The Persecution of Puerto Rican Independentista José Solís

Revolutionary Worker #960, June 7, 1998

"The most successful sign of a repressive agency is its ability to remain incognito, that the repression not be interpreted as such by a population, and the people think that everything is ok and things are `different' now. It puts people to sleep. So they can do things like Iraq, so they can do things like Panama, and all the other atrocities. The list is long."

José Solis Jordan

Early in the morning of December 10, 1992, fire trucks pulled up at a U.S. military recruiting station in Chicago. A nearby vehicle had been reported on fire. A later police search turned up two unexploded pipe bombs, and a car interior doused with flammable liquid. A phone call was made from the previously unknown "Frente Revolucionario Boricua" taking credit for the action.

It is now known that this small group was secretly set up by Rafael Marrero, who was then active within Chicago's Puerto Rican independence movement. Marrero has since surfaced as an FBI informant.

Four years later, in January of 1997, this same Rafael Marrero flew to Puerto Rico and had dinner with the Puerto Rican independence activist José Solis Jordan, a professor of education. José Solis had met Marrero earlier in Chicago, when José was teaching at DePaul University.

At this dinner, Marrero was wired for sound by the FBI.

On November 6, 1997, the FBI arrested José Solis, accused him of involvement in the 1992 incident in Chicago and demanded that he help railroad long-time Puerto Rican activists in Chicago.

José refused and has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

This case has the markings of an FBI "COINTELPRO" operation--operations by the political police to disrupt, neutralize and isolate radical figures and political movements.

In early April, a reporter from the Revolutionary Worker had the opportunity to speak with José about his situation. Much of what follows is drawn from that interview.


"I open up the door, go outside and realize that there are agents everywhere. Guys on the roof. Guys in the back yard. Dressed in these commando outfits. You couldn't identify them--all you can see are the eyes. And very well armed. Long weapons, automatic weapons, nine millimeter types of guns. They said `Put your hands up! Put your hands up!' and all I heard were these guns cocking. I thought 'Oh shit! somebody's got a trigger happy finger and I'm dead.'"

Just before six in the morning, the phone rang, and a gruff voice barked a terse command to José: "This is the FBI. You have 30 seconds to come out or we're coming in!" José and Martha Gonzales decided to leave the house, so their children would not be exposed to police attack. They stepped outside into an FBI occupied neighborhood.

José was thrown up on his car, searched, handcuffed, taken in his home and stripped, and then hauled away to the Federal building in downtown San Juan.

Ordered to Betray the Independence Movement

José repeatedly demanded his right to see a lawyer. But the FBI had other plans for him. They took his prints and photographs and then the agent-in-charge, William Matthews, demanded that José help "deliver" José López, a leading Puerto Rican independence activist in Chicago. "Cooperate" he told José, or "do hard time." Just talk, he told Solis, and the government would relocate him and make his problems disappear. They ran out a list of accusations that Marrero had supposedly made, and insisted that José agree to them. Matthews suggested that Solis wear a wire to entrap an activist with Chicago's Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

As for his lawyers, they were kept waiting for hours outside. Matthews told Solis that his lawyers were independentista "troublemakers" with their "own political agenda"--and suggested that he let the government pick him a lawyer in Chicago.

Only after José again refused to bow to these threats was he allowed to meet with a lawyer, and he was finally released on bond.

Threatening people with prison and demanding that they betray their cause is an old game for the political police--and one that has recently become even more common in federal prosecutions.

In fact, the key witness against José Solis is Raphael Marrero--who was involved in the 1992 action, but was then granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for grand jury testimony that implicates other.


"Here you are, this is the turn of the century, the new millennium, the post-modern world of `no more politics, no more ideology, no more history' and this, (as they would have it) `wacko' professor is tried on a political conspiracy charge." José's voice took a sarcastic tone. "'Those things don't happen anymore. This isn't the '70s!' But you know what? The FBI never forgot that they had to keep track on folks and on workers' movements, teachers' movements and militants of this or that sort. They never forgot. They want us to believe it's over with. They never put their guns down. Are you kidding?"

On December 10, José Solis was indicted. He was charged with conspiring to destroy U.S. government property, with bombing a car, attempting to bomb the recruiting station and possessing "unregistered" pipe bombs--all in connection with the 1992 recruiting station incident in Chicago. If convicted, he faces over 50 years in prison.

To make up for their lack of hard evidence, the federal prosecutors have produced a document which they claim is a confession Solis made during interrogation. This document states that Solis planned, conspired, and carried out the 1992 action at the military recruiting station and it reportedly names José Lopez as the "intellectual architect" of the operation.

This document contains everything the federal prosecutors could want--except for the signature of José Solis! José says that this so-called "confession" is a COINTELPRO-style fabrication. Solis' attorney planned to demand suppression of this "document" at the court hearing scheduled for May 13.

The other "evidence" facing Solis in this case was produced by the dubious "witness" Raphael Marrero. It is not clear whether Marrero was an FBI infiltrator from his first days in the Puerto Rican independence movement, or an activist who capitulated when faced with heavy charges.

In any case, Solis describes how Marrero's activities followed a well-documented pattern used by FBI COINTELPRO operative to disrupt progressive movements. Long before the FBI raid on Solis' house in Puerto Rico, Marrero had been trying to create antagonisms between José Solis and José Lopez.

"I was being fed everything that they have written in their book," Solis told the RW, "Appeals to emotion. Rumors. Here I am way out in Puerto Rico. Marrero's...calling, telling me that Lopez and folks are saying I'm working with the FBI and with him. That `Lopez is gonna set us up. They're gonna bring us down.' I go--'What the hell are you talking about!?' I was very suspicious. Why is the guy calling? Of course, all this is being taped. He's bugged. He's wired."

José Solis now believes that these phone calls were part of an FBI plan to inflame contradictions among the people, make him believe other activists now considered him an enemy, make him betray the movement and become part of an operation against the Puerto Rican independence movement in Chicago.

"I can guarantee you in any struggle there are folks dying to destroy the struggles--folks that are planted within those struggles to fuel that kind of divisiveness," says Solis. "The bottom line is--you don't confuse a difference with a brother or a sister in a struggle with trying to alienate and trying to destroy the struggle. That's why I didn't take the hook. And that's why even when they arrested me and they were hoping that they could put pressure and I would join forces with these guys. It didn't work."

The Trial and the Struggle

"This case is about repressing the independence movement of Puerto Rico--in Puerto Rico and in the States--and it is living evidence of the fact that COINTELPRO persists. This isn't just about José Solis. This is not about one guy. This is about a history."

José Solis

The history that José refers to is the hundred years of U.S. domination over Puerto Rico. It began with invasion a century ago, and has involved massacre, assassination, systematic plunder of the island and exploitation of its people. It is a history of resistance-- from the Ciales uprising of 1898 to the seizure of the town of Jayaya in 1950. It is a history that includes a continuing federal effort to suppress the national aspirations of the Puerto Rican people--including the FBI's compilation of over 130,000 dossiers on political activists and the imprisonment of the 14 Puerto Rican independence fighters in U.S. prisons today.

The case of The United States of America v. José Solis Jordan is taking place as the U.S. ruling class is seriously considering new plans to annex Puerto Rico as the 51st state, and at a time when there has been a growing movement to free political prisoners within the U.S. The U.S. government is clearly trying to break up centers of the independence movement--both in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico itself.

To call attention to the larger context of this attempted railroad, Solis' defense team filed a motion that all charges be dropped because the U.S. is a colonial power with "no legal authority to charge Defendant with the offense alleged," and no right to prosecute "an individual on the grounds that he or she conspired to promote the independence of Puerto Rico by illegal means." The U.S. judge (predictably) rejected this argument-- but only after the defense motion had successfully brought the issue of Puerto Rico's colonial status into the courtroom.

There's been growing support for José Solis. Support statements have come from faculty, students and campus workers at the University of Puerto Rico, including the General Studies Faculty and the University Senate. The Puerto Rico Psychologists Association, the President of the Association of Puerto Rico's Mayors, faculty at both the DePaul University School of Education in Chicago and the University of Illinois in Champaign have also expressed their support for Solis.

Support committees have been formed in both Puerto Rico and Chicago

José Solis told the RW: "I'll tell you what helps a lot: support, solidarity. It's just a wonderful enriching experience for me.... It reaffirms the faith that I have in humanity to be something more than what the news media or Hollywood--a world of images and consumption--would want it or think it to be. It seems ironic, huh? You think `the guy's really suffering.' It's not easy, obviously. You got kids, you got friends, you got family, you got a profession. But this is part of a struggle. I hope that it continues to raise the issue and the voice of the unconditional release of our political prisoners and other prisoners that are not Puertorriqueños and to raise that issue vociferously and militantly. There's a lot to be gained--even if we lose--cuz those things will go up, that information will be there. Independent of whether José walks out through a wide door, or the narrow door over there with the bailiff, that's what's to be gained."

On May 13, a press conference was held the shortly before José Solis returned to court. Speakers included Rev. Seiichi Michale Yasutake of the Interfaith Prisoners of Conscience Project, Nellie Zambrano, an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico for the Support Committee of Professors and Friends of José Solis, Prof. Felix Masud-Piloto of DePaul, Josefina Rodríguez, of the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War--and the mother of two Puerto Rican political prisoners--and Jed Stone, attorney for José Solis.

Meanwhile "the dogs are still in the street": the FBI has continued its sinister activities in this operation. Recently FBI agent Matthews questioned the director of the Center for Latino Research at DePaul, Dr. Felix Masud-Piloto, seeking tapes of a speech José gave at the school.

It has been reported that FBI agents presented a subpoena to Marcos Vilar, of the National Committee to free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners, commanding him to present himself to the Grand Jury investigating the case of José Solis.


"It's not a coincidence that the government is attempting to silence the voice of Puerto Rican intellectuals, dissidents, who object to 100 years of colonialization. The voice of Professor Solis will not be silenced. This prosecution will not silence him. The United States will learn, during the course of this case, what 100 years of colonization has done to the people of Puerto Rico. Professor Solis is, after all, an educator. He will use this opportunity to educate all of us about the ravages of colonialism on the people of Puerto Rico. I am convinced of two things. Dr. Solis will be free, and so will the people of Puerto Rico."

Jed Stone, attorney for José Solis

The Committee in Solidarity with José Solis Jordan can be contacted at (773) 278-9361. The José Solis Jordan Defense Fund can be reached c/o The Law Offices of Jed Stone, 434 W. Ontario--Suite 400, Chicago, IL 60610

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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