A Pomona College professor who is an outspoken critic of U.S. policy in Venezuela was questioned Tuesday by two agents from the Los Angeles County Sheriff”s Department and the FBI”s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in what he calls an act of intimidation.
The detectives visited Miguel Tinker-Salas during his office hours at about 2:40 or 2:45 pm Tuesday. They questioned him for about 20 minutes in his office at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. The detectives identified themselves but their names are being withheld at the request of the FBI.
According to Tinker-Salas, the agents told him they were interested in the Venezuelan community and concerned that it may be involved in terrorism. They asked him if he had relationships with the Venezuelan embassy or consulate, and if anyone in the Venezuelan government had asked him to speak out about Venezuela-related matters.
“They were fishing,” says Tinker-Salas, “to intimidate and silence those who have a critical analysis of U.S. foreign policy.”
After they left, several students outside Tinker-Salas” office told him the detectives had asked them about his background, his classes and his politics, and even took note of the cartoons on his door.
Tinker-Salas says the detectives told him this was part of a larger policy to interview people on various campuses. He does not know if other professors have been questioned. He says the agents who visited him did not interview the other Venezuelan-born professor at Pomona College.
The FBI declined to comment on the incident.
A Latin American and Chicano histories professor, Tinker-Salas believes he was targeted as a result of his outspoken politics regarding the U.S. policy toward Venezuela and Latin America. Tinker-Salas was born in Venezuela and is a U.S. citizen, having lived in the United States since high school. A noted historian and commentator on CNN en Español, he has been open about his conditional support for the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez and critical of the U.S. attempt to “undermine democracy” in Latin America.
According to the ACLU of Colorado, the FBI”s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which operates across the country, is violating First Amendment rights by equating nonviolent protest with domestic terrorism.
“The FBI is unjustifiably treating nonviolent public protest as though it were domestic terrorism,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the Colorado ACLU, following the release of new documents obtained from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on Dec. 8, 2005.
“The FBI”s misplaced priorities threaten to deter legitimate criticism of government policy while wasting taxpayer resources that should be directed to investigating real terrorists.”