The Sixteenth Puerto Rican Political Prisoner: The Case of José Solís

Against the Current, No. 81, July/August 1999

Carmelo Ruiz

On FRIDAY, MARCH 12, 1999, a new name was added to the list of fifteen Puerto Rican political prisoners currently held in American jails: José Solís Jordán. That day, a federal jury in Chicago found Solís, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and father of five, guilty of bombing a U.S. Army recruitment office in that city in 1992. No one was killed or hurt in the bombing.

The other fifteen political prisoners, arrested between 1980 and 1985, were jailed for their membership in clandestine revolutionary organizations of the Puerto Rico independence movement, namely the Macheteros and the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN).

Solís, however, claims he’s innocent and that the case against him is a political frameup whose ultimate targets are the independence movement and Chicago’s Puerto Rican community.

The prosecution’s case was based mostly on the testimony of FBI agents who claimed that Solís confessed to carrying out the bombing. However, they did not present any written statement signed by the accused or any audio or video tape proving that he made such a confession.

The jurors were swayed by the prosecutor’s closing arguments , according to Linda Backiel, one of Solís’ attorneys. “He told the jurors that the case was about the good people of Chicago versus outsider terrorists who had come to violently disrupt the community,” she said.

The jury’s fourteen members included three African Americans and one Filipino, while the rest were all white. The complete absence of Latinos outraged the Puerto Rican community. The jury foreperson was a woman who works at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mervin Méndez, president of the Chicago-based Committee in Solidarity with José Solís, was aghast. “How is it possible that the jury included an employee of the Justice Department?”

“In a case like this, which is similar to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing because were talking here about a bomb attack against a federal building too, who is she going to believe? The accused or the FBI agents?” asked Méndez.

After the verdict was read, Solís was taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), where he is to remain until his sentencing hearing July 7.

Solís’ lawyers are appealing the verdict, arguing that the colonial nature of the Puerto Rico-U.S. relationship invalidates the U.S. court system’s jurisdiction in the case. They are also calling for a new trial.

The Chicago Puerto Rican community’s support for Solís was overwhelming. So many supporters came to the trial that many had to stand in the hallways outside the courtroom, and on Saturday, March 13, over 200 people participated in a vigil in front of the MCC.

“The campaign in support of Solís has enjoyed the support and solidarity of other ethnic communities in Chicago, including progressive African Americans, whites, Jews and Palestinians,” said Méndez. “He stood up for his principles throughout the trial. It would have been easier for him to declare himself guilty and cut a deal with the prosecutor in order to shorten his sentence.”

“The prosecutor made an issue of Solís’ political beliefs,” said professor Nellie Zambrana, coworker of Solís at the University of Puerto Rico. “His ideas were criminalized.”

According to members of the Chicago Puerto Rican community, the case against Solís is part of a much larger underhanded offensive by right-wing forces that aim to destroy the community and discredit its leaders.

The mysterious role of Rafael Marrero, the prosecution’s star witness, has raised many eyebrows. Marrero, who admitted to carrying out the bombing that Solís is accused of, was the main source for a 1997 series of Chicago Sun Times articles that blared titles like “School funds used to push terrorists’ release” and “Puerto Rican politics overtake classrooms, education being ignored.”

The articles, written by Michael Sneed, alleged that the teachers of the Roberto Clemente school, located in the Puerto Rican barrio and associated with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC), were indoctrinating students with Puerto Rican nationalist ideas and that some of them were FALN members.

As the Sun Times published its “expose,” Marrero was secretly taping conversations with Solís and his wife for the FBI. Sneed’s articles make no mention of the fact that his main source was an FBI informer who was actively involved in an operation against a member of the PR independence movement.

Marrero is also the person behind El Pito, an anonymous publication that slanders the Chicago Puerto Rican community and its leaders, in particular PRCC director José L<162>pez, alderman Billy Ocasio and Puerto Rico-born U.S. congressman Luis Gutirrez. El Pito is distributed free and contains no advertising, leaving community members wondering just who is funding the publication.

After denying it vehemently on several occasions, Marrero finally admitted to working for El Pito during cross-examination by Solís’ lawyers. He also admitted to receiving $119,000 and complete immunity from the FBI.

The Sun Times articles provoked an investigation by the Illinois state legislature, led by right-wing representative Edgar L<162>pez, a political foe of Ocasio, Gutirrez, the PRCC’s José L<162>pez (no relation), and the PR independence movement. The star witness in this investigation, described by many in the Puerto Rican community as a McCarthyist witch hunt, was none other than Marrero.

In the legislative hearings, Marrero claimed that Illinois state funds were being used to fund pro-independence propaganda and to campaign for the release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners. However, after more than a year of highly-publicized public hearings, the Edgar L<162>pez investigation did not find a single illegal act in the Roberto Clemente school.

According to José L<162>pez and the members of the PRCC, Marrero and Edgar L<162>pez are working hand-in-glove with real estate and developer interests who want to gentrify the Puerto Rican community and turn it over to white well-to-do tenants.

In order for that to happen, the community’s leaders and political allies must first be slandered and discredited. And what better way to do so than by associating them with terrorism?

Everything indicates that the FBI plans more arrests of Puerto Rican pro-independence activists. When Solís was arrested in 1997, the agents showered him with questions about specific independentistas in Puerto Rico and Chicago, and had a particular interest in José L<162>pez.

They offered Solís inmunity and protection if he agreed to become an informer and testify against them, which he refused to do. Solís’ friends and allies believe that his refusal to cooperate with the FBI’s witch hunt cost him his freedom.


José Solís #08121424 Metropolitan Correctional Center 71 West Van Buren Chicago, IL 60605.

Donations to help Solís’ family cover the enormous legal fees can be sent to UPRASO, Urbanizaci<162>n Round Hill, calle violeta 676, Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico 00976.

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ATC 81, July-August 1999