On Sept. 23, 2005, at least a hundred heavily-armed FBI agents landed in Puerto Rico from the United States for a secret and horrendous criminal mission: to assassinate the independence leader, Filiberto Ojeda Rios.
The operation included helicopters, military vehicles, machine guns and sharpshooters. With the cooperation of the Puerto Rican police, the FBI closed off roads, shut down electricity and surrounded the Ojeda Rios residence in the western town of Hormigueros, where he and his wife Elma Beatriz Rosado were living.
The FBI shot dozens of rounds into the house, to which Ojeda Rios responded, trying to defend himself and his wife. As the incessant firings continued, Ojeda Rios pleaded with his wife to leave, afraid that she would also be killed in the shootout. She agreed, stating later that it was important to have an eyewitness to this crime.
Days later she told the press, “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 (down) with their knees, forcing my hands behind my back and handcuffing me.”
As news spread that Ojeda Rios had been shot, people began to gather in order to help him, but the repressive forces would not allow anybody near, much less assist him. Even doctors were refused entrance to the house. What a testament to the United States' human rights commitment! For many hours the authorities let him slowly die. It was not until the following day, almost 30 hours later, that the FBI publicly announced that Filiberto Ojeda Rios had died.
Now, 11 years later, none of the criminals have been brought to justice. The case has, for all practical purposes, been closed. In 2011, the Puerto Rican Civil Rights Commission urged both the Puerto Rican and the United States Justice Departments to reopen the case to investigate the FBI for the use of excessive force in Ojeda Rios’ death. Their request is based on their own independent investigation which demonstrated the use of abusive and excessive force against Ojeda Rios. Both departments have declined so far to reopen the case, stating that there is “insufficient evidence.”
Today, as Puerto Rico’s future is at a crossroads, Ojeda Rios' execution brings to the fore the nature of U.S. colonialism and by extension, its goal to eliminate any opposition to its control.
Filiberto Ojeda Rios is a prime example of the empire's failure to squash opposition.
A lifelong patriot dedicated to the liberation of Puerto Rico, in the tradition of Boricua’s father, Ramon Emeterio Betances, Ojeda Rios represented the independence movement mission in Cuba where he both learned and was influenced by its socialist revolution. In the late 60’s he founded the Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement and later the Boricua Popular Party, or the Macheteros.
Very little is said about the Puerto Rican armed struggle, since by virtue of the colonial situation, any liberation formation is demonized, deemed terrorist and their leaders and members charged with the ubiquitous “seditious conspiracy."
Many leaders, since Don Pedro Albizu Campos to Oscar Lopez Rivera—who is still incarcerated in the U.S.—have received long prison sentences under this charge. According to the U.S. penal and crime code, seditious conspiracy is, “If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States."
And it was armed struggle that Ojeda Rios advocated for the liberation of his homeland. In his statement to the court, during his trial in Hartford, Conn., Ojeda Rios quoted many parts of the U.N. Charter and international laws that defend the right of oppressed people against their oppressors.
One example of this is Article 1514 of the U.N. Charter, which states in part that “the subjection of a people by foreign subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denigration of fundamental human rights” and concludes that “any such people have a right to resist that foreign domination."
In a statement by the Macheteros titled, "Birth of the Boricua Popular Army—Macheteros," it said, “Macheteros are the product of a process that was brewing for decades. Numerous revolutionary organizations had already made their appearance in the patriotic struggle of Puerto Ricans, including the Independence Revolutionary Movement in Arms (MIRA), Armed Commands of Liberation (CAL), the Armed Forces of Popular Resistance (FARP), the Organization of Volunteers for the Puerto Rican Revolution (OVRP), all of which have resorted to arms to achieve independence of Puerto Rico.”
Ojeda Rios had been living underground since Sept. 23, 1990, when he removed the electronic monitor that he was forced to wear while on parole, accused for his role in the Wells Fargo robbery in Hartford, Conn., in 1983. This famous robbery by the Macheteros has been amply discussed and is seen as a recovery of monies robbed from people. The money, $7.2 million, was used to fund the struggle for independence and to provide toys for children living in poverty.
This Sept. 23, 2016, is the 148 anniversary of the Grito de Lares, where glorious Puerto Rican patriots commanded an assault on the Spanish colonial government in the city of Lares. Unfortunately, due to many circumstances, the uprising was not successful and was brutally repressed.
However, its main leader, Betances said at the time, “Lares was not the end of the war, but only one lost battle.” Thus, the Grito de Lares is celebrated every year by all the independence organizations and activists as the birth of the Puerto Rican nation.
To have assassinated Ojeda Rios on such a crucial day for independence and resistance to colonialism was an unpardonable crime by U.S. imperialism against the Puerto Rican people.
But now resistance is growing against the imposition of a colonial Fiscal Control Board, showing its muscle and letting the U.S. know that in spite of the message of repression, the people in Puerto Rico are still fighting—with new and creative methods—against colonial rule.
Berta Joubert-Ceci is a retired psychiatrist and long-time Puerto Rican activist and organizer for the struggle in solidarity with the peoples of Latin America and the liberation of Puerto Rico. While in Puerto Rico, she was part of the committee to Free Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores and Oscar Collazo, Puerto Rican independentistas held in U.S. prisons.