The killing of a fugitive Puerto Rican nationalist in a shootout with the FBI has sparked “rancor and rage” and prompted an increase in security at police stations and federal buildings, the island’s police chief said Wednesday.
It’s too early to know if the slaying of Filiberto Ojeda Rios will spark a resurgence of pro-independence violence seen in the U.S. territory between the 1970s and 1990s, but officials said they’re taking no chances.
“You always take precautions when there are threats, but until now we haven’t received any specific information about planned acts of violence,” Puerto Rico police chief Pedro Toledo said.
Thousands of mourners, many waving Puerto Rican flags and singing revolutionary ballads, turned out Tuesday for Ojeda Rios’ funeral, four days after he was shot to death by FBI agents who came to arrest him at his farmhouse in southwestern Puerto Rico for the 1983 armed robbery of a Wells Fargo depot in Connecticut.
The militant nationalist group led by Ojeda Rios, the Macheteros, or Cane Cutters, vowed to avenge the slain leader’s death in a statement read to mourners by the funeral’s master of ceremonies.
“Yankees murderers, your days are numbered! ... The fight will continue now and until the Yankees leave our soil,” read the letter, which was signed by a Commander Guasabara “from somewhere on the island.”
The FBI said they shot the 72-year-old after he opened fire on agents, but later announced an independent probe into the shooting after local officials questioned the bureau’s handling of the incident and Ojeda Rios’ widow, who escaped from the farmhouse unharmed, said the FBI fired first.
Burning American flags
The shooting sparked isolated street demonstrations in which some protesters burned American flags and defaced two McDonald’s restaurants with graffiti.
The latest backlash against the U.S. government is the largest since an errant bomb killed a civilian guard on the island of Vieques in 1999. That incident sparked several years of protests, eventually prompting the U.S. Navy to abandon bombing exercises there in 2003.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton canceled a planned visit to the island where she was to speak Friday, Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said. Phone calls and e-mails to Reines with further queries on why she changed her plans were not immediatley returned.
Chamber of Commerce President Ernesto Cordova said he was told by Clinton’s office that the trip was postponed the trip because of the “sensitivity of the current political situation.”
Toledo acknowledged Ojeda Rios’ death has generated “a lot of rancor and rage” but strongly rejected the idea that ordinary citizens would support acts of violence in favor of independence.
“There can be repudiation over what happened, but acts of violence, the people won’t accept that,” Toledo said.
Nevertheless, authorities have increased security at U.S. government buildings, said Jose A. Fuste, the president of the island’s Federal District Court, told El Nuevo Dia newspaper.
Most of the island’s 4 million people either support keeping Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. commonwealth or making it the 51st U.S. State.
The Macheteros have been linked to several violent acts between 1978 and 1998, the most notorious of which was the 1983 robbery of $7.2 million of the Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Conn. The group also was accused of blowing up nine airplanes at a U.S. military base in northern Puerto Rico in 1981.