Puerto Rico nationalist leader killed in shootout with FBI
September 24, 2005
HORMIGUEROS, Puerto Rico – A Puerto Rican nationalist wanted in a 1983 robbery of an armored truck in Connecticut was shot and killed by FBI agents in a shootout, ending the fugitive’s 15 years on the run, the bureau said Saturday.Filiberto Ojeda Rios, 72, fired on the agents Friday from a farmhouse in the western Puerto Rican town of Hormigueros, said Luis Fraticelli, the special agent in charge of the FBI for the U.S. island territory.”He opened the front door of his house and opened fire on the agents,” Fraticelli said at a news conference amid protests from pro-independence Puerto Ricans who accused the FBI of mishandling the arrest.Ojeda Rios had been on the run since 1990 when he cut off an electronic monitoring bracelet and went into hiding while awaiting trial for the robbery of $7.2 million of the Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Conn.The robbery is considered an act of domestic terrorism because the money was used to fund activities by the Puerto Rican nationalist Macheteros, or Cane Cutters. Only about $80,000 of the $7 million has been recovered.Ojeda Rios, a hero in the independence movement, was convicted in absentia in 1992 on charges of robbery, conspiracy and transportation of stolen money and sentenced to 55 years in prison.The United States seized Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote for U.S. president, have no voting representation in the U.S. Congress and pay no federal taxes.Most Puerto Ricans are split between those who support making the island a U.S. state and those who favor keeping its status as a U.S. commonwealth. A small but vocal minority supports independence.Three other men remain fugitives in the robbery, including Victor Manuel Gerena, a former Wells Fargo guard who allegedly injected two other guards with a sleeping substance to facilitate the robbery. He is on the FBI’s most-wanted list.One man imprisoned in the case, Juan Segarra Palmer, was granted clemency by President Clinton in 1999.The FBI said agents arrested Ojedo Rios’ wife, Elma Rosado Barbosa, who was unharmed. She was released Saturday evening from a federal prison outside the capital of San Juan, said her lawyer, Julio Fontanet. She was not charged and was freed unconditionally, he said.Independence activists hailed Ojeda Rios as a martyr whose death would unify their marginalized movement.”I always said that when they went to arrest him, they would have to kill him,” said Juan Mari Bras, a veteran independence leader.Independence Party President Ruben Berrios condemned the FBI’s actions as “shameful.”The Macheteros have been largely inactive for more than a decade. The group also claimed responsibility for the 1981 bombing of 11 military planes at a U.S. National Guard base in Puerto Rico. Two marines were killed.In hiding, Ojeda Rios sometimes granted interviews to Puerto Rican reporters, always appearing in traditional Caribbean guayabera shirt.He died on the anniversary of a failed 1868 rebellion against Spanish colonial rule in the western town of Lares. Ojeda Rios traditionally distributed a recorded speech to mark the anniversary.The FBI earlier this year increased a reward for information leading to Ojeda Rios’ capture from $500,000 to $1 million.