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
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
"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
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.