BY SETH GALINSKY
AND MATILDE ZIMMERMANN
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The FBI “will not frighten us,” Milagros Rivera, president of the Committee in Solidarity with Cuba of Puerto Rico, told the Militant here Sept. 4. “Our most important message is we are going to continue our united work to defeat the criminal U.S. blockade of Cuba.”
Nearly 60 people in this U.S. colony were either visited or phoned by FBI agents between Aug. 23 and 26. The agents often tried to question people about Rivera or the latest solidarity brigade to Cuba.
Some of the FBI agents falsely claimed the brigade had violated some unspecified U.S. law or had been infiltrated by Cuban security. One agent left a message on the cellphone of the wife of 73-year-old committee activist José Santiago saying the brigade was being investigated for “criminal activity.”
This probe by Washington’s political police is an attack against opponents of the U.S. government’s economic and political war against Cuba’s socialist revolution and a threat to political rights in Puerto Rico.
Two Militant correspondents joined more than 50 supporters of the solidarity committee Sept. 4 at a long-planned social at the Isla Verde beach here, demonstrating the group’s refusal to let FBI harassment interfere with their activities. The Militant interviewed Rivera along with several brigadistas and committee activists during a two-day visit.
As soon as Rivera learned that the FBI was visiting brigade participants and supporters, she sounded the alarm, telling people they were not required to talk to the FBI. The U.S. political police agency has a long history in Puerto Rico, as well as on the mainland, of framing up, harassing and giving the green light to violent attacks on union militants, opponents of U.S. government policies, Black rights groups and supporters of independence for Puerto Rico.
The committee held a press conference Sept. 1 together with the Puerto Rican Committee for Human Rights. Messages of support have come in from dozens of individuals and groups from around the world.
Rivera estimates that 15 or more FBI agents were involved in the operation. Some indicated they had been sent directly from the U.S., and a few didn’t even speak Spanish. At least a dozen activists were visited at their homes by agents operating in pairs. The rest received phone calls.
“This is a serious threat,” Edgardo Román, spokesperson for the Committee for Human Rights, told the Militant. It’s possible that the FBI could escalate its harassment with search warrants and subpoenas to appear before a grand jury, he said. “We have to be prepared.”
Everything the Cuba solidarity committee has done is public. It has nothing to hide. “It’s legal to travel to Cuba, it’s legal to associate with others in solidarity with Cuba, it’s legal to send humanitarian aid,” he said. A few weeks before the FBI visits began, the committee had launched a campaign to buy medical supplies for victims of the devastating fire at oil storage tanks in Matanzas, Cuba, that further weakened the electrical grid on the island.
The FBI is targeting the committee, Rivera told the Militant, “because even though we live in a U.S. colony, we dare to give solidarity to Cuba and the Cuban people.”
“We’re going to keep telling the truth, that Cuba is an example for the whole world. It has made a contribution to humanity.” One of the most recent examples, she said, is Cuba’s internationalist medical volunteers, who went to 40 countries to help fight COVID-19.
“Nothing will stop us,” Rivera said. “Our next brigade will go to Cuba in July 2023 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Fidel Castro-led attack on the Moncada Barracks that marked the opening of the revolution in Cuba and the 125th anniversary of the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico.”
More than 90 people were part of the monthlong Juan Rius Rivera Solidarity Brigade in July, the committee’s 31st annual brigade, open to anyone who opposes the U.S. embargo.
Many of those interviewed pointed to the intertwined struggles of the Cuban and Puerto Rican people, first against Spanish colonial rule and then against U.S. imperialist domination.
This year’s brigade began by participating in an event honoring the Cuban Five — revolutionaries who were framed up by the FBI and spent up to 16 years in prison in the U.S. — and Oscar López, who spent 36 years in jail in the U.S. for his activities in support of independence for Puerto Rico.
Brigade members met with Cuba’s mass organizations, brought medical and school supplies, and joined in volunteer labor side by side with Cuban workers and farmers.
“For a month, we shared the same food, went through the same electrical blackouts,” said committee member Solimar Ortiz. In Puerto Rico the frequent blackouts are a result of decades of neglect, cutbacks and corruption caused by colonial rule. In Cuba, the blackouts are largely a result of the decadeslong U.S. economic embargo.
Brigade participant Carmen Virginia López, who is 68, was taking a nap when two FBI agents knocked on her door. López has traveled to Cuba 21 times over the last couple decades.
“They asked me if I know Maria Milagros,” López said. “Milagros lives in the same building, so I said I know her.”
“They said they wanted to ask some questions about Milagros and asked if they could come in. I said no. They invited me to go somewhere else to talk ‘more comfortably.’ I said I have nothing to talk to you about and closed the door.”
López noted that José Martí, the leader of the fight to free Cuba from Spanish colonial rule, always linked Puerto Rican independence to that of Cuba. “We still have not won it, but Cuba shows that it’s possible to be free, to throw out the bourgeoisie,” she said. “That you can be free of foreign interference, have your own government, to live with dignity.”
FBI agents sneak in
Two FBI agents were stopped by a security guard at the entrance to the high-rise building where retired teacher Juan Camacho lives. The guard said she couldn’t let them in without permission. When she turned away to get her supervisor, the agents snuck in.
When the agents got to his door, they asked Camacho if they could come in. He said no. They asked if they could just talk to him from the doorway. “We have nothing to talk about,” Camacho answered.
Camacho first visited Cuba in the 1980s but was not part of the most recent brigade.
There has been “reciprocal solidarity” between Cuba and Puerto Rico even before Cuban workers and farmers overthrew the U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, Camacho noted. Fighters for Puerto Rican independence in the late 1800s spilled their blood in Cuba, joining the fight against Spanish colonial rule.
But Puerto Ricans can learn many lessons from the overthrow of Batista in 1959 and Cuba’s socialist revolution, Camacho said.
The “fundamental element” he said, is that Cuba won its “total independence because they carried out the program they promised,” the program Fidel Castro explained in “History Will Absolve Me,” his courtroom speech after the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks. Cuban revolutionaries printed the speech and distributed it all across the island. “A key part of the program was the land reform.”
Need for support
The fight against the FBI harassment is winning support, including from unionists.
The harassment of the Committee in Solidarity with Cuba is a threat to the working class and the unions, José Rodríguez, a representative of the Movimiento Solidario Sindical, a union federation that organizes workers at private companies, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, told the Militant.
If they can do this to supporters of solidarity with Cuba, Rodríguez said, “what about unionists who oppose government measures, environmentalists, feminists, anyone who opposes government policy or who is fighting for a better world?”
The Committee in Solidarity with Cuba is planning a protest at the Federal Building in San Juan Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. against the U.S. economic war on Cuba and against the FBI harassment.
Messages of support denouncing the FBI harassment can be sent to email@example.com.
Download the writing version of this article: