Political Murder in Puerto Rico

Filiberto Ojeda-Rios, the 72-year-old Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalist who was killed by U.S. government agents in Puerto Rico a few days ago wrote the following autobiographical notes for the 1988 book Can’t Jail The Spirit: Political Prisoners in the U.S. (which was produced by the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown for the National Campaign for Amnesty and Human Rights for Political Prisoners):

"I am the third and youngest of three brothers and sisters born to Inocencio Ojeda and Gloria Rios, all natives of Naguabo, Puerto Rico. My father was a teacher in the public instruction system. My mother administered what was then the rural Post Office which consisted of a room in the house where I was born in Rio Blanco, a small community about five miles from the town of Naguabo.

"During the early years of my life, Puerto Rico experienced one of its worst social and economic crises. Unemployment, malnutrition, abandonment of children, and the propagation of highly contagious illnesses were destroying a large portion of our population. My grandparents, on both my mother’s and father’s sides, were farmers. Their land and agricultural properties were lost and businesses ruined when the established system of production changed hands and the North American sugar monopolies took over the Puerto Rican economic structure. These were years in which many thousands of macheteros (sugar cane cutters) were enslaved by North American absentee companies. These companies controlled all productive agricultural land in Puerto Rico. The wages paid to the Puerto Rican people guaranteed nothing but abject poverty and misery.

"These were also years of great struggles for freedom. The names of Don Pedro Albizu Campos, Elias Beauchamp, Hiram Rosado, and such criminal acts as the Ponce Massacre, could not possibly escape the attention of Puerto Rican children of the era. During my early years, my father was a Cadet of the Republic, an organization which at that time had as its primary purpose recruiting volunteers for a Puerto Rican Army, sometimes called the Liberation Army.

"My early education was influenced by this socio-political context. The English language was forced upon all the Puerto Rican students as the main vehicle of learning. Many teachers in those days expressed resentment of this fact, and their resentment carried an independentista message directly to their students. The preservation of our national language became an important tool against colonialism in the absence of sufficient strength to oppose the fierce repression through other means.

"When I was 11, in 1944, my mother immigrated to New York. It was then that I was confronted, for the first time in my life, with all the elements of racism, social discrimination and social oppression that characterized the life of Puerto Rican migrants and which prevail to this day. I went through my junior high school years in different schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, returning to Puerto Rico in 1947. This was due mainly to my inadaptability and unacceptance of a degrading and humiliating system with its highly institutionalized discrimination mechanisms.

"During the early fifties, I worked in factories in New York City while I continued musical studies. It was this contact with brother Puerto Ricans in the factories which finally helped me understand the true nature of exploitation, racism and colonialism. I understood what life in the ghettoes meant; the reasons for being denied decent education, health, and housing services and equal work opportunities. In sum, I was able to establish the connection between workers’ exploitation and the predominating economic system, including colonialism. This understanding led me to oppose the forced military recruiting of Puerto Ricans to be utilized by the United States as cannon fodder in their wars of aggression. (I had the misfortune of losing loved family members and receiving others spiritually and emotionally wounded in a war they never understood or condoned.) I refused to be drafted during the Korean War.

"In 1957 I joined the Puerto Rican independence movement through active participation in diverse political activities. I formalized, in 1959, my membership in the Movimiento Libertador de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Liberation Movement) to which I dedicated my efforts. Through it, I engaged in Puerto Rican historical and political studies.

"In 1961, I went to Cuba, taking my family with me. Once there, I joined the Movimiento Pro-Independencia (MPI) (Pro-Independence Movement). In 1964, I entered the University of Havana, and studied political science until 1965. In 1965, I became Sub-Chief of the Permanent Mission of the Movimiento Pro-Independencia in Cuba. In early 1966, I became the Alternate Delegate to the Organization of Solidarity for the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAL). From 1966 to 1969, I was also a member of the Directorate of the Association of Puerto Rican Residents in Cuba. I was the editor of the Puerto Rican publications that were directed at our community and to other Latin American communities in Cuba.

"In 1969, I returned to my country, Puerto Rico, engaging in diverse political activities as part of the Puerto Rican revolutionary movement in our struggle for independence. I physically witnessed the police attack against the central officers of the Movimiento Pro Independencia (MPI). In 1970 I was arrested in Puerto Rico and accused of being an organizer of the Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario en Armas (MIRA) which was involved in armed struggle during those years. I was never convicted of such charges. In 1980, the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. From 1970 until my arrest, I lived clandestinely in my country. The persecution of independentistas by the federal colonialist forces, the numerous attacks and assassinations executed by the right-wing forces (including police `death squads’, and other vigilante groups which were organized or encouraged by the CIA and the FBI) and the repeated threats against my life made by these same elements have not permitted me to assume an open role in the struggle for the independence of my country. This personal experience confirmed the significance of the concept of `clandestinity’ which is an unfortunately necessary response to the consistent repression of the nationalist movements in particular and the independentista movements in general."

On September 24, 2005, the BBC’s web site posted the following account of how Filiberto Ojeda-Rios was killed:

"A fugitive Puerto Rican nationalist who had been on the run for 15 years has died after a gunfight with FBI agents. Police said they had found the body of Filiberto Ojeda Rios at his hideout in the Puerto Rican town of Hormigueros. In 1992, he was convicted in absentia for the 1983 robbery of $7m from a bank depot in the US state of Connecticut….

"Ojeda Rios, leader of the Macheteros (or Cane Cutters) nationalist movement, went on the run in 1990 while awaiting trial for the robbery. FBI agents surrounded the farmhouse where he was hiding on Friday afternoon. Two helicopters circled overhead, while Puerto Rican police sealed off access to the farm.

"Puerto Rico police Chief Pedro Toledo said it was not yet clear how Ojeda Rios had died. One FBI agent was wounded in the gun battle.

"The FBI said Ojeda Rios’ wife, Elma Rosado Barbosa had been arrested but was released unharmed on Saturday evening, the Associated Press news agency reports…

"Early reports…triggered protests in San Juan, the capital of the Caribbean island.

Some 500 people blocked the city’s main avenue to demonstrate against `Ojeda Rios’ assassination’."

Compiled by Bob Feldman