Villalba, Julio 25, 2000. En la foto, una bandera puertorriquena hodea frente a las cruces de los martires Carlos Soto Arrivi y Arnaldo Dario Rosado en el Cerro Maravilla.

Vil­lal­ba, Julio 25, 2000. En la foto, una ban­dera puer­tor­rique­na hodea frente a las cruces de los mar­tires Car­los Soto Arrivi y Arnal­do Dario Rosa­do en el Cer­ro Mar­avil­la.

This arti­cle is about the killings that occurred on the moun­tain in 1978.

The Cer­ro Mar­avil­la Inci­dent, also known as the Cer­ro Mar­avil­la Case or the Cer­ro Mar­avil­la Killings is the name giv­en by the Puer­to Rican pub­lic and media to describe the events that occurred on July 25, 1978 at Cer­ro Mar­avil­la, a moun­tain in Puer­to Rico, where in two young Puer­to Rican pro-inde­pen­dence activists were killed in a police ambush. The event sparked a series of polit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies where, in the end, the police offi­cers were found guilty of mur­der and sev­er­al high-rank­ing local gov­ern­ment offi­cials were accused of plan­ning and or cov­er­ing-up the inci­dent.

Orig­i­nal­ly declared a police inter­ven­tion against ter­ror­ists, the local media quick­ly ques­tioned the offi­cers’ tes­ti­monies as well as the only sur­viv­ing wit­ness for incon­sis­ten­cies. Although reluc­tant, the Gov­er­nor of Puer­to Rico at the time Car­los Romero Barceló  ordered the local Jus­tice Depart­ment to launch var­i­ous inves­ti­ga­tions, and asked the FBI and the US Jus­tice Depart­ment to aid in such inves­ti­ga­tions, which con­clud­ed that there was no wrong doing on the officer’s part. How­ev­er, after the local oppos­ing polit­i­cal par­ty launched its own inves­ti­ga­tions, new evi­dence and wit­ness tes­ti­monies uncov­ered gross neg­li­gence on the offi­cers’ part, as well as the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a local and fed­er­al cov­er-up.  Local tri­als were held, and a total of 10 offi­cers were con­vict­ed of var­i­ous crimes.

The inci­dent and sub­se­quent events have become one of the most con­tro­ver­sial moments in Puer­to Rico’s polit­i­cal his­to­ry. The event is often referred to by local inde­pen­dence activists as an exam­ple of polit­i­cal oppres­sion against the Puer­to Rican inde­pen­dence move­ment.   On the night of July 25, 1978 Car­los Soto Arrivi­ and Arnal­do Dari­o Rosa­do, two inde­pen­dence activists of the Armed Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Move­ment along with under­cov­er police offi­cer Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez Malavé pos­ing as a fel­low group mem­ber, took taxi dri­ver Julio Ortiz Moli­na hostage and ordered him to dri­ve them to Cer­ro Mar­avil­la where sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion tow­ers were locat­ed. Their orig­i­nal plan was to set fire and sab­o­tage the tow­ers to protest the impris­on­ment of Puer­to Rican nation­al­ists con­vict­ed of the 1950 assas­si­na­tion attempt on U.S. Pres­i­dent Har­ry S. Tru­man and the 1954 shoot­ing at the Unit­ed States Capi­tol where five mem­bers of Con­gress were injured. State police offi­cers were alert­ed of their plan pri­or to their arrival and the activists were ambushed and shot. The under­cov­er agent received a minor bul­let wound dur­ing the shoot­ing, while the taxi dri­ver was left unharmed.

The morn­ing after the shoot­ings, the offi­cers argued that they act­ed in self defense, stat­ing that they ordered the activists to sur­ren­der, at which time the activists start­ed shoot­ing at them and they returned fire. Ini­tial­ly, the taxi dri­ver said he was under the dash­board of his cab when the shoot­ing start­ed and could not see who shot first, although he con­tra­dict­ed his state­ment a few days lat­er in an inter­view with the San Juan Star, a local news­pa­per, stat­ing that he ducked under the dash­board of the car after the three men (the two activists and the under­cov­er agent) left the car, and that he saw “10 heav­i­ly armed men” approach­ing. When he emerged from the car, he saw the three men alive and two of them were being beat­en by the armed men, who were lat­er iden­ti­fied as police­men.

The first investigations

Then-Gov­er­nor of Puer­to Rico Car­los Romero Barceló (PNP) praised the offi­cers in a tele­vised address by call­ing them hero­ic, stat­ing that they act­ed in self-defense and stopped a ter­ror­ist attack. How­ev­er, fac­ing pub­lic pres­sure due to the taxi driver’s con­flict­ing state­ments, the Gov­er­nor ordered two sep­a­rate inves­ti­ga­tions by the P.R. Jus­tice Depart­ment in addi­tion to the ongo­ing stan­dard Police inves­ti­ga­tion, all of which con­clud­ed that the offi­cers’ actions were free of any wrong­do­ing, despite var­i­ous incon­sis­ten­cies in their sto­ries. Oppos­ing polit­i­cal par­ties, main­ly the Pop­u­lar Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (PDP), insist­ed that the inves­ti­ga­tions were just cov­er-ups and demand­ed that a spe­cial inde­pen­dent pros­e­cu­tor be assigned to inves­ti­gate. Two spe­cial inves­ti­ga­tions by the U.S. Jus­tice Department’s Civ­il Rights Divi­sion and by the U.S. Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion (FBI) were per­formed on sep­a­rate occa­sions between 1978 and 1980, which con­firmed the con­clu­sions of the P.R. Jus­tice Depart­ment that the offi­cers act­ed in self-defense.

The second investigations

In the Novem­ber 1980 gen­er­al elec­tions, Gov­er­nor Romero Barceló was re-elect­ed by a mar­gin of 3,503 votes (one of the clos­est in Puer­to Rico his­to­ry), though his par­ty lost con­trol of the state leg­is­la­ture to the main oppos­ing par­ty, the PPD. This loss was attrib­uted by the New York Times to the sur­round­ing con­tro­ver­sy regard­ing the inves­ti­ga­tions at the time, how­ev­er oth­er news orga­ni­za­tions, such as Time Mag­a­zine, attrib­uted the loss to Gov. Romero Barceló’s stance on the island’s polit­i­cal sta­tus. The Leg­is­la­ture quick­ly start­ed new inquiries and hear­ings into the Cer­ro Mar­avil­la inci­dent. The Sen­ate, then presided by Miguel Her­nan­dez Agos­to, spear­head­ed the inves­ti­ga­tions by nam­ing for­mer Assis­tant Dis­trict Attor­ney Hec­tor Rivera Cruz to inves­ti­gate.

The sec­ond inves­ti­ga­tions per­formed between 1981 and 1984 by the leg­is­la­ture, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment, and the local press uncov­ered a plot to assas­si­nate the activists and a pos­si­ble, though not con­clu­sive, con­spir­a­cy to cov­er-up these actions. Dur­ing inter­views of the Sen­ate Inves­ti­ga­tions Com­mit­tee in 1983, offi­cer Miguel Carta­ge­na Flo­res, a detec­tive in the Intel­li­gence Divi­sion of the Puer­to Rico Police Depart­ment, tes­ti­fied:  When I arrived at the scene I saw 4 police offi­cers aim­ing their guns at the two activists who were kneel­ing before them. I turned my eyes away and heard 5 gun­shots”. Carta­ge­na, who was offered immu­ni­ty for his tes­ti­mo­ny, would add that sev­er­al hours before the shoot­ing, he and oth­er offi­cers were told by Col. Angel Perez Casil­las, com­man­der of the Intel­li­gence Divi­sion, that these ter­ror­ists should not come down (from the moun­tain) alive.  His tes­ti­mo­ny was cor­rob­o­rat­ed by offi­cer Carme­lo Cruz who, although he did not wit­ness the fatal shoot­ing, con­firmed many details pro­vid­ed by Carta­ge­na when also grant­ed immu­ni­ty.

Oth­er inquiries obtained sim­i­lar tes­ti­mo­ny from wit­ness­es, includ­ing the taxi dri­ver who now stat­ed that the activists were alive and dis­armed when the police removed him from the scene. The taxi dri­ver stat­ed that there was a short exchange of gun­fire, and when he was removed to anoth­er place near­by he heard a sec­ond vol­ley of gun­fire, but was asked by the police and inves­ti­ga­tors of the PR Jus­tice Depart­ment to for­get about the sec­ond round of shots. The state­ment regard­ing two dif­fer­ent vol­leys of shots was upheld by var­i­ous peo­ple, includ­ing ex-offi­cer Jesus Quiñones before a Fed­er­al grand jury (he quit the force short­ly after the shoot­ings), and three oth­er civil­ian wit­ness­es in a San Juan Star inter­view.

Sub­se­quent­ly, the leg­is­la­ture and local press start­ed ques­tion­ing the P.R. Police Department’s, the P.R. Jus­tice Department’s, the U.S. Jus­tice Department’s, and the FBI’s actions dur­ing the first inves­ti­ga­tions, alleg­ing cor­rup­tion with­in the agen­cies and a con­spir­a­cy to cov­er-up evi­dence. Let­ters were sent by var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ty and polit­i­cal lead­ers to then Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee chair­man Sen­a­tor Edward M. Kennedy, ask­ing for an inquiry into the con­duct of the Fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions. Sev­er­al let­ters even accused for­mer US Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ben­jamin R. Civilet­ti of pro­vid­ing aid to Gov. Romero Barceló dur­ing the inves­ti­ga­tions. Two lead­ers from the oppos­ing par­ties, the Pop­u­lar Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and the Puer­to Rican Inde­pen­dence Par­ty, charged that after a Decem­ber 1979 meet­ing between the two, the Gov­er­nor, then con­sid­ered as a life­long Repub­li­can, began cam­paign­ing to deliv­er the 41 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty con­ven­tion votes of the island for Pres­i­dent Jim­my Carter’s (D) nom­i­na­tion for the pres­i­den­cy (iron­i­cal­ly, Carter’s oppo­nent for the nom­i­na­tion was Sen­a­tor Kennedy). Almost 45 days after Pres­i­dent Carter won the nom­i­na­tion by 1 del­e­gate, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment announced that, for lack of evi­dence, it was con­clud­ing its inves­ti­ga­tion. A Jus­tice Depart­ment inter­nal mem­o­ran­dum that was issued the same month of Romero Barceló’s and Civiletti’s meet­ing would lat­er prove that the inves­ti­ga­tions were closed even when agents were still inves­ti­gat­ing impor­tant evi­dence of the case which would poten­tial­ly incrim­i­nate the offi­cers, includ­ing sev­er­al unex­plained con­tu­sions on a victim’s face and the fact that one of the police offi­cers recant­ed his orig­i­nal sto­ry, stat­ing that there was in fact two bursts of fir­ings.

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These, and sev­er­al oth­er accu­sa­tions, brought pub­lic and polit­i­cal pres­sure to all inves­ti­gat­ing agen­cies, which in turn led to inter­nal revi­sions of evi­dence and pro­ce­dures from the first inves­ti­ga­tions both at the local and fed­er­al lev­el, although all orga­ni­za­tions would still adamant­ly deny any cov­er-up con­spir­a­cy. These sec­ond inves­ti­ga­tions led to reas­sign­ments, demo­tions and res­ig­na­tions among top offi­cials with­in the PR Jus­tice Depart­ment, includ­ing 3 dif­fer­ent P.R. Sec­re­taries of Jus­tice (equiv­a­lent to state Attor­ney Gen­er­al) accept­ing and resign­ing their posts in a span of six months. On Novem­ber 29, 1983, three pros­e­cu­tors were relieved of their duties after a report by the state Sen­ate Inves­ti­ga­tions Com­mit­tee found they had failed to prop­er­ly inves­ti­gate the Cer­ro Mar­avil­la shoot­ings, cit­ing 101 spe­cif­ic defi­cien­cies in two inves­ti­ga­tions. This was the third state Attor­ney Gen­er­al to over­see the inves­ti­ga­tions since the shoot­ings occurred on 1978.

Aftermath

The sec­ond inves­ti­ga­tions led to 10 offi­cers being indict­ed and found guilty of per­jury, destruc­tion of evi­dence, and obstruc­tion of jus­tice, of which 4 were con­vict­ed of sec­ond-degree mur­der dur­ing 1984. The con­vict­ed offi­cers, which were not on active duty at the time due to var­i­ous rea­sons, were:

  • Col. Angel Perez Casil­las (head of the PR Police Department’s Intel­li­gence Divi­sion dur­ing the inci­dent; sus­pend­ed)
  • Lieut. Nel­son Gon­za­lez Perez (resigned),
  • Lieut. Jaime Qui­les Her­nan­dez (sus­pend­ed),
  • Offi­cer Juan Bruno Gon­za­lez (sus­pend­ed),
  • Offi­cer William Colon Berri­os (sus­pend­ed),
  • Offi­cer Nazario Mateo Espa­da (sus­pend­ed),
  • Offi­cer Rafael Moreno Morales (sus­pend­ed),
  • Offi­cer Luis Reveron Marti­nez (on dis­abil­i­ty leave),
  • Offi­cer Jose Ri­os Polan­co (sus­pend­ed), and
  • Offi­cer Rafael Tor­res Mar­rero (on dis­abil­i­ty leave).

That same year, in the gen­er­al elec­tions held in Novem­ber, Romero Barce­lo lost his guber­na­to­r­i­al seat against for­mer gov­er­nor and oppos­ing par­ty rival Rafael Her­nan­dez Colon (PPD). It is wide­ly accept­ed that Romero Barce­lo lost the elec­tions because of this case, since his pub­lic opin­ion rat­ing had dete­ri­o­rat­ed sub­stan­tial­ly dur­ing late 1984 as the inves­ti­ga­tions pro­gressed, and since his polit­i­cal rivals used his defense of the offi­cers as an indi­ca­tion of a pos­si­ble con­spir­a­cy.

Undercover agent murdered

Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez Malave, the under­cov­er agent who was accom­pa­ny­ing the activists, was not indict­ed for his part in the slay­ings because he was grant­ed immu­ni­ty for tes­ti­fy­ing against oth­er offi­cers, but was removed from the police force due to pub­lic pres­sure. In Feb­ru­ary 1986, he was acquit­ted of kid­nap­ping the taxi dri­ver. His lawyer had argued that he was act­ing under orders and, there­fore, it was the gov­ern­ment who was actu­al­ly guilty of kid­nap­ping, even though tes­ti­mo­ny from offi­cer Carme­lo Cruz tes­ti­fied that it was Gon­za­lez Malave who reck­less­ly endan­gered the hostage’s life. The pros­e­cu­tion had pro­vid­ed evi­dence that he threat­ened the hostage at gun­point, drove the car, and, when the car approached the moun­tain­top, refused to free the hostage despite sug­ges­tions from the activists. These actions, accord­ing to offi­cer Cruz, were con­trary to stan­dard police pro­ce­dures since his pri­ma­ry con­cern should have been the safe­ty of the hostage. Nev­er­the­less, the PR Police Depart­ment did not rein­state Gon­za­lez as an active police offi­cer, a fact that he pub­licly expressed resent­ment over, and sub­se­quent­ly threat­ened to pro­vide incrim­i­nat­ing evi­dence to the media about oth­er indi­vid­u­als involved in the shoot­ings unless rein­stat­ed.

On the evening of April 29, 1986, just two months after his acquit­tal, Gon­za­lez Malave was assas­si­nat­ed in front of his mother’s house in Baya­mon. He received three gun­shot wounds while his moth­er was slight­ly injured. A few hours lat­er, a group iden­ti­fy­ing itself as the Vol­un­teer Orga­ni­za­tion for the Rev­o­lu­tion called local news agen­cies claim­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty. In their state­ments they swore to kill, “one by one”, all the police­men involved in the deaths in Cer­ro Mar­avil­la. The FBI con­sid­ered it one of the most dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions in the Unit­ed States at the time, giv­en that it was the same orga­ni­za­tion that claimed respon­si­bil­i­ty for an attack on a Navy bus in Puer­to Rico on Decem­ber 3, 1979 where two Navy men were killed and 10 peo­ple injured, as well as an attack on a U.S. Nation­al Guard base on Jan­u­ary 12, 1981 where six fight­er-jet planes were destroyed. To this day, no one has been iden­ti­fied as a pos­si­ble sus­pect in Gon­za­lez Malave’s mur­der, and the case remains unsolved.

Public apologies

In 1992, for­mer US Jus­tice Depart­ment Civ­il Rights Divi­sion chief Drew S. Days III admit­ted before the P.R. Sen­ate that the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI act­ed neg­li­gent­ly dur­ing the 1978–1980 inves­ti­ga­tions of the Cer­ro Mar­avil­la inci­dent, such as reject­ing inter­views with key wit­ness­es (includ­ing the taxi dri­ver), refus­ing to offer immu­ni­ty to cer­tain wit­ness­es, and avoid­ing var­i­ous stan­dard inves­ti­gat­ing tasks. Days stat­ed: “I think that cer­tain­ly an apol­o­gy is jus­ti­fied with respect to the way the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment han­dled its inves­ti­ga­tion: the FBI, the Jus­tice Depart­ment, and my divi­sion … it was not done in the pro­fes­sion­al way that it should have been done. FBI Direc­tor William S. Ses­sions had made sim­i­lar con­ces­sions in a writ­ten state­ment in 1990, stat­ing: In hind­sight, the eye­wit­ness should have been inter­viewed and a civ­il rights inves­ti­ga­tion ini­ti­at­ed.  In 1984, the FBI con­duct­ed an inter­nal review of its Cer­ro Mar­avil­la Case files, and con­clud­ed that there was no cov­er-up effort inside the FBI, only a desire to avoid derail­ing the coöper­a­tive anti-ter­ror­ism effort with the Puer­to Rican police. Their state­ments were accom­pa­nied with promis­es to improve their agen­cies in order to avoid sim­i­lar inci­dents in the future.

In 2003, 25 years after the inci­dent, for­mer Gov. Romero Barce­lo admit­ted in a pub­lic radio inter­view that it was an error of judg­ment and a pre­ma­ture dec­la­ra­tion to laud the police offi­cers, since at that time he believed they were telling the truth about their self-defense. How­ev­er, he has pub­licly denied any wrong doing regard­ing the alleged cov­er-up dur­ing the first inves­ti­ga­tions.

Legacy

Ever since the final inves­ti­ga­tions ceased, there has been a much heat­ed debate about the Cer­ro Mar­avil­la inci­dent with­in Puer­to Rico, with some groups argu­ing that there are still oth­ers respon­si­ble for plan­ning and/or order­ing the plot to kill the activists as well as the sub­se­quent cov­er-up, while oth­ers have argued that the inci­dent was exag­ger­at­ed by rival politi­cians and the media, main­tain­ing that no con­spir­a­cy was ever present and that some of the offi­cers incar­cer­at­ed, though not all, are actu­al­ly inno­cent.

Every July 25, Puer­to Rican nation­al­ists and inde­pen­dence activists gath­er on Cer­ro Mar­avil­la to hon­or Car­los Soto and Arnal­do Dario, as well as to defend and cel­e­brate the Puer­to Rican inde­pen­dence move­ment. It is usu­al­ly orga­nized by the fam­i­ly of the vic­tims, for­mer mem­bers of nation­al­ist groups, and by the Puer­to Rican Inde­pen­dence Par­ty (PIP). The moun­tain has also been chris­tened by them as El Cer­ro de los Mar­tires (The Moun­tain of the Mar­tyrs). The movie A Show of Force is based on the events and the­o­ries behind the inci­dent.

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