The Center for Constitutional Rights – 2005-10-31 00:24:06
Statement on the Death of Filiberto Ojeda-Rios
The Center for Constitutional Rights condemns what appears to have been the political assassination by the FBI of Filiberto Ojeda-Rios, a 72 year old Puerto Rican independentista fighter. We mourn his death, extend our condolences to his family and pledge to continue to support the struggle for self-determination by the people of Puerto Rico.
As well-known independence leader Juan Mari Bras said, Filiberto Ojeda “put his words into action.” He was a founding member of Ejercito Popular Boricua-Macheteros (the Boricua Popular Army), also known as the Macheteros, a militant pro-independence organization responsible for the destruction of nine fighter jets at Muniz Air Force Base in Puerto Rico as well as the $7.2 million Wells Fargo robbery in West Hartford, Connecticut.
In 1987, Filiberto was tried of weapons and assault charges stemming from his earlier arrest in 1985 related to the Wells Fargo theft. He directed his own defense and was acquitted by a jury in federal court in San Juan. While awaiting trial on the Wells Fargo robbery, he jumped bail in 1990 and, at the time of his death, had lived clandestinely in Puerto Rico for 15 years.
During that time, Ojeda-Ríos sent numerous messages to the press commenting on social and political issues such as the fight to rid Vieques of the US Navy presence, women’s struggles against violence and for equality, government corruption and abuses, and ever calling for the independence of Puerto Rico.
The circumstances of his death raise the distinct possibility that Filiberto Ojeda-Ríos was assassinated. It is highly unlikely that the FBI did not know for a number of years where he lived.
The FBI clearly failed to notify local Puerto Rican authorities that they were planning an action against Filiberto and subjected the surrounding community to an extensive power outage, a blockade and a violent and unannounced military-style assault. In a cruel and offensive twist, the FBI chose a day of great significance for all Puerto Ricans – September 23 – to kill this Puerto Rican patriot.
On that date, Puerto Ricans commemorate the Grito de Lares, the day in 1868 the independence movement began an armed revolt against the Spanish colonizers and declared the short-lived Republic of Puerto Rico in the mountain town of Lares. Certainly, Filiberto was not killed on that particular day by happenstance. We condemn the attempt by the FBI to send a bloody message to the independence movement by killing ones of its heroes.
Filiberto’s death has caused a huge outcry in Puerto Rico as well as from Puerto Ricans in the U.S. Even those who did not agree with Filiberto’s tactics understood him to be a principled and courageous fighter for independence. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Congressmen Jose E. Serrano and Charles Rangel have demanded explanations from the FBI.
We note that the FBI was forced to request an investigation of its own actions and that the Office of the Inspector General of the Justice Department has agreed to do so. We call on the Inspector General to perform a complete and swift review of the FBI’s actions, including the political dimensions of the actions such as keeping Puerto Rican authorities in the dark, subjecting the community where Filiberto lived to a terrifying ordeal and choosing the September 23 date for their actions – an insult to all Puerto Ricans.
This apparent assassination must be seen in the context of the Puerto Rican independence struggle. The movement has been under attack since its inception. It is not the first time an independentista has been killed or the movement attacked.
In 1979, jailed Vieques protestor Angel Rodríguez-Cristobal was beaten to death in his prison cell. In 1978, Carlos Soto-Arriví, 18 years old, and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, 24, were lured to the Cerro Maravilla mountain top and murdered by Puerto Rican police. Santiago Mari-Pesquera, the son of Juan Mari-Bras, was also murdered under suspicious circumstances, and his death has never been fully investigated and explained. FBI espionage and disruption of the movement has been well documented – including but not limited to the infamous COINTELPRO days – and continues today.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has, almost since its inception, lent its support to those fighting for self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. We represented draft resisters in the 1970’s who protested going to war while they could not vote, Vieques protestors and fishermen in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and we were counsel for the families of those murdered at Cerro Maravilla. CCR has also testified on several occasions before the UN Committee on Decolonization in favor of self-determination for Puerto Rico.
CCR remains firm in our belief that the right of self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico must be respected and allowed to flourish.
At this time we mourn Filiberto Ojeda-Ríos and all those who have given their lives in the ongoing struggle of the Puerto Rican people to determine their own future. We will redouble our efforts to support Puerto Rican self-determination, to end US colonialism in Puerto Rico and to lend aid to those in the forefront of this important struggle.