For his last fifteen years, Ojeda Ríos was wanted as a fugitive by the FBI for his role in the 1983 Wells Fargo depot robbery in West Hartford, Connecticut, as well as a bail bond default in September 1990. Ojeda Ríos was killed on 23 September 2005 when members of the FBI claim they attempted to serve an arrest warrant on him, after surrounding the house in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico where he was hiding. The FBI operation has raised questions both in and outside Puerto Rico.
The killing of Ojeda Ríos has been mourned by members of the Puerto Rican Independence movement, who have expressed their indignation through repeated protests. Members of the statehood movement and supporters of the Commonwealth have also joined in the criticism of the federal and local handling of this incident. In late March 2006, the Puerto Rico Justice Department sued federal authorities, including FBI Director Robert Mueller and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, seeking an injunction to force the federal government authorities to provide the Commonwealth government with information related to the operation in which Ojeda Ríos died, as well as another one in which the FBI searched the homes of independence supporters affiliated with Los Macheteros. The lawsuit was dismissed in the summer of 2007.
In 1967 he founded and led the very first of Puerto Rico's new militant political groups, the Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement (Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario Armado). MIRA was disbanded by police in the early 1970s and Ríos was arrested. He subsequently skipped bail and moved to New York, where he cofounded the Armed Forces of National Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) (FALN) with former MIRA members as a membership base. In 1976, Ojeda Ríos founded the Boricua Popular Army (Ejercito Popular Boricua), also known as Los Macheteros (The Machete Wielders), named after the sugar cane harvesters, who use machetes to cut the canes.
Los Macheteros have been alleged to be either directly or indirectly responsible for numerous acts of terrorism and bombings in Puerto Rico and the mainland United States. The group has claimed responsibility for several incendiary and explosive incidents, including an explosion at Frances Tavern, a historical tavern located in New York City, which killed those inside the building and injured other bystanders. The group was involved in the assassination of a Puerto Rican policeman who refused to surrender his car. The group was responsible for nearly 120 bombings in the United States between 1974 and 1983.
On September 12, 1983, Los Macheteros stole approximately $7 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Connecticut. The money obtained from this operation was allegedly used to help fund the Puerto Rican independence movement, but there is ample evidence that a significant portion of the stolen funds -- a minimum of $2-$3 million -- was funnelled to Cuba through their embassy in Mexico City by one of the members of Los Macheteros.
In 1985, 19 members of Los Macheteros were indicted for offenses associated with the Wells Fargo heist. Ojeda was captured as part of an FBI operation that took place following two years of surveillance on the group. In the operation a group of twenty-four agents protected by bulletproof vests, entered the building where Ojeda had his residence. The agents received assistance from a group of snipers located on adjacent buildings and a helicopter. When Ojeda noticed the presence of the agents he fired a sub-machine gun at them and threatened to kill anyone that tried to reach the building's second floor. In the meanwhile Ojeda's wife Blanca Iris Serrano burned documents in the apartment's bathroom. When the agents tried to climb the ladder to reach the building's second floor Filiberto opened fire against them injuring one of them, at this moment one of the snipers disarmed him with a bullet giving the other agents enough time to arrest him.
Ojeda Ríos was released on bond after his attorneys claimed he had been denied a speedy trial, although the delay in bringing him to trial was largely the result of defense motions. Ojeda cut off the electronic monitoring device that had been placed on his ankle as a condition of his release, and became a fugitive. Fourteen of the 19 defendants were convicted after trial; one was acquitted. Charges against another were dismissed. Three, including Ojeda and Victor Manuel Gerena, were able to elude authorities. In July 1992, Ojeda Ríos was sentenced in absentia to 55 years in prison and fined $600,000 for his role in the Wells Fargo heist.
In 1998, Rios recorded a public statement where he accepted responsibility for an explosion on the construction site of a public project. In this statement he declared that the Macheteros were the authors of the incident, and that they accepted all responsibility for their actions. Ojeda expressed that they accepted responsibility for the explosion directly because in the past the police has supposedly created false evidence against the organization. On July 18, 1998, Ojeda admitted that the Macheteros planted bombs at several banks throughout the course of the 1998 Puerto Rican General Strike. The interview was broadcasted on WKAQ-AM, a local radio station. The reportes that conducted the interview declared thet they were blindfolded and transported to Ojeda's hideout where the interview took place. Filiberto warned the United States Navy that if the military practices on the island of Vieques continued, the group would take action. This was made public on an interview with WIAC that took place on 7 December 1999. In the interview he declared that the Macheteros "were going to pay close attention to what happened in Vieques" and that the US government "knew they were serious".
No clear evidence has emerged to prove who fired the first shots. According to Ojeda's wife, Elma Beatriz Rosada Barbosa, as well as neighbor Héctor Reyes, it was the FBI agents who initiated the shooting at 3:00 pm. The FBI press release, however, claims that "as the FBI agents approached the front of the farm house at approximately 4:28 p.m., Ojeda-Rios opened the front door to the residence and opened fire on the FBI agents . . . . In response to the gunfire from Ojeda-Rios, the FBI returned fire and established a defensive perimeter in order to contain the environment."
Rosada has alleged that Ojeda offered to turn himself in to journalist Jesús Dávila, but that his offer was rebuffed by the agents, who feared he would take the journalist as a hostage.
The Commonwealth Police Superintendent, Pedro Toledo Dávila, confirmed through a local news radio station, WAPA Radio, that the former Most Wanted fugitive was dead. The Government of Puerto Rico also confirmed the news. However, the FBI did not confirm Ojeda's death until the next day, when it contacted the Governor of Puerto Rico to give the confirmation.
Ojeda-friendly political parties in Puerto Rico have criticized the handling of this altercation. Among the aspects objected to are the very date of September 23. On this date in 1868, at the village of Lares, a group of Puerto Rican revolutionaries launched a rebellion against the then-ruling Spanish colonial authorities with a declaration, the Grito de Lares ("Cry of Lares"). Although the rebellion was quickly suppressed, the anniversary of the uprising is commemorated by Puerto Ricans and it has been chosen by the independence movement as a rallying point. Ojeda Ríos was renowned for picking anniversaries of the Grito de Lares to make statements to his followers from undisclosed hideouts.
The current Governor of Puerto Rico Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, has criticized the FBI assault as "improper" and "highly irregular" and has demanded to know why his government was not informed of it. The FBI has refused to release any information beyond the official press release, citing security and agent privacy issues and an ongoing internal investigation. Nevertheless, the Puerto Rico Justice Department filed suit in federal court against the FBI and the US Attorney General, demanding information crucial to the Commonwealth's own investigation of the incident.
Governor Acevedo Vilá has also argued that Ojeda's death was bound to cause political turmoil on the island and has decried the refusal to allow the local news media to cover the operation. Nevertheless, he refused calls from pro-independence organizations to declare an official period of mourning.
The morning of the day after the gunshots were fired, federal agents once again approached the home. They found Filiberto Ojeda Ríos dead. The autopsy revealed a bullet had entered Ojeda's body below the right clavicle and exited through his lower back. The bullet lacerated one of his lungs but did not damage any arteries or major organs. The forensic investigators and his doctor, Héctor Pesquera, speculated that this was not the type of wound that would have killed Ojeda immediately. The evidence suggests, and the autopsy concluded, that he bled to death. At the time of death, Ojeda was wearing a bulletproof vest and wore camouflage pants and a camouflage hat.
Ojeda's body was found lying face down, just outside the door of the home. Forensic investigators found a pistol to his right, along with over 20 bullet casings strewn around the scene, including some AR-15 shells. The investigators observed two bullet holes with entry points outside the residence, next to the main entrance door. At the rear of the residence another bullet hole was found, apparently the exit point of one of the rounds.
Documents were discovered burning in a cement "fogón," a type of cooking fireplace. Local authorities were not allowed inside the residence until more than 27 hours after the beginning of the hostilities.
The FBI has stated they opened fire against Ojeda Ríos after one of their agents was shot. A perimeter was then established by the local police and no one but law enforcement officers was allowed to enter the area by land or air. A local news crew attempting to cross the perimeter in a helicopter was warned off.
During the operation to capture Ojeda, his wife was arrested and a federal agent received a wound to the stomach, said the FBI. Elma Beatriz Rosado, Ojeda's widow, was released from federal custody the afternoon of September 24. She said his last words when she left him alive were pa’lante siempre (forever onward).