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April 27, 1986|FRANK DEL OLMO

MURDER UNDER TWO FLAGS: THE U.S., PUERTO RICO AND THE CERRO MARAVILLA COVER-UP by Anne Nelson (Ticknor & Fields: $17.95). To Puerto Ricans, the term "Cerro Maravilla" has come to imply the same things that the word "Watergate" implies to their fellow citizens on the U.S. mainland--a serious public scandal based on the abuse of government power.

In July, 1978, two young men were killed by Puerto Rican police at Cerro Maravilla, a peak on the outskirts of Ponce. Official versions of the incident claimed that the victims were terrorists trying to sabotage a broadcasting antenna on the peak. But subsequent investigations determined that the victims were political activists who had been executed by police after being lured to the site by an undercover agent.

The reverberations of Cerro Maravilla are still being felt in Puerto Rico years later. In retelling the sordid story, journalist Anne Nelson argues persuasively that the fact most Americans know nothing about the Cerro Maravilla scandal reflects a profound ignorance on the mainland about Puerto Rico in general, the symptom of an indifference toward the island's politics that stretches back to the Spanish-American war, when Puerto Rico was captured by U.S. troops.

Specialists will probably consider Nelson's book too short and her writing overly dramatic. But, by combining a brief history of Puerto Rico with the story of Cerro Maravilla, Nelson not only helps bring general readers up to date on a shocking scandal, but succeeds in raising the larger question of Puerto Rico's future, a long-range issue that has also never received the attention it deserves from citizens and decision-makers on the mainland.

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