3. An Encyclopedia of Betrayal
Chris: Bueno, let’s go --
Ezequiel: Tenemos que buscar el ticket del parking.
Chris: Ah, ya me dieron uno a mi.
Alana: Not long ago, Chris Gregory-Rivera and our producer, Ezequiel Rodriguez Andino, went to an office in San Juan. They were visiting... a stack of paper.
Chris: Vamos a ver aqui…
Alana: More than paper, it’s a stack of folders, really -- that was so heavy that it landed with a thud on the table.
Manuel: Esta es la carpeta propiamente
Alana: This is a carpeta. It just means folder in Spanish but in Puerto Rico its meaning… has a lot more weight.
Chris: So yeah this is, it’s like a normal office manila folder with some pages in it, some handwritten notes. But here is a page that has basically a list of codes on the left and a list of names on the right, and it has the list of agents, informants and other collaborators of the police.
A carpeta is a surveillance record, from an illegal government program that tracked Puerto Rico’s independence movement, which for over a century has fought for the island to leave the control of the United States.
There have been attempts to suppress the movement since the beginning — In the 50’s, for example, you could be jailed for flying a Puerto Rican flag.
The files from this surveillance program date from the 1940s to the 80s. It was carried out by a secret police division that tracked over 150,000 people and created extensive files on just shy of 16,000.
Chris has spent a lot of time with these carpetas. He’s a photographer and six years ago he started documenting these massive stacks and the people whose lives they catalog.
Chris: On the left you have their code names. The agent being like a paid member of the police force tasked with infiltrating a group. And informants that were simply submitting information to the cops.
Alana: Most of these records were compiled by local police officers -- but the effort relied on Puerto Ricans informing on each other. The FBI closely collaborated with the police intelligence division, routinely mining the carpetas for information as well as compiling their own files on independentistas.
The files reveal a web of constant vigilance. Chris read some reports out loud.
Chris: 18 de septiembre de 1967. Hora, 9 y media de la mañana. (DUCK UNDER)
18th of September, 1967. 9:30 in the morning.
Se hizo chequeo en su residencia, no fue visto.
A check was done on his residence, but the target wasn’t seen.
Chris: 11 de la mañana:
Time, 11 in the morning: contact was made with the informant on Madrid Street in Rio Piedras.
12:30 in the afternoon --
He was seen by the informant from the soda fountain in front of the University.
Chris: Fue visto por el suscribiente de la fuente de soda frente a la UPR. (laughs)
Chris: O sea, hay informantes en todos lados.
There were informants everywhere -- the neighbor, the soda fountain dude. But the information is totally banal, it’s just day to day life, Chris says. That’s part of what’s so chilling.
The surveillance program in Puerto Rico was one of -- if not the -- longest continuous targeted surveillance program conducted on US Citizens by their own government. And for Chris, one of the worst things about the program was that it relied on Puerto Ricans spying on each other for the cops -- with betrayals happening within families, and among friends.
This history of surveillance is so embedded in the Puerto Rican consciousness, that it has its own verb… to carpetear - “to folder” someone, or be “foldered”. Growing up in Puerto Rico, Chris heard it all the time.
Christopher: I wanted to be a photojournalist, so I would go out to protests and I would take pictures. And, my mom, she would always sort of tell me, you know, be careful, you know, “te van a carpetear”. And they're going to like they're going to create a file on you.
Alana: When your mom would say “ah te van a carpetear”. What did you think? Was it like rolling your eyes like, oh, mom, come on. Or was it in any way real for you?
Christopher: No, I mean yeah...It was the boogey man.
The very idea of being watched in Puerto Rico was kind of a “cuco”, that’s the way we say boogeyman in Spanish. Something there, lurking just out of sight. “Cuidado, allí está el cuco”. Or not there at all, just in your imagination. Your paranoia. A story to scare the kids -- a story to scare everyone.
Alana: From WNYC Studios and Futuro Studios, I’m Alana Casanova-Burgess, and this is La Brega. In this episode, how the history of surveillance is everywhere, and nowhere, in Puerto Rico.
Chris takes it from here.
CHRIS: In the course of my photo project about las carpetas I became interested in one particular betrayal, one that got me thinking about what the effects of surveillance are on society — the wounds it leaves. So let’s start the story here, with Nestor Nazario.
Nestor: Yo tengo la carpeta mía.
Nestor has his carpeta --- a lot of people have their files, actually. (More on that later) but he told me that his adds up to 1800 pages.
Nestor: Mis carpetas son 1800 folios, la de mi madre es superior todavía a la de mi padre. Entonces guardar eso implica espacio.
His mother’s file is even larger and he also has his father’s, storing them all requires a lot of space. Nestor’s is deep in a closet in his house. Last time I asked to see them, he told me it would take a couple of days to find them all.
Newstor: Se ponen amarillas con el tiempo.
They get yellow with age, he says.
Nestor is a retired academic researcher in economics and a lifelong activist for Puerto Rican independence. In fact, he was raised in a family of independence activists.
His mother is Providencia Trabal, and known as Pupa. She co-founded the movimiento pro-independencia, or the pro-independence movement in Nestor’s childhood home in Mayaguez in 1959. It was a coalition between all the political parties and organizations advocating for independence at the time -- and its creation marked a renewed struggle for sovereignty in the 60s and 70s.
Nestor: yo tengo conciencia desde bien joven porque mis padres eran víctimas de esa vigilancia.
Undercover police would be parked outside their house in eight hour shifts.
Growing up in an independentista household, Nestor got an early start on his own political activism. Even in high school He and some friends organized a pro-independence group. Then, in college, at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, they would join la FUPI -- which stands for the Federation of Pro Independence University Students. The University and surrounding area of Rio Piedras during that time -- was -- and in many ways still is -- ground zero for the independence movement, and the student group -- the FUPI -- was at the center of it all.
The FUPI became a place where real friendships formed. Like-minded students bonded beyond politics and what they called “la lucha" or -- the struggle.
Nestor: Además de ese vínculo de la lucha en la universidad desarrollamos una amistad que trascendió eso.
He and his friends would advocate for independence, giving out flyers, organizing protests -- but they’d also go bowling together. I mean, they were teenagers, after all. Nestor became close with a fellow student who was also part of the FUPI organizing committee and a spokesperson for the group. His name was William Tapia.
Nestor: William era una persona que su personalidad era que él era amistoso. Siempre estaba haciendo chistes con anécdotas...
Nestor describes William as being friendly, he was always telling stories and jokes.
Nestor: ...y un poco se daba que fuera fácil socializar con él.
He was really easy to get along with.
He and Nestor led a creative protest that they called Operacion Bandeja -- Operation Lunch Tray. They would load up their trays with food and just leave them at the checkout counter as a way to fight back against a price hike in the student cafeteria.
Almost always the group of friends either left from or ended up at Nestor’s house. It was like the unofficial club house. Friends like William even became like family in the process, and became very involved in helping Pupa with the official business of the Pro-Independence movement.
The constant surveillance the group of friends experienced was something they were used to at that point. Nicolas Andreu was also among Nestor’s college friends. They also went to High School together.
Nicolas: mi primera carpeta, donde yo aparezco es porque mi papá iba a unos seminarios en unos hoteles.
Nicolas’ father co-founded a pro-independence newspaper called Claridad. Nicolas remembers tagging along with his dad to speaking engagements at hotels across the island.
Nicolas: pero como estaba allí pues ponían mi nombre y entonces automáticamente la policía tenía un sistema con unas tarjetas verdes...
Police used to write the names of everyone attending events on green index cards. If an individual had four of these cards, then they’d get their own carpeta. Hundreds of thousands of people were catalogued this way.
And sometimes the surveillance… was surreal.
One neighbor told the cops that his family was communicating with soviet submarines over the radio.
Nicolas: decian los vecinos -- Yo creo que ellos tienen una o una estación de radio y se comunican con los submarinos soviéticos.
They said that because his grandmother had a shortwave Phillips radio that she’d listen to the BBC from London on.
When the police came and inspected, they couldn’t find any antennae.
Nicolas: Entonces la policía fue hizo una inspección y dijo Mira, no vemos ninguna antena.
At the university, there were informants everywhere — almost every FUPI meeting was documented in the carpetas. Nico told me that if you were a student like him at the time, the police would visit your teachers. They would even visit your neighbors and tell them this person is dangerous, this person is subversive and you’d get ostracized by those around you.— association with the independence movement would usually prevent you from getting a job, and if you had a job it could get you fired.
The idea of Puerto Rican independence has always been portrayed by the local and US governments as its own kind of “cuco”, a bogeyman.
Nestor: Aquí se le mete un miedo horrible a la independencia a la gente
Independence was something to be feared, authorities said, the island would be plunged into unimaginable poverty without the financial support of the States.
The US had a serious interest in keeping Puerto Rico under its control — it was home to one the Navy’s largest bases and US companies were flocking to the island for cheap labor and to enjoy tax incentives.
In 1961, FBI director J Edgar Hoover sent a memo to his agents in San Juan about why it was important to “disrupt” the activities of the independence movement. Quote:
``We must have information concerning their weaknesses, morals, criminal
records, spouses, children, family life and personal activities other than
independence activities.'' End quote.
This was the middle of the Cold War — where hysteria about a communist takeover was rampant in the United States. The government was afraid of exactly that kind of revolutionary sentiment… and it WAS simmering in Puerto Rico amongst independentistas.
The movement had been repressed since its inception, often violently. And so while the struggle for independence was largely fought through legitimate political means, some groups responded to government persecution with violence of their own. These groups often set off bombs on the island and in the states.
In many cases these bombs were timed to only harm property, to send a message in response to government actions the groups opposed. In some cases, though, there were both civilian and military casualties. On the other hand, the government was implicated in various extrajudicial killings of activists.
In 1962 a bomb went off in the pharmacy Nestor’s father owned and two independentistas were killed. Nestor remembers it vividly.
Nestor: Bueno fue un cuadro bien bien difícil. [...]
How there was blood on the walls...
Nestor: Había sangre en las paredes, destrozo.
Officials said his parents were building bombs for the movement, and one exploded by accident. But Nestor’s family maintains that an undercover police officer had planted the bomb. No one was ever convicted for the explosion, and to this day the facts about this -- and so much else during this time -- are unclear.
And the reason I am telling you all of this is to underscore that Revolutionary groups did exist and they had ties to political groups, including the one Nestor’s family founded. But, this surveillance overwhelmingly cracked down on folks who supported peaceful protest, not violence.
But back to Nestor, and the student organization he was a part of -- the FUPI.
In the late 1960’s the biggest rift on campus was between the FUPI - and the US Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, the ROTC, which recruited on campus for the Vietnam War. For the FUPI, the idea of Puerto Rican bodies returning from a war waged by the United States on the other side of the world was difficult to stomach.
So Nestor, William and the rest of the FUPI called for protests to oust the ROTC from campus.
ARCHIVAL TAPE: “So there is new tension, because people know that the trouble which has been brewing for some time, lies deeper than the ROTC.
These protests were some of the most intense in the history of UPR.
ARCHIVAL TAPE: “The violence spread to a business section of san juan. Students broke windows, there was some looting. But only stores owned by stateside companies were vandalized [...] the night after the fighting, several homes displaying pro-independence flags of symbols were burned.”
In those years many students were arrested and expelled for protesting, including Nestor and William. (They fought the decision and won years later, but others weren’t able to return to their studies.)
The FUPI did get the ROTC and the police banned from the university. It was a victory, at least on campus -- but in the end it cost lives. Over the course of two years, two students (one of them a cadet), two police officers and one civilian were killed in the clashes.
Nestor: Esto puede parecer una exageración, pero pensábamos que la revolución estaba a la vuelta de la esquina…
Nestor says that while it might seem ridiculous now, he and the other students in the movement felt like revolution was just around the corner.
NESTOR: ... porque el mundo realmente estaba en un proceso hacia hacia el cambio, hacia la izquierda, hacia el socialismo.
The world seemed to be changing, turning towards the left, toward socialism.
And that's because it actually was just a stone’s throw away, in Cuba.
In 1969 a group of FUPI students were invited by the Cuban government to come see what revolution looked like for themselves.
Nicolas: Habían dos compañeros de Nueva York, éramos en total 20 y una muchacha
That’s Nico again. The delegation was 20 strong, including Nestor and William Tapia.
But Cuba was a difficult place to visit as a US citizen. Because of the embargo, direct flights to Cuba were not permitted, they had to go first to New York, and then take a bus to Canada to then board a livestock ship to Cuba.
Nestor says they were there for a month and a half, just traveling the island and getting to know Cuba.
Nestor: Lo que hicimos fue conocer Cuba. Estuvimos un mes y pico viajando por toda Cuba,
The trip cemented the bonds of friendship between the young activists.
Nestor didn’t necessarily know it, but after Cuba and over the course of the 70s -- as he took a job at the University and continued to be an active member of the movement -- his Carpeta continued to grow.
He might never have learned that his carpeta even existed, if it wasn’t for events that took place on a mountain top in the center of the island in the late 70s….
What happened at Cerro Maravilla changed the course of Puerto Rican history, and ultimately led to the demise of the secret police.
What happened is this: In 1978, an undercover police agent befriended two university students active in the FUPI. The agent had been recruited by police when he was just 15 and infiltrated independence groups all through high school and college to seem like a hardcore independentista.
He convinced the two students to go with him to blow up a radio tower on Cerro Maravilla, with materials that he would provide. It made national news, 60 Minutes covered it.
Archival: “July 25th 1978 marked the 80th anniversary of the US invasion of Puerto Rico.
When they got to the radio tower, a group of 10 officers ambushed the two students, and killed them.
Archival: “Rosado and Soto had been murdered, shot on their knees as they begged for mercy.”
The Puerto Rican Government, backed up by the FBI, said that the students were terrorists planning to blow up the facility. They claimed the police were defending themselves in shooting them.
Archival: “In fact, there was no clear evidence they were terrorists. And there’s no evidence at all that when they went up there they were gonna blow up the communications tower -- they had no explosives with them, they couldn’t have done it.”
This all led to a scandal that exposed a MASSIVE coverup by both the Puerto Rican government and the FBI. There were years of televised trials and investigations that slowly unraveled the story of what really happened. The undercover agent was eventually acquitted on a lesser charge after testifying against the other police officers involved in the murders.
But, two months after his acquittal, he was assassinated — an independentista group took credit, though some speculate it was actually retaliation by fellow police officers for snitching on them.
But why am I telling you all this? Because this scandal sparked so much outrage that it was what actually led to the revelation that there was secret surveillance happening at all. In 1987, During a heated discussion on a talk radio program about the Cerro Maravilla murders, a former police officer inadvertently spilled the beans. “Everybody knows that there are files on the independistas”, he said.
All of a sudden what had been dismissed for decades as paranoia -- as a “cuco” -- within independence circles, turned out to be very real. There really were informants everywhere.
When the surveillance program came to light, it unleashed a debate over what to do with the files, las carpetas. The government wanted to destroy them, but the courts did something unprecedented. They said the files should be saved and returned to those who had been watched… returned as their property. It's the only such case in the world of original surveillance files being returned directly to victims.
NEWS ANCHOR: “Ya que nadie tiene derecho a violar los derechos constitutionales de un ciudadano. Ser independentista, sostuvo el juez, no es un delito.” --
That’s a news report from 1992, when a judge in Puerto Rico ruled that the surveillance had infringed on the constitutional rights of those in the independence movement… and he ordered that the names of police informants involved in the program, also be released.
When the victims of surveillance were finally given their files in the early 90s, to their surprise, the documents were completely unredacted -- published whole. The files were an encyclopedia of betrayal, in some cases documenting decades of deceits and relationships under false pretenses. As they read them, people found out that many of the reports had been filed not by strangers, but instead -- , those closest to them. And what Nestor and his group of friends found out would be devastating.
For starters, about that Cuba trip?
Nicolas: en el grupo a nosotros fuéramos 20, dos eran agentes encubiertos,
Of the group of 20 who went, two were undercover informants.
Nestor’s friend Nico was the first in their group to get the decoded list of informants in his carpeta. He recognized a name --
Nicolas: Mira quién está aquí:
Someone who was close to Nestor and Pupa, practically family. Here’s Nestor:
Nestor: En nuestro caso había una persona muy vinculada a nosotros, militante de la FUPI,
Someone who was a FUPI member, who shared so much with them and, yet, was an agent.
Nestor: una persona que compartía con todo el mundo y que era agente.
This person had filed 54 reports against Nestor.
Christopher: Y quién era esa persona?
Nestor: William Tapia, William Tapia
William Tapia… the easygoing, funny friend. The FUPI spokesperson who was arrested with Nestor for protesting the ROTC, who went to Cuba, who was part of the struggle.
That William Tapia.
ALANA: When we come back… the search for an informant. This is la Brega.
ALANA: And we’re back to La Brega. — when we left off, Nestor Nazario Trabal just learned that one of his close friends from the Puerto Rican independence movement — William Tapia — was actually collaborating with the secret police. Chris Gregory Rivera picks it up from here.
CHRIS: In an interview in 2016, Pupa Trabal, Nestor’s mom, told me how close she was with William Tapia.
PUPA: Que William Tapia yo lo quería como mi hijo.
“I loved him like a son.” There was a time when her husband, Nestor’s father, was in the hospital. Tapia stayed with him overnight.
Pupa: Nestor padre estaba en el hospital.
Chris: Y William se quedaba con el?
Pupa: William, se quedaba con el. No, Pupa, yo me quedo.
Pupa says he gave William his first car, she was a bridesmaid at his wedding, she took care of his first son while he worked and his wife studied.
And so when she first learned that Tapia had been an informant, her son Nestor says she took it really hard -- she refused to believe it.
Pupa later said that she wanted to believe that Tapia would never hurt her, would never betray her, because she was so good to him.
I had been hearing William Tapia’s name from the subjects I photographed for years. He was a visible figure in the independence movement, he was arrested multiple times at protests. When the files came out, Claridad, a pro-independence newspaper on the island published the famous “Lista de Chotas”, or list of snitches. Each week they would profile one of the informants discovered from the files. Tapia got his own quarter page.
Pupa has been pretty public about William Tapia. He comes up in her memoirs, and she spoke about him in a documentary. She came to believe he was more than a mere informant, but an undercover agent assigned to infiltrate her family and gain her trust for decades. Tapia has been silent, although I had heard from sources that when the newspaper list was first published he sent a letter to the editor trying to clear his name.
I have had questions about William that have been lingering for years now... what was his involvement, exactly? If he was an informant, why did he collaborate with the police? How did he defend his actions, or did he dispute the story the independence movement had told about him for decades?
Alana and I decided to look for him. And we found a social media profile.
Alana: Do you have the link, handy?
Alana: The question is, is this the right guy?
Christopher: I mean it all checks out.
He was sharing messages critical of the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico and supportive of independence -- along with family pictures and prayers.
Alana: Does it mean anything to you that he's just hanging out here
Christopher: It makes me feel like he’s obviously somebody’s father and husband and all of these things. you have the perspective of somebody who feels like they were wronged by this person. Right. Or was betrayed, perhaps. But you look at his page and it's like, you know, he's sharing like these, you know, like the weird stuff that your parents shared like these, like inspirational messages.
It turned out Tapia was living in Puerto Rico.
[voicemail beep] Saludos Senor Tapia, me llamo Christopher Gregory…
I told him I wanted to talk to him about his involvement with independentistas. He didn’t agree to have our calls recorded, but he did agree to meet...
[voicemail beep] Saludos William [...]
He told me all about a non-profit he started that digs wells in rural communities on the island so they can have ready access to water. The years of militancy in the independence movement, he said, were formative to his work and life now. And he invited me to come check out his project and to talk about his time in the movement.
Ezequiel: Dónde estámos chris?
Chris: Estamos en Barceloneta, pasando Barceloneta de camino a la 10 en Arecibo.
Chris: A encontrarnos con William Tapia.
We pulled over at a roadside restaurant. It was so early in the morning that it was closed. He jumped out of a Lexus SUV to greet us. “I bought it used,” he reassured us later.
Tapia is about 5 foot 7, gregarious and tan. We first talked about water witching -- a practice where people claim to be able to divine where to find underground water. Turns out he witches for water to dig the wells. He gave me a demonstration right there in the parking lot. I have to say I was taken aback by the fact that the person I had heard and read so much about was in front of me.
Tapia declined a recorded interview, but as I was heading home after spending time with him that day, I called Alana.
Alana: How'd it go?
Chris: It went well. I mean, I don't know if well is the word. I don't know if I was expecting the answer that he gave us. And we asked him about all of it.
Tapia, Ezequiel and I spent that entire day crisscrossing the mountains in the center of the island looking at these community wells he is helping install. Over a coffee and an empanadilla at one point, at a roadside kiosk, he opened up about his upbringing in a working class neighborhood of San Juan. He went to a catholic school run by spanish priests who had fled political persecution in Spain.
They were the first to introduce him to radical politics, urging him to attend communist party meetings and discuss the ideas with them. His family, though, was very conservative and Pro-Statehood. (His father had a 51st state bumper sticker on his car.)
He also opened up about his frustrations with the independence movement -- how he wanted to double down on grassroots activism while others were more engaged in theory and politics. To him, the movement was too hung up on convoluted intellectual ideas — that’s why he says he’s digging wells today instead of sitting around theorizing. He told me about this one time, back when he was a member of the FUPI -- where most of a meeting was spent discussing the philosophy around perfect placement of loudspeakers for speeches.
Eventually at the top of a mountain with views of the entire north side of the island I got the courage to ask him about his time being an informant. “I knew you were going to ask me about that,” he said.
And he said — it was true.
BUT — that he had only been an informant for about a year during college and stopped after the trip to Cuba with Nestor and Nico. He also said that the allegations that he got close to Pupa for information and that he was a paid agent assigned to her were also false.
And, on top of that, that he didn’t for money or because he wanted to hurt the cause. But because he actually saw an opportunity to help the movement. A relative who was an officer in the intelligence division had asked him to file reports on independentistas.
According to him, he then went to Manuel de J Gonzalez, who was then President of the FUPI, and hatched a plan. He would become an informant and feed the cops harmless information to see if they could get valuable information in return. He would become a double agent.
Typically informants like him were either coerced or paid. But he maintains that he never took any money.
Chris: tenemos aquí a William Tapia Tapia con el número 16 h 2 ...
At the beginning of this episode, Ezequiel and I were in Manuel de J Gonzales’ office, looking at his carpeta. We were trying to confirm Tapia’s timeline -- that he had been an informant for only around a year. From these files at least, it doesn’t seem to be the decades-long collaboration with the cops that the movement has alleged.
But the files don’t reveal anything about William’s claim that he was a double agent. So I asked Manuel de J Gonzalez about that . —
Manuel: Eso que yo lo mandé a infiltrar obviamente es mentira. Nosotros nunca tuvimos esa capacidad.
He told me, obviously it’s a lie. That he never directed William to infiltrate the police. And as for the supposedly harmless information he fed the cops — Nestor says that one of the most damning reports in his carpeta was in fact provided by William.
Nestor was briefly declared a fugitive for leaving the island to cool off when he faced charges linked to the ROTC protests. He says William gave up his whereabouts, which could have landed Nestor in jail. (William told me that Nestor’s whereabouts were public knowledge at the time.)
Later on, Tapia was convicted in connection with a bomb planted by the movement in a federal building in 1971. His arrest made front page news and the movement rallied for his release. He spent seven years fighting the charges, and was convicted anyway -- but he never actually served his sentence in prison. On the one hand, what kind of police informant would go through 7 years of appeals just to end up convicted? But on the other hand, the fact he got out of going to prison for serious criminal offenses seemed suspicious to many in the movement…. And they believe it’s part of his cover as an agent.
Was William an informant, or an agent assigned to Pupa? Was he part of revolutionary forces or even an independentista at all? Or was he just playing both sides and got in over his head?
You could argue this confusion is part of a larger plan. Manuel de J Gonzales says, all this surveillance wasn’t done to uncover revolutionary groups.
Manuel: Manuel: no se hizo para descubrir revoluciones.
It was done to destroy them, to turn them against each other.
Manuel: Tratar de destruir la unidad interna del independentismo. Se inventan caricaturas tratando de poner a pelear un independentista con otro.
Even the collaborators were victims, he says.
Manuel: Causo victimas de distinctas maneras. [...] Y los propios informantes fueron victimas.
Some were unremorseful… but --
Manuel: pero otros no y otros siguen cargando con problemas de conciencia ahora.
Others not so much — they have to live carrying that weight on their conscience.
Manuel: tal vez Tapia sea uno de esos, no sé.
Maybe Tapia is one of them, he said, who knows.
For his part, Tapia says he feels just as betrayed by his friends as they feel betrayed by him. When the carpetas came out and he proclaimed his innocence, nobody believed him, he felt like the movement turned their backs on him. He told me, the way he sees it, is that he freed himself of people that didn’t truly know him.
As for Nestor — he isn’t interested in hearing about or from William ever.
Nestor: Yo creo que uno puede, con la gente que piensa distinto a uno. Puede compartir, hablar, discutir, son familia,
Among family — it doesn’t matter if you have different views, you can share ideas, talk, argue --
Nestor: pero con los traidores y la gente que traicionó, eso ya es otra cosa.
But with traitors, and people who betrayed you, that's another thing.
Eduardo Rivera-Pichardo is a Puerto Rican social and political psychologist at NYU. He says part of the reason that it’s so hard to untangle what actually happened in this period of history has to do with the way the carpetas were returned. The government basically said come get your file and deal with what happened on your own.
Eduardo: It led to individual process of reconciliation and remembering. Which led to a process of... forgetting in the collective sense of it.
There was never a collective process to understand what happened — like there was in East Germany, or after any of the South American dictatorships with similar secret police programs. And there is no single place you can go and see all of the carpetas. Some are in people’s closets and garages. The rest are in a poorly funded national archive.
And because there is no complete archive there is no cohesive way to remember, or interpret all of this history, or definitively understand the roles of people like Tapia and the others who were involved.
But it's not like a national reckoning isn't possible or hasn’t happened before in Puerto Rico. Cerro Maravilla, where the two students were murdered, is more widely known and understood.
Eduardo: I don't think we're there yet with las Carpetas. Because there was never a process like the one in Cerro Maravilla were there were trials after trials in in every in every instance of the news, that was the main topic.
There was an actual national conversation. People couldn’t not have an opinion about it.
But the carpetas are a different story. They are seldom taught in school. Today, so many years later, they've become a kind of folklore ... “cuidado te van a carpetear” like my mom used to warn me when I would go cover protests. And even though Governor Pedro Roselló formally outlawed carpeteo of any kind in 1994, many of us still believe, deep down, we’re being watched.
[some protest sound in the clear where we can hear the word “carpeteo”]
And that threat came back into sharper focus just last year when we learned of another example of authorities surveilling activists challenging the government.
A video of a student protest at the University had been live streamed on Facebook. Puerto Rican police then got personal information and messages from the more than five thousand people who had interacted with the student newspaper pages where the video appeared. That led to criminal charges for seven of the students involved in the protest, which they’ve been fighting in court since 2017.
[fade protest tape]
Protestors of this surveillance have called it Digital Carpeteo. A stark reminder that this practice is not over.
The result of all this surveillance is the fear that was instilled in Puerto Ricans — fear of the government, of each other. Fear of imagining an alternative political reality.
Ultimately, the problem with surveillance goes beyond the information that was collected: it's about how you might conjure up the bogeyman, the “cuco” if you dare to express yourself freely. And maybe that’s what the government intended all along.
Even though the secret police was disbanded over 30 years ago, for many Puerto Ricans, that “cuco” that they unleashed, still lives on.
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