Oct 10, 2005
On September 23, the FBI killed Filiberto Ojeda, age 72, in a shootout in a small farm town in western Puerto Rico. Ojeda, who had been living in Puerto Rico for fifteen years while being sought by the FBI, was the founder of a Puerto Rican nationalist group, the Macheteros (Machete men).
According to the New York Times, "Though Mr. Ojeda Rios was a controversial figure on the island, his death in a shootout with FBI agents last week in Hormigueros, PR, has outraged Puerto Ricans of all political stripes, not just the small fraction who support independence, but also those who embrace the island's status as an American commonwealth and even those who want it to be a state."At his wake in the capital San Juan, there was a line several blocks long, and at his funeral in his hometown hundreds crowded the cemetery. People blocked major highways in San Juan. Even the government of Puerto Rico said his house would be turned into a museum and the street leading up to it would be named for him.
Ojeda was a nationalist. His organization at one point turned to terrorism, substituting the armed actions of a small group for the fights of the population. If people came out in response to his killing, it was not because they supported his organization or his ideas. It's because of what the killing showed about the heavy hand the U.S. still wields over Puerto Rico.
Part of the reason for popular indignation was the day on which he was killed, September 23rd. It is an important Puerto Rican holiday, the date of an unsuccessful rebellion against Spanish rule. The anger was also over the way he was killed. After a stakeout, the FBI came to his door and a shoot-out erupted. The FBI airlifted an agent who had been shot to a hospital, leaving Ojeda, who had also been shot, behind. The FBI prevented anyone from entering the house for 20 hours. The autopsy said Ojeda slowly bled to death but would have lived if he had received proper medical assistance.
The incident was a reminder that Puerto Rico does not control its own destiny.