U.S. Assassinates Puerto Rican Independence Figure


Richard Moore



U.S.  Assassinates Puerto Rican Independence Figure 

By Bill Van Auken 

09/27/05 " WSW "-- -- The fatal September 23 shooting of
Puerto Rican nationalist leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios
represents an act of state terror and cold-blooded murder by
the US government. It is one more proof that in the name of a
"global war on terrorism," Washington has arrogated to itself
the right to conduct political assassinations and act as
judge, jury and executioner against opponents of US policies
and interests.

Aged 72, Ojeda Rios was the leader of the Boricua Popular
Army, also known as the Macheteros, a group that advocated
independence for Puerto Rico. He was wanted on charges that he
had participated in the planning of a 1983 Wells Fargo armored
car robbery in Hartford, Connecticut, in which $7.1 million
was taken. A fugitive for 15 years since fleeing house arrest
in 1990, he was sentenced in absentia to 55 years in jail.

Ojeda Rios was alone with his wife in their home in the rural
southwestern Puerto Rican municipality of Hormigueros, near
the city of Mayagüez, when scores of FBI agents stormed his
property, unleashing a rain of bullets. According to reports,
at least 100 armed agents were involved, backed by helicopters
and a squad of military sharpshooters brought to the island
from Virginia.

The nationalist leader was struck by a single bullet from a
sharpshooter's high-powered rifle. While he suffered no wound
to any vital organ, he was left to bleed to death on the floor
of his home as FBI agents refused to allow Puerto Rican
authorities and emergency medical teams anywhere near the
house, maintaining a militarized perimeter for 24 hours.

Later, an FBI spokesman claimed that the agents who had
surrounded the house and shot Ojeda Rios feared that the house
could be wired with explosives and were waiting for
reinforcements to fly in from the US.

Testimony from his wife and a neighbor, as well as the results
of an autopsy, exposed as lies the FBI's version of events. US
authorities had claimed that federal agents had come to arrest
Ojeda Rios, opening fire only after he had fired on them.

In a press conference Monday, however, the nationalist
leader's wife, Elma Beatriz Rosado Barbosa, testified, "On
Friday, September 23, in the afternoon hours, our house was
surrounded. Armed men penetrated our property and took our
house by assault, hitting it in a brutal and terrible manner,
firing with heavy weapons against the front wall of our

Hector Reyes, whose house is approximately 300 feet from that
of Ojeda Rios, confirmed this account, saying that the US
assault team began firing on the house as soon as the
helicopters arrived on the scene. "The first shots were very
powerful, not from a little revolver like they say he had,"
said Reyes.

The killing sparked spontaneous demonstrations throughout the
island and statements of condemnation by leaders of virtually
every political tendency, from pro-independence to the
supporters of the island's status as a US "commonwealth" and
those advocating US statehood.

Even the territory's Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila, whose
Popular Democratic Party supports the island's current
colonial status, found himself compelled to declare his "deep
indignation" and demand an explanation from the FBI for the
killing of Ojeda. "As governor, I make an energetic demand to
the federal authorities to end the silence that they have
maintained in relation to these events," he said.

Neither the governor nor the Puerto Rican police and local
prosecutors were given any advance notice that the FBI was
about to mount a military operation on the island. They first
learned of the siege from news reports and received no
official report from the FBI until nearly a full day later. An
FBI spokesman claimed that the silence owed to the fact that
the operation was "developing" and the agency feared
endangering its agents.

The head of the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico, Monsignor
Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, also condemned the killing, warning
that it would "continue the cycle of violence."

"They are operating as if they were in hostile territory, like
Iraq or Afghanistan," said Radio Isla political commentator
Ignacio Rivera. "It has political consequences," added Rivera,
a supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico. "They achieved their
military objective, but the political side was absurd."

The half-hearted protests from the island's establishment were
a timid reflection of the popular outrage the killing has
provoked throughout Puerto Rico.

There were demands on the island for the declaration of a day
of national mourning for Ojeda. The University of Puerto Rico
at Río Piedras, the island's largest campus with 23,000
students, announced that students would be excused from
classes and university employees given the day off to attend
the nationalist leader's funeral Tuesday.

In a press release, the university's president, Gladys
Escalona de Motta, stated, "I call on the university
community, in an exercise of its free expression, to set a
high example in these moments when the nation demands
clarity." She added, "Puerto Rico needs to take stock of its
convictions to confront the feelings that have overcome the

The FBI chose as the day to carry out the assassination the
137th anniversary of the "Grito de Lares," the first revolt
for Puerto Rican independence from Spain. The day is
celebrated each year as a commemoration of the Puerto Rican
national struggle against colonialism.

It appears likely that the day was chosen based on the belief
that Ojeda Rios would more likely be alone, as his
sympathizers and supporters would be marking the day with
public meetings and demonstrations. The Puerto Rican
nationalist leader recorded messages that were read out in
Lares every year. Ironically, his last message was broadcast
even as federal agents were moving in to kill him.

Many, however, saw the choice of the day as a political
statement by Washington of impunity and contempt for the
sentiments of the Puerto Rican people.

An autopsy performed at the San Juan Institute of Forensic
Sciences confirmed the sadistic character of the FBI's
assassination of Ojeda Rios. It showed that he suffered a
single bullet wound entering beneath his collarbone and
exiting his back.

"He did not die instantaneously," said Doctor Hector Pesquera,
who participated in the autopsy. "What I saw as a doctor was
that they let him bleed to death.... In my opinion, there was
enough time, a considerable time in which he was wounded and
he did not receive the aid that could have saved his life."

Puerto Rico's Justice Secretary, Roberto Sanchez Ramos,
concurred with this assessment, stating, "The information we
have is that if Mr. Ojeda had received immediate medical
attention after being shot, he would have survived."

Ojeda Rios had been the subject of a similar FBI raid
involving helicopters and scores of agents in 1985, when he
was arrested in connection with the Wells Fargo robbery. He
was subsequently jailed and tried for attempted murder for
shooting and wounding one of the FBI agents during the arrest.
A federal jury in San Juan, however, found him not guilty, its
members accepting his argument that he had acted in
self-defense against the government's aggression.

The FBI and other US authorities never forgave nor forgot this
humiliation. Now they have taken advantage of changed
political conditions in the US-characterized by the "global
war on terrorism" and the USA Patriot Act-to murder him.
Clearly, if the agency had wanted to arrest a 72-year-old man,
accompanied only by his wife, they could have taken him alive.

The assassination of Ojeda is a case of Washington deploying a
death squad on what it claims as its own territory. This
brutal killing serves as a warning of the methods the US
government is prepared to use to suppress political opposition
within the US itself.

Copyright 1998-2005 World Socialist Web Site 


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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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