Ojos en la espalda, vigilándome: Carpeteo, Police Surveillance, and the Negative Space of Colonial Liberalism in Mid-Twentieth Century Puerto Rico
Haverford College. Department of History
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From the late 1940s until 1987, the Intelligence Division of the Police of Puerto Rico compiled files on individuals tied to pro-independence and nationalist movements. These files, known as carpetas, held personal information about their lives, as well as reports on their movement throughout the island and among pro-independence circles. Intelligence agents followed and spied on individuals looking for "signs" of pro-independence sentiment, verbally assaulted them, hired informants, and infiltrated pro-independence groups and activities as undercover agents. The Intelligence Division also frequently collaborated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Counterintelligence Program. Carpeteo emerged at a historical moment when police repression against any anti-colonial movement was the norm, as the US engaged in the Cold War, and as the Estado Libre Asociado was made the island's political status, strengthening its colonial relationship with the US. Tensions were high, in particular for the US imperial project. This thesis's intervention in carpeteo offers a history of the program and its relationship to local anti-colonial movements, worldwide decolonial processes, the Cold War, and the ELA's emergence as a new colonial political status on the island, as well as an examination of how file folders enacted colonial violence. Using the history of the island, COINTELPRO documents, a civil rights commission report on carpeteo, and carpetas themselves, I argue that carpetas reveal the degree to which surveillance in Puerto Rico was concerned with silencing and defeating decolonial movements in order to uphold new, democratic forms of colonial rule, exemplified through the establishment of the Estado Libre Asociado. To make this argument, this project examines the history of surveillance in Puerto Rico from the 1930s to the 1980s, its connections to the FBI, how the Intelligence Division operated, and how carpetas enacted colonial violence. Carpetas arise in Puerto Rico as necessary tools of repression in order to undercut a working-class revolution, uphold the ELA as a liberal political status, and contain any possibility of decolonization for the island. Carpeteo reveals how surveillance was necessary to defeat any possibility of decolonial practices in Puerto Rico and prevent the island from slipping out of the US's imperial grasp. These files reveal the struggles for an independent Puerto Rico and the extent to which local and federal forces squashed these visions to sustain a form of colonial liberalism, at the same time immortalizing these groups' history and fight for liberation.