A small group of protestors gathered at the corner of Sixth and Market streets on Friday to protest a recent FBI mission that killed fugitive and political activist Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.
FBI agents confronted Ríos on Friday, Sept. 23, at his house in Puerto Rico. Shots were exchanged between Ojeda Ríos and authorities in which one agent was wounded and Ojeda Ríos was killed. He had been wanted by the FBI for 15 years after escaping from U.S. custody in 1990. Ojeda Ríos claimed responsibility for a robbery at the Wells Fargo Depot in West Hartford, Conn., in 1983. He and his accomplices stole $7.2 million.
Captured in 1988, he was freed on bond, and in 1990, Ojeda Ríos had his electronic tracking band removed. The FBI claimed that Ojeda Ríos coul have possibly been armed and dangerous and considered him a severe threat.
The killing and capture of Ojeda Ríos came just three days prior to a visit to Temple from Alicia Rodriguez, another Puerto Rican activist and former prisoner.
In 1980, Rodriguez was arrested along with her sister for “seditious acts of conspiracy” against the American government. At the age of 26, she was sentenced to 85 years in prison. President Clinton granted her clemency in 1999.
Today, Rodriguez continues to speak against the U.S. presence in Puerto Rico. Rodriguez was scheduled to speak to students last Monday to discuss her life experiences. When she heard of Ojeda Ríos’s death, she returned to Puerto Rico.
An assembly of more than 50 people across the street from the city’s Justice Byrne Federal Courthouse chanted, “USA, Out of Puerto Rico!” The protestors held signs, cardboard cutouts and a large banner that read, “Filiberto Lives in the Heart of the Town.”
The nonviolent protest also consisted of a small group of musicians singing songs while others danced. Though the mood appeared lively at times, their messages against the U.S. handling of the Ojeda Ríos case were strong.
Many ethnic Puerto Ricans attended the rally, carrying the flag of their homeland. Protestors called FBI agents assassins, and said “they murdered [Ojeda Ríos] in cold blood.” Other activists shouted, “Death to U.S. imperialism.”
The protestors actually represented a significantly small group of Puerto Rican nationals. In a 1998 vote, only 2.5 percent of Puerto Ricans said they wanted complete independence from the United States.
Odinga Mukhtar, a protestor, sided with the desire for independence.
“African American people totally support the independence of Puerto Rico, and we will fight,” Mukhtar said. “The indigenous people fought for us on the plantations. The Western hemisphere belongs to them. A victory for us is a victory for all.”
There were also a few young protestors in the crowd, ranging from grade school children to college students. The younger ones in the crowd chanted, “FBI, shame on you! Are you going to kill us, too?”
Jose Diaz, a freshman at Temple, attended the rally with his father and some friends. He sympathized with the people of Puerto Rico.
“It’s a complicated matter,” he said. “Many support the United States in Puerto Rico, but this is a matter of cultural identity for the protestors. The fact that they shot him once and let him bleed to death is a slap in the face to the Puerto Rican people.”
Temple’s Gamma Phi Sigma “Hermanos Unidos” Fraternity, Inc. was also a strong supporter of the protest. Fraternity President Eric Cortes said in an e-mail that the Temple community should be informed about Ojeda Ríos’s killing and the protest, since October is Latino Heritage Month.
Chris Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.