Puerto Rican nationalists accept clemency
WASHINGTON (AP) - Twelve of 14 jailed Puerto Rican nationalists
agreed Tuesday to a politically sensitive clemency deal offered by
President Clinton but opposed by his wife, prospective Senate candidate
Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The Puerto Ricans, jailed on weapons and sedition convictions, are
members of pro-independence guerrilla groups that carried out a wave of
bombings in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s.
The nearly month-old offer is conditioned on statements from each
independence activist pledging not to engage in violence if released. The
activists had until Friday to take or leave the deal.
Two imprisoned activists are expected to reject the clemency offer, the
White House said. Two others who are not in jail have another week to
respond. If they agree to the White House terms, their fines will be
''The president expects all those who accept the conditional clemency
grant to abide fully by its terms, including refraining from the use or
advocacy of the use of violence for any purpose and obeying all the
statutory conditions of parole,'' White House press secretary Joe Lockhart
said in a statement.
At a news conference in San Juan, activist leader Luis Nieves Falcon
confirmed that 11 members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation
and one leader of the Macheteros separatist group had accepted the
three-week-old offer even though it required them to formally renounce
violence and agree not to associate with felons.
But two of those who accepted Clinton's clemency offer defended their
past actions Tuesday in prison interviews with KGO-TV in San Francisco.
''If your country is a colony, be it a declared war or undeclared war,
have the right to pick up arms and that is what I chose to do,'' said Dylcia
Pagan, serving a 55-year sentence in the federal prison at Dublin, Calif.
Ida Luz ''Lucy'' Rodriguez, who is serving a 75-year sentence at the same
prison about 30 miles east of San Francisco, said members of the Armed
Forces of National Liberation considered themselves patriots, not
''I guess if George Washington would have lost to the English, history
would have treated him as a terrorist,'' she said.
Zenaida Lopez, whose brother, Oscar Lopez Rivera, is serving a 55-year
sentence and is one of the two prisoners who didn't sign the agreement,
said: ''He feels that renouncing violence, accepting what they are offering,
is like a prison without a prison.''
The Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by its Spanish initials
FALN, carried out more than 100 bombings in the United States between
1974 and 1983. The bombings killed six and wounded dozens. The
imprisoned nationalists were not convicted in any of the bombings but
were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and possession of weapons and
The clemency offer has divided the first family and brought criticism from
both Republicans and Democrats.
''I think there have been many who have sought to inject politics, and
who have thought to inject a motive here, and all I can say is that they're
wrong,'' Lockhart said at his daily briefing for reporters.
Hillary Clinton, a potential candidate for a Senate seat from New York,
has urged the president to rescind the proposal. ''It's been three weeks
and their silence speaks volumes,'' the first lady said over the weekend.
Republican critics and some law enforcement officials asserted the
president's clemency offer was originally designed to help his wife win
votes among New York's 1.3 million Puerto Ricans.
Lockhart sidestepped a question about whether White House strategy had
backfired, and noted that a clemency deal was under discussion long
before Mrs. Clinton began considering the 2000 Senate race.
Some Democrats, including the senator Mrs. Clinton would replace,
Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have called the clemency deal a bad
idea. Now that Mrs. Clinton has spoken out, Democrats who cheered the
clemency deal are calling her a turncoat.
''I am disappointed. I am angry,'' said Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., said.
''And frankly, I view her and her candidacy differently after reading reports
of her comments and actions. I would be a hypocrite if I did not.''
Howard Wolfson, spokesman for Mrs. Clinton's exploratory campaign,
said the first lady ''understands that her friends feel very strongly about this
issue, but she stands by her statement.''
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., complained that the attention paid to
Mrs. Clinton's statement distracted attention from serious discussion of the
prisoners' cases and their cause.
''She is on a listening tour, isn't she?'' Velazquez asked at a Manhattan
news conference. ''I would advise her strongly to continue, and to come to
our community to see what the issues are.''
Mrs. Clinton called a summer of campaign-style visits to New York cities
and towns a listening tour.
Velazquez said she got a call from the White House attempting to further
explain Mrs. Clinton's position. Velazquez was asked if the call was an
attempt to apologize, explain or clarify Mrs. Clinton's statement.
''All of the above,'' she replied.
All were convicted of seditious conspiracy and related charges unless otherwise noted:
Edwin Cortes, 35 years
Elizam Escobar, 60 years
Ricardo Jimenez, 90 years
Adolfo Matos, 70 years
Dylcia Pagan, 55 years
Alberto Rodriguez, 35 years
Alicia Rodriguez, 55 years
Ida Luz Rodriguez, 75 years
Luis Rosa, 75 years
Juan Segarra Palmer, 55 years for conspiracy, bank robbery and transportation of stolen money
Alejandrina Torres, 35 years
Carmen Valentin, 90 years
Prisoners who didn't accept clemency offer:
Oscar Lopez Rivera, 55 years
Carlos Alberto Torres, 70 years