Chicago Tribune
September 11, 1999

Celebration, bitterness greet 11 freed FALN members

              Family, friends greet 4 in city as critics seethe

              By Julie Deardorff and Teresa Puente
              Tribune Staff Writers
              One by one, 11 Puerto Rican nationalists convicted
              of aiding terrorism trickled out of federal prisons into
              fresh air and sunlight Friday, stepping into
              waiting cars, open arms, uncertain futures and a
              political maelstrom over President's Clinton's
              decision to grant them clemency.

              "Que viva Puerto Rico libre," shouted Luis Rosa,
              who had been serving a 105-year sentence at the
              federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., as he
              embraced supporters in the Puerto Rican independence
              movement and played the conga drums with a band at a
              celebration late Friday at a Humboldt Park bakery.

              "For 20 years I have dreamt of this moment. You don't
              know how proud and happy I feel."

              In Chicago's Puerto Rican community, excitement built
              throughout the day as word spread that the inmates had
              been released and several were headed for Chicago. By
              nightfall, people danced to meringue and salsa music and
              a rally was held at Casita de Don Pedro Plaza, near a
              statue of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, founder of the
              modern Puerto Rican independence movement.

              But while some celebrated the releases, others, like Rich
              Pastroella, a former New York City detective, spent the
              day feeling betrayed and trying to understand the turn of

              "My life has been stolen," said Pastroella, who lost his
              eyesight, most of his hearing and the fingers of his right
              hand after a bomb for which the Puerto Rican
              independence group FALN claimed responsibility
              exploded while he was trying to disarm it in 1982.

              None of those offered clemency were convicted of
              having any direct responsibility for deaths or injuries, and
              supporters contend they were sent to prison not for their
              actions but for their beliefs.

              Even so, most of the released inmates were members of
              the FALN, a Puerto Rican independence group that
              staged a wave of bombings in the 1970s and 1980s that
              left six people dead and dozens of others injured in New
              York and Chicago.

              Under terms of the clemency--attacked by Republicans
              and even some Democrats as a bald political move to
              drum up Puerto Rican support for Hillary Rodham
              Clinton's U.S. Senate campaign in New York--the
              FALN members were required to renounce violence
              and agree to avoid each other. They were also given 72
              hours to report to probation officers either at their
              homes or in the city where they were convicted.

              For some, that meant a trip to Chicago, even though all
              but two of those freed have applied for relocation to
              Puerto Rico, largely, family members said, out of
              concern for their safety.

              The conditions placed on the clemency rendered
              post-release reunions a bit awkward. About 200
              independence supporters packed into Zenaida Lopez's
              Boriken Bakery and Cafe, a central gathering place on
              West Division Street for movement supporters, to greet
              Rosa and three other released prisoners, Ricardo
              Jimenez, Alejandrina Torres and Alberto Rodriguez.

              But the four had to stagger their appearances at the
              celebration to avoid violating parole restrictions.

              The first to arrive was Jimenez, who rode to Chicago in
              a Mercedes-Benz after his release only hours earlier
              from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. He threw his
              arms around Zenaida Lopez, an activist whose brother
              was one of two inmates who refused Clinton's offer of
              clemency and remained in prison.

              "Oh my Lord, que lindo, que lindo," said Jimenez,
              hugging his friends among vats of flour, sugar and salt in
              the bakery, which was adorned with flags and slogans of
              freedom for Puerto Rico. "Oh my Lord. It is so good to
              see you."

              Speaking in Spanish, Jimenez stressed that his formal
              disavowal of violence in no way blunted his passion for
              Puerto Rican independence.

              "We personally have said that we are no longer part of
              the armed struggle," he said. "We are going to use
              democratic means that are established to struggle for our
              goals. . . . I will never abandon it. I will be an
              independista until the day I die."

              Rosa, a 38-year-old poet and musician who was a
              student at the University of Illinois at Chicago before his
              conviction, said he would now try to get a master's
              degree in education "and contribute the most that I can
              for the independence of Puerto Rico."

              Asked whether he felt his years in prison were worth it,
              Rosa replied in Spanish: "Of course it was worth it; I
              don't have any doubt."

              Clinton's clemency offer drew sharp criticism from the
              outset. Law officials across the country were infuriated.
              Mayor Richard Daley spoke out angrily, saying terrorists
              should not be allowed on the streets. Republicans
              charged Clinton was being soft on terrorism and the
              GOP-controlled House formally condemned the
              clemency offer. And Clinton was also accused of trying
              to help his wife gain Hispanic support in her likely U.S.
              Senate candidacy in New York, home of 1.3 million
              Puerto Ricans.

              "We don't know if this beast (the FALN) will raise its
              ugly head again," said Pastroella. "Just because they
              have said they will not associate with each other doesn't
              make it so."

              Indeed, the ban on associating with each other raised
              several tricky issues for the former prisoners. Sisters
              Lucy Rodriguez and Alicia Rodriguez flew together after
              leaving a California prison, but they weren't allowed to
              sit next to each other. Felix Rosa, the brother of Luis, is
              also a convicted felon and was concerned that a
              brotherly get-together could violate Luis' parole.

              "I'm on the moon right now," said Felix, after talking to
              his brother on a cell phone. "But I don't want to do
              anything to violate parole. If I have to wait two years
              without seeing him, then that is what I will do. But I
              know he wants to walk around the community. And see
              Lake Michigan."

              Relatives and supporters of the released inmates said
              they aren't sure who the prisoners can talk to or what
              they can say. Part of the agreement for release included
              avoiding association with other independence movement

              "How do you interpret advocacy?" asked Jose Lopez,
              president of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. "Can they
              be political? They are not even sure what they can say."

              Still, the prisoners who are now free vow to keep
              working until still-imprisoned comrades are released as
              well. Juan Segarra Palmer, one of those who turned
              down clemency, will serve an additional 5 years. Oscar
              Lopez Rivera, the brother of Zenaida Lopez, will serve
              another 10 years.