“While thousands of Puerto Ricans on the island/nation of Puerto Rico were commemorating El Grito de Lares, our national day of revolutionary struggle against Spanish colonialism, and were listening to the annual message of our Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios, the feds chose to begin their attack on his home. This was not a routine arrest of a “criminal”. On the contrary, it was a planned military assassination of one of our most important leaders in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence.”
– Dylcia Pagan former Puerto Rican political prisoner & prisoner of war
On September 23rd of 1868 in a mountain town of Lares in the center of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico a few hundred men and women led a revolt for independence against Spanish colonial rule. Since Columbus first landed on the island and “claimed” it as a possession of Spain in 1493 there has been a resistance to imperialism. The first struggles were waged by indigenous Taino populations and as the Spanish brought African slaves to the island they joined the Tainos and built communities around their resistance that were known as Cimarones or Maroon communities.
The mixture of Taino, African and European blood and culture had created something new and in the 1850’s Puerto Ricans began to act on seeing themselves as a distinct nation. The man who was known to have been the catalyst for this new paradigm shift into nationhood was Ramon Emeterio Betances. He planned and led the revolt on Spain in September of 1868 and because he did, he’s known as the father of the Puerto Rican nation. Although the revolt of September 23rd of 1868 better known as El Grito de Lares (the Cry of Lares), failed at it’s goal of achieving independence, in the short term, it galvanized support for independence and in the long run put Puerto Rico on the road to autonomy and independence from Spain. The failed uprising inspired other Puerto Ricans to organize for their independence and to protest against . There were times when the protests escalated into battles as was the case in Las Marias , Adjuntas, Utado, Vieques, Bayamon, CIeles and Toa Baja. And it’s for this reason that September 23rd of 1868, El Grito de Lares, will forever be known as the birth of the Puerto Rican nation.
Over time the Spanish were forced to make concessions and give Puerto Rico more and more autonomy. In 1898 just as Puerto Ricans were on the verge of negotiating their complete autonomy from Spain the Spanish-American War broke out and Puerto Rico went from being a colony of Spain to being a colony of the US.
In December 1898 the US took control of Puerto Rico and has since then been trying to justify the colonization to Puerto Rican’s, the world and itself. The resistance to Puerto Rico’s colonization that began with Spain continued with the US. In the 1960’s Puerto Rican independence leader Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios began organizing clandestine armed organizations like MIRA, Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario Armado the Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement and the FALN, Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional the Armed Forces Of National Liberation and the EPB Ejercito Popular Boricua the Puerto Rican Popular Army that would use military means to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence. Filiberto was the father of the clandestine armed movement for the liberation of Puerto Rico. All of these groups were considered terrorist groups by the US and Filiberto was a fugitive of US law enforcement and one of the top most wanted men by the FBI.
In 2005 on the 137th anniversary of El Grito de Lares while Puerto Ricans gathered to commemorate the birth of their nation (albeit one still struggling with colonialism) the FBI had found Filiberto. He had been living clandestinity in Puerto Rico for 15 years and throughout those 15 years he frustrated US law enforcement by giving radio and television interviews and writing articles for the newspapers and magazines about the colonial situation in Puerto Rico. On every Grito de Lares, Filiberto would send a message to the crowds that gathered to commemorate El Grito in Lares. While the crowd gathered to hear speakers and poets and musicians in Lares the FBI had Filiberto’s home in the small mountain town of Homigueros just a few miles away, surrounded.
The FBI started a shootout and Filiberto defended himself by returning fire. In the gun battle Filiberto shot and wounded an FBI agent. It was one man against 300 FBI agents. The FBI brought in a special sniper team that shot and wounded Filiberto. The FBI refused to give him medical attention and as he bled the pre-recorded speech he sent to Lares played. The FBI waited over 24 hours to approach Filiberto and as they waited the 73 year old man bled to death.
Filiberto’s assassination outraged Puerto Ricans. Even Puerto Ricans who didn’t believe in independence or didn’t agree with Filiberto’s decision to use violence in furtherance of independence were outraged by the circumstances of his death. Filiberto’s funeral was the largest funeral in Puerto Rican history. The route from the church to the cemetery was lined with Puerto Rican men, women and children every step of the way waiting to catch one last glimpse of him, yelling slogans of support for Puerto Rican independence and accusing the FBI of assassination. The trip from the church to the cemetery should have been 25 to 30 minutes but it took ten times that amount of time, it took five hours because the streets were clogged with people paying their last respects to a hero who had sacrificed everything for his people and their freedom.
Dylcia Pagan, herself a former member of the FALN and former US held Puerto Rican political prisoner and prisoner of war noted that the assassination of Filiberto on El Grito de Lares, a national Puerto Rican holiday, was not just an attempt to assassinate Filiberto but an attempt to destroy the spirit of the Puerto Rican independence movement. Filiberto’s assassination by the FBI was a message meant to discourage those who fought for Puerto Rico’s independence but it backfired. Instead of discouraging the Puerto Rican people they created another martyr to the cause of Puerto Rican liberation and what began with a birth on September 23rd of 1868 and survived an assassination attempt on September 23rd of 2005, continues today. Instead of destroying everything that El Grito de Lares stood for, the US government created it’s own Grito de Lares.
¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre y Soberana! ¡Filiberto Vive!
The designs above are Limited Editions that were for done for RICANSTRUCTED, a design company that’s dedicated to supporting Puerto Rican independence. The designs were done to commemorate both El Grito of 1868 and El Grito of 2005. The first design is of Ramon Emeterio Betances marks the 143rd anniversary of the uprising and the birth of the nation. The second design is of Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios who was assassinated by the FBI in an attempt to destroy the idea of nationhood for Puerto Rico and it marks the 6th anniversary of his death. The designs are limited to 25 each and are available on Men’s and Women’s standard weight T-shirts and on organic unisex T-shirts. On September 23rd people will gather in Lares once again to renew their resistance and to remember the sacrifices made for a nation that still seeks it’s freedom, get a shirt, plan a trip to Puerto Rico and join Puerto Ricans and other freedom loving supporters of Puerto Rican independence and let your voice be heard.