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FBI Killing of Puerto Rican Independence Leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios Sparks Outpouring of Anti-US Sentiment

StorySeptember 29, 2005
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We continue our look at the FBI killing of Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios. His killing has sparked an outpouring of anti-U.S. sentiment in Puerto Rico and fears that the Bush administration will launch a new crackdown on the Puerto Rican independence movement. We go to Puerto Rico to speak with a spokesperson for the Puerto Rican Socialist Front and an independent political analyst. [includes rush transcript]

We continue our look at the FBI killing of Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Nearly a week has passed since FBI agents surrounded his house, resulting in a shootout that left Ojeda Rios dead and an FBI agent wounded.

His killing has sparked an outpouring of anti-U.S. sentiment in Puerto Rico and fears that the Bush administration will launch a new crackdown on the Puerto Rican independence movement.

Earlier this week tens of thousands attended his funeral making it one of the largest funerals in Puerto Rican history.

Puerto Ricans of all political stripes have questioned the FBI’s actions, especially because the shooting took place on Sept. 23–the anniversary of an 1868 uprising against Spanish rule.

The FBI considered Ojeda Rios a fugitive from justice and the head of a domestic terrorist group–the militant Puerto Rican independence group Los Macheteros. But in Puerto Rico he has long been viewed as a leader of the independence movement. Now many see him as a martyr who was killed at the hands of U.S. agents.

Puerto Rican officials and Amnesty International are calling for an independent probe into his death. Amnesty said that the killing should be considered an extra-judicial execution if the FBI deliberately killed Ojeda Ríos or deliberately left him to die, when they could have arrested him.

Although FBI agents shot him Friday afternoon at his home they waited 20 hours before entering the house. Autopsy reports show that he bled to death from a gunshot wound to his shoulder.

  • Jorge Farinacci, spokesperson for the Puerto Rican Socialist Front, and friend of Filiberto Ojeda.
  • Juan-Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua, a Harvard-eductaed attorney and independent political analyst in Puerto Rico. He hosts one of the islands most popular radio programs on Noti Uno.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Puerto Rico to speak with Jorge Farinacci. He is the spokesperson for the Puerto Rican Socialist Front and friend of Filiberto Ojeda Rios. He’s on the phone from San Juan. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jorge.

JORGE FARINACCI: Yes, good morning, and good morning to all of your audience.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk a little bit about the demonstration yesterday and the reactions in the last couple of days to the events of last week?

JORGE FARINACCI: Well, it’s incredible the way the Puerto Rican people have gone out to the streets. Since the night of the murder, that night, three or four hours after everybody knew what was happening, although it was not official that he had been murdered, but everybody knew that something strange and fishy was happening. Thousands of people poured to the streets, mainly called by the student movement in Puerto Rico. They brought — the students put barricades in the streets. They started marching around the San Juan area, and since that day, the island has been in a turmoil.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I know that the three Puerto Rican Congress members in the United States, Luis Gutierrez, Jose Serrano, and Nydia Velazquez, immediately issued a statement over the weekend demanding an investigation. And the FBI has now said that it is looking into what occurred, but what’s been the reaction of the political leaders in Puerto Rico? It would obviously be expected that the supporters of independence who saw Ojeda Rios as a hero would rally and protest, but also there’s been lots of concern expressed by Populares and those who are in favor of statehood, as well. Could you talk about that?

JORGE FARINACCI: Yes, that is correct, and I think the reason for that is that the people of Puerto Rico, notwithstanding their political positions, understood clearly that this was a murder, that it was an arrogant [inaudible] and vengeful event planned by the FBI, and even though there are many differences within the Puerto Rican community regarding our future, there’s a lot of national pride. And Puerto Ricans don’t like to be pushed, don’t like to be harassed, don’t like to be — our leaders could be murdered in cold blood without any kind of response. I think that the dignity of the Puerto Rican people was hurt very badly by this planned murder by the FBI.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Talk about the significance of the actual date that they chose to try to arrest him. He had been a fugitive for more than 15 years, and yet — and he was also — customarily, he would issue interviews or statements on September 23, El Grito de Lares. Could you talk about the significance of that date and obviously that the FBI knew that — the significance of that date, as well?

JORGE FARINACCI: Well, that is correct. El Grito de Lares is more or less like the Fourth of July for Americans. It’s the day that we proclaimed our independence from Spain, although that revolution was crushed via the resistance. The flame, the desire for independence is always present in Puerto Rico for the last 150 years. And there’s a commemoration of that date every year in Puerto Rico in the town of Lares. This time this year, thousands of thousands of Puerto Ricans, we gather in Lares to not only commemorate the Grito de Lares, but also to reaffirm our rights to self-determination, our right to independence, and a call for the end of the colonization that the United States have imposed on Puerto Rico.

Since the last years, Filiberto Ojeda has constantly been one of the present in Lares through video messages or audio messages that are — that when they come to the audience, everybody is silent to hear his message. His message this year was a message of unity, was a message of national reconciliation and was a very positive message to the Puerto Rican people. And it’s ironic that at the same time that that message was being made to be addressed to the public there, the FBI had 200 agents surrounding his house and preparing to murder him.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jorge Farinacci, spokesperson for the Puerto Rican Socialist Front, friend of Filiberto Ojeda Rios. And also, joining us on the line now, also from Puerto Rico, Juan-Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua, who is an independent political analyst in Puerto Rico, hosts one of the island’s most popular radio programs on Noti Uno. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Welcome, Juan-Manuel, to the program.

JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: Welcome, my friend, and thanks for having me, and my regards to Jorge.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Juan-Manuel, your perspective — we have been talking about the events of the past few days, the massive protest that occurred yesterday, as well as the statements of many Puerto Rican leaders, both on the island and in the United States, demanding an investigation into the events. Your perspective on what’s happened in the past few days?

JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: Yes, I have no doubt whatsoever that a political assassination occurred in Puerto Rico by a special team with a special rifle against Filiberto Ojeda Rios, who was left to bleed to death and killed, in effect, murdered by a team from the United States. And the investigation will show that. And I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that the government of Puerto Rico contributed to that event by turning off the lights in the barrio where Filiberto Ojeda Rios lived. 200 houses were left without lights in the evening so that the sharpshooter with his laser and special rifle could kill Filiberto. So that’s the story. That’s the truth. And I am sure it will have to come out in the investigation by inspector general of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan-Manuel, you had met with Ojeda Rios a number of times, interviewing him both, as you described, at the courthouse, but also when he was underground, that —


JUAN GONZALEZ: How did you meet with him, known as a gardener of roses for many years to the people in his community?

JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: Well, persons that knew us both put us in contact. And I obviously was not privy to observe how I got there or where I was, but I am convinced, again, that he had never abandoned his fight for independence and that he was living with his wife in a house in the mountains, as I said, gardening roses and reading. We just got today a picture of the books. And we got also pictures of the more than 100 rounds that were shot at his home on the September 23rd intervention.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s fair to say he died in a shootout?

JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: No, he did not die in a shootout. He was attacked in his home with 100 shots. He responded with ten shots. The ten. He was killed by a single bullet shot by a sharpshooter from high ground or — well, high ground. Let’s put it that way. And the single bullet went through his clavicle and wounded him. He fell against the floor and tried to prevent bleeding, but he was left there bleeding for hours until he died.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, to what extent did the local police officials in Puerto Rico participate or know about this? You mentioned the lights being turned out, but some of the statements from the superintendent of police, Pedro Toledo, have suggested that they knew very little about what was going on.

JUAN-MANUEL GARCIA-PASSALACQUA: The problem with that theory, Juan, is that there is no way that the lights could have been turned off in the barrio, in the 200 houses in the barrio without an expressed authorization of the electrical governmental company, and that order must have come, I have said here, from the Fortaleza.

AMY GOODMAN: Jorge Farinacci, I wanted to ask you about the statement of Los Macheteros, vowing to avenge Ojeda Rios’s death, in a statement that was read to mourners at the funeral, saying, “Yankees, murderers, your days are numbered. The fight will continue now and until the Yankees leave our soil.” It was read — it was signed by Commander Guasabara “from somewhere on the island.” The significance of this statement?

JORGE FARINACCI: Well, it’s very obvious that that’s some kind of feeling of revenge is in the Puerto Rican people, but I would urge our movement to restrain from that. We think that the proper response to this is the mobilization, to strengthen our movement and continue the struggles. Right now, we are in a position that we have gained a lot with our people. This murder has shown very clearly to all Puerto Ricans and many people around Latin America and the United States the real character of the relation of Puerto Rico with the United States. And I think that we should take Filiberto’s death and have an advantage in the next months and years. So, I just don’t think revenge at this time would be the proper way to advance our struggle and honor our hero and our martyr.

AMY GOODMAN: Jorge Farinacci, I want to thank you for being with us, spokesperson for the Puerto Rican Socialist Front, friend of Filiberto Ojeda Rios; and Juan-Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua, political analyst, host of one of the island’s most popular radio programs on Noti Uno. Thank you so much, both.

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