The FBI Murders a Legend
On September 23, 2005, hundreds of separatists gathered in a small town of Puerto Rico called Lares to conmemorate the 137-years old-failed revolutionary attempt against Spaniard colonial rule, known as Grito de Lares. At about 3:00 PM on that day, the crowd was listening to a recorded message from Filiberto Ojeda Rios, leader of the Boricua Popular Army, Los Macheteros (the Machete Wielders). Ojeda’s recorded message had already become a staple of the Lares celebration for a number of years, as he could not speak in person to the public.
Filiberto Ojeda Rios has been in the FBI’s most wanted list since 1990, when he jumped bail while awaiting prosecution for the 1983 Wells Fargo robbery in Hartford, Connecticut. During the fifteen years Ojeda Rios was a fugitive from the FBI, he had managed to stay active underground as an independentista leader, periodically giving interviews to the press and sending messages of unity to the sadly divided anti-imperialist forces in Puerto Rico. He was considered a Puerto Rican version of Che Guevara. For years, the FBI offered a reward of one million dollars, for information leading to his arrest.
According to Luis Fraticelli, head of the local FBI in San Juan, on September 20, 2005, they discovered Ojeda’s hiding place in the mountains of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico. Fraticelli claims that twenty FBI agents surrounded the small shack where Filiberto Ojeda was hiding with his wife, Elma Beatriz Rosado, and decided to begin a stakeout. The FBI also claims that three days later, on September 23, 2005 at about 3:00 PM, Ojeda suddenly opened the door of the shack and began firing at them, injuring one of the FBI agents in the stomach. They then returned the fire; so they say. Although the FBI had no further gun exchange with Ojeda after 3:00 PM, they decided to call Washington, D.C. and ask for instructions as to what to do. Fraticelly says that they were instructed by Washington not to do anything.
The town locals, suspecting that something was happening, gathered around the entrance of the farm where the events were happening and began yelling at the FBI agents, accusing them of having murdered someone (no reasonable person trusts the FBI in Puerto Rico). But the locals knew Filiberto as oldman Luis, a 72 years old and peaceful fellow, who lived in the small shack and used most of his time to plant tropical flowers. They had no idea that el viejo Luis was the famous Filiberto Ojeda Rios, el Comandante Machetero. Meanwhile, hundreds of independentitas were now gathering in San Juan in front of the FBI’s offices to denounce the assassination of Ojeda by FBI agents. They had a tip, as Filiberto had contacted a yet unknown person by use of a cell phone, and already by 4:00 PM on September 23, 2005 everybody in Puerto Rico knew what the FBI was doing something suspicious.
The local media traveled to the Hormigueros region to obtain first hand information about the alleged confrontation between the FBI and the Machetero’s leader. The FBI, following instructions from Washington – they say- refused to give out any information. Pressured by the local media, the governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vila, admitted that the FBI never informed local authorities that they were conducting an operation against Ojeda. Moreover, the FBI told the Puerto Rican government that no local official -including attorneys for the Commonwealth’s government- could have access to the farm. So, the FBI waited and waited, allegedly for instructions from Washington.
According to Fraticelli, on September 24, 2005 at 4:00 AM, more than twelve hours after the gun exchange, a group of FBI agents arrived from Virginia to continue with the capture. They entered the farm and found Ojeda dead, with his hand on the chest, as if he had been trying to stop an hemorrhage. Thirteen hours later, at 5:00 PM, Fraticelli confirmed that Ojeda was dead and claimed that the FBI had acted in self defense.
Because of other violent events against independentistas in Puerto Rico, no one believes the FBI’s fishy story. The governor of the Island -by no means a sympathizer with the independentista movement- told the press that the whole event was suspicious, that the FBI was trying to cover something. The head of the Catholic Church, archbishop Roberto González, lamented the death of Ojeda and referred to the FBI’s actions as a "sinister operation." The FBI reluctantly agreed to the independentistas’ demand that Filiberto’s dead body be given immediately to the local authorities for an autopsy.
The autopsy was conducted the night of September 24, 2005 and revealed precisely what everybody feared the most: Filiberto slowly bled to death, while the FBI barred anyone from entering the shack to find out about his condition or to help him. According to Dr. Pio Rechany, coroner of the Institute for Forensic Medicine in San Juan, Filiberto received a single bullet wound in his shoulder that perforated one of his lungs and went out in the lower back region. It was not a wound that could kill someone instantly. With medical care, Ojeda could have been saved. It was a slow and painful death.
As with the killing of two independentistas by the Puerto Rican police in 1978 (which brought suspicions as to FBI wrongdoing), there is fortunately a civilian witness as to what happened in Hormigueros on September 23, 2005: Filiberto’s own surviving wife, Elma. Perhaps the only thing that the FBI told the local media, hours and hours after the shooting, is the fact that they had arrested Ojeda’s wife, and that she was in FBI’s custody. In fact, they kept her in custody until the morning of September 24, 2005, never informing her that her husband was dead. But Elma’s version of the story completely refuses the FBI’s tale.
She says that at some point in time, a considerable number of FBI agents approached the shack firing at will. Fearing for Elma’s well-being, Filiberto managed to shout at them and negotiate with the FBI the safety of his wife. She walked out of the shack, and the FBI blindfolded her, putting the now typical duct tape on her eyes. She was immediately taken away and kept uninformed of events. Filiberto, she says, knew that the FBI was there to kill him and did not talk at any time about surrendering himself. After all, that is what happened in Cerro Maravilla, where the local police -acting allegedly in cohort with the FBI- executed two unarmed independentistas, well after they had surrendered to the authorities. The Attorney General for Puerto Rico has already corroborated Elma’s story. The FBI fired more than a hundred rounds of bullets. Filiberto was able to respond only ten times. There was no attempt to arrest him; they came to kill him with premeditation.
Filiberto had a good reason to believe that the FBI was there to kill him in a deliberate fashion. In 1985, when the FBI went to arrest Ojeda in relation to the Wells Fargo robbery, he exchanged fire with them and allegedly injured an FBI agent in the face. The FBI filed criminal charges against Ojeda, and he was prosecuted in the federal court in Puerto Rico for the alleged attempt to injure an FBI agent. In the middle of the trial, Ojeda fired his attorneys and filed a pro se appearance. He defended himself and was acquitted. The jurors believed Ojeda’s version of the events, that he had reason to believe that the FBI was trying to execute him and, thus, that he acted in self-defense. Added to this, exactly fifteen years ago, on September 23, 1990, Filiberto Ojeda got rid of an electronic ankle bracelet that was imposed on him by a federal judge in Hartford, Connecticut, as a further condition for his one million dollar bail release, after he was charged with conspiracy in the Wells Fargo seven million dollars robbery. From 1990 to 2005, Filiberto was running loose in Puerto Rico, outsmarting the FBI on an Island that is smaller than the State of Connecticut and where everybody, through means of gossip, can easily find out what the other islanders are doing, even in their bed. So, the FBI knew for sure that Filiberto was being protected by the community at large. The FBI had a motive for their assassination.
Filiberto Ojeda will be buried the afternoon of September 27, 2005, as a hero in his hometown of Naguabo, Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Bar Association has announced that it will conduct a full investigation -together with the Government of Puerto Rico- to determine if the FBI murdered Ojeda. His wake will be tonight at the Puerto Rican Bar Association Building in Miramar, Puerto Rico.
It is not strange that the killing of Filiberto Ojeda by the FBI has united Puerto Ricans in a way not seen since the struggle to stop the use of Vieques for military practices. Most people in the Island believe that Ojeda was killed in a premeditated fashion on September 23, 2005, as a way of sending a message to the independentista movement. An almost identical thing happened on July 25, 1978 -the anniversary of the U.S. military invasion of Puerto Rico- in Cerro Maravilla, which were the basis of the film Show of Force with Robert Duval. On that occasion, however, the FBI hid behind the local police to conduct the operation that resulted in the assassination of two independentistas. The FBI did not do the shooting, but no one doubts that they acted as co-conspirators.
So, on September 23, 2005, in the town of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, the FBI murdered a legend, but in the process, stupidly, they created a bigger one.
RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ CRUZ is an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Rosenberg Fund for Children and one of the directors of Claridad, an independentista newspaper in Puerto Rico. In 2000 he was convicted in federal court for civil disobedience in Vieques. He lives in Springfiled, Massachussets and can be contacted at email@example.com.
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
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As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
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August 17, 2005