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shifting seas of global social consciousness and worldwide political hierarchy have only recently brought the word 'terrorism' to the quotidian mind of Americans, it has long enjoyed a cemented place in the construct of civilization. Daily associations between the word terrorism and the frightening images of gore and destruction rampant on the 24-hour news networks affirm the complicated understanding of terrorism in the modern world; bombings on an Israeli bus, explosions outside a Pakistani supermarket, and subway atrocities mingle with recent memories of the World Trade center and recollections of the bloody IRA, Black Liberation Army, and Basque independence movements. Personal reaction and affiliation to the events, movement, and goals of each group's paradigm resonates inside a loose definition of political violence, while governmental response is chiseled, monochromatic, and decisive. While the motives and end-results always differ, the path to terrorism is marked by similar goal posts. These similarities and divergences are magnified in examination of the Macheteros and Tupamaros, two extremist groups whose training techniques, compliance tactics, target selection, surrounding social conditions, and leadership psychology garner a greater understanding of the technologies best used to fight both foreign and domestic terrorism.
"Freedom fighters, liberators," the Macheteros call themselves.
The Puerto Rican domestic extremist group publicly seeks the independence of the American commonwealth, while its apolitical crimes leave it reasonably indicted by the Federal government and Bureau of Investigation. The left-wing Puerto Rican group, nominally the Boricua Popular Army, took root inside the historic Armed Forces of National Liberation in the 1970s, twenty years after Puerto Rico was established as a Commonwealth of the United States. The gaping differences between the obvious qualities of life in Puerto Rico and the United States have perpetuated not only the mass movement of Puerto Ricans to America and neighborhood enclaves like Queens, NY, but also the establishment of political groups resisting the second-tier territorial status of the island.
Like the Palestinian Jihad feels towards Israel, the Macheteros regard the United States within the theoretical framework of irrendtism, preempting the American commonwealth establishment and instead seeing them as occupiers of a land not theirs.
The temporal rise of the Boricua Popular Army, los Macheteros -- the machete men, coincides not only with the post-colonial inhabitance of Puerto Rico, but also plays an important role within the great Cold War politics of the era. To understand their methodology as an example of domestic terrorists, it is critical to examine their coming of age, which has since played out on not only their ability to recruit new members, but to maintain a livelihood in the shifting political climate of the world and make an impact on the growing disillusioned Puerto Rican population, both on the Island and in the States, and the leaders of government and business they intend to impress.
"One of the primary reasons terrorism is difficult to define is that the meaning changes within social and historical contexts."
When the Macheteros first began their violently apolitical regime in Puerto Rico, the United States was involved in a worldwide war against the Soviet Bloc. The United States was fighting on all continents; in the Middle East, America was struggling for access of sufficient ports to provide water access to military and business for the region; in Africa, the Nixonian Southern "tilt" was followed soon after by the Reagan Doctrine that supported the anti-Marxist groups struggling to take hold of Angola. At home, the Cuban proximity to other Caribbean islands posed the social threat of revolutionary ideology that spread through Latin America, but also to the very dangerous concept of military engagement with the little island to the south held so dear by the Red Bloc to the East.
It was in that relevant political atmosphere that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was established, and the political strength it posed to the forces in Washington cannot be undervalued; its importance to the American cause for democracy and Western preeminence was something understood by political divergents worldwide. "Significant collusion among groups was not evident until the 1960's when the Soviet Union embarked upon a coordinated effort to bolster movements it believed would further its political objectives," Smith writes.
"The training it provided itself, and throughout its surrogates, was the genesis of knowledge that would ultimately spread to the majority of the world's terrorist organizations. But by the time the Soviet Union collapsed, it was no longer a vital component in the terrorist training arena."
At the same time as the Soviet Union was fostering coalitions of its own in Africa and Europe, it was also combing the seas of the Caribbean and Gulf for compassionate post-colonial islands in search of stable regime. While the United States was offering one form of government, they were purporting another. In looking at the establishment of the Machetes, it has to be acknowledged that they developed as their own revolutionary movement unaffiliated with the American leaders that had come its turf to modify its leadership just as the Soviets had, but since the cementation of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth territory and not a state, it has morphed into a domestic extremist faction.
The nearly forty-year history of the Macheteros is steeped deep in the history of American utilization of the Puerto Rican island and people. While America argues, in conjunction with the United Nations and other leading operatives, that its service to Puerto Rico is one of stewardship, the Macheteros see the modern day holding of the island as a second-rate state as one of insult and abuse, as the American ideology could be, if ignoring the heart-tugging strings of patriotism and democracy, viewed as during the international Cold War between the U.S. And the Soviets. However, while the Macheteros disagree with the protectorate of the United States, most Puerto Ricans do not.
The vast majority of Puerto Ricans are split down the center, favoring statehood or the perpetuation of the commonwealth status, putting the Baricua ideology into the electorate minority.
The Macheteros began their war against the U.S. Government as a war against corporate America, the industrial leadership of Puerto Rico, and the established hegemony of the old sociopolitical system. They claim the United States holds on to Puerto Rico as a basin for labor and supply services that support the American capitalist economy, while ignoring the great advances in social consistency that have encouraged most Puerto Ricans to prefer close association to the United States over all other options. When the group was first active, the FBI had already infiltrated the free press and political circles of Puerto Rico, according to Puerto Rican Congressman Jose E. Serrano (D-NY).
The COINTELPRO operation, documented by the City University of New York, covertly sought the suppression of the Baricua voice, establishing the complex relationship the FBI and Macheteros would follow through the years.
While national ideology did not call for the suppression of independence voicing, the American Commonwealth did seek to ignore the violent aggression of those dissatisfied with the political regime. The Macheteros, whose recruitment existed within the very insular fringe community at odds with the American movement, became outwardly violent in January, 1977. One day after Carols Romero Barcelo, long an advocate for statehood, was sworn in as Governor, the Macheteros took immediately responsibility for two bombs placed in front of an ROTC building in San Juan. The bombs were successfully destroyed by the police, indicating right away to the officials seeking to prevent the harm of innocent civilians that the knowledge, organization, and execution of the Macheteros did not pose a massive threat to national security.
Despite the lowered degree of risk, the threat was still real, networked, and pervasive throughout the region. Only one year later, officer Julio Rodiguez Rivera was murdered by the Macheteros, and his car was stolen for use in a terrorist attack. The means available to the Macheteros was clear; unlike the modern-day Al Queda, financial support was not an option for the Macheteros. Their struggle was not religious, but instead a socio-economic concern that called for the ousting of the economic elite from whom they were financially separated. Their organization and financially ability, combined with the lack of recruiting abilities in the 70s and 80s, fostered a psychology in their leaders of desperate concern and the amoral action that affirmed them not as political dissidents, but instead as domestic terrorists.
According to the new legal definition of "domestic terrorism," a terrorist is one who, among many other things, tries "to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping, and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States." (HR 3162 Sec. 802, "Definitions of Domestic Terrorism," Patriot Act.) Continued attacks in Puerto Rico through the 1980s were followed by the first, most famous, and most defining act of their terrorist movement. In September of 1983, the Macheteros made their first attack in the continental U.S., robbing a Wells Fargo depot of approximately $7 million in West Hartford. After having stolen the money, they wrote…[continue]
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