Justice Dept. exonerates FBI in Puerto Rico killing

People from different sectors of Puerto Rican society are criticizing a report issued last week by the inspector general of the Justice Department, that absolves the Federal Bureau of Investigation of any wrongdoing in the killing of independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios.

Ojeda, who was 72 years old and suffered from heart problems, was shot by FBI agents and left to bleed for 18 hours in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 23 of last year.

People are especially angry that the report cites the FBI agents involved in the attack with pseudonyms instead of their actual names, except in the case of five high-ranking officials.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) cleared the FBI even though the OIG said the decision to attack Ojeda’s residence was “flawed” and they “found problems in the decision-making.” The OIG said at least five shots directed at Ojeda were not properly accounted for, but that it was “unable to determine whether they were fired in compliance with the Deadly Force Policy” of the Justice Department.

The report also admitted that Ojeda, who was regarded by the FBI as a fugitive from justice, attempted to give himself up by having Jesús Dávila, a reporter for the New York City daily El Diario-La Prensa, serve as an intermediary.

While the FBI has said it was planning to arrest Ojeda in the early morning hours of Sept. 24, instead of Sept. 23 — the latter being Grito de Lares, the anniversary of the 1868 Puerto Rican rebellion against Spanish colonialism — the report says the FBI planned to capture him as he attended the Grito de Lares celebrations.

Another inconsistency in previous FBI statements and the report shows that the federal agents threw a “flash-bang” grenade toward the house on the day of the raid, which resulted in Ojeda firing back. Previously, the FBI said they opened fire only after Ojeda fired first. Flash-bang grenades produce an intense explosion and blinding light.

Manuel Rodriguez Orellana, secretary for North American relations for the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said the report was “an admission which is tantamount to a justification for murder.” He also criticized the colonial administration in Puerto Rico for “doing nothing to protect the life of a Puerto Rican patriot.”

Dr. Hector Pesquera, co-chair of the Hostos National Independence Movement, agreed with Rodriguez, saying the FBI “came to kill” Ojeda.

In an interview with El Nuevo Dia, Edgardo Ojeda Serrano, Ojeda’s son, blamed Luis Fraticelli, the head of the FBI office in San Juan, for the death of his father. He charged Fraticelli denied his father medical assistance for 18 hours.

While the pro-independence organizations protested the report, they were not the only ones to do so. In an editorial, the pro-statehood daily newspaper El Nuevo Dia called for the firing of Fraticelli.

On another issue dealing with the FBI in Puerto Rico, the federal agency cleared itself of violation of civil rights charges rising from the Feb. 10 raid on the homes of pro-independence activists in Puerto Rico. The FBI was accused of violating the rights of journalists who were sprayed with pepper spray as they covered the raid in Rio Piedras, near San Juan.

Puerto Rican Secretary of Justice Roberto Sanchez Ramos said his office will continue to investigate the FBI’s role that day. Sanchez Ramos has complained that the FBI has refused to give his office information he deems necessary to continue his investigation and has filed a suit in federal court to force the FBI to cooperate.