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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 69/No. 39October 10, 2005


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lead article
FBI agents kill Puerto Rican militant
Protests in U.S., Puerto Rico denounce shooting
Federico Rodríguez
Hundreds protest September 26 at Federal Plaza in New York City against brutal killing three days earlier of Puerto Rican independence fighter Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—On September 23 dozens of FBI agents carried out a raid on a farmhouse in the Puerto Rican town of Hormigueros and killed Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, a long-time figure in the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence from U.S. colonial rule.

“It was an execution squad, because the FBI never intended to arrest Ojeda Ríos but to kill him,” said Antonio Camacho, a former political prisoner.

Protests began as soon as news of the assault was broadcast on the radio. The evening of September 23 there were demonstrations in Hormigueros, Mayagez, and San Juan, where 1,000 people marched to the Federal Building. The following day hundreds staged a picket and vigil and students from the University of Puerto Rico held a vigil.

Politicians across the spectrum here condemned the killing, from Puerto Rican governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party to leaders of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, to pro-independence forces.

The attack took place on the date of the annual pro-independence celebration of the Grito de Lares (Cry of Lares), which marks the anniversary of the 1868 revolt in Puerto Rico against Spanish colonial rule.

FBI cops launched the raid on the afternoon of September 23. They cordoned off the area, removed people from their houses, and cut electricity to the community. Elma Rosado Barbosa, Ojeda’s wife, was arrested. She was released the next day.

Ojeda “opened the front door of his house and opened fire on the agents,” said Luis Fraticelli, the top FBI official in Puerto Rico. “We went to arrest him but when the gunfire started we had to defend ourselves.” He said they waited until the next day to enter the house because of concern that explosives were inside. On the afternoon of September 24 they announced Ojeda was dead.

Two days later Elma Rosado Barbosa gave a news conference contradicting the FBI’s account. “Our house was surrounded. Armed men penetrated the property and assaulted our home with powerful weapons,” she said. Ojeda asked her to leave the house for her safety. The U.S. cops forced her to the ground and blindfolded her.

She said she heard her husband shout he would turn himself in to a journalist, Jesús Dávila of the New York daily El Diario, but the cops refused.

An autopsy showed that Ojeda, who was 72 years old, received a single bullet wound to his shoulder that pierced his lung, Puerto Rican justice secretary Roberto Sánchez told the press. “If Mr. Ojeda had received immediate medical attention after being shot, he probably would have survived,” he said. In other words, the FBI agents left him to die, waiting until the next day before entering the farmhouse.

On September 26 a wake was held at the Puerto Rican Lawyers Guild, where thousands came to pay their last respects. These included leaders of the pro-independence parties and public figures from the archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves, to former governor Rafael Hernández Colón. The following day 5,000 people turned out for Ojeda’s funeral in his hometown of Naguabo.

Ojeda was one of the independence fighters who became known as the Hartford 15. On Aug. 30, 1985, some 200 heavily armed FBI agents raided the homes of independence fighters in Puerto Rico. Fifteen people were tried on charges of conspiracy to rob $7 million from a Wells Fargo armored car in Hartford, Connecticut.

At that time, when the cops first came to arrest Ojeda Ríos shots were exchanged and an FBI agent was wounded. Ojeda, charged with assaulting a federal officer, argued that he acted in self-defense. A federal jury made up of Puerto Ricans found him not guilty.

The 15 were flown out of Puerto Rico to stand trial in Hartford. They were denied bail and locked up for more than a year; Ojeda was jailed for 32 months. During the trials it was revealed that the FBI had conducted massive wiretapping against the independentistas, including hundreds of hours of taped conversations in their homes. Fifty of these tapes were thrown out as evidence because of FBI tampering.

Several of the Hartford 15 were convicted and given long sentences. As a result of an international defense campaign, some were released in 1999. Juan Segarra Palmer, sentenced to 55 years, was freed last year.

While awaiting trial, Ojeda jumped bail in 1990 and went into hiding; he was convicted in absentia to 55 years. Over the past 15 years Ojeda gave interviews to journalists and taped messages that were played at the annual Grito de Lares commemoration.
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