Legendary Puerto Rican national liberation fighter
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos assassinated by FBI
By Tom Soto
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Published Sep 27, 2005 10:56 PM

On Sept. 23, as hundreds of workers and their families were participating in the annual pro-independence commemoration known as "El Grito de Lares," agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations descended on the town of Hormigueros in western Puerto Rico and fired the shots that killed Puerto Rican liberation hero Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.

El Grito de Lares-The Cry of Lares-marks the historic 1868 uprising carried out by peasants and workers against Spanish colonial rule. This rebellion is considered the birth of the Puerto Rican nation.

FBI agents armed with helicopters, military vehicles and machine guns, and sharpshooters carrying sniper rifles—aided by the Police of Puerto Rico, who closed off regional roads and streets leading to the rural municipality of Hormigueros—all surrounded the home of 72-year-old Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and Elma Beatriz Rosado, his wife.

Filiberto Ojeda Ríos was the leader of the Ejercito Popular Boricua – Los Macheteros (The Popular Army of the People – The Cane Cutters).

At 4:30 p.m., in a military-type assault, the FBI crashed through the property's entrance fence, firing over 100 rounds, which struck the front of the farmhouse. Filiberto Ojeda defended Rosado and himself, leaving one FBI agent wounded.

Elma Rosado speaks to the press
Elma Beatriz Rosado addressed the press on Sept. 26. As she did, the body of her husband was being viewed by thousands of supporters gathered at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Literary Society) and later at the Colegio de Abogados (College of Attorneys) in San Juan.

"My husband Filiberto, fearing for my life, urged me to leave," Rosado said. "He yelled out to the agents, ‘Someone is coming out, someone is coming out.´ We kissed and hugged. ... When I finally came out of the house ... they attempted to force me to kneel. When I refused, they threw me to the ground, pinning me with their knees, forcing my hands behind my back and handcuffing me.

"After an extended period, they blindfolded my eyes, and it was then, at that moment that I felt in my heart and knew that they were going to execute him. ... When I was finally taken away, Filiberto was alive ... . He told the FBI he was willing to turn himself over to reporter Jesus Dávila. ... The FBI lies. They murdered him.

"It was not until the next day, in the afternoon, when I was released from jail, that I became aware that Filiberto had been despicably assassinated. ... Nevertheless, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, in my heart and in the hearts of the Puerto Rican people, is now more alive than ever."

Doctors denied access to Filiberto

On the evening of Sept. 23, as news of the FBI assassination began to spread, lawyers, family members, doctors, pro-independence activists and representatives of the news media tried to reach the home of Ojeda and Rosado, but were repulsed by the police and the FBI. Several doctors at the scene near the home, hearing that Ojeda had been shot, offered their assistance. The FBI refused them access.

At one of the roads leading to the house, crowds formed, pointing to the FBI agents while chanting, "These are the assassins."

For the next two days almost every sector of Puerto Rican society—from San Juan's Catholic Archbishop Roberto González Nieves to Ricardo Santos, head of the Electrical Workers Union, from ex-Gov. Rafael Henández Colón to Rubén Berríos, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party—to one degree or another publicly criticized or condemned the FBI for killing Filiberto Ojeda Ríos. All the people mentioned here personally viewed the body and expressed their condolences to Elma Beatriz Rosado.

Even Tomás Rivera Shatz, titular head of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, publicly questioned the FBI's judgment and actions, apparently for politically opportunistic reasons.

On Sept. 24, some 29 hours after they invaded the home of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and Elma Beatriz Rosado, the FBI finally announced that they had killed him. His body was transferred to the Forensic Unit of the Puerto Rico Police Department.

There, hundreds of people gathered in the streets.

Protests at Federal Court House

That evening in San Juan, a crowd gathered at the Hirám Bithorn Stadium, soon growing to 1,000 strong.

They marched to the Federal Courthouse, chanting: "FBI – facistas, verdaderos terroristas" (FBI – fascists, they are the real terrorists) and, "Filiberto camarada, tu muerte será vengada" (Comrade Filiberto, your death will be avenged)."

Under mounting public pressure, Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vilá ordered that Dr. Héctor Pesquera of the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (Hostoss National Independence Movement) be allowed to witness the official autopsy.

Dr. Pesquera announced his findings to press: "Filiberto Ojeda Ríos was shot once near the right collarbone. The bullet traversed in a downward direction, exiting through his back. He did not die because of any organ failure due to the shooting. He died because he was allowed to bleed to death.

"The reason why the FBI did not permit doctors onto the scene at his home is because they wanted Filiberto dead. In my opinion Filiberto was shot by an FBI sharpshooter and allowed to bleed to death – this was an assassination by the FBI."

Dr. Pesquera was one of the doctors who had tried unsuccessfully on the evening of Sept. 23 to assist Ojeda Ríos upon hearing that he had been shot by the FBI.

On Sept. 26, nearly 1,000 students at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, led by the Federación Universitaria Pro Independencia (the Pro Independence University Federation), took over the Main Tower of the campus and removed the U.S. flag, replacing it with a huge banner bearing the face of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos. The banner read, "Filiberto, sigues en el corazón del pueblo (Filiberto, you continue living in the hearts of the people)."

The students then proceeded to trash a local Burger King as a symbol of U.S. corporate domination on the island. They then marched to the Federal Courthouse. There they burned the U.S. flag as federal police armed with automatic weapons looked on.

Broad media coverage

For several days every newspaper, TV and radio station, especially the talk programs, have been covering the killing of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos. Even the Puerto Rican Legislature, which is dominated by the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, passed a resolution sponsored by the Puerto Rican Independence Party calling for an investigation of the FBI operation.

On Sept. 26 and 27, delegations from every political persuasion that support independence—the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Independence Party, the Hostos National Independence Movement, the Socialist Front, etc.—served as honor guards at the wake and funeral. Among them were the legendary Lolita Lebrón and all the political prisoners released from U.S. jails who had been members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation and Los Macheteros.

From every part of Puerto Rico, workers and their families have traveled to San Juan to view the body and honor the slain hero. Crowds and waiting lines at the College of Attorneys were so large that viewing hours had to be extended. Many famous cultural figures such as singers Danny Rivera, Roy Brown and many others were present.

Ojeda´s historical contribution

The annual conference of the Socialist Front, which was held on Sept. 25, was dedicated to Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.

Jorge Farinacci, spokesperson for the Front, characterized Filiberto Ojeda Ríos' historical contribution in this manner: "I worked with Filiberto. In the 1960s Filiberto represented the Pro Independence Movement´s (MPI's) mission to Cuba. Filiberto lived in Cuba and was profoundly influenced by this socialist revolution.

"Filiberto was not just a nationalist leader, he was class-conscious and sympathized with the struggle of the workers for social justice and with socialism. He was also greatly influenced by anti-imperialist struggles of the period, especially the struggle of the Vietnamese people for their liberation.

"In the late 1960s Filiberto founded the Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario Armado (Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement). In 1976, Filiberto was a founding member of the Puerto Rican Workers Party (PRTP), which in turn organized Los Macheteros in 1978.

"Though he was humble and serene, he was very strong-willed and valiant, and very well-prepared regarding all aspects of the armed struggle. He was our teacher. The FBI accuses Filiberto of planning the guerrilla sapper attack which took place in 1981 at the Muñiz Naval Base, which destroyed 11 military aircraft worth $45 million.

"Filiberto was an intransigent fighter for the oppressed who, like Don Pedro Albizu Campos before him, never recognized the authority of the U.S. in Puerto Rico. In 1990, facing charges related to the Wells Fargo robbery in Connecticut, he cut off his electronic brace and went underground.

"I can categorically state that the national outcry caused by his assassination is a reflection of the broad support of the masses of Puerto Rican people for the heroic actions of the Macheteros."

On the morning of Sept. 26, the news media reported that the U.S. flag that flies over the Capitol in San Juan had been replaced by the green flag of Los Macheteros.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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