mariel boatlift’ of 1980” (1996: 1). Also, she briefly depicts a fourth migratory group in the 1990s traditionally known as balseros (rafters).5

In PR the migratory waves from Cuba were longer and included a different scale of migration. Martínez (2007: 49-50), for example, presents three groups: 1) from 1959 to 1973, mostly professionals and members of the upper and middle class; 2) 1973 to 1980, including members of the working class; and 3) 1980 to 1995, characterized as mostly an economic migration, but with a numerically lesser impact on Puerto Rico.

Although there was a general anti-Communist consensus among Cuban exiles, not all of them adopted that stance. Rather, hundreds of Cuban immigrants, second generation and other groups started to feel an affinity with the Cuban process. So it is important to emphasize that we are talking about a very particular group of Cuban exiles and not all Cuban immigrants.

The anti-Communist exiles used four political strategies: lobbying in the US and mobilization in the ‘legal context’; international campaigns and mobilization for recognition of alleged violations of human rights in Cuba; activation of Civil Society and the ‘Dissidence’ in Cuba;6 and terrorism against Cuba, against supporters of the Cuban political system, and against Puerto Rican independence movements who received support and solidarity from Cuba. Here we focus on this last point.

Persecution and Criminalization of the Puerto Rican Independence Movements

Puerto Rico, as a US colony, has been ‘administered’ under a permanent state of exception (Atiles-Osoria 2009, 2012). The state of exception comprises three strategies: 1) criminalization of the independence movements; 2) the use of law, including emergency laws, to de-mobilize the independence movements and to legitimize colonial violence; 3) the use of political violence and state terrorism against the independence movements.

The US and PR governments developed several programs and emergency laws to interfere with the independence movements. The US program, undertaken by the FBI, was named COINTELPRO; the colonial government’s program was called Carpeteo. Both involved creating lists of subversive people and movements, infiltrating independence movements, developing psychological warfare, distorting information, and creating tension between the movements and their followers. The surveillance and infiltration laid the groundwork for state and right-wing terrorism against the targeted groups. It did so in part by providing both governments with the necessary symbolic and political legitimacy to criminalize the independence movements.

The three decades I have studied represent the period of the highest mobilization of the independence movements, and therefore, of the heaviest repression against them. In 1958, an organization called the ‘New Struggle for Puerto Rican Independence’ emerged. It articulated the nationalist tradition developed around the world in the first half of the 20th century. During that period Puerto Rican independence movements attempted to exercise all levels of mobilization for self-determination and decolonization. In this context of progress in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, the US and PR governments and the Puerto Rican and Cuban extremist right-wing sought to mobilize against them.7

Three decades of State and Extreme Right-Wing Terrorism

While the Cuban exile groups acted against the Cuban state, in the Puerto Rican case those same groups developed pro-state violence with the open intention to preserve the status quo of colonial subordination. These terrorist organizations saw themselves as extensions to state security and as effective alternatives to solve the ‘state’s incapacities’ to deal with the insurgent movements. This is clearly shown in the important economic, political, strategic, and legal support they received from the US and PR governments – to such an extent that it became almost impossible to establish a distinction between state and pro-state terrorism.

The acts of terrorism involved four different patterns: 1) destruction, by arson or explosives, of houses, offices, businesses and headquarters of independence movements as well as the printing and writing centers of Claridad newspaper; 2) political assassinations; 3) kidnapping and enforced disappearances; and 4) psychological warfare exemplified by the use of violence as intimidation and as a demobilization strategy. The vast majority of these actions were carried out with impunity. The terrorists were only very rarely even interviewed by a security agency of the US or PR state – let alone prosecuted or imprisoned. This obscuring of the actions of the extreme right-wing in PR is outlined by Álzaga (2009a: 2):

Two months after the [1979] political assassination of Carlos Muñiz Varela, the Superintendent of the Puerto Rican Police Department, Desiderio Cartagena, told the press that “he was not aware of any official information on right-wing terrorism in Puerto Rico”. On May 2, 1979, … the Secretary of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico, Miguel Jiménez Muñoz, declared that so-called “right-wing terrorism exists, but without enough evidence to prosecute anyone or any particular organization”. He also stressed that terrorism was “imported from Miami” and the “seed of terrorism comes from outside”. On the other hand, the chief prosecutor at the Puerto Rican Department of Justice, Pedro Fontan Colton, stated that in the country there have been acts which “tend to imply that right-wing terrorism exists here”.

As is clear from this quotation, the existence of the right-wing terrorist activities in PR at the end of the 1970s was persistently brushed under the carpet and, even when it was acknowledged, it was argued that these practices were external to PR. History shows that this was part of the strategy implemented by the US and PR governmental apparatus to cover up the campaigns of political violence and persecution perpetrated against independence movements. As Rolston (2005) states, one of the most common state terrorist strategies consists in the denial of the existence of right-wing organizations and death squads (in most cases supported by governments) even when there is evidence that shows their existence. In that sense our interviewee stated,

What we have discovered over time was that here [in PR] since the ‘60s the state, no matter which party was in power, has always been on the side of the Cuban counter-revolution. In that context, the State has always looked the other way and traditionally they have ignored the terrorist acts of the Cuban counter-revolution. As a matter of fact the big amount of extreme right-wing activities in PR, almost all of them were perpetrated by Cuban exiles and you will see that nobody was prosecuted. This allows me to say they were somewhat tolerant with these terrorist actions.

In effect, all of the colonial political parties in PR expressed some kind of solidarity with the Cuban counter-revolution. This shows two important aspects of colonial politics: on the one hand the anti-Communist, non-progressive and US ideological dependences developed for all the Puerto Rican colonial parties; and on the other, the basis for further complicities in the development of a ‘dirty war’ or the establishment of terrorist campaigns.

This last aspect means that the state was prone to support any political or violent activity that obstructed progress toward Puerto Rican independence, the Left, and Communism. Thus, the PR police supported the creation of a death squad in which its own members joined with Cuban exiles and members of Puerto Rican right-wing organizations (Pérez 2000). This collaboration raises a theoretical issue: where does state terrorism end and right-wing terrorism begin? Rolston clearly addresses this issue when he points out that the death squad could not act without the support and tolerance of the government:

Death squads operate in a clandestine manner so that their backers (usually governments) may plausibly deny to both a domestic and a foreign audience that they are connected to death squads. This can be achieved by outright denial of state involvement, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Alternatively the state can subcontract killing to non-state actors. Either way, the state can have it both ways – seeing its goals achieved, such as the elimination of opponents, while distancing itself from the dirty work of elimination. The centrality of the state in the process is crucial. Whether state-instigated or state-co-opted, death squads would not survive for long without the direct or indirect input of state security personnel (Rolston 2005: 185).

Given this environment of support and complicity, there were many Cuban exile organizations active in PR during these three decades.8 Among the most important was the Cuban National Liberation Front (FNLC) founded in 1973, which was in turn composed of three other organizations: the Golden Hawks, Abdala, and the Independent Action Union (of which Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles were members). These three organizations were created in the US as part of the international mobilization against Communism and the Cuban government. They established branches in different countries with important exile communities, and constituted the first Cuban exile organization in PR. It would be the one to advance the thesis that: “Puerto Rico is to be considered ‘free territory’ and they can place bombs anywhere in so much as the PSP [Puerto Rican Socialist Party] has free rein there” (Álzaga 2009b: 4).

A second major terrorist organization in PR is the Latin American Anti-Communist Army, and a third is the Pedro Luis Boitel Commando. These organizations are not very well known and some scholars argued that they joined other mobilizations. Fourth, and among the most important, was CORU (Coordinadora de Organizaciones Revolucionarias Unidas). This organization was founded in June 1976 in the Dominican Republic and followed the thesis developed by the FLNC that PR “is a free territory for placing bombs and for the development of terrorist acts” (Álzaga 2009b: 4).

Other organizations include: the Commandos Zero, Omega 7 – which claimed responsibility for the political assassinations of Eulalio Negrín (in New Jersey in 1979) and of the Cuban diplomat Félix García – and the Friends of Democracy. The latter organization was composed mainly of Cuban exiles from PR, with some Puerto Ricans; it played an important role in persecution of the independence movements, but also was much linked with the different PR governments between the 1970s and the mid-90s. This relationship was possible because many members of this organization were part of the Puerto Rican political and high classes. Finally, there was the JURE (Junta Revolucionaria Cubana). Concurrent with the development of these terrorist groups was the organization and publication of the tabloid La Crónica, which played an important role in legitimating their acts in PR.

An important detail of these organizations is that they developed a paramilitary vision of the colonial process. This conception of colonial politics is new in the Puerto Rican imaginary. In previous epochs it was the colonial state and its security and law enforcement agencies that threatened the struggle for independence, but with the introduction of these paramilitary organizations, it became more difficult for the independence movements to articulate a response to terrorist campaigns.

We may now examine the activities of the Cuban exiles and Puerto Rican right-wing actions in PR during the three decades in question.

The 1960s

Puerto Rico in the 1960s, unlike the US and Cuba, did not have a high level of counter-revolutionary and extreme right-wing activities. Five events in PR established the pattern of action during that decade. First, on April 19, 1967 the headquarters of the Pro Independence Movement (henceforth MPI) mission in Barrio Obrero Santurce were set on fire. Second, on September 27, 1967 a policeman killed a taxi driver after the University Pro-Statehood Association (henceforth APEU), provoking student unrest at the University of Puerto Rico (henceforth UPR). It is important to note that APEU was one of the major Puerto Rican extremist right-wing organizations during this period. It conducted, together with Cuban exile organizations, an important number of terrorist acts during the 1970s, but none of it members were ever prosecuted.

Third, on January 7, 1969 a bomb was placed in the car of the Secretary General of the MPI, Juan Mari Bras. Fourthly, on May 31, 1969 an antipersonnel explosive was mailed to the headquarters of MPI Río Piedras. Finally, on November 7, 1969 a group of supporters of the New Progressive Party (henceforth PNP), with Senator Juan A. Palerm (PNP Arecibo) tried to attack the MPI and Claridad headquarters in Río Piedras, causing property damage and wounding several MPI members. Again, all these acts went unpunished.

The 1970s

Álzaga (2009b) has identified the 1970s as the decade of the strongest intensity of Cuban exile and Puerto Rican extreme right-wing activities. Given the vast number of paramilitary actions that took place during this period, the author presents three analytical divisions: 1971-73, 1974-76, and 1978-80 (Álzaga 2009a: 3).

Between 1971 and 1973, there were 42 acts of pro-state or right-wing terrorism. These actions can be summarized as being targeted “primarily at the newspaper Claridad and the Imprenta Nacional, independence supporters’ properties, offices of labor unions, and independence political party committees. Most common in this period were Molotov cocktails, shooting, and placing bombs like ‘nipple’ at the aforementioned sites” (Álzaga 2009a: 3). Scholars such Álzaga state that in this period we could only classify as high-power bombs the following: the one directed at the Cuban exile Alberto Rodríguez Moya on January 22, 1973; the one that destroyed almost the entire fourth floor of the Faculty of Social Studies at the UPR on March 11, 1973; and the powerful bomb outside the basketball game between Cuba and Venezuela in Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, on September 16, 1973. These uses of high power bombs are important because they mark a transition to more aggressive and dangerous – and more carefully planned – terrorist activity. This reflected the fact that exiles and right-wing organizations in PR were starting to receive the same strategic and economic support as the exiles’ organization in the US.

Concurrently, we see for the very first time the intervention of the US and Puerto Rican Tribunals and the FBI in right-wing terrorist activity in PR. As regards the role of the Tribunals, in this decade the Cuban exile Luis Fathel Catasu was prosecuted for attacking the headquarters of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). The intervention of the FBI came later after the bombing at the Faculty of Social Sciences at UPR Río Piedras. Although APEU and Progressive Action were suspected of perpetrating this attack, they were never charged.

Between 1974 and 1976, there were 24 terrorist acts. Although there was a reduction in quantity, the attacks intensified exponentially. Some examples of this intensification are the bombs placed in the Puerto Rican Bar Association; in the Consulates of Argentina, Peru and Venezuela; in Radio Avance; and in the Theater Modelo of Río Piedras. All of these acts are telling instances of the enhanced aggressive capacity of the right-wing. In addition to these bombs we must consider other acts, such as the fire in the National Printers and the shooting at the Claridad newspaper with five wounded people.

Also in this period, were experiments with other kinds of terrorist acts such as the bombs placed at a PSP political rally in Mayagüez during the commemoration of the birthday of Eugenio Maria de Hostos. This bomb killed two people and wounded twelve others. It was the first instance of violence against civil populations. With this act the right-wing started to target civilians, people not involved in the independence struggle.  Once again, the responsibility for this act pointed to a member of the APEU, Freddy Valentin, but he never was prosecuted.

The same period witnessed the kidnapping and disappearance of the Nationalist leader Julio Pinto Gandía and the dramatic murder of Santiago “Chagui” Mari Pesquera on March 24, 1976, while his father Juan Mari Bras was the PSP candidate for governor of Puerto Rico (Álzaga 2009b: 4). The assassination of Mari Pesquera represented a new stage in the extreme right-wing actions in PR since it was the first to target the family-member of an independence leader. In that sense, Allard (2010) presents important data to show coordination between the CIA, Cuban exiles and Puerto Rican right-wing organizations to thwart the independence movements. He also tries to show that the assassination of ‘Chagui’ and the attempts to kill Juan Mari Bras and his eldest son, Raúl Mari Pesquera, were all part of a bigger plan to counteract the PSP and its struggle for independence and socialism. Allard states,

Under the convenient pretext of mutual sympathy between fighters for the independence of Puerto Rico and the Cuban Revolution, the US Intelligence Department, in their effort to thwart the legitimate aspirations for independence of the Island, did not hesitate to choose Juan Mari Bras and his family as prime target. Declassified FBI documents show how the United States made ​​the Cuban-American hit men to act with impunity (and in close alliance with Puerto Rican right-wing) in dozens of terrorist attacks against the Puerto Rican independence movement with the purpose of neutralizing Puerto Rican independence emergence (Allard 2010: 1).

Obviously, the constant pressure of the independence movements and paramilitary campaigns against them did nothing but intensify the level of conflict among all parties involved. The independence movements not only demanded clarification of the violent acts perpetrated by the right-wing but also developed a series of armed responses.9 This element brought out the double standard of the US government toward political violence: ultra-tolerant of the extremist right, while extremely repressive against fighters for independence. For instance, Oscar López, jailed in 1980 for “seditious conspiracy” and his relationship with the FALN, remains in prison after 31 years, having been repeatedly denied parole. Imperialist ideology thus makes a simplistic distinction between good and bad terrorists, depending on which side they adhere to in the struggle.

In the third period, 1978-80, there were 32 right-wing actions including many political assassinations. As Álzaga states, the complicity between Puerto Rican right-wing groups, Cuban exiles and the US and PR governments is even more evident in this period: “The documented participation of US Navy members, although previously suspected of having participated in terrorist activities, was confirmed with the arrest of Lieutenant Alex La Cerda” (2009a: 6). This arrest took place after a right-wing organization placed a bomb in the Puerto Rican Bar Association. The Navy’s involvement is of great importance.

Another new development in this period was the practice of carrying out right-wing terrorist activities and attributing them to alleged leftist organizations. In this sense, it has been documented that the Intelligence Division of the Police of Puerto Rico organized and monitored clandestine leftist organizations to conduct terrorist actions. Among these groups were the Anti-annexationist Patriotic Committee, the Armed Revolutionary Command, and the Anti-Imperialist Armed Front. The last two groups were organized and directed by the Intelligence Division of the PR Police and undercover agent Alejandro González Malavé – the same person who organized the ambush and assassination of the young independents Arnaldo Dario Rosado and Carlos Enrique Soto Arriví on July 25, 1978 at Cerro Maravilla in Villalba, PR. These assassinations carried out by the PR Police, the Intelligence Division and Special Arrests Division marked ​​a new period in the struggle for independence. Significantly, almost all of those who were involved in this act were prosecuted, except those at the highest level such as former PR Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló (Pérez 2000).

It was in this context that the assassination of Carlos Muñiz Valera took place. Muñiz Valera was a Cuban émigré who began to get closer to the Cuban Revolution and Puerto Rican independence movements. This young man was part of a number of independence movements, and was one of the founders of the Areito journal and the Antonio Maceo Brigade, which went to Cuba in 1977 and started the Diálogo between the Cuban government and some groups of exiles. Later on, Muñiz, together with two other Cuban émigrés created the travel agency ‘Viajes Varadero’. The offices of this agency were targeted with wire-tapping, gunfire, arson, and explosive devices.

The research conducted by the Commission for Truth and Justice suggests that these actions against Viajes Varadero and the assassination of Carlos Muñiz Varela were carried out by Cuban exiles linked to the tabloid ‘La Crónica’ and to members of CORU and Omega 7. Álzaga (2005) provides a detailed and well-referenced explanation, showing that the FBI allowed the assassination to happen and did nothing to investigate it. The case remains unresolved after more than 30 years.

Finally, in the last part of this decade a large quantity of explosives were used against a number of independence activists. In addition to this, right-wing practices of placing explosive devices in post offices and in places belonging to their own organizations continued, as part of a strategy to blame and criminalize the independence movements.

The 1980s

The 1980s were marked by a decline in right-wing terrorist activities. There is a wide range of plausible explanations for this decline: for instance, the arrest of police colonel Alejo Maldonado and almost all members of his death squad and the campaigns of the US Security Agencies to stop the mobilization of both the extreme right-wing and the Puerto Rican independence movements. On the other hand, we ought to note that in this decade a number of activities against independence movements came to light, and the involvement of the US and PR governments in these activities was made evident. An example of this was the first hearing in the PR Senate on the Cerro Maravilla assassinations, the discovery of the practice of surveillance or Carpeteo, and the eventual dismantling of the Intelligence Division of the Police of Puerto Rico.10

But terrorist activities by previously mentioned organizations continued. The bombing of the Puerto Rican Bar Association was claimed by the right-wing organization Anti-Communist Alliance. Navy lieutenant Alex de la Cerda, René Fernández del Valle (Cuban militant of Abdala), and the Puerto Rican Roberto López González were arrested for it. This is the third incident in which the FBI was involved, and they were prosecuted but technically found innocent by a federal judge. In that sense the FBI once again intervened in a right-wing terrorist action in PR but the suspects were acquitted. The main reason for this verdict was a supposed mishandling of evidence by the FBI. In addition to this event, a bomb was placed in a Vieques Air-Link airplane piloted by Raul Mari Pesquera (eldest son of Juan Mari Bras) on January 25, 1980. Similarly, José Juan Adorno Maldonado and Jorge Zayas Candal were assassinated for allegedly having participated in the ambush of a military unit in Sabana Seca Naval Base, PR.11 Furthermore, Manuel de Jesús Cortés, the PIP candidate who was running for Mayor of Trujillo Alto, was assassinated during this period. Similarly, in 1986 the activist Orlando Canales Azpietia was kidnapped and murdered. As with Carlos Muñiz, Canales was a member of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, and it should be stressed that other Cuban exiles belonging to this organization were also killed in this decade (Álzaga 2009a: 13).

Finally, throughout this decade the persecution by the FBI and the Cuban exile organization of some Cuban immigrants who did not share the positions of the extremist right continued. The most emblematic case is perhaps that of our interviewee, who lived in constant persecution throughout the 1980s and mid-90s.

They [the FBI] were continually looking at what we were doing. They even bugged my telephone.… I had something like a machine to cut paper and they reconstructed the bits of paper to see if they could find something. So they were for ten years looking for us. Well, there is a document that says that we were being watched from an airplane, and says “the plane determined that they left work at such and such hour and they are located somewhere else”. There is a report of two planes saying which place we left and which we arrived at.

The complicity between state terrorism and extreme right-wing terrorism will be constant throughout the 1990s and the beginning of the twenty-first century. What happened in Puerto Rico is different from the events in Cuba and the US, because in PR the terrorist activities were significantly reduced. This reduction, to some extent, reflects the fact that the terrorist activities achieved their objective: ‘reduced social and political support to the Puerto Rican independence movements’.

Conclusion: Between the State and Right-Wing Terrorism

The phenomenon of right-wing terrorism represents a theoretical challenge for studies on terrorism, as well as a political challenge for anti-colonial mobilizations. In regard to the theoretical challenge, the complicities established by the state and the right-wing organizations make it difficult to define or even differentiate between state and right-wing terrorism. The political challenge is that these difficulties in defining and describing state and right-wing terrorism make it more difficult for the independence movements to identify possible ways of counteracting the terrorist activities.

In this sense, our reflections on the Puerto Rican case bring new insight. On the one hand, there is constant tension between the criminalization of the independence movements and the attempts to eliminate them by using state terrorism. The hegemonic state identifies leftist or anti-colonial movements as terrorist even when they do not use political violence. The US and PR governments used different political mechanisms – sometimes illegal – to counteract the independence movements, while they were very tolerant of right-wing terrorist activities. Such mechanisms include: the incorporation of a state of exception; criminalization of the independence movements, using the local and federal legal system; imprisonment; and supporting and encouraging the development of pro-state terrorism and a form of dirty war.

On the other hand, the complex relationship between the Cubans exiles, the Puerto Rican right-wing and the US and PR governments in the exercise of terrorism against independence movements, shows that maybe there are no differences between state and right-wing terrorism. This complex relationship, which PR experienced throughout the 1960s to 1990s, with a slight reduction in the 1990s, will be significantly intensified in the post-9/11 era. More specifically, a new wave of state and right-wing terrorism has manifested itself in a number of specific events: first, the oppressive campaign against the Civil Society and the social movement that struggled (2001-03) to end US Navy military practices in the Puerto Rican island of Vieques; second, the assassination by the FBI and PR Police of the independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos on September 23, 2005; and finally, the oppressive operations against the University of Puerto Rico Student Strike and workers in 2010-11 (Atiles-Osoria & Whyte, forthcoming).

These measures – encouraging the development of pro-state terrorism and creating special legal categories that criminalize the Puerto Rican independence mobilization – substantiate the argument that in the colonial context state terrorism and pro-state terrorism are developed together and sometimes without clear distinction. In that sense, as could be inferred from Rolston’s analysis of the development of the pro-state paramilitary activities in the Northern Ireland conflict, one of the most common strategies implemented by states in such political conflicts is the instrumentalization of pro-state violence. This means that the development of certain terrorist campaigns against the independence movement and against any leftist movements by pro-state organizations will have some connection – visible or invisible – with the state. On many occasions the pro-state organizations do the dirty work that the state cannot do openly, because of the delegitimizing effect that such action will have vis-à-vis civil society and the international community.

When we analyze the role played by the US government in the Puerto Rican colonial conflict we see the double discourse about terrorism and liberal-capitalist-democracy. In PR, as happened throughout the Caribbean and Latin America – where the US supported counter-revolutionary movements and death squads and encouraged dictatorships that would serve their interests – the US imposed systematic violence and terror against those who politically challenged its hegemony. To understand this situation is to open the space for new dialogues and new ways of resistance – and the configuration of a new agenda for the self-determination and emancipation of the Puerto Rican people.


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*I am grateful to David Whyte, Stefanie Khoury, and the editors for their help in shaping this article.

1. Interview with a Puerto Rican activist, referred to below as “our interviewee” (February 2011).

2. I will follow Rolston’s (2005; 2006) definition of pro-state terrorism.

3. See e.g. Álzaga (2009a), Nieves (2009) and Torres (2007).

4. See e.g: Cobas & Duany (1995); Duany (2005); García (1996); Martínez (2007).

5. However, García does not analyze this group since she believes their migration was economically motivated, a view shared by Duany (2005).

6. For a good analysis of the US support to the so-called Cuban Civil Society and their connection with the Cuban terrorist organizations, see Agee (2003).

7. See e.g. Nieves (2009) and Paralitici (2011). In addition to these commentators, I will use Álzaga’s unique and well-developed research and analysis of Cuban exile terrorism in PR as my principal source. See Álzaga (2005; 2009a; 2009b).

8. It is interesting to notice that in this period there were many right-wing organizations registered in the Puerto Rican State Department as nonprofit organizations. However, the Puerto Rican police argued that there was no such thing as extreme right-wing terrorism in PR.

9. As Álzaga states: “Several weeks after the bomb on January 11, 1975 in Mayagüez that killed two people and wounded 12, the FALN placed a powerful bomb in the French Tavern on Wall Street” (2009b: 5).

10. See e.g.: Bosques & Colón (1997) and Peres Viera (2000).

11. The independence underground organizations PRTP-EPB-Macheteros, OVRP and FARP claimed responsibility for this armed action against US military interests in PR.

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