Ojeda’s assassination gives fresh impetus to the independence struggle
BY ROSE ANA DUEÑAS—Special for Granma International—
CAPITALISM creates its own gravediggers, as Karl Marx and Frederich Engels explained in the Communist Manifesto. And the U.S. government, in its latest attack on the Puerto Rican people’s struggle to free themselves from U.S. colonial rule, has not only revealed how alive that struggle is, it has given it new impetus.
After the FBI assassinated long-time independence fighter Filiberto Ojeda Ríos on September 23, rage exploded among Puerto Ricans and others everywhere, whether or not they identify themselves as independentistas (pro-independence). Some 300 agents surrounded the 72-year-old’s home in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico – supposedly to arrest him for the 1983 robbery of an armored car –, refused his offer to turn himself in to a well-known journalist, shot him and left him to bleed to death.
Thousands demonstrated against this murder, both on the island and in the United States itself, where more than 1 million Puerto Ricans live. Thousands of people attended Ojeda’s wake and funeral, and students and others took down the U.S. flag from various points around the island in protest.
"Filiberto was a fighter for Puerto Rico in every way, completely committed to the struggle for independence by any means necessary, and they wanted to eliminate that symbol," said Rafael Cancel Miranda, a Puerto Rican nationalist leader who spent almost 27 years in Yankee jails for fighting for independence, and who spoke in an interview with Granma International. "They think that by doing so, they can kill the struggle for independence¼ they are trying to terrorize the people, to make them afraid."
In 1898, the United States invaded and seized Puerto Rico, a strategically valuable colony – or "commonwealth," as it is euphemistically referred to. Just like the Spanish colonialists before it, U.S. imperialism extracted most of the island’s wealth, and used its people as a cheap source of labor, treating them in a racist, degrading manner. For many years, Puerto Ricans were forced to speak English and salute the U.S. flag, and the distorted one-crop sugar economy obligated many to immigrate to Florida, New York and elsewhere to survive. Puerto Rican women were forcibly sterilized and Puerto Rican men were used as cannon fodder in U.S. wars.
The island was turned into the biggest U.S. military base in the hemisphere, a launching pad for U.S. military aggression in the region and beyond, and after World War II, the smaller island of Vieques, part of Puerto Rico, became the northern power’s most important land/sea training grounds. Live bombs and chemical weapons were tested there, despite untold damage to inhabitants’ health – like an extremely high cancer rate– and the environment.
"U.S. imperialism controls our country socially, politically, and economically. We are a militarily occupied country - we're saturated by U.S. military bases. (¼ ) They control the mass media. They control our schools. They indoctrinate us from the time we're children. They tell you who to hate and who not to hate. They can even indoctrinate you to hate yourself," Cancel Miranda noted in a 1998 interview with The Militant newspaper.
But the Puerto Rican people have always struggled and resisted. Ojeda was executed by the FBI on September 23, the anniversary of Grito de Lares, the revolutionary 1868 uprising against the Spanish celebrated by Puerto Rican patriots every year.
From the start, the Puerto Rican independence struggle was linked with Cuba’s, as Cuban national hero José Martí stated in 1892: "The Cuban Revolutionary Party is constituted in order to gain ¼ the total independence of Cuba and to encourage and assist that of Puerto Rico."
"Because of its culture, its history, its traditions, and especially because of the express will of its people, Puerto Rico is a Latin American and Caribbean country, with its own national identity, which the Puerto Rican people have known how to maintain despite the colonizing process they have been subjected to," noted Rafael Dausá, Cuban Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1998, speaking before the UN Special Committee on Decolonization.
Every year, Cuba speaks in favor of Puerto Rico’s decolonization, and for six consecutive years, the committee has approved a resolution to that effect, which is always ignored by the U.S. government, just as it ignored UN resolutions against South African apartheid, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, and its own 44-year-old blockade against Cuba.
Instead, the U.S. government and its servile colonial administrators have always repressed the independence struggle. The FBI framed up and jailed Nationalist Party founder Albizu Campos in the 1930s, Rafael Cancel Miranda and his comrades in the 1950s, and the Hartford 15 – which Ojeda was accused of being part of – in the 1980s, among others. Puerto Rican political prisoners have always been given the worst treatment, just like that given to the five Cuban revolutionaries being held in U.S. prisons today.
Three Puerto Rican freedom fighters – Oscar López Rivera, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Haydée Beltrán – are still in U.S. dungeons after 25 years. Two more – José Pérez González and José Velez Acosta – have been held since 2003 for their protests against U.S. military control over Vieques.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the FBI and CIA spied on tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans, putting them on "subversive" lists, and disrupting their organizations through the infamous Cointelpro operation. Federal cops were complicit in the 1978 police executions of two young independentistas at Cerro Maravilla. Just last year the FBI raided the headquarters of the water workers union in San Juan in the midst of a hard-fought strike.
Despite the repression, a mass campaign to free the Puerto Rican political prisoners won a victory in 1999 when President William Clinton released 11 of the 17 held at the time, and the mass struggle to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques finally won in 2003. During these years, the Puerto Rican people have expressed over and over that they are a nation:
— In 1996, 100,000 people demonstrated in La Nación en Marcha (The Nation Marching) to protest against Puerto Rico becoming a U.S. state and against colonial Governor Pedro Roselló’s statement that "Puerto Rico is not and has never been a nation."
— In 1997 and 1998, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets against the privatization of the telephone company in what became a general strike, chanting "Puerto Rico is not for sale!"
— In 2000, more than 85,000 marched to oppose the U.S. Navy in Vieques, and that same year, some 40,000 turned out for the Grito de Lares commemoration.
— In 2003, thousands celebrated in the streets when the U.S. Navy officially ended its presence in Vieques.
Cancel Miranda explained that the U.S. government tried to hurt the Puerto Rican independence struggle by killing Ojeda, who shot back in self-defense as FBI cops fired more than 100 rounds.
"They thought they could strike fear into the Puerto Rican people. But they have not been able to do so for more than 100 years. They have massacred us ¼ they have persecuted us, they have jailed us – not by ones and twos, but by thousands – and they have not been able to defeat us. We have not been able to remove them from our national territory, but neither have they been able to defeat us, and Filiberto has given us a living example of that," he said.
"They think that by eliminating him, they are eliminating the struggle, the cause he defended, but against that, against ideas, there is no possible weapon."