The Miami Herald
September 9, 1999
Boost for Puerto Rico independence unlikely

 SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- (AP) -- Puerto Ricans are hailing the imminent release
 of 11 nationalists imprisoned for weapons possession and sedition -- but their
 freedom isn't expected to bolster the cause of Puerto Rican independence.

 The nationalists, members of pro-independence guerrilla groups that carried out a
 wave of bombings in the United States in the 1970s and '80s, on Tuesday
 accepted a clemency deal offered by President Clinton.

 A 12th nationalist -- jailed in connection with a $7.1 million Wells Fargo robbery in
 1983 to fund the separatist Machetero group -- accepted a deal that would free
 him in five years. Juan Segarra Palmer had been sentenced to 55 years jail.

 The 11 others should be released in a day or two, according to their spokesman,
 Luis Nieves Falcon.

 Part of the deal, however, requires them to renounce violence and refrain from
 associating with convicted felons, a stipulation that would technically bar two
 prisoners -- sisters Alicia and Ida Luz Rodriguez -- from seeing each other.

 Activists expressed indignation at the conditions and pledged to continue
 pursuing independence.

 ``I fear there will continue to be more political prisoners as long as Puerto Rico
 remains a colony,'' said Nieves Falcon.

 Jan Susler, a lawyer for the prisoners, emphasized that her clients would not
 abandon their beliefs.

 ``These men and women went to prison for the same thing that Nelson Mandela
 went to prison for,'' Susler said in Chicago. ``They are political people who intend
 to become involved in the political, nonviolent process to shape the future of their

 However, despite widespread support for the unapologetic militants -- widely
 regarded by Puerto Ricans as political prisoners -- it seems unlikely that the
 clemency deal will lead to a renewal of violence or greater support for

 Less than 3 percent voted for independence in a referendum on Puerto Rico's
 political status nine months ago. Fifty percent supported the position of the
 commonwealth party, while 46 percent voted for U.S. statehood.

 Nationalists believe support for independence could grow if Washington withdrew
 support for Puerto Rico's commonwealth status.

 As a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico's 3.8 million islanders are U.S. citizens.
 They can serve in the military and receive billions in aid from Washington but pay
 no federal taxes, cannot vote for president and have only a nonvoting delegate in

 Rafael Cancel Miranda -- pardoned in 1979 by President Carter for a 1954
 shooting attack on the U.S. Congress -- said a century of U.S. colonialism has
 imbued islanders with a fear of independence, but ``that deep-seated fear would
 disappear if'' Washington would transfer power.

 He said support of the prisoners was proof of an undercurrent of strong
 nationalism in the Spanish-speaking island.

 Most of the prisoners belonged to the Armed Forces for National Liberation,
 known by the Spanish acronym FALN. Several belonged to the Macheteros. The
 FALN was involved in some 130 bombings in the United States that killed six and
 wounded dozens from 1974 to 1983. The Macheteros targeted U.S. property on
 the island.

 The imprisoned nationalists were not convicted in any of the bombings but were
 found guilty of seditious conspiracy and possession of weapons and explosives.
 Eleven were serving sentences ranging from 35 to 90 years. The Clinton
 administration said the sentences were too harsh.

                     Copyright 1999 Miami Herald