For the past four decades Filiberto Ojeda Rios had been a leading figure in the fight for Puerto Rican independence and against U.S. colonial rule. He was wanted by the FBI for his role in a 1983 bank heist. [includes rush transcript]
Longtime Puerto Rican nationalist leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios has been killed by the FBI. The shooting occurred Friday after FBI agents surrounded a house where he was staying. According to an autopsy, Rios bleed to death after being hit with a single bullet. Officials didn’t enter his home until Saturday, many hours after he was shot.
The FBI claimed the 72-year-old Ojeda Rios fired first but independence activists accused the FBI of assassinating him.
For the past four decades Ojeda Rios had been a leading figure in the fight for Puerto Rican independence and against U.S. colonial rule.
In 1967 he founded and led the Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement. He was later a key organizer with the FALN, the Armed Forces of National Liberation and then the Boricua Popular Army, also known as the Los Macheteros.
The FBI considered Ojeda Rios a wanted fugitive because of his ties to a $7 million bank robbery in 1983 in Connecticut. He had been living underground for 15 years.
On Friday night, 500 supporters of independence protested the shooting by blocking one of the main roads in San Juan. Here in New York, a protest is scheduled for today at 5 p.m. at 26 Federal Plaza.
Earlier this morning I spoke with political analyst and radio host Juan-Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua in Puerto Rico and asked him to lay out what happened.
Juan-Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua, Puerto Rican political analyst and radio host.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this morning, I spoke with political analyst and radio host, Juan-Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua, in Puerto Rico and asked him to lay out what happened.
JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: What happened, and again it’s in all the newspapers, because the widow survived, and she has told the story. What happened was that the special team of the Federal Bureau of Investigations entered Filiberto Ojeda’s home in a rural barrio in the town of Hormigueros by crashing the gate and shooting one hundred times against the house. Filiberto then put on his fatigues and his boots and responded the fire with ten shots. And the number of — the number of spent cartridges shows that he was shooting ten times, and the F.B.I. was shooting a hundred times.
After that, again, none of the hundred shots caught him, but a sharpshooter that was located on a high ground, maybe in a helicopter, shot him with a single bullet through again his neck or his — place near the face. And he fell, and then for 12 solid hours, the F.B.I. refused to enter or let anyone enter the house waiting for Filiberto Ojeda Rios to bleed to death, which is exactly what the coroner certified this morning that Filiberto Ojeda Rios died of a single wound brought because of bleeding caused by that wound that lasted for hours without any medical or any other help. So, once again, it is clear this was a political assassination.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of Filiberto Ojeda Rios?
JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: Yes, Filiberto Ojeda Rios was a young trumpet player in Chicago when he was involved in the efforts of the revolutionary Cuba intelligence in that city to promote independent sentiment in that city, and after that, he came back to Puerto Rico and founded what was known as the Ejercito Popular Boricua Macheteros, the clandestine sector of the nationalist movement in Puerto Rico that was responsible, as you know, for several successful attacks, including the blowing up of several airplanes in the military base in San Juan for $45 million, and later for the assault of a truck, a brinks truck in Hartford, Connecticut, also successful, again, in the course of independence.
He was tried for those events in a federal court in Puerto Rico, and he was absolved unanimously by a Puerto Rican jury. I had the chance of interviewing him on television that day, and we remained friends from that day on. And he obviously was very proud of the fact that the Puerto Rican jury had absolved him of all crimes and had decided — and this is the official decision of the jury — that he had acted in legitimate defense against the forces of the United States. Then he went into clandestine activity again by taking off his — how would you call that thing that they put on your feet — whatever — the electric — whatever.
AMY GOODMAN: The bracelet.
JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: The bracelet, exactly. And he went into the mountains and lived there in the mountains in the town of Hormigueros. He built a house there, changed his physical appearance, shaved his beard — that was his trademark — and became Don Luis, the gardener of roses. And that’s how his neighbors knew him for many years. But again, on the day of the celebration or commemoration of the Grito de Lares, the Puerto Rican revolution against Spain in 1868, he was attacked by a group of at least 25 Federal Bureau of Investigation officials that, again, broke the gate of his home, shot one hundred times against him. He had a chance of responding that fire only ten times, and then the fatal shot by a sharpshooter in high ground took his weapon from his hands and fell.
After that, for 12 or 15 solid hours, he was left there to bleed. The blood from his body seeped out of the house under the door and through the little place in front of the house and could be seen by everybody. Everybody watching could have known that he was bleeding to death, but the Federal Bureau of Investigations repeatedly [inaudible] his doctors or his attorneys that were there as he bled to death. And that is the story. That’s how Filiberto Ojeda Rios has gone into immortality in the history of Puerto Rico.
AMY GOODMAN: And his wife?
JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: His wife is now freed. She will hold a press conference in a couple of hours here in Puerto Rico. And the press today advances what she will say. She will say that she is the only living witness and that the F.B.I. officers entered her home shooting one hundred times, that Filiberto Ojeda Rios defended himself, and he was shot and fell, and he shouted to her, "Leave now! Save your life and keep fighting!" And that is what she will testify in a couple of hours in a press conference at the [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: Radio host Juan-Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua, speaking from Puerto Rico on the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Rios.