On November 3, thirty students from diverse organizations making up the umbrella group Filiberto Ojeda Rios Contingent – in honor of the independence leader murdered by the FBI last September 23 – took over the Army Reserves Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) building in the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez and demanded that the ROTC leave the campus and that the FBI leave the country. After occupying the building, students hung a banner out the window with the image of Ojeda Rios printed on it.
The students denounced the assignation of Ojeda Rios and declared that the US government is a puppet of large corporations, spy organizations and the US military.
What follows is an interview with Maria M. Ramirez on the student occupation. Ramirez is part of a coalition of grassroots, pro-independence groups working together in Western Puerto Rico.
Benjamin Dangl: What is the Filiberto Ojeda Rios Contingent?
Maria Ramirez: This is a contingent of university students mainly from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez campus. They are pro independence students from all of the independentista groups. They call themselves Filiberto Ojeda Rios contingent in honor of the leader of the Macheteros a clandestine pro independence group. Filiberto was killed by the FBI on September 23 of this year. This is a special date in Puerto Rican history because it commemorates our revolt in 1868 against Spain. The FBI deliberately wounded Filiberto and then let him bleed to death. This happened while Puerto Rican doctors and nurses were less than a kilometer away at the road block ready to help him out. FBI did not let them pass. The contingent name is also a deliberate reference to Filiberto’s last speech that was read at the commemorations in Lares while not known to us the FBI was starting the assault on his house. The speech called for unity of all pro independence forces and that is what we have in this contingent.
BD: Can you give me an update on what’s happened so far with the student occupation?
MR: At about 3 pm [on November 3rd], 20 University police tried to close the doors of the building and get the students out. There were shoves and pushes, no injuries. Students called others from cell phones and professors, town people, students and lawyers came. The university police were stopped. The doors remained open and the students stayed. They are now in negotiations with the university.
BD: Is this the ROTC headquarters for Puerto Rico, or just the office for the University?
MR: This is for the University of Puerto Rico/Mayaguez. This campus is the A&M side of the Puerto Rican university system. Engineering and Agriculture are the two largest faculties. It also has the largest Army ROTC contingent and this is a building on campus.
During the 1970s ROTC was kicked off campus in the central main campus of the Puerto Rican system in Rio Piedras. Since then their ROTC programs have dwindled.
In 2004 there was another take over of an ROTC slated building on the Mayaguez Campus. It was the shell of a building that had been destroyed in one of the hurricanes and was to go to the Air Force ROTC. The students, some of the same who are participating now, took the building over for almost a year. They received sanctions from the university but won the fight. Today that building belongs to the Humanities department.
ROTC at our university campuses is on the decline. We have less than 400 in a university system that is comprised of about 40 thousand students. In the last year the programs have lost even more students. To the point that on the Mayaguez campus there are only two ROTC related building Air force which is small and Army which is a large building. Research by professors that was presented at an anti military conference in Mayaguez earlier this year showed that the ROTC department had more than 4 times the space of other departments when it was measured on a per student ratio.
BD: Could you comment on this action’s direct relation to the killing of Ojeda Rios?
MR: The action is directly related to the two things anti ROTC and Filiberto’s murder. The murder happened in Hormigueros which is the neighboring municipality to Mayaguez. It is literally a less than a half hour drive from the university campus depending on traffic. Many of these students were part of the guard placed by the independence movement in front of Filiberto’s house until his family was able to get their things and close it. This was a 9 day 24/7 operation.
For more information, go to http://pr.indymedia.org/
Benjamin Dangl is the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, an online magazine about activism and politics in Latin America.