Puerto Rico: Will Justice Be Done?
By Raúl Ramos Irizarry
Publicado en rprogreso.com
21-27 de febrero de 2002
A string of unsolved political crimes committed in Puerto Rico
during the 70's and the 80'samong them the murders of Carlos
Muñiz Varela and Santiago "Chagui" Mari Pesqueraare
under investigation by the Juridical Commission of the Senate
of Puerto Rico. That's the good news.
The bad news is, of course, that this investigation should have
taken place 20 years ago, and that nothing will ever excuse the
fact that these crimes were swept under a dirty rug of official
indifferenceor worse. Yet, better late than never.
"There are elements to investigate the deaths of Juan Mari
Brás¹ son, Santiago Mari Pesquera, and Carlos Muñiz
Varela, owner of the agency Viajes Varadero, and others,"
has said the president of the Juridical Commission, Senator Eudaldo
Báez Galib, a member of the Partido Popular Democrático,
now in power.
Had these crimes been only the usual influence peddling, sweetheart
deals and outright thievery by corrupt politicians that are commonplace
on the island, they would have been serious enough. But what we
are talking about here is political murder.
As Luis Fernando Coss, a columnist for the Puerto Rican newspaper
El Nuevo Día recently wrote, fundamental decency calls
for an examination of, at least, the political crimes that attempted
against human life, as the Puerto Rican Senate is finally doing
"The murders of Santiago Mari Pesquera and Carlos Muñiz
Varela must be solved once and for all," Coss wrote. The
hands of the federal agents, corrupt island police and ultra right-wing
Cuban expatriates are clearly visible all over these cases, he
What did the federal agencies know?
It is precisely the extent of federal and local official involvementby
deed or omissionas well as the role of Cuban right wing
groups in Puerto Rico that the island¹s Senate is trying
"The purpose of the Senate investigation is not to solve
the murders but to determine if the federal agents knew about
them before, during and after they happened," said Cuban-born
Raúl Álzaga Manresa, Muñiz Varela's friend
and business partner. "They want to find whatever links might
have existed between Puerto Rico¹s law enforcement agencies
and federal ones, if the federal agencies were involved in the
political crimes and if they could have prevented them."
It¹s a tall order, not only because the crimes were committed
two decades ago, but also because Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony,
a fact that makes any investigation of this nature extremely difficult.
"The Puerto Rican Senate has no jurisdiction over the federal
agencies and no way of forcing them to testify; they would have
to do it voluntarily," said Juan Dalmau, a legal advisor
to Sen. Fernando Martín, a Puerto Rican Independence Party
(PIP) leader and the author of the resolution ordering the investigation
that was approved by the Senate June 20, 2001.
Nevertheless, Báez Galib seems intent on pushing the inquiry
"I have no doubts that the federal agencies will be summoned
to testify," Dalmau added. "If they don¹t comply
they would be raising questions about their role in these crimes
and their lack of will to solve them."
Muñiz Varela was 7 years old when he left his native Cuba
and moved to Puerto Rico. He was 25 on April 28, 1979, when someone
shot and killed him in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, while driving to
his mother¹s home. At the time of his death his son Carlos
was 5 and his daughter Yamaira was just a few months old.
He was the president of Viajes Varadero, a travel agency that
December 1978 began to organize trips to their country of origin
for Cuban-born residents of Puerto Rico. Such trips were a thorn
in the eye of the most recalcitrant sector of the Cuban expatriate
community, fiercely opposed to any kind of contact with the other
island, the one where they had been born.
After 22 years, hundreds of squandered promising leads, and several
aborted investigations; no one has been accused of Muñiz
Varela¹s assassination although strong circumstantial evidence
points to right-wing Cubans and corrupt Puerto Rican police.
Mari Pesquera was born in Puerto Rico and was only 23 when he
was kidnapped and murdered. His body was found March 24, 1976.
Active in the pro-independence movement, "Chagui" was
the son of Juan Mari Brás, founder of the Puerto Rican
Socialist Party (PSP) and one of the most prominent leaders in
the struggle against U.S. domination. He was the PSP¹s candidate
for governor when his son was killed.
Death threats were nothing new for Mari Pesquera¹s family
whose members had already survived several attempts against their
lives. Henry Walter Coira Story, a Cuban-born man with well-documented
mental problems was arrested, tried and convicted for "Chagui"¹s
death. Yet, few believe he was anything more than a tool manipulated
by the real criminals..
"The intellectual authors of Chagui¹s murder have never
been charged," has said his sister, Rosa Mari Pesquera.
The Commission for Truth and Justice
The sense that the authorities¹ inability or unwillingness
to prosecute the perpetrators had denied them justice, compelled
Rosa Mari Pesquera, Raúl Álzaga Manresa and the
former president of the Association of Puerto Rican Journalists,
Leila Andreu, to join other family members and friends of murder
victims in a "Commission for Truth and Justice." Their
purpose: To do everything in their power to bring the assassins
The commission started out last year by gathering the scattered
pieces of information friends and relatives of the victimseight
altogetherhad collected on their own. The idea was to make
a case for investigating these murders not as isolated incidents
but as part of a pattern of political persecution in which Puerto
Rican authorities, federal agencies and Cuban exiles had played
a tragic role.
"As a journalist I was out there covering many of these
cases and I saw a pattern," Andreu said. "And I thought
that such a pattern should be made clear because the whole thing
was much more serious than several isolated murders."
In December 2002 the members of the commission met with Martín
and Báez Galib. "We told them what we wanted to do,"
Andreu said. "And they concluded that we knew more about
the killings than they did."
Then, January 23 of this year, the Juridical Commission held
their first public hearing and Andreu, Mari Pesquera and Álzaga
Manresa testified about the information they had gathered on the
assassinations of Muñiz Varela and Mari Pesquera, the first
two cases being investigated. Among the names of possible murderers
and their accomplices mentioned by the members of the Commission
for Truth and Justice at the hearing was that of a well-known
ultrarightist Cuban businessman in Puerto Rico widely thought
to be the main suspect in the murder of Muñiz Varela.
A prosecutor is threatened
Incredibly, after all these years, the killers are still using
the intimidation tactics that served them so well in the past
to try escaping justice. Álzaga Manresa revealed at the
hearing that José Virella, the prosecutor in charge of
investigating the deaths of Mari Pesquera and Muñiz Varela,
had been threatened.
"If even today the prosecutor in charge of these two cases
is receiving insinuations or threats, imagine the messages that
might have been received 10 or 15 years ago by those who were
investigating then," Álzaga Manresa said.
Even though this is the first political inquiry into the possible
links of specific murder cases to the federal agencies, there
have been other investigations before that failed to shed any
light on the murders of Muñiz Varela and Mari Pesquera.
For instance, in 1992, during the Juridical Commission hearings
on the cover-up of the infamous 1978 Cerro Maravilla murders,
the Senate heard what has been described as concrete and credible
testimony on the murder of Muñiz Varela. Yet, it was never
The Justice Department and the Senate, which by then was in the
hands of the pro-statehood party, ignored the new evidence for
10 years, perhaps hoping that it would go away.
The people no longer believes in fairy tales
With such a history of frustrated investigations, why would this
one succeed so many years after the murders? For one thing, according
to the members of the Commission for Truth and Justice, there
is a different, more favorable political environment in Puerto
Rico. After the Cerro Maravilla investigation uncovered in 1984
that six years before Arnaldo Darío Rosado and Carlos Soto
Arriví, two young college students, were ambushed by the
police and killed, the Puerto Rican people is much less naïve.
"The Senate investigation of the Cerro Maravilla case threw
much light on the role of the federal agencies," Andreu said.
"It was shown that they were well aware of what was going
on. Now everybody knows there was a cover-up here and that these
were political crimes. Besides Báez Galib has shown he
has the will to see the investigation through."
Also, Álzaga Manresa said, the recalcitrant elements in
the Cuban community have lost strength and influence. "The
new political generations have no ties to them," he said.
And according to Dalmau, Martín wishes the investigation
to proceed as quickly as possible. "We don¹t want a
repetition of the foot-dragging that took place under past administrations."
It is said that it may take time but that there is no escaping
the wheels of justice. Let¹s hope this is the case and that
some of Puerto Rico¹s deep wounds can finally start to heal.
Raúl Ramos Irizarry is a free