As I previously said, I have been an unrelenting supporter of my adopted country from an early age. I also served my country in an alphabet agency after taking an oath to defend the Constitution from its enemies foreign or domestic.
The agent who administered the oath, gave us a little anecdote on what that oath meant, and to whom we were making our oath. I still remember when he said not to confuse the Constitution with the government. One was our eternal governing principles, the other was restrained by them.
There was a time when the bad guys were easy to tell from the good guys. It was black and white. Order vs Chaos. Individual Liberty vs Socialist Totalitarianism. Rule of law vs Lawlessness. Right vs Wrong. This contrast has been blurring over time into a gray mist. And what I am about to relate to you only further blurs this distinction. Which brings me to my point. Have you ever heard of the Carpetas?
It is the Spanish word for files, also known as Dossiers. Yes, you know that word. The files began under governor Blanton Whinship, in the 1930’s, and were used to systematically spy upon thousands of Puerto Ricans from the 1930’s to as late as the 1980’s. It was so widespread it even became a verb in Puerto Rican Spanish, “te carpetearon,” you are filed.
The Carpetas contained secret police dossiers that included a collection of personal information. Photos, religion, political affiliation, family records, license plates and many other kinds of personal information, known today under the sanitized word “Metadata.” Calls were tapped, houses and businesses were bugged, letters intercepted at the post office. The file on Pedro Albizu-Campos, was so extensive that it was 4,700 pages long!
Of the over 100,000 people who had Carpetas, some 74,000 were under constant “surveillance.” 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.
One of the most disturbing things about the program was that it, relied on Puerto Ricans spying on each other for the government. A vast network of informants rivaling the East German Stasi’s, relentlessly spied on family, friends and neighbors for a variety of amenities or privileges.
People who were “carpeted” could be fired from jobs, be imprisoned, have education ended and be permanently discredited. Put simply, carpetas destroyed people’s lives. If you had a carpeta, you would be put on a black list and you could forget about getting a job. Wait a minute! Was this East Germany or the Soviet Union? No, it was Puerto Rico under American control.
FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover said of Puerto Ricans in an internal memo in 1961: “We must have information concerning their weaknesses, morals, criminal records, spouses, children, family life and personal activities other than independence activities.” And this when Puerto Ricans were fighting and dying in America’s foreign wars.
No one was spared. There was even a carpeta on the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marin. They used this report to control him. The threat of being exposed as a “narcotics addict, heavy drinker and womanizer,” kept the governor right where they wanted him, on a very tight leash, doing whatever they directed.
When decades of surveillance was finally exposed, the U.S. government wanted to dispose of them, then something crazy happened. The court said that these files could not be destroyed and in fact had to be returned to the families that had been watched. This is the only time this has happened in world history.
The files were returned to the victims in the early 90’s, including the names of the informants. But it gets worse, people realized that many times the informants who had filed these reports were close friends and family; snitches disguised as fellow independistas. Families were torn apart and friendships shattered.
The affects of carpetas had lasting impacts on Puerto Ricans.