Embracing his freedom
by Howard Greninger
President Bill Clinton's clemency offer to Puerto Rican independence-group
had a Wabash Valley connection -- one of the freed inmates left Friday from the U.S.
Penitentiary, Terre Haute.
Ricardo Jimenez, a Puerto Rican nationalist, rode out of the prison in
a car Friday, putting
an early end to a 90-year sentence.
The car exited federal property and stopped directly across from the penitentiary
the graveled edge of Indiana 63. Jimenez stepped out of the rear-passenger door,
standing outside of razor wire for the first time in 18 years. His sister was among two
other people in the car.
"I am elated that I am free, that I am with my family," Jimenez, 43, said.
"I thank my sister
who is here with me, my two nephews who have always been supportive of me. My
whole family in New Jersey."
Dan Dunne, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said 11 of 16 people
clemency from President Bill Clinton were released Friday. Three others have
reportedly accepted the offer.
Most were members of the ultranationalist, pro-independence FALN, responsible
more than 100 bombings in the United States between 1974 and 1983. The bombings killed
six and wounded dozens.
FALN are Spanish initials for Armed Forces of National Liberation.
None of those offered clemency were directly responsible for deaths or
They were required to renounce violence as a condition of accepting clemency.
"I think definitely the president's decision was ill-advised," Jimenez
said. "He left two
people who should have come out with us. There was no reason why Oscar
Lopez-Rivera should not be here with me right now," Jimenez said.
"There should be no reason why Carlos Torres should not have been part
pardon. I think that the media has forgotten something very essential here and that is the
reason we were put into prison is for the crime of colonialism that the United States
has committed against Puerto Rico," Jimenez said.
Torres, a FALN member, was not offered clemency, Dunne said. Lopez-Rivera,
a 55-year-sentence, did not sign the agreement for clemency.
Jimenez has been at Terre Haute since June 4, 1998. He has been in the
system since his February 1981 sentence on six charges. Jimenez, who lived in Chicago
before his arrest, has said he wants to return to Puerto Rico.
The charges were seditious conspiracy, two charges of interference with
commerce by threats of violence, possession of an unregistered firearm, carrying firearms
during the commission of a seditious conspiracy, interstate transportation of
firearms and transportation of a stolen vehicle, Dunne said.
Puerto Rico, a spoil of the Spanish-American War, has been a U.S. territory
for 100 years.
Puerto Ricans can be drafted, but cannot vote for president and have no
representation in Congress.
"I think Clinton should have followed the precedence that has been set
President Carter. President Carter has said various times that he supports our freedom,
that he supports our unconditional freedom," Jimenez said. "He did in September
1979 when he freed the nationalists on unconditional pardon and there was no
reason for Clinton not to continue that precedence.
"The freedom and the happiness is shattered, so as long as Carlos Torres,
long as Oscar Lopez-Rivera is imprisoned. I will not rest until I see them free again and at
my side," Jimenez said.
The future policy of the United Sates, Jimenez said, should be the decolonization
"The United States Congress has declared Puerto Rico to be a colony and
not given us
the right of self-determination. They talk about Kosovo, giving them the right of
self-determination, while they don't give Puerto Rican nation the right of self
determination. We want our self-determination and let the Puerto Rican
people decide what we want to do with our destiny."
Clinton said Thursday that politics played no role in his clemency offer.
said his decision was influenced by several leaders, including Carter and South African
Archbishop Desmund Tutu. Critics say Clinton freed the prisoners to gain favor
among New York's 1.3 million Puerto Ricans because Hillary Rodman Clinton is a
potential candidate for a Senate seat there.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.