Filiberto Ojeda Ríos

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Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
Filiberto ojeda rios fbi photograph 02 with black border.jpg
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
Born (1933-04-26)April 26, 1933
Naguabo, Puerto Rico
Died September 23, 2005(2005-09-23) (aged 72)
Hormigueros, Puerto Rico
Nationality Puerto Rican
Known for

Leader of the Macheteros
Founder of FALN
Founder of MIRA

Former FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives

Filiberto Ojeda Ríos (April 26, 1933 – September 23, 2005) was the commander-in-chief ("Responsable General") of the Boricua Popular Army (Ejército Popular Boricua, a.k.a., Los Macheteros), a clandestine paramilitary organization that considers United States rule over Puerto Rico to be colonization and advocates Puerto Rico's independence.

Ojeda Ríos was a fugitive from 1990 to 2005, wanted by the FBI for his role in the 1983 Wells Fargo depot robbery in West Hartford, Connecticut as well as a bail bond default in September 1990. He was killed on 23 September 2005, a date that coincided with Los Macheteros's venerable anniversary of a Puerto Rican pro-independence uprising known as El Grito de Lares, when members of the FBI, claiming an attempt to serve an arrest warrant on him, surrounded a house in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, where Ojeda Ríos was living. The FBI operation was questioned by both local Puerto Rican authorities as well as international organizations.

The killing[1] of Ojeda Ríos has been mourned by members of the Puerto Rican Independence movement and by Puerto Ricans in general, who have expressed their indignation through repeated protests. Members of the statehood movement and supporters of the Commonwealth have also joined in the criticism of the federal and local handling of the FBI's shooting incident. In late March 2006, the Puerto Rico Department of Justice sued federal authorities, including FBI Director Robert Mueller and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, seeking an injunction to force the federal government authorities to provide the Commonwealth government with information related to the operation in which Ojeda Ríos died, as well as another one in which the FBI searched the homes of independence supporters affiliated with Los Macheteros. A US District Court judge ruled against the Puerto Rican lawsuit.[2] The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Civil Rights Commission conducted its own investigation of the incident and issued a report on 22 September 2011 wherein the Commission called Ojeda Ríos's death an "illegal killing".[3][4]


Ojeda Ríos was born on April 26, 1933, in Naguabo, Puerto Rico. Ojeda entered college when he was fifteen years old and was described as having an "engaging intelligence".[5] As a child, he played the trumpet and guitar.[6] He joined a renowned Salsa band from the municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico, "La Sonora Ponceña", performing on both instruments.[6]

In 1961 he moved his family from Puerto Rico to Cuba and was recruited into the General Intelligence Directorate, the Cuban intelligence service.[7] In 1967 he founded and led the very first of Puerto Rico's new militant political groups, the Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement (Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario Armado).[8] MIRA was disbanded by police in the early 1970s and Ríos was arrested. He subsequently skipped bail and moved to New York, where he cofounded the Armed Forces of National Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) (FALN) with former MIRA members as a membership base. In 1976 Ojeda Ríos founded the Boricua Popular Army (Ejército Popular Boricua), also known as Los Macheteros (The Machete Wielders), named after the sugar cane harvesters who use machetes to harvest the canes.

Ejército Popular Boricua logo.

Los Macheteros have been alleged to be either directly or indirectly responsible for numerous acts of terrorism and bombings in Puerto Rico and the mainland United States. The group has claimed responsibility for several incendiary and explosive incidents, including an explosion at Fraunces Tavern, a historical tavern located in New York City, which killed those inside the building and injured other bystanders.[9] The group was involved in the killing of a Puerto Rican policeman who refused to surrender his car.[9] The group was responsible for nearly 120 bombings in the United States between 1974 and 1983.[9] Los Macheteros is described by U.S. law enforcement agencies as a terrorist organization.

On September 12, 1983, Los Macheteros stole approximately US$7 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Connecticut. The money obtained from this operation was allegedly used to help fund the Puerto Rican independence movement. In 1985, 19 members of Los Macheteros were indicted for offenses associated with the Wells Fargo heist. Ojeda Ríos was captured as part of an FBI operation that took place following two years of surveillance on the group.[10] In the operation a group of 24 agents protected by bulletproof vests, entered the building where Ojeda Ríos had his residence.[10] The agents received assistance from a group of snipers located on adjacent buildings and a helicopter. When Ojeda noticed the presence of the agents he fired a sub-machine gun at them and threatened to kill anyone that tried to reach the building's second floor.[10] In the meanwhile Ojeda's wife Blanca Iris Serrano burned documents in the apartment's bathroom.[10] When the agents tried to climb the ladder to reach the building's second floor Filiberto opened fire against them wounding one of them. At that moment one of the snipers disarmed him with a bullet giving the other agents enough time to arrest him.[10]

Ojeda Ríos was released on bond after his attorneys successfully argued he had been denied a speedy trial, although the delay in bringing him to trial was largely the result of defense motions. On 23 September 1990, the anniversary of the Grito de Lares, Ojeda Ríos cut off the electronic tag that had been placed on his ankle as a condition of his release, and became a fugitive.[11][12] In July 1992 Ojeda Ríos was sentenced in absentia to 55 years in prison and fined $600,000 for his role in the Wells Fargo heist.[13]

In 1998 Ojeda Ríos recorded a public statement where he accepted responsibility for an explosion on the construction site of a public project.[14] In this statement he declared that the Macheteros were the authors of the incident, and that they accepted all responsibility for their actions.[14] Ojeda expressed that they accepted responsibility for the explosion directly because in the past the police has supposedly created false evidence against the organization.[14] On July 18, 1998, Ojeda Ríos admitted that the Macheteros planted bombs at several banks throughout the course of the 1998 Puerto Rican General Strike.[15] The interview was broadcast on WKAQ-AM, a local radio station.[15] Reporters conducting the interview declared they were blindfolded and transported to Ojeda Ríos' hideout where the interview took place.[15] Filiberto warned the United States Navy that if the military practices on the island of Vieques continued, the group would take action. This was made public on an interview with WIAC (AM) on 7 December 1999.[16] In the interview he declared that the Macheteros "were going to pay close attention to what happened in Vieques" and that the US government "knew they were serious".[16]


View of the front of the house, as it would have appeared to the FBI agents when they approached[17]

On September 23, 2005, Ojeda Ríos was surrounded in his home in the outskirts of the town of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, by members of the FBI's San Juan field office and shot fatally. The FBI recounted the incident in a press release.[13] According to this document, the FBI was performing surveillance of the area driven by reports that Ojeda had been spotted in the home. The FBI determined its surveillance team had been detected, and decided to proceed with serving an arrest warrant against Ojeda. As the agents approached the home, Ojeda opened fire. One agent was wounded. Filiberto's wife says that the "FBI entered the house shooting with no warning." The FBI denies these accounts, stating Ojeda opened fire as agents approached. An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General concluded that Rios initiated the gunfire with the agents and that Ríos' wife may have been confused by a non-lethal flash bang outside the house.[18] The report also found "this daylight assault was extremely dangerous and not the best option available to the FBI." [19]

According to Ojeda's wife, Elma Beatriz Rosado Barbosa, as well as neighbor Héctor Reyes, it was the FBI agents who initiated the shooting at 3:00 pm. The Office of the Inspector General's report stated that an FBI agent detonated a non-lethal "flash bang" grenade outside the house as a diversionary tactic when the FBI approached the house, before any gunfire began, and that Rosado may have thought this explosion was gunfire initiated by the FBI.[19] The FBI press release, however, claims that "as the FBI agents approached the front of the farm house at approximately 4:28 p.m., Ojeda Ríos opened the front door to the residence and opened fire on the FBI agents. In response to the gunfire from Ojeda Ríos, the FBI returned fire and established a defensive perimeter in order to contain the environment." [19]

Rosado has alleged that Ojeda offered to turn himself in to journalist Jesús Dávila, but that his offer was rebuffed by the agents.[17] The Office of the Inspector General report concluded that "although the FBI utilized a negotiator from its San Juan office during the standoff, the FBI did not comply with its own policies regarding the integration of negotiators into operations planning or the use of multiple negotiators." [19]

The FBI did not enter the house until shortly after noon the next day, at which time the agents found Ojeda dead on the floor from a single bullet wound that had punctured his lung. The report by the US Department of Justice states that "the forensic pathologist from the Puerto Rico Institute of Forensic Sciences who performed the autopsy estimated that Ojeda died from blood loss approximately 15 to 30 minutes after being shot, which would place the time of death between 6:23 p.m. and 6:38 p.m."[19][20] The report by the Puerto Rico's Comision de Derechos Civiles (Commision on Civil Rights) states that Doctor Rodríguez Morales, one of the two forensic pathologists that performed the autopsy, declared that "as a pathologist she cannot 'say at what precise time' Ojeda Rios died, what can be given is an estimate of the number of hours that he had been dead."[21] She then added that she did not believe that a person of 72 years, who has had open heart surgery, could have survived an hour.[22]

The Commission's report concluded that: [23]

  1. The FBI used excessive force,
  2. The FBI used military-grade weapons in the arrest of a civilian,
  3. Although the FBI claims that "Mr. Ojeda Rios was the first shooter," the first shooter was the FBI,
  4. The arrest of Mr. Ojeda Rios could had occurred without resorting to violence,
  5. The FBI knew Mr. Ojeda Rios was mortaly wounded but it was negligent in providing him with medical assistance,
  6. The FBI blocked available medical personnel on the premises from assisting Mr. Ojeda Rios,
  7. The FBI blocked access to the events by the news media as well as by members of the Government of Puerto Rico in a disproportionate and unnecessary manner,
  8. The FBI failed to provide a news media liaison and took measures to make it impossible for photojournalists to do their work,
  9. The FBI made demands to agencies of the Government of he Commonwealth of Puerto Rico which, had they been fulfilled, would had represented a violation of civil rights,
  10. The FBI blocked access to the adjacent residential areas endangering the lives and safety of children, the elderly and handicapped residents of the area,
  11. The FBI marginalized the assitance of the Puerto Rico Police in the operative, and treated personnel from the Government of Puerto Rico with a disparaging and arrogant demeanor,
  12. Despite the lack of a formal request to the highest levels of the Puerto Rico Police, it appears improbable that the Puerto Rico Police was unaware that the FBI's was preparing to carry an operative against Mr. Ojeda Rios,
  13. The FBI was unjustified in delaying access to the scene by investigators of Puerto Rico's Instituto de Ciencias Forenses (Institute of Forensic Sciences, ICF) in violation of Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's laws mandating access to a scene by the ICF prior to the removal of a body,
  14. The FBI operative caused the illegal death of Mr. Filiberto Ojeda Rios.[24]

The FBI was criticized for failing to notify Commonwealth of Puerto Rico officials in advance of the Ojeda arrest operation by the Commission on Civil Rights, but the OIG report "determined that the FBI made the decision not to notify Puerto Rico officials of the operation because of concerns about leaks that could compromise the operation, which was a reasonable consideration under the circumstances."[25] The report found that the "FBI missed opportunities to provide accurate information to the public and to Commonwealth officials regarding the reasons for the delay in entering Ojeda's residence" [19] but that the delayed entry itself was justified.[26]

Politicians across party lines in Puerto Rico criticized the handling of this altercation.[27] Among the aspects objected to are the very date of September 23. On this date in 1868, at the village of Lares, a group of Puerto Rican revolutionaries launched a rebellion called the Grito de Lares against the then-ruling Spanish colonial authorities. The anniversary of the uprising is commemorated every year by the independence movement. Ojeda Ríos was renowned for selecting anniversaries of the Grito de Lares to make statements to his followers from undisclosed hideouts.

Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá criticized the FBI assault as "improper" and "highly irregular" and demanded to know why his government was not informed of it.[28] The FBI refused to release information beyond the official press release, citing security and agent privacy issues. Three Puerto Rican members of the U.S. Congress demanded the release of more specific, and more responsive, FBI information.[29] The Puerto Rico Justice Department filed suit in federal court against the FBI and the US Attorney General, demanding information crucial to the Commonwealth's own investigation of the incident.[30] A US District Court judge “threw out” the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's lawsuit. The Commonwealth than appealed to the US Supreme Court however the court “refused to consider (the) lawsuit”.[31]

Ojeda Ríos' funeral was attended by the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Puerto Rico, Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves, ex-Governor Rafael Hernández Colón, and numerous other dignitaries and personalities.[32]


In response to speculation regarding the death of Ojeda Ríos and to requests from several U.S. Representatives, Robert Mueller requested an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Justice.[33] The resulting report concluded that “the FBI agents’ use of force in the Ojeda operation did not violate the Department of Justice Deadly Force Policy” and that Ojeda Ríos had initiated the exchange of gunfire. [34] In clearing the FBI, the report found that Rios "clearly posed a threat to the agents" and was shot only after refusing to surrender when he was seen aiming a pistol at an agent.[35]

The United Nations' Special Committee On Decolonization issued a Draft Resolution urging a "probe of [the] pro-independence killing, human rights abuses," after "Petitioner after petitioner condemned the assassination of Mr. Ojeda Ríos by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)".[36] The Resolution did not come up for a yes/no vote before the UN General Assembly.[37] In 2012, Ojeda Rios's attorney, Luis Abreu Elías, asked international organizations to perform an independent investigation about the assassinaion of his client.[38]

The hip hop musical group Calle 13 wrote the song Querido FBI (Dear FBI), to protest the manner of Ojeda Ríos's death.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Request for Condemnation of Ojeda-Rios' assassination by the United States.
  2. ^ Court refuses to step into Ojeda case By Peter Yost. USA TODAY March 31, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  3. ^ Informe Final sobre la Investigacion de los Sucesos occ=urridos en el Municipio de Hormigueros el 23 de septiembre de 2005 donde resulto muerto el ciudadano Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Comision de Derechos Civiles. 31 March 2011. Revised 22 September 2011. p140.
  4. ^ Ojeda Ríos Report Expected by December 31. By Eva Llorens Vélez. Puerto Rico Daily Sun. November 27, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2009.
  5. ^ "Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, Puerto Rican revolutionary". The Economist. 2005-09-29. Retrieved 2009-02-25. 
  6. ^ a b "De la salsa a la clandestinidad por la independencia de Puerto Rico" (in Spanish). Terra. 2005-09-24. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  7. ^ Edmund Mahony (2005-11-20). "Revolutionary To The End". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  8. ^ Tom Soto (2005-09-28). "Filiberto Ojeda Ríos assassinated by FBI". The New York City Independent Media Center. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  9. ^ a b c Robert Guzmán. "Filiberto Ojeda: Hero or Terrorist?". Archived from the original on 2007-04-10. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Armando André. "Los Macheteros se delatan unos a otros" (in Spanish). La Crónica Gráfica. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  11. ^ Harding, Colin (26 September 2005). "Filiberto Ojeda Rios Fighter for Puerto Rican independence". London: The independent news (UK). Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  12. ^ "Muere líder nacionalista puertorriqueño en operativo del FBI" (in Spanish). Terra. 2005-09-25. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  13. ^ a b "Execution of Federal arrest warrant". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2005-09-24. Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  14. ^ a b c "Lider de los Macheteros envia declaracion en una cinta de audio" (in Spanish). Diario Las Americas. 1998-03-22. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  15. ^ a b c "Underground leader admits bombs planted". The Miami Herald. 1998-07-19. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  16. ^ a b "Puerto Rican Guerilla Warns U.S.". Associated Press. 1999-12-07. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  17. ^ a b "Chapter Three:Chronology of Events in the Surveillance and Arrest Operation". Office of the Inspector General. August 2006. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  18. ^ FBI Cleared in Deadly Puerto Rico Raid
  19. ^ a b c d e f "A Review of the September 2005 Shooting Incident". Office of the Inspector General. August 2006. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  20. ^ Fahrenthold, David A.; Marino, John (September 29, 2005). "Gunfight in Puerto Rico Resurrects an FBI Case". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  21. ^ Informe Final sobre la Investigacion de los Sucesos occ=urridos en el Municipio de Hormigueros el 23 de septiembre de 2005 donde resulto muerto el ciudadano Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Comision de Derechos Civiles. 31 March 2011. Revised 22 September 2011. p121.
  22. ^ Informe Final sobre la Investigacion de los Sucesos occ=urridos en el Municipio de Hormigueros el 23 de septiembre de 2005 donde resulto muerto el ciudadano Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Comision de Derechos Civiles. 31 March 2011. Revised 22 September 2011. p123.
  23. ^ Informe Final sobre la Investigacion de los Sucesos occ=urridos en el Municipio de Hormigueros el 23 de septiembre de 2005 donde resulto muerto el ciudadano Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Comision de Derechos Civiles. 31 March 2011. Revised 22 September 2011. pp136-140.
  24. ^ Informe Final sobre la Investigacion de los Sucesos occ=urridos en el Municipio de Hormigueros el 23 de septiembre de 2005 donde resulto muerto el ciudadano Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Comision de Derechos Civiles. 31 March 2011. Revised 22 September 2011. pp136-140.
  25. ^ Report p.171
  26. ^ Ojeda Death: Fbi Cleared
  27. ^ "Probe of Shootout In Puerto Rico Urged". The Washington Post. September 26, 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  28. ^ "Fugitive is killed in FBI stakeout". The Boston Globe. September 25, 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  29. ^ Killing of Militant Raises Ire in Puerto Rico, New York Times, September 28, 2005.
  30. ^ "Revés para Puerto Rico en caso de independentista muerto por FBI" (in Spanish). Azcentral. 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  31. ^ Court refuses to step into Ojeda case By Peter Yost. USA TODAY March 31, 2008 Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  32. ^ Funeral Service for Filiberto Ojeda Ríos Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  33. ^ FBI Responds to OIG Report on the Circumstances Surrounding the Attempted Capture of Filiberto Ojeda Rios
  34. ^ A Review of the September 2005 Shooting Incident Involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Filiberto Ojeda Ríos]
  35. ^ Ojeda Death: Fbi Cleared
  36. ^ Request for Condemnation of Ojeda-Rios' assassination by the United States.
  37. ^ Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly at its 61st session
  38. ^ International investigation into death of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos: Attorney Luis Abreu Elías, who represented Ojeda Ríos in the past, asked international organisms to investigate the assassination. InterNews Service. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  39. ^ Calle 13. CMTV: El portal de la Musica. Retrieved 13 February 2014.

External links[edit]