A Transformed Force

Against the Current, No. 121, March/April 2006

Felix Cordova Iterregui

The following essay is a translated and edited version of a recent op-ed piece by Félix Córdova Iturregui, a veteran socialist activist, member of the Taller de Formación Política and the Frente Socialista de Puerto Rico, and ex-President of the Association of University Professors of the University of Puerto Rico. In this essay, he argues that the massive popular demonstrations after the assassination of Machetero (Popular Puerto Rican Army) leader, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, occurred in a context where U.S. institutions, particularly the FBI and the U.S. military, are in a rapid period of deterioration, which is being particularly felt in its colony, Puerto Rico.

The mass movement against neoliberal privatizations in Puerto Rico, the widespread opposition that stopped the U.S. Navy’s live fire trainings in Vieques, the popular support that forced the freeing of a number of political prisoners, and the solidarity expressed at the killing of a militant independence leader like Filiberto are, therefore, part of the increasing collapse of U.S. imperialism’s hegemony. In this context the death of Filiberto has helped to galvanize the various anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in Puerto Rico. —Saulo Colon

THE SOCIAL RESONANCE of Filiberto Ojeda’s death has been sufficiently strong to consider it an extraordinary event. The FBI operation against Filiberto Ojeda was intended to send a message to Puerto Rican society, but instead they have received a surprising response. While we can hardly exhaust all that has arisen in relation to the FBI operation, it is worth at least underlining some of what has taken place.

The FBI’s action occurred in an historical context that has seen the accentuated loss of prestige by U.S. military and intelligence agencies. In the conscience of the people of Puerto Rico, the death of Filiberto Ojeda echoes the death of David Sanes in Vieques. The latter was an accidental death, according to the U.S. Navy, but there was no serious attempt to investigate the events or to establish responsibility.

It was never known who exactly dropped the bomb on David Sanes’s guardpost, the same way that we may never know who shot, and let bleed, Filiberto. Both deaths reveal the actuality of imperialism and the democratic illusion of Puerto Rico’s “colonial citizenship.”

The death of David Sanes created a powerful movement that not only forced the U.S. Navy to leave Vieques, but to also close down one of their bases. However, we should not forget that the mobilizations against the American military apparatus occurred only after the people of Puerto Rico refocused all the energy that they had put against the privatization of the telephone company. The outcome could not be denied: a significant loss for the military apparatus that invaded Puerto Rico in 1898.

The People’s Anti-Privatization National Strike coincided with the end of the first century of America’s colonizing of Puerto Rico, and from that eventually unsucessful strike came the energy to expel the U.S. Navy. Later, the continual erosion of United States hegemony was furthered with the invasion of Iraq.

Our country [Puerto Rico] observed how U.S. imperialism went to war against world public opinion, in open disregard to the United Nations, relying on falsified and altered reports from its intelligence bodies. The criminal war against Iraq did not receive broad support from any segment of the Puerto Rican population. Since its beginnings, it was frowned upon and added to the loss of prestige of American intelligence services, like the FBI, present in Puerto Rico.

The non-existence of weapons of mass destruction has been proven in Iraq as the total falsity of the secret reports used by the Bush administration to justify the aggression. Each time that a dead body reaches Puerto Rico because of that war, increasing sectors of the working class and poor are saddened and angered.

The recent hurricanes have also contributed to weakening the hegemonic image of the United States. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have shown the negligence of the empire against its own poor inhabitants, have made visible its own internal frontiers, and have made us all acutely aware of the continual injustice and disregard by the government when it deals with Blacks. However, the loss of hegemony is not something that is seen from a distance. It is felt every day as it hits the pockets of the working class of Puerto Rico, manifesting itself in the current fiscal crisis of the colony.

The Free Associated State [or “Commonwealth,” as Puerto Rico is officially known in English] depreciates every day in the conscience of the inhabitants of the island. This depreciation is intimately related to 15 years of aggressive neoliberal policies that favor multi-national corporations and corruption by business leaders and local politicians.

The death of Filiberto has to be analyzed in this context of profound loss of credibility, by both the colonial government and its metropole. In this manner we can understand why the FBI operation has been considered by our society, in a unanimous manner, as an assassination. This appreciation, in itself, represents a deep transformation of the social environment of Puerto Rico.

A Collective Reaction

The worse slap in the face that the FBI received was the collective reaction to the death of Filiberto. The presence of Filiberto’s corpse, first in the Ateneo [a long-time institute for the advancement of Puerto Rican culture] and then in the Puerto Rico Bar Association, and the decision by the administration of the University of Puerto Rico [to let its students attend the funeral], gave an air of officialdom to the right to assist the burial. It was a broad recognition of the legitimacy of the independence struggle that Filiberto Ojeda represented.

However, the definitive blow to U.S. imperialism was given by the massive presence of our people during the funeral activity. Filiberto was taken to his tomb by what was a truly people’s movement. The militant character of the human mass that mobilized to the cemetery was the most zealous repudiation of the FBI action in Puerto Rico. That day, the people wanted to transform the death of the fighter into a symbol of the durability of our national struggle, of the legitimacy of his will, and the predictable defeat (ousting) of the agency that executed him and the Empire they represent.

What must have gone through the mind of the agents in charge of the FBI in Puerto Rico? Did the support given to the fallen fighter surprise them? It is difficult to think that, given the insensibility of the colonizing oppressor, they could have foreseen that their persecuted subject, who had evaded the authorities for the past fifteen years, could have obtained such intense popular support.

New Life in the Struggle

The operation, broadly seen as an assassination, far from eliminating Filiberto Ojeda, delivered him as a hero to the youth. The Lares (independence struggle commemoration) activity was extended that day until the late hours of the night, and at the protest in front of the Federal Court, it was inspiring to observe the massive presence of youth.

“Was Filiberto dead?” breathed through the young lungs throughout the country that night. Since then, new blood is in the movement in Puerto Rico. Never has the colonial domination seem so aged in Puerto Rico. Never has the hegemony of the empire seemed so decrepit, or has there breathed in the island such a rapid aging of the statehood movement.

It was truly pathetic to listen to the leadership of the New Progressive Party (pro-statehood) express with jubilation the acquittal of one of their functionaries, comparing the persecution of the statehooders with that of the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda. The contrast itself is a measure of the level of corruption of the statehood leadership: while one side is splattered with blood and sacrifice, the other is carpeted with money that was illegally obtained. Their reaction lays something bare: U.S. hegemony has been greatly weakened in Puerto Rico.

The sacrifice and consistence of Filiberto in Puerto Rico served as a fundamental stimulus for the struggle; but his was not the program to defeat imperialism. The construction of that program is a task for all the forces that want to build a better society.

This assassination by the FBI is an exampleof the existence of colonial power over all Puerto Ricans. In times of crisis, during the deterioration of the conditions of life for the working class, the empire establishes a high price for threatening its legality as guarantor of the billions of dollars in profits by its multinational corporations.

Only the most honest dialogue among the anti-colonial forces can deepen the resonance of the sacrifice of Filiberto Ojeda. With the advance of the struggle, we will win a larger space in the heart of his people, and the U.S. imperialists will know, with increasing certainty, that with this vile assassination, they have lost the future.

ATC 121, March-April 2006