Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

POLITICS-PUERTO RICO: U.S. Authorities Hunt Revolutionary Leader

Carmelo Ruiz

SAN JUAN, Feb 10 1999 (IPS) - The United States law enforcement authorities have raised the bounty on the head of fugitive Puerto Rican leader, Filiberto Ojeda by more than 300 percent but they may still have a hard time apprehending the man who has evaded them for the past 10 years.

For as soon as it was announced that the reward for his capture had moved from 150,000 to 500,000 dollars hit the Puerto Rican press, Ojeda was quick to respond, implying that any Puerto Rican who collaborates with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would be putting his or her life in danger.

“We warn those who would pretend to make a fortune by being paid chotas (informers) that there’s not a nation in the world that does not penalise treason,” a taped message sent to the press from Ojeda said.

Observers say that message is likely to drive fear into anyone attracted by the reward money and who had any intention of turning in the fugitive.

According to reports from the FBI, in 1967 Ojeda formed a terrorist group called MIRA, which bombed several hotels, department stores and government buildings between 1969 and 1971.

In October 1970 he was arrested. However, he disappeared and went underground shortly after being released on bail.

He was not heard of again until Aug. 30 1985, when he was re- arrested. In August 1989 he was acquitted of all charges.

But before freeing him, the FBI attached an electronic bracelet to him which would allow them to keep track of his movements. He was also ordered to testify at a trial of suspects in the United States who were accused of robbing seven million dollars from an armoured truck in the American state of Connecticut.

In September 1990, before he was due to testify, Ojeda discarded the electronic bracelet and went back underground. He was sentenced in absentia to 55 years in prison. He has been a fugitive ever since.

“Filiberto is in his land, where he has a right to be. The FBI’s attempt to buy consciences is an offence to all Puerto Ricans,” declares Rafael Cancel-Miranda, longtime member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.

Cancel-Miranda spent 25 years in an American prison for his participation in an armed attack against the U.S. congress in 1954.

In a press release, the Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, a leading pro-independence organisation, states that the FBI’s renewed zeal in capturing Ojeda is an attempt to shift public opinion away from the release of Puerto Rico’s political prisoners.

The independence movement is campaigning for the release of 15 Puerto Ricans held in American prisons for being members of the Macheteros and the Armed Forces of National Liberation, described as revolutionary groups.

“This repressive operation (the search for Ojeda), as well as Washington’s refusal to release our political prisoners and the increase in the U.S. military’s presence in Puerto Rico show that the U.S’ intention is to keep control over our country,” says Julio Muriente, President of the New Independence Movement (Nuevo Movimiento Independista).

William Abreu and Linda Backiel, two lawyers who represented Ojeda in the past, told a local weekly here that they are convinced that the FBI intends to kill Ojeda rather than capture him alive.

“The renewed persecution against Filiberto Ojeda could be the beginning of a repressive campaign against the Puerto Rican Independence Movement.

“This generalised persecution will include no doubt eavesdropping on phone conversations, (FBI) visits to workplaces and schools in order to intimidate, and other sophisticated forms of harassment used in the past against the Puerto Rico Independence Movement,” adds Muriente.

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