Puerto Ricans Clinton Freed Leave Prisons
September 11, 1999 - Dirk Johnson - The New York Times
CHICAGO -- After vowing to renounce terrorism, 11 members of a Puerto Rican nationalist
group walked out of Federal prisons
around the country on Friday, freed under an act of clemency by President
Clinton that sparked a political firestorm in Washington and in the Senate race in New York.
"I'm elated that I'm free, here
with my family," Ricardo Jiménez,
one of the released prisoners, told
reporters as he left a Federal prison
in Terre Haute, Ind., in a gold-colored
Those released belonged to the
Puerto Rican independence organization F.A.L.N., which was responsible for 130 bombings in the late 1970's
and early 1980's. None of those granted clemency, however, had been convicted of crimes that resulted in
death or injuries, the White House
A Puerto Rican nationalist group
staged a celebration and rally tonight in Chicago, where Mayor Richard M. Daley and police officials
have been highly critical of the President's act of clemency.
"It was wrong then; it's wrong
today," Daley said earlier this
week of the crimes committed by the
Puerto Rican nationalists. He said
Clinton was wrong to grant clemency without consulting local police
officials, and he said he would ask
the Federal Bureau of Investigation
to keep abreast of the two released
prisoners who say they plan to live in
Others among those released were
said to be going to Puerto Rico.
"I'm sure that we'll be received as
patriots in our country, not the criminals we've been labeled as in the
United States," Edwin Cortés told
The Associated Press before he
boarded a plane to San Juan, P.R., at
the airport in Harrisburg, Pa. He had
spent 16 1/2 years in the Federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa.
"I hope," Cortés said, "to follow the examples, if I could say, of
Nelson Mandela, Gerry Adams and
Yasser Arafat, who are also labeled
as criminals and terrorists but in the
minds of their people were patriots.
Today, they are considered international statesmen."
At the rally in a mostly Puerto
Rican neighborhood in Chicago, Alberto Rodríguez, talking about the
F.A.L.N. members left behind in
prison, told the cheering crowd, "I
am happy, but my happiness is shattered."
"When I walked out of the Terre
Haute penitentiary this morning, I
left behind a very beautiful person,"
he said, referring to Oscar Lopez
Rivera, who rejected the offer of
clemency, calling him "my comrade,
my friend, my family."
At the rally of about 200 people on
Division Street, Puerto Rican flags
were pasted to utility poles and the
sounds of a mariachi band filled the
chilly September night.
Annie Gonzalez, a Methodist minister in the crowd, described the release of the prisoners as "incredible."
"It meant a lot to the community,"
Ms. Gonzalez said.
Charges against the F.A.L.N.
members stemmed from three cases
in Illinois and Connecticut in the early 1980's. Eight of those released
today were convicted of seditious
conspiracy, weapons charges and
other counts after being arrested in a
stolen van in the Chicago suburb of
Evanston in 1980. They were charged
in connection with the armed robbery of a car rental agency in Evanston and were charged with plotting
another armed robbery.
Three others were among those
convicted of seditious conspiracy
and other charges in connection with
what prosecutors said was a 1983
plot to bomb two military installations in Chicago.
Juan Enrique Segarra-Palmer,
who had his sentence reduced and
will be paroled in five years, was
convicted of planning the robbery of
a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford in 1983, with plans to use the $7.1
million stolen for the militant Puerto
Rican group Los Macheteros.
Nine of the 14 F.A.L.N. members
who were offered clemency had lived
in Chicago. Two refused to renounce
terrorism and will remain in prison.
comes from the Spanish initials for Armed Forces National Liberation.
In granting clemency, Clinton
said the members, who were serving
sentences of up to 90 years, had been
given punishments that were disproportionate to their offenses.
move has drawn angry criticism,
including outrage from some law-enforcement officials.
Chicago's police superintendent,
Terry Hillard, denounced the release
this week, saying it made a mockery
of the law.
"We say we are not going to negotiate with terrorists," Hillard
said. "Are we going to let the Unabomber go now?"
Critics of Clinton have accused
him of releasing the prisoners to help
his wife, Hillary, win support among
Puerto Rican voters in New York,
where she is considering a bid for the
Senate. In the face of criticism from
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New
York City, who is weighing a bid for
the Senate as a Republican, Mrs.
Clinton called on the President to
rescind his clemency offer, a move
that infuriated some Hispanic leaders in New York.
"I'm still angry," said Representative Jose E. Serrano, Democrat of
the Bronx, "and I've heard nothing to
change my mind."
Groups that called for the release
of the prisoners have hailed the newfound freedom of the F.A.L.N. members, but nonetheless criticized the
terms of the clemency agreement as
Under the agreement, those released cannot associate with one another. Two of the 11 prisoners released today, Alejandrina Torres and
Alberto Rodríguez, have said they
plan to live in Chicago. The others
plan to move to Puerto Rico.
"This is a long overdue homecoming," said Lin Velazquez, a spokeswoman for the National Committee
to Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, based in Chicago. Despite
what she called the "horrible conditions" of the clemency agreement,
Ms. Velazquez said "supporters and
family members urged them to accept" because "we want them
Antonio Camacho-Negrón, rejected the clemency with Rivera. No
offer of clemency was made to Carlos Alberto Torres, who is serving a
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