The killing of a fugitive Puerto Rican nationalist in a shootout with the FBI has brought a new chill to Puerto Rico's uneasy relationship with the United States, even prompting threats of retaliation from a radical faction of the independence movement.
Officials say 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 during the 1970s and 1980s, but acknowledge they're beefing up security around police stations and federal offices just in case.
"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. "If something happens, we'll investigate and bring those responsible to justice."
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.
The shooting prompted angry comparisons to the 1993 government siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and sparked isolated street demonstrations in which some protesters burned American flags and defaced two McDonald's restaurants with graffiti saying "FBI murderers!"
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 since the protests but haven't received any specific threats, said Jose A. Fuste, the president of the island's Federal District Court.
"With everything happening in the streets, we have a contingency plan to defend federal property against any attempt to cause damage," Fuste told El Nuevo Dia newspaper in its Wednesday edition, AP reported.