Fight Back News Service is reprinting the following article on the FBI murder of Puerto Rican freedom fighter Filiberto Ojeda Ríos. A longer version of this article first appeared in Red Banner - a journal for left, progressive and socialist students at the University of North Carolina, Asheville.
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos was killed by the FBI on Sept. 23 - a Puerto Rican national holiday commemorating el Grito de Lares (the revolt against Spanish rule in 1868) - at the age of 72. The FBI agents surrounded Ojeda Ríos's home and fired from outside at both Filiberto and his wife Elma Beatriz Rosado, who survived the attack. She said in a press conference shortly after her husband's assassination, "Filiberto, my husband, fearing for my life, demanded that I leave. He shouted to the agents: 'Somebody is coming out, somebody is coming out!' When finally I left the house, they took me by force, ordered me to get on my knees and when I refused, they threw me to the floor, pinned me against the floor with their knees and handcuffed me with my hands behind my back."
The massive FBI operation included 300 FBI agents who surrounded Ojeda Ríos's residence in Hormigueros. At least two helicopters hovered above, there were 30 vehicles on land and close to two dozen sharpshooters who were flown in from Virginia. More than 20 bullet casings were found inside the home, including some shell casings from fully automatic weapons. Ojeda Ríos was wounded by one bullet in the upper chest while wearing a bulletproof vest and camouflage gear.
The FBI agents denied him medical care. Puerto Rican police stood guard outside of his home to ensure that no citizens who were willing to provide first aid could reach him. The coroner speculated that Ojeda Ríos bled to death over several hours and could have lived had he been allowed the proper medical care. The FBI prevented everybody - including lawyers, doctors and the Puerto Rican district attorneys - from entering the home until 27 hours after the assassination. The Puerto Rican government was not informed about the incident until much later. Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, for instance, described the FBI's actions as improper and highly irregular, asking why his government was not informed.
Ojeda Ríos was the founder and leader of the Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement (MIRA), the first in what would soon become a number of Puerto Rican militant political groups. The MIRA was disbanded in the early 70's and Ríos was arrested. He skipped bail and formed the Armed Forces of National Liberation, which was shortly renamed to the Boricua Popular Army or Los Macheteros (the machete wielders). Ojeda Ríos was wanted by the FBI for allegedly stealing approximately $7 million from a Wells Fargo depot in Connecticut. This money was allegedly used in part to fund Puerto Rican independence movements and in part to aid low income Puerto Ricans. Three members of Los Macheteros, one of which was Ojeda Ríos, dressed up as the Three Magi and distributed Christmas gifts to the children in New York's Spanish Harlem. To the U.S. government, Ojeda Ríos was a terrorist, but to the people of Puerto Rico and beyond, he was a hero in the struggle for independence.
In 1898, Spain was forced to cede Puerto Rico (along with Cuba and the Philippines) to the United States after the outbreak of the Spanish-American war. Puerto Rico remains a colony of the United States to this day and is still struggling for independence.
The Puerto Rican Truth and Justice Commission called the killing a "political assassination" and went further to assert that, "with all of its [the FBI's] power and experience in capturing fugitives in order to take them alive, in the case of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, it acted as the executioner. Once more, it has hatched up a hidden agenda of beheading the revolutionary movement through physical elimination." This is not the first time that the FBI has intervened against the independence movement of Puerto Rico. The FBI has also been linked to the murder of Santiago Mari Pesquera (son of independentista Juan Mari Brás), the bombings of January 11, 1975 in Mayagüez that took the lives of two Puerto Rican workers and many other incidents.
The FBI has once again demonstrated the state-sponsored terrorism that the United States wages against movements for freedom and independence. This action is part of the strategy by the United States to eliminate the leaderships of the progressive movements that are rising up against U.S. neo-liberal programs in Latin America and the Caribbean such as Plan Colombia and the criminal blockade against Cuba. Struggle and resistance will persevere in the face of the imperialist giant. The resistance of the island's people carries the hope of a truly free Puerto Rico.