August 11, 1999

Clinton offers clemency to 11 Puerto Rican independence activists

                  By KEVIN GALVIN
                  Associated Press Writer

                  WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton offered clemency Wednesday
                  to 11 members of a Puerto Rican independence group that staged some 130
                  bomb attacks on political and military targets in the United States from 1974
                  to 1983, administration officials said.

                  One official, who spoke on condition anonymity, said that the prisoners were
                  not involved in any deaths and that they would be required to renounce
                  violence as a condition of their pardon.

                  Clinton's action was in response to a campaign by human rights advocates
                  who have argued that members of the group known by the Spanish initials
                  FALN were punished too harshly in light of their crimes. He acted on the
                  recommendation of Charles F.C. Ruff, the chief counsel who left his White
                  House post last Friday.

                  "What the president did, based on the recommendation of counsel, was
                  grant clemency to individuals on a case-by-case basis that recognized the
                  serious nature of the crimes that they were convicted of but also took into
                  account the excessive nature of the sentences that were imposed upon them
                  20 years ago," said the administration official.

                  "The persons here were not convicted in cases involving death or serious
                  injury," the official said. They were convicted, in some cases, of armed
                  robbery and supplying resources for FALN activities.

                  The Justice Department was expected to announce the decision Wednesday

                  Prosecutors branded those convicted for FALN activities as terrorists. But
                  in recent months, Puerto Rican and U.S. church leaders, politicians and
                  citizens have sent 75,000 signatures to the White House to demand the
                  prisoners' freedom. South Africa's retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond
                  Tutu; Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader; and three
                  members of Congress are among them.

                  Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American
                  War in 1898. It is a U.S. commonwealth that enjoys local autonomy but has
                  no vote in Congress or for president. The FALN, the Spanish initials for
                  Armed Forces of National Liberation, was committed to independence for
                  the island.

                  Bombings attributed to the FALN killed six people and wounded dozens,
                  but the 11 offered clemency were not directly involved with the deaths and
                  injuries, officials said. The 13 didn't defend themselves at trial, saying they
                  didn't recognize U.S. legal jurisdiction over them.

                  Two other prisoners for whom human rights activists have sought pardons
                  were convicted in a $7.5 million armored truck robbery in West Hartford,
                  Conn. The 1983 robbery was to finance the separatist group Los
                  Macheteros, which has attacked U.S. government installations in Puerto

                  There is precedent for pardons. In 1977 and 1979, President Carter
                  pardoned four Puerto Rican nationalists who were convicted in a 1954
                  shooting attack on Congress that wounded five lawmakers. Carter also
                  pardoned a fifth nationalist who was convicted of plotting to kill President
                  Truman in 1950.