[Ppnews] Filiberto Ojeda Rios: a Puerto Rican life

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 22 15:31:39 EDT 2006

(Reminder of Sunday Grito event at La Pena in Berkeley follows)

Filiberto Ojeda Rios: a Puerto Rican life

  <http://www.opendemocracy.net/articles/#>Ari Paul
22 - 9 - 2006
The FBI killing of an independence campaigner on 
a day of national resistance highlights Puerto 
Rico tense relationship with Washington, reports Ari Paul.



23 September 2006 marks the anniversary of the 
death of Puerto Rican independence leader 
Filiberto Ojeda Rios at the hands of the United 
States's federal police service, the FBI. It is 
also a day when the people of this Caribbean 
island of about 4 million people celebrate Grito 
de Lares, an uprising in 1868 against the Spanish colonial rulers.

Some call it a coincidence, but Puerto Rican 
independence activists (both on the island and in 
the United States, under whose administration 
Rico operates as a self-governing commonwealth) 
see the killing of Rios as not just a botched 
attempted to arrest an alleged bank robber, but 
as a deliberate blow against their movement.

On the anniversary, activists in the western town 
of Lares, in San Juan province, and in New York 
will come together to commemorate Grito de Lares; 
but this year they will mourn their loss and 
display their anger against what they feel was an 
act by an unjust occupier. For many other US 
citizens, the event can serve as a way to renew 
the debate on possible independence for the territory.

Filiberto, life and death

Filiberto Ojeda Rios was the leader of an armed 
resistance group called the Macheteros, or the 
People's Army. What some would call a terrorist 
ring others called a group of freedom fighters 
using violence against American military 
outposts. Since Rios saw the American presence 
itself as the result of a violent invasion, he 
thought violence in response was justified.

His militant politics were mixed with a carefree 
temperament. News footage shows him laughing out 
Viva Puerto Rico! while being hauled off by 
American law-enforcement agents. The 
a conservative British weekly, called him 
"unusually bright", reporting that he had entered 
university when he was 15 years old.

In 1983, he was arrested with other members of 
the Macheteros in connection with a bank robbery 
in Connecticut. While out on bail he was being 
tracked with an electronic ankle bracelet, which 
he removed on the symbolic date of 23 September, and went underground.

While in hiding in the western part of the 
island, Rios became (according to some 
independence activists) a sort of folk icon, as 
he often gave radio interviews from safe houses 
and wrote newspaper articles. People would often 
talk about "Filiberto sightings," and these added 
to his mystique even among those who may not have shared his politics.

There are many accounts of Rios' last days. What 
is known is that an informant had tipped off the 
FBI where Rios and his wife were living, although 
Rios himself wasn't keeping it much of a secret. 
Independence activists say he displayed a 
Macheteros flag over his door, a claim also made 
by the 
magazine. Hundreds of federal agents, working 
without local officers, surrounded his house. 
They claim Rios fired at them, and that they 
fired back. Rios was shot, but the agents sealed 
off the area and would not enter the house until 
the next day, where he was found dead. The 
claims they waited for safety reasons. Rios's 
followers claim they did this so he would bleed to death.

Five months later, in February 2006, the FBI 
raided the homes of several independence leaders. 
In addition to the protests that followed Rios's 
death in Puerto Rico itself, two US Congressmen 
from New York questioned the FBI about its 
behaviour. Puerto Rico's attorney-general also 
conducted an investigation. A federal report 
cleared the agents of excessive wrongdoing in ambushing Rios's dwelling.

Since his death, supporters in Puerto Rico have 
held vigils in his memory on the 23rd of each 
month in various towns, according to activists in 
New York. In New York, a group of artists called 
collective have screened video interviews with 
Rios around the city on the same date.

"Whether they agreed with his politics or means 
of fighting for independence or not", says Hiram 
Rivera Marcano, 29, an independence activist 
living in New York, "most Puerto Ricans felt it 
was a cowardly act of violence against a 71-year-old man."

The case for freedom

After its long history of Spanish colonisation, 
Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States in 
1898 after the 
war. Today, people sceptical about the 
independence movement contend that Puerto Rico 
has it better than other Caribbean states due to 
its special relationship with the United States. 
Life expectancy is high. Puerto Ricans qualify 
for American public-assistance programmes without 
paying taxes for them. They can move freely to 
American cities and gain employment. The relative 
poverty in the independent Dominican Republic has 
caused waves of migrants to cross the 
Passage into Puerto Rico in search of a better life.

"What is not ever mentioned or taken into 
consideration", says Marcano, "is the price that 
has been paid by Puerto Ricans for this ‘better' living."

Unemployment is higher relative to America's more 
depressed states. Puerto Rico also has higher 
rates of poverty than the poorest states, 
including hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and 
Mississippi. With a lack of opportunities in 
Puerto Rico, many move to the United States, 
where they struggle to survive in the country's 
working-class barrios. "We have lost traditions 
and family customs", says Marcano. "Every day we 
lose more and more of who we are, in the name of 
assimilation here in the United States."

The island is still of importance to the United 
States. Puerto Rico is a place in which American 
businesses can set up production at low cost. 
And, like Native American reservations and 
maverick states such as Nevada, Puerto Rico 
serves as a place for Americans to gamble.

The small island of 
<http://www.vieques-island.com/navy/>Vieques off 
Puerto Rico's coast may no longer used for target 
practice by the American military, but it is 
still of strategic military importance. It could 
be a jumping-off point for a war with Cuba. It 
also gives the US a foothold in a region that is 
progressively rejecting the legacy of the 
doctrine and the 
consensus alike.

see Puerto Rico as the last real colony in a 
world where multinational corporations have taken 
the place of the imperial occupier in places like 
Latin America. At the same time, plebiscites in 
Puerto Rico have seen the population 
overwhelmingly endorsing the status quo. Even the 
Macheteros only count around 1,000 operatives. 
Other separatist groups are considered dormant by US law-enforcement agencies.

For Filiberto Ojeda Rios, the reason independence 
never became popular was institutionalised fear. 
They feared economic instability and violence 
from the United States. Others distanced 
themselves from independence because they knew it 
would mean losing public assistance. "We have 
learned to look forward to and appreciate food 
stamps and other hand outs the US throws at us", says Marcano.
Marcano believes that even though a transition to 
independence would have its consequences, all 
former colonies must have their taste of 
sovereignty in the 21st century. In the 
of the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, Rios 
forecast that the movement for independence would 
be motivated by something other than a cold 
cost-benefit analysis of national sovereignty. 
"One cannot love as much as we love our people", 
Rios told a reporter in a videotaped interview 
while underground. "The people won't let themselves be fooled."


Copyright © <mailto:ari.paul at gmail.com>Ari Paul, 
Published by openDemocracy Ltd. You may download 
and print extracts from this article for your own 
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Bay Area Boricuas

Annual Grito de Lares Celebration

Sunday September 24, 2006

$10-$15 sliding scale - 4-7:30pm

Featuring keynote speakers Adolfo Matos, former 
Puerto Rican political prisoner, in California 
for the first time since his release from Federal 
Prison in 1999, and Zulma Oliveras, Puerto Rican 
activist. Also featuring spoken word by Aya De 
Leon and music by Rico Pabon, and live bomba y 
plena by Cacique y Kongo. El Grito de Lares 
refers to Puerto Rico's revolt against Spanish 
rule in 1868. It is celebrated every year on the 
island and in the states as a reminder of Puerto 
Rico's continued struggle for sovereignty and justice.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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