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   Vol. 68/No. 41           November 9, 2004  
Puerto Rico: FBI raids union hall of striking water workers
BOSTON—In the middle of a strike by 4,300 water workers in Puerto Rico, about 60 FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided the headquarters of the Independent Authentic Union (UIA) October 20. They cordoned off the union hall for 15 hours, barring access to anyone, and carted off hundreds of boxes of confiscated files. FBI agents also held union members for hours without allowing them to see lawyers, refusing to let them leave until they had been interrogated.

The U.S. government said the raid was part of an investigation of alleged fraud and corruption in the union-administered health-care fund. The management of the Puerto Rico government’s Water and Sewer Authority (AAA) has leveled these charges against the striking union. AAA bosses claim that they ended health-care payments into the union fund, and unilaterally transferred health-care coverage into a private company, for the same reason. This action provoked the strike, which started October 4. The union is also fighting to hold back other concession demands.

The timing of the raid “is part of a plan by the government of Puerto Rico to break the strike, but we have remained strong on the picket line,” said Luis Andino, the president of the Humacao UIA chapter.

Andino reported that the day after the raid about 500 unionists marched to protest the assault and show their solidarity with the strikers. Demonstrators included members of the electrical workers union (UTIER), the union of university employees (HEEND), and other unions that belong to the Puerto Rican Workers’ Federation (CPT). Andino also said electrical workers held protest pickets at their worksites throughout the island. A broader labor march was planned for October 27, he said. Julio Fontanet, president of the Bar Association in Puerto Rico, protested the detention of the unionists during the FBI raid. He noted that two union lawyers who arrived at the UIA hall were told that agents had instructions from federal prosecutor Humberto García not to allow them to see those being held inside.

The FBI had previously intervened against the union, showing up at the UIA headquarters on August 26 to interrogate union members and “investigate” alleged statements by union president Héctor Lugo that the UIA might take part in a protest at the airport. During a general strike in 1998 unionists blocked the airport. The FBI warned that under the Patriot Act any such action would now be considered a “terrorist” act. On October 6, FBI officials made further threats, insinuating that UIA members were planning “sabotage” against Puerto Rico’s water supply. These unsubstantiated charges have been widely repeated in the press.

In a column in the daily San Juan Star, the paper’s managing editor, John Marino, described the goal of the assault on the union. The government, he said, needs “to scale back the AAA workforce, and straightjacket job classifications and out-of-control benefits. It must also raise water rates, among the cheapest in the nation, to pay for needed improvements at the utility.” Marino also noted that the actions by the federal cops against various unions may have “people starting to suspect that the island’s labor movement may be the target of federal prosecutors.”

The FBI has a long history of disrupting the labor movement in Puerto Rico—from frame-ups of union leaders to the use of agent provocateurs during strikes, including in previous electrical workers strikes.
Related articles:
Protest FBI raid in Puerto Rico  
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