An unprecedented legal challenge to the dominance
that the US has exerted over its Caribbean colony
for over a century, the court action reflects
growing anger within the Puerto Rican population
as a whole over the strong-arm tactics exercised
by Washington, employing the methods of the war
on terrorist against its nationalist opponents on the island.

The case stems from the September 23, 2005 raid
carried out by the FBI against the home of
Filiberto Ojeda Rios, founder of the militant
independence Macheteros group in the southwestern municipality of Hormigueros.

At least 100 agents backed by helicopters and
military sharpshooters surrounded the home where
Ojeda, 72, and his wife were living. Ojeda,
convicted in absentia of having participated in
the planning of a $7.3 million armored car
robbery in Connecticut in 1983, was a well-known
political figure who regularly addressed
pro-independence meetings and rallies by means of recorded messages.

After wounding him in a shootout, the FBI
cordoned off the area surrounding the house,
refusing to allow in emergency medical personnel,
attorneys and even the Puerto Rican police. He
was left to slowly bleed to death on the floor of
his home over the course of many hours.

Outrage over the killing was heightened by the
FBI’s decision to launch the raid, dubbed
“Operation Order" on the 137th anniversary of
the “Grito de Lares" which marked the beginning
of the struggle for independence from Spanish
rule and which is commemorated each year as a
milestone in the struggle against colonialism.

The methods used in the raid strongly suggested
that the FBI’s aim was to carry out an extra-judicial execution.

The case filed by the Puerto Rican Department of
Justice charges US Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller and other
officials with an "unjustified, arbitrary,
illegal and unconstitutional denial of the
demands to reveal information that is materially
necessary to complete the local criminal
investigation into the violent death of Mr. Filiberto Ojeda Rios"

In a press conference announcing the suit, filed
exactly six months after the FBI killing in
Hormigueros, Puerto Rican Justice Secretary
Roberto Sanchez Ramos declared, "Faced with the
repeated and inexplicable refusal of the FBI to
cooperate it was necessary to bring these charges
in seeking to have the federal court oblige the
FBI to carry out its legal duty to cooperate with
the Justice Department of the ELA [Estado Libre
Asociado (Free Associated State, the formal title
given to Puerto Rico’s colonial status)"

The FBI has denied requests by the Puerto Rican
justice officials to interview agents involved in
the raid and has refused even to identify them.
It has also stonewalled the authorities in San
Juan over their request for documents related to the raid and its planning.

In a related case, the FBI has also refused to
make available or even identify its agents who
were involved in a violent and unprovoked attack
on reporters and bystanders during a raid on the
home of a Puerto Rican independence activist in
Rio Piedras, one of several carried out on
February 10. That incident, which was videotaped
and broadcast on local television, saw armed
paramilitary agents shoving and kicking members
of the local news media, spraying them with
pepper gas and beating some of them after they had been forced to the ground.

While the FBI claimed that the raids were
initiated to thwart a “domestic terrorist
no evidence of such an attack was
forthcoming and none of the targets of the raids
were arrested. The Puerto Rican government said it was aware of no such threat.

The Puerto Rican justice department issued the
local federal prosecutor and FBI chief with
subpoenas for information in this case, prompting
federal authorities to go to court demanding that the subpoenas be thrown out.

The case filed by the Puerto Rican government is
based on the premise that it has the authority to
conduct its own criminal investigation into the
actions of federal authorities and that the
federal government is obliged to cooperate.

Federal authorities, however, have treated the
demands with contempt. A spokeswoman for the
local US attorney told the San Juan daily El
Nuevo Dia, "We don’t have time to listen to
[Sanchez Ramos’s]"
press conference because we are
working actively to combat crime in Puerto Rico.
The reaction reflects the reality of Puerto
Rico’s colonial status as well as the general
conviction of the Bush administration that it can
act with impunity in carrying out police-state
measures. The US government has carried out
political repression, harassment and imprisonment
of independence supporters in Puerto Rico for
many decades, and now feels emboldened to conduct
even more aggressive actions in the name of the war on terror.

To be sure, the challenge of the Puerto Rican
government amounts to a rebellion on its knees.
This was made clear Monday with the appearance of
the island’s representative in Washington before
a hearing convened by Democrats on the House
Judiciary Committee into the controversy over the FBI’s actions.

The representative read out a statement from
Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila. “We
have been and continue to be, willing partners of
any federal agency in pursuing the war against
terrorism and protecting the safety of our
Acevedo Vila said in the statement. "It must be clearly stated that in no way does the
Commonwealth [of Puerto Rico] wish to impinge on
any FBI investigation related to domestic
terrorist activity nor to infringe on the FBI’s ability to do its job."

The Acevedo Vila administration’s concern over
the FBI’s police-state tactics is that they are
throwing into sharp relief the real colonial
status of Puerto Rico and the fundamental
impotence of the commonwealth government. A
member of the Partido Popular, Popular
Democratic Party (PPD), which favors continuing
Puerto Rico’s present status, Acevedo Vila’s
concerns have been heightened by apparent moves
in Washington to stage another referendum on the island’s political future.

Last December, a White House task force initiated
by the Clinton administration and continued under
Bush proposed a two-stage vote, with the first
round offering a choice between maintaining the
current commonwealth, or moving to a new
permanent status. If the latter choice is
supported by a majority, a second round would be
held to choose between independence and becoming the 51st US state.

The proposal, which implicitly recognizes the
current status as an illegal colonial
relationship, also calls for holding periodic
votes in the event that no permanent status is chosen.

The PPD has charged that this arrangement
implicitly favors statehood and has sought to
enlist US Congressional Democrats to push for an
alternative plan that would call a
“constitutional convention" in Puerto Rico to
decide the nature of the referendum

Supporters of Puerto Rican independence,
meanwhile, have charged that the FBI repression
is directed at suppressing their movement in advance of any such referendum.

Under the current commonwealth arrangement,
Puerto Rico’s nearly 4 million people are denied
many of the political rights and benefits of US
citizenship. While serving in the US military and
suffering disproportionate casualties, with at
least 50 Puerto Ricans having been killed in
Iraq they are denied the right to vote for
president and have no representation in the US Congress.

With almost no notice in the US media, the US
Supreme Court last week rejected an appeal
seeking to grant Puerto Ricans the right to vote
in presidential elections. The decision was handed down without comment.

In addition, while a narrow layer constituting
the local financial and business elite has
profited off of the commonwealth arrangement, the
bulk of the island’s population lives in poverty,
with income levels less than a third of the US
average. Annual per capita income on the island
currently stands at $12,000, half that of Mississippi, the poorest US state.

These conditions have pushed many to leave the
island for the US, where the population claiming
Puerto Rican background has grown steadily,
reaching some 3.2 million according to recent census data.

The FBI repression has struck a deep chord within
the Puerto Rican population, leading to major
protests and widespread expressions of outrage.
Throughout the island political slogans have been
painted along the roadside declaring “No to the
FBI murders, no to the colony" and “Wanted, for murder, the FBI."
During the recent World Baseball Classic in San
Juan, demonstrators lined the road to the stadium
for a half a mile carrying signs denouncing the
FBI repression and many wearing T-shirts bearing
the face of the assassinated Ojeda Rios.

Anger over the killing and the raids is fed by
mounting discontent over the social crisis in
Puerto Rico, characterized by a continuing
decline in manufacturing jobs, an uninterrupted
attack on the large state sector and growing social polarization.

None of the choices proffered in the proposed
referendum offer a solution to this crisis. Even
if the majority were to vote for statehood, it is
highly unlikely that the US Congress, which would
have to amend the constitution to annex the
island as a state, would act on such a mandate,
given opposition within the ruling establishment
to the increased expenditures such a change would
entail as well as right-wing hostility to
incorporating a Spanish-speaking territory.

Despite broad sympathy for the independence
movement based on hostility to colonial
subjugation, there is considerable reluctance to
embark upon the project of forging an independent
Puerto Rican nation, both because of the
dispersal of much of the population to the US and
because of the failure of other mini-states in
the Caribbean to achieve any genuine independent development from imperialism.

The only way forward in putting an end to
political repression and social inequality on the
island lies in the social struggle of Puerto
Rican working people in alliance with workers
throughout Latin America and in the US itself.
This combined struggle must be armed with a
socialist and internationalist perspective
independent of all of the competing bourgeois
factions and based on the fight for the United
Socialist States of the Americas.