SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- (AP) -- Puerto Ricans are hailing the
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
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
``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
abandon their beliefs.
``These men and women went to prison for the same thing that Nelson
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
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
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
support for Puerto Rico's commonwealth status.
As a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Rico's 3.8 million islanders are
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
nationalism in the Spanish-speaking island.
Most of the prisoners belonged to the Armed Forces for National
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 imprisoned nationalists were not convicted in any of the bombings
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