Puerto Rico:

Filiberto and the Workers

Aballarde Rojo

On September 23, 2005 a death squad of some 100 FBI agents surrounded the home of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos in Hormiguero, Puerto Rico and fired more than 100 rounds into it. After opening the door an FBI sniper fired one shot at close range and mortally wounded Filiberto. He was denied medical assistance as the FBI watched as he bled to death. The murder took place 15 years to the date after Filiberto removed an electronic bracelet from his ankle and returned to a life of clandestine resistance to the US occupation of Puerto Rico. Filiberto was the leader of the Macheteros (Machete Wielders) a clandestine organization which defends the right of Puerto Rico to be independent and which during the 1980s carried out a series of military actions against US forces including the killing of two soldiers and the wounding of several others in Sabana Seca, the destruction of various military aircraft at the Muñiz Air Base and the expropriation of $7 million from a Wells Fargo truck in Connecticut. In 1985 another squadron of FBI agents descended upon his home in Luquillo and Filiberto defended himself with two weapons. In a federal trial, a jury declared him innocent by reason of self defence. He was free on bail pending other accusations when he removed the electronic bracelet.

The article below is a translation of the editorial from issue no. 2 of Aballarde Rojo (Red Ant), a monthly newspaper published in Puerto Rico from a working class perspective.

The immense majority of those of us who form the working class in this country reject instinctively and deeply the cynical way in which the FBI lynched this Puerto Rican. It is not because we are completely in agreement with the ideas to which he dedicated his whole life. Simply, he was a Puerto Rican who did not accept the present state of affairs and he opposed them regardless of the consequences. There is not a worker who is satisfied with our situation in Puerto Rico. We may not agree in how things should be changed, and we are still divided as to what changes we see as absolutely necessary. But the immense majority of those of us who work for a wage to precariously maintain a decent standard of living are convinced that this can not last much longer, and that changes have to come. This is not to speak of the unemployed, or those who have a job that no longer pays enough for gas, or of those condemned to permanent unemployment. There is a massive army of the discontented whom the privileged are exploiting mercilessly, and they will inevitably react with defiance.

In that sense, there is a little of Filiberto in every worker.

Those on top will tremble when those below awaken. Those who rule in this country know this. They know it better than we do. Their power, their management of the economy, their political rule, and their paid experts, precisely, so that they anticipate what is coming, already know that things are going to get worse, much worse. And their plans are for us, those who have nothing except our ability to work, to pay.

Under normal conditions, the privileged, those who do not suffer the consequences of a deep economic crisis, seem calm and secure from the approaching storm. It would pass as in New Orleans. The rich would take refuge in protected areas, with their huge bank accounts, their properties and investments outside of the country, while we workers would drown in the economic chaos.

But the last years have not passed in vain. The uncontrolled orgy of corruption and looting by which the oligarchy – local and foreign – has divided up the resources of the country, has robbed the workers of the illusion that the Government and the political parties can be instruments of social justice. Now nobody is deceived. It is a question of ‘everyone for himself’ and, of course, the rich have the lifeboats, while the poor have to swim with the sharks. They robbed us. They have distributed the loot. But in the process, these rulers have lost all appearance of legitimacy. Who today believes in electoral politics?

The system of electoral parties, which for so long has kept the masses divided into tribes of different colours, is melting like ice cream in the sun. That is the nightmare of those who up to now have been able to rule, who have counted on the obedience of those of us who work so that this country can function.

The privileged, when they are frightened, are dangerous. The murder of Filiberto Ojeda Rios is a warning to all of us – not only to the independentistas. When the shit hits the fan, the powerful will try to continue to rule by force.

And now?

The lynching of Filiberto shook all the social strata of the country. His closest followers have to feel the wrath that leads to repression. In our popular culture, the ability to make the aggressor pay with serious consequences is an important source of respect. We workers are aware of that reality. If the action is bold and just, the people will understand it as inevitable and necessary.

Beyond the direct action of Filiberto’s followers, however, we have to ask how this murder affects the struggles of the Puerto Rican working class. The more immediate way is that, just when intense days of struggle between broader sectors of the working class and the owners and their representatives in Government, the problem of the colonial relation between the United States and Puerto Rico is uncovered violently. The duty of those of us who are committed to the struggles of the workers is to promote the unity of the working class in each phase of its confrontations with its enemy, the bosses. That unity in the struggle will be the basis on which the working class will develop its position solidly regarding the solution of the colonial problem. Without that class unity, we will remain stuck in the same one mud.

Another inescapable matter is that of the methods of struggle, specifically the use of violence. The murder of Filiberto is a clear demonstration that the powerful have no problem using violence to suppress those who fight against them. That propensity towards violence on the part of the powerful, when they see their privileges in danger, is part of the historic record. In that context, what is of most importance is whether we workers should respond in the same way. It would be suicidal to propose that the working class should try to change the conditions that oppress them, if it renounced beforehand its right to respond with force to the bosses’ violence.

Labour power

What differentiates us workers in Puerto Rico from the fighters of other social classes who are also calling for change in the existing social relations is not the acceptance of the use of force to counter the power of the lethal weapons of the enemy. The difference is in how we organise ourselves to fight the enemy, the bosses, and who exercises force against the violence of the enemy.

As a natural result of the revival of the class struggle, there are increasing calls for the creation of a party that responds to the short, medium and long-term interests of the workers in Puerto Rico. Aballarde Rojo joins in that call. That workers’ party, opposed to any alliance with the bosses’ interests, will be a magnificent expression of the power of the workers. In a demonstration of its strength, the workers’ party will clash with the bosses’ organisations, and must be prepared because the owners will use all available force, including the power of the State, which has never been a neutral agent in these historic confrontations. This preparation means nothing other than being able to meet force with force, in a disciplined way, and with a leadership knowledgeable in the techniques and tactics of security and self-defence.

That mission leads us to consider a militant collective type of struggle organised very differently from the armed action of individuals or small groups.

The use of force as a resource of the working class is the product of its own organisation, as a class, of its own political power, and of the mobilisation of the enemy, the bosses, trying to crush them. It arises like a natural phenomenon, inevitably, from the contention between the privileges of the owners and the need of the workers to shake off their oppression.

That phase of class confrontation is in the future. It is an essential condition that the majority of the working and marginalised masses be convinced that a just society will never be achieved if the rapacious enemy which today maintains the workers under its system of oppression is not defeated.

The murder of Filiberto has shaken the entire society. The workers of Puerto Rico respect his dedication to their cause and his willingness to fight to his last breath. His sacrifice helps us to grasp more clearly the moment in which we find ourselves.

And that is a great step forward.

Translated from the Spanish by George Gruenthal

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