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Fronteras: ‘We were not communists’ — A dive into FBI surveillance of Cesar Chávez and the United Farm Workers movement

The United Farm Workers of America was founded in 1966 and led by activists Cesar Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and others.

The UFW organized strikes, boycotts and walks, like the famous Delano Grape Strike, protest the inhumane working conditions many farmworkers endured.

In the wake of the Red Scare of communism in the U.S., Chávez and many others in the UFW and Latino civil rights movement became the targets of FBI surveillance under the counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO.

Chávez led the union until his death in 1993 and was succeeded by his then son-in-law, Arturo Rodriguez, who served in the position until 2018.

Rodriguez, the UFW’s president emeritus, said there was a level of suspicion that lingered over the movement in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“I think the powers that be were really forcing and pushing the FBI to find something to discredit us, to discourage people from supporting the boycotts,” he said. “Because they really did take on a major effort.”

Rodriguez said he and others in the UFW learned much later through the Freedom of Information Act that the FBI had a 1,400-plus-page file on Chavez and the UFW.

The LA Times also got access to those files, which found no evidence of communism or other allegations.

“We were not communist,” he said. “We were just working hard, had strong beliefs and strong values about civil rights in our country and the ability for farmworkers and working families to have equal (rights).”

Tune in April 19 to hear about an effort by Democratic Congressman Joaquín Castro to get the FBI and CIA to declassify documents pertaining to the surveillance of the Latino civil rights movement.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1