In a series of arrests carried out between
1980 and 1985 around 30 people were accused of acting or conspiring to overthrow the authority of the U.S. government in Puerto
Rico through force, in other words acting in favor of Puerto Rico's independence and self-determination. At the beginning
of the 1980's fourteen people accused of being members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN, its acronym in Spanish)
were arrested. At the time of their arrest they declared themselves to be combatants in an anti- colonial war to liberate
Puerto Rico from U.S. domination and invoked prisoner of war status. They argued that the U.S. courts and its political subdivisions
did not have jurisdiction to try them as criminals and petitioned for their cases to be handed over to an international, impartial
court that would determine their status. The U.S. government did not recognize their request. Today these individuals are
serving sentences of 35 to 90 years.
On August 30, 1985, hundreds of FBI agents
descended on Puerto Rico and searched the houses and offices of independence supporters. Thirteen people were arrested that
day and three others later on. These people were immediately removed from Puerto Rico in military transport and moved to the
United States where they were held in preventative detention, some for as long as three years, without bail being set. They
were accused of conspiring to rob $7.5 million from Wells Fargo, an action for which the clandestine group "Los Macheteros"
had taken responsibility. The charges included transporting the money outside the United States and using the money to buy
and distribute toys to poor Puerto Rican children. Of the accused, one was found innocent and the government dropped charges
against another one. The rest of the accused were sentenced to between 5 to 55 years. Seven of them have already completed
their sentences or are about to complete them. The sentences received by these Puerto Rican patriots are excessive and punitive.
Their goal is to penalize political activity, militancy, and affiliation. Ten of the fourteen arrested between 1980 and 1983
were sentenced to serve terms ranging between 55 and 90 years. The average sentence among this group is 71.6 years: 70.8 years
for the men and 72.8 years for the women. These sentences are 19 times longer than the average sentence given out the year
they were sentenced. The majority are serving the equivalent of a life sentence. Of those that were arrested as a result of
the Wells Fargo case, two were sentenced to more than 50 years in prison.
Common prisoners - those who
commit criminal offenses- receive sentences that are much shorter. For example, statistics from the federal court system show
that between 1966 and 1985 the average sentence for all those people found guilty of murder was 22.7 years; of rape, 12.5
years; of violation of arms laws, 12 years. Only 12.8% of all federal prisoners have sentences of more than 20 years: Also
the statistics show that those people with previous criminal records receive longer sentences. None of the Puerto Rican patriots
in prison had a prior criminal record at the time of their arrest. In reality, the longest average time served by any prisoners
in federal custody is for kidnapping: 5.3 years.' A study shows that those persons sentenced by state courts for serious violent
crimes served between 2.5 and 4 years. The Puerto Rican political prisoners have already served between 13 and
18 years in prison. Four of the prisoners have appeared before the U.S. Parole Board, only to be told to come back in 15
years or serve the remainder of their sentence.
The political nature of these sentences
is made evident by comparing them to the preferential treatment given to people linked to right-wing, anti-communist, or anti-abortion
groups accused of violent crimes. For example in 1976 Orlando Letelier, a leader in the movement against the Pinochet dictatorship
in Chile, and his assistant ,were assassinated by a bomb that was placed in Letelier's car which was parked in front of his
residence in Washington, Dc. The agent of the Chilean secret police who admitted to having placed the bomb was sentenced to
10 years in prison, of which he served 5 years and two months. A major in the Chilean army received a sentence of 7 years
for his role in the assassination and a Cuban exile who admitted his role in the plot received a 12 year sentence.
A Ku Klux Klan Wizard, who was captured
in a boat with an arsenal of arms and explosives while attempting to invade a Caribbean island with the goal of establishing
a white supremacist state received a three year sentence and was freed on parole after two years.' Another Klan leader received
a sentence of three years for possession of an arsenal and for conspiracy. This same man was later sentenced to three more
years in prison for attempted murder and racial harassment after shooting at two black men.
Two women anti-abortion activists sentenced
for conspiring in a series of Florida bombings including a doctor's office and a women's clinic, were put on probation and
received a small fine. Their male co-conspirators received ten years in prison and a fine for three of the explosions, and
were not tried for the fourth explosion." Michael Donald Bray who was found guilty of bombing ten clinics was sentenced to
ten years and was set free after serving 3.7 years.
The excessive sentences imposed on Puerto Rican women
and men in prison, because of their political activities, make it clear that the goal is to punish them for their beliefs
and not for the acts that were alleged by the U.S. government at the time of their arrest.