FBI Interested In Puerto Rican Nationalist Group
By EDMUND H. MAHONY and HILDA MUÑOZ, The Hartford Courant
September 1, 2011
A high-profile Puerto Rican nationalist claims that an apparent electronic tracking device he found attached to his car was placed there by federal authorities in an effort to intimidate him.
The claim was made by Hilton Fernandez-Diamante, a member of the Puerto Rico pro-independence group Los Macheteros, who was convicted of participating in the group's robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo terminal in West Hartford in 1983.
The discovery of the electronic device on Fernandez-Diamante's car is an embarrassment to law enforcement at a time of increased FBI attention to what authorities consider a potentially violent element of the independence movement.
The device was installed in June while the car was parked in a secure parking area at the apartment tower complex where Fernandez-Diamante lives in Trujillo Alto, south of San Juan. He and others in the independence movement since have obtained — and made available to reporters — photographic and documentary evidence of the installation of the device and an eyewitness account.
A security camera captured multiple photographs of two law enforcement agents arriving over two days, apparently to locate the car and later to install the tracker. Apartment complex records show that they presented credentials to security guards identifying themselves as agents of the Police of Puerto Rico who needed access to the parking area as part of a stolen car investigation.
One of Fernandez-Diamante's neighbors told managers of the apartment complex that she became so disturbed after seeing one of the agents crawling around under Fernandez-Diamante's car that she put on eyeglasses for a better view.
With her improved vision, the neighbor told the complex managers that she was able to record the license plate number of the car driven by the two agents the day the device was installed. Her number matched that recorded by a security guard. Associates of Fernandez-Diamante said they have determined by tracing the registration information that the car was rented from an agency.
The FBI would not discuss the incident, saying through a spokesman in San Juan that it does not discuss active investigations. A spokesman for the Police of Puerto Rico could not be reached. However, a law enforcement source who asked not to be identified said the device emitted an electronic signal that would have enabled agents to track the car.
Supporters of Puerto Rico's independence, who have clashed for decades with federal and Commonwealth police agencies, have not been reluctant to discuss what they characterize as another in decades of attempts by federal and Commonwealth police agencies to suppress the island's independence movement. They also are not conceding that the device was tracking equipment and not a bomb.
A group organized to provide support to two jailed members of Los Macheteros — brothers Avellino and Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio — said in a statement issued late Wednesday that the device was installed a day after Fernandez-Diamante agreed to act as a political spokesman for Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio.
"We wish to establish that this action on the part of the government of the United States is not going to stop the works of support and solidarity toward our countrymen, fighters and combatants," the group said in a statement. "We alert the Puerto Rican community to the repressive activities of these two agents or any others."
Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio was apprehended by the FBI in May in the central Puerto Rico town of Cayey. He was charged with participating in the Wells Fargo robbery after more than 25 years as a fugitive. He is being held while awaiting trial.
Associates of Fernandez-Diamante said he learned from neighbors that there was a device on his car when he returned home in June from a trip to New York to meet with Gonzalez-Claudio's lawyer. He called the Police of Puerto Rico bomb squad, which removed the device after evacuating the apartment complex in the densely populated area.
Managers of the apartment complex have written to the FBI complaining that authorities refuse to tell them what the device was or why it was installed on a car belonging to one of their tenants.
Los Macheteros, which is Spanish for "machete wielders" or "cane cutters," is a clandestine organization that has limited itself mostly to political support for Puerto Rican independence in recent years. In the 1970s and '80s, it was linked to several violent incidents, including the deaths of U.S. military personnel, rocket attacks on federal buildings and the destruction of U.S. military aircraft.