Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
|Filiberto Ojeda Ríos|
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
April 26, 1933|
Naguabo, Puerto Rico
|Died||September 23, 2005
Hormigueros, Puerto Rico
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, still not entirely laid clear, was questioned by both local Puerto Rican authorities as well as international organizations.
The killing 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. The lawsuit was dismissed in the summer of 2007. However, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Civil Rights Commission forged on with its own investigation of the incident. Their investigation has been ongoing for several years and a report was due out on December 31, 2009.
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". As a child, he played the trumpet and guitar. He joined a renowned Salsa band from the municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico, "La Sonora Ponceña", performing on both instruments.
In 1961 he moved his family from Puerto Rico to Cuba and was recruited into the General Intelligence Directorate, the Cuban intelligence service. 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). 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.
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. The group was involved in the killing of a Puerto Rican policeman who refused to surrender his car. The group was responsible for nearly 120 bombings in the United States between 1974 and 1983. 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. In the operation a group of 24 agents protected by bulletproof vests, entered the building where Ojeda Ríos had his residence. 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. In the meanwhile Ojeda's wife Blanca Iris Serrano burned documents in the apartment's bathroom. When the agents tried to climb the ladder to reach the building's second floor Filiberto opened fire against them injuring one of them, at this moment one of the snipers disarmed him with a bullet giving the other agents enough time to arrest him.
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. 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.
In 1998 Ojeda Ríos recorded a public statement where he accepted responsibility for an explosion on the construction site of a public project. In this statement he declared that the Macheteros were the authors of the incident, and that they accepted all responsibility for their actions. Ojeda expressed that they accepted responsibility for the explosion directly because in the past the police has supposedly created false evidence against the organization. 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. The interview was broadcast on WKAQ-AM, a local radio station. Reporters conducting the interview declared they were blindfolded and transported to Ojeda Ríos' hideout where the interview took place. 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. 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".
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. 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 "this daylight assault was extremely dangerous and not the best option available to the FBI." 
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. 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." 
Rosado has alleged that Ojeda offered to turn himself in to journalist Jesús Dávila, but that his offer was rebuffed by the agents. 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." 
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. A coroner's autopsy concluded that Ojeda bled to death over the course of several hours.
The FBI was criticized for failing to notify Commonwealth of Puerto Rico officials in advance of the Ojeda arrest operation. The OIG report also 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." 
Politicians across party lines criticized the handling of this altercation. 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. The FBI refused to release information beyond the official press release, citing security and agent privacy issues. 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. The case was dismissed by the U.S Supreme Court.
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.
In the aftermath of his death, the United Nations 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)".
- Oscar López Rivera
- List of famous Puerto Ricans
- Boricua Popular Army
- White Eagle: the Wells Fargo depot robbery
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