Claiming they were investigating alleged union plans to shut down the airport in San Juan, three agents arrived at the offices of the Authentic Independent Union of the Water and Sewer Authority (UIA) during a meeting of its top leadership.
They wanted to know about the statements supposedly made by Héctor René Lugo about carrying out a strike and taking over the airport, Elba García, executive secretary of the UIA, told El Nuevo Día, a San Juan-based daily paper. Lugo is the president of the UIA.
The union said that the spy agency was using provisions in the USA Patriot Act, passed in 2001, to justify the investigation, claiming that interference with airports compromises homeland defense.
The daily reported that a study prepared by a consultant hired by the state-owned company claimed that the union could potentially carry out attacks on the water supply. The study points to the vulnerability of the Water and Sewer Authority to terrorist attacks, it asserts that the public utility faces a potential risk of contamination of the water supply and destruction of equipment, and it claims that the UIA is a possible instigator of such acts, reported El Nuevo Día.
Our operators live in the areas serviced by the plants that they operate, García said. We arent going to poison our own families.
The study went on to accuse workers at the utilitys plants of using and selling illegal drugs, and other offenses.
The campaign to link the union to terrorism and smear its officers and members takes place in the context of a deepening assault by the managers of the utility and the government on the union and its gains.
After being sold off in 1995, the water utility returned to public ownership earlier this year amid widespread accusations of mismanagement and after being saddled with a massive debt. In collaboration with the colonial government, managers at the now state-owned Water and Sewer Authority are seeking to ram through a series of concessions to balance their books on the backs of the workers.
The union is facing a savage attack against it and its leadership, said Juan Ramos, the president of the San Juan chapter of the UIA in a September 3 telephone interview with the Militant. We have been involved in negotiations for a contract, which expired in July 2003. At the time, the water authority signed an extension. But now they are refusing to honor that extension.
Ramos said the public utility was demanding the workers agree to pay substantial out-of-pocket costs for their health care. He said the utility had refused to deduct dues payments from workers paychecks, and was flouting seniority rules.
The union has been the victim of a smear campaign seeking to brand our leaders as corrupt, Ramos said. They have accused the leadership of embezzlement of funds from the account for medical benefits.
It is in this context that the FBI came and visited our office, he said.
FBI vs. Puerto Rico
This is not the first time the FBI has targeted trade unions and other political organizations in the U.S. colony. For decades the U.S. political police has reserved some of its harshest treatment for those fighting for the liberation of Puerto Rico from U.S. colonial rule.
The labor movement has always been one of the principal targets of this police disruption. During an electrical workers strike in 1978, for example, a police agent conducted sabotage against the company. The bosses and the press then blamed the union for the action. In May 2000, the FBI released thousands of previously classified documents on the systematic campaign by the secret police against the pro-independence movement. Then FBI director Louis Freeh admitted that the agency had engaged in egregious illegal action, maybe criminal action on the island, but claimed that such activities were a thing of the past.
This is not true. Under the banner of homeland security and fighting the war on terrorism, disruption activities by the political police both on a federal and local level have been increasing inside the United States and Puerto Rico. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have been pressing for greater centralization of federal police agencies, aimed at making them more effective for spying and disruption of unions and other organizations.
The FBIs documented repertoire of political disruption techniques in Puerto Rico have included writing poison pen letters to activists and newspapers slandering members of the independence movement, infiltrating political groups, blaming acts of violence committed by police agents on unionists and independence fighters, and collaborating with local police to frame upand in some cases assassinateindependentistas.
As recently as 1999, the FBI used a paid provocateur, Rafael Marrero, and a string of FBI agents as the principal witnesses in its frame-up of pro-independence fighter José Solís Jordán on charges of attempting to blow up a military recruitment center in Chicago. Marreros testimony was also the keystone for the FBI witch-hunt against independence activists at Clemente High School in Chicago during the same period on charges of stealing money from the school. After an intensive investigation and public hearings by the Illinois state senate, no evidence was produced to support Marreros lies.
Now, as the bosses and the colonial government in Puerto Rico seek to extract concessions from workers at the public utility, violence-baiting and police intimidation remain the stock-in-trade of the ruling class against the workers movement.
Like other unions, the UIA has been accused of sabotage, Ramos said. They have taken things our union president said out of context to justify claims that the union is planning violence and sabotage. These attacks arent only aimed at us. Recently 37 members of the electrical workers union were arrested for protesting the use of nonunion workers to lay cable at a project run by the electrical company. The bosses called the police and they came in riot gear and arrested the unionists.
Ramos said the UIA and other major unions in Puerto Rico are discussing ways to respond to these attacks on the labor movement. Coordinated protest actions, including a possible strike, are under discussion and will be announced soon. Nothing will stop us from defending our gains, said Ramos.
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