lundi, septembre 25, 2006

Actualité - A Year After the FBI Murder: Filiberto Ojeda, Lares Still Inspire Puerto Rican Struggle

The flag of Lares, symbol of Puerto Rico's struggle for independence.

September 23 is among the most symbolic dates celebrated in Puerto Rico. Known as El Grito de Lares, this revolutionary holiday commemorates an 1868 rebellion, centered in the town of Lares, against chattel slavery and Spanish colonialism. Today, even the U.S. colonial government is compelled to give limited recognition to the holiday by closing public schools and government offices.

But after 2005, the day has new significance. In an outrageous act of colonial arrogance, the FBI chose the date to try to shatter the fighting spirit of the Puerto Rican masses by assassinating one of the most revered leaders of the struggle for Puerto Rico's independence, Filiberto Ojeda Rios.

The 1868 Uprising

El Grito de Lares -- the cry of Lares -- commemorates the day when an army of insurgents made up of former African slaves, city workers, peasants and other social layers that made up colonial Puerto Rican society, charged the city of Lares to wage battle against the hated Spanish military garrison.

At the town plaza, the people gathered to celebrate the defeat of their Spanish oppressors. With their weapons raised, the freedom fighters declared the Republic of Puerto Rico. They shouted for the first time the now solemn words: "¡Que viva Puerto Rico libre! Long live a free Puerto Rico!"

That uprising was ultimately crushed by Spanish colonial authorities. But El Grito de Lares marks the affirmation of the Puerto Rican people as a nation and the moment of definition for their struggle to achieve political independence and the right of self-determination from foreign colonial domination.

For the Spanish rulers at the time, this uprising represented the gradual decline of Spain as a colonizing power -- especially with rebellions taking place in its other colonized lands, such as Cuba and the Philippines.

The colonial rulers in Washington, who have dominated the island ever since U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico in 1898, view this holiday with nothing but disdain, knowing that the annual celebration symbolizes the proud and rebellious traditions of the Puerto Rican masses.

The Assassination of Filiberto Filiberto Ojeda Rios

Throughout Puerto Rico, many believe that the FBI chose the anniversary of El Grito de Lares to attack Filiberto Ojeda Rios' home and assassinate him out of the U.S. government's hatred for the Puerto Rican independence movement.

Filiberto inspired many activists and liberation fighters in Puerto Rico and across Latin America. He devoted his life to the national liberation struggle of Puerto Rico. An anti-imperialist fighter, he was a socialist who believed that the capitalist system was the root cause of the plight of the Puerto Rican people.

He had great affection for Cuba. During his 15 years living underground, Filiberto frequently traveled there, preserving a centuries-long tradition between freedom fighters and revolutionaries from the two countries.

Filiberto founded and led the clandestine-military group known as the Boricua Popular Army (EPB), also known as Los Macheteros. For many years, the Macheteros carried out acts of armed propaganda to draw worldwide attention to the criminal presence of the United States in Puerto Rico.

Last year, as Puerto Rican independence activists prepared to commemorate the 137th anniversary of the uprising in the city of Lares, 300 heavily armed FBI agents and sharpshooters surrounded the house in the town of Hormigueros, where Filiberto and his wife, Beatriz Rosado, lived. Given the heavy show of force, Filiberto was aware of the FBI's intentions.
He managed to negotiate the safety of Beatriz, who evacuated the house with her hands raised to then be arrested. Filiberto did not surrender and chose instead to stay behind and fight.

Using high-power military automatic weapons, as helicopters encircled Filiberto's home from above, the FBI launched an all-out assault. Although outnumbered, Filiberto fought back in a manner that demonstrated the same national dignity as those who fought against colonial oppression in Lares 137 years earlier.

Filiberto was shot through the shoulder during the gun battle, but not before he managed to critically wound an FBI agent in the stomach. As the Machetero leader lay wounded on the floor, the FBI encircled the house but chose not to enter.

People in the town of Hormigueros tried to get close to Filiberto's home, but were blocked by the FBI. Residents with medical credentials offered to provide emergency assistance to the wounded Filiberto, but they were rejected and pushed away by FBI agents.

The wound that Filiberto had sustained in his shoulder was not life threatening. He died not from the wound itself but from loss of blood.

Filiberto's death could have been prevented. The logic of the FBI must have been that it was better for a revolutionary to die bleeding than to survive and continue the struggle. Since the assassination of the Machetero leader, it was disclosed that the FBI could have easily avoided the bloodshed. New York Daily News reporter, Juan González, revealed on Oct. 6, 2005, that a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer provided FBI agents with precise information about the restaurant where Filiberto frequently came to eat and the house where he lived, weeks before the attack.

By killing the anti-colonial leader on the day celebrated by the full spectrum of the independence movement and Puerto Rican society as a whole, top Justice Department and FBI officials aimed to send a message to anyone opposing the U.S. presence on the island.

But the U.S. colonial forces' assassination unleashed the opposite reaction to what the FBI expected. Militant actions erupted across the island expressing outrage against the political murder of the Machetero leader. The quest for independence gained prestige among the youth. International support for Puerto Rico's independence struggle increased in the face of such blatant colonial arrogance.

Wider layers of Puerto Rican society -- even elements who support statehood and the colonial status quo -- began to question the FBI's presence in Puerto Rico. Human rights organizations, along with members of Congress and the U.S.-installed colonial government of Puerto Rico, have been pressured to condemn the FBI's actions and call for an investigation of the circumstances in Filiberto's death.

These mainstream and bourgeois circles, however, had always been silent about the FBI's role in Puerto Rico as an agency of colonialism. What compelled them to voice the mildest disapprovals of the FBI assassination of Filiberto were the thunderous expressions of outrage from the Puerto Rican people.

The FBI did not commit a "procedural mistake" on Sept. 23, 2005, in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, as some apologists have claimed. The assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Rios was the direct consequence of U.S. colonial policy. Murder and imprisonment have historically been the punishment for outspoken leaders who dare to challenge U.S. domination. Since the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898, violence has been used to scare the populace away from the independence cause.

The opposite resulted from Filiberto's assassination. What the U.S. rulers will soon learn is that the murder of the Puerto Rican freedom fighter served them no real purpose. The peoples' movement will eventually force the demise of U.S. imperialism. U.S. assassins may have taken the life of the beloved and respected Puerto Rican revolutionary leader, but in the end, his assassination will undermine the colonial power in the island.

Because Filiberto Ojeda Rios died defending himself from the maliciousness and violence of the colonial oppressor, his death has given the annual Sept. 23 commemoration of El Grito de Lares an added meaning. That will give greater strength to the struggle for a free Puerto Rico.

(Socialism and Liberation Magazine - Carlos "Carlito" Rovira)

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