Returned rebels keep cause alive in Puerto Rico
Heroes to some, terrorists to others
BY CAROL ROSENBERG
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Freed revolutionary Carmen Valentin,
doomed to 98 years in a federal penitentiary, spent Saturday unnerved, taking her
8-year-old granddaughter to the doctor for a cold.
Ricardo Jimenez, who also was imprisoned for two decades of a
sentence, is discovering San Juan's nightlife and thinking about a career in
Then there's Dylcia Pagan, whose former bomb-maker ex-husband
two-decade fugitive from U.S. justice in Cuba: She's promoting sales of a film
about their 20-year-old son, who was raised clandestinely from infancy by people
picked by ``the movement'' in Mexico.
These are the graying vestiges of 1960s and '70s Puerto Rican
activity, people who barely lived here but fought to forge an independent island
nation. Six weeks after President Clinton granted 11 imprisoned radicals
clemency in exchange for pledges of non-violence, three told The Herald in their
first in-depth interviews that they regret nothing and remain committed to Puerto
The movement -- but not these particular prisoners -- was linked
to a wave of
bombings that left six dead.
``I don't think I'm a throwback to another age,'' said Pagan,
53. ``I'm a woman who
was captured and did almost 20 years in prison but never lost contact with her
people and the struggle for the independence of her country. I am now in freedom
and on the island and living the daily reality of colonialism.''
Born and raised in East Harlem by Puerto Rican migrant parents,
she spoke in
New York-accented English as she sat beneath a Che Guevara plaque in a New
York classmate's gated community home in suburban San Juan.
Life for Jimenez now is a bed in the former library of a professor's
claps on the back and bear hugs from strangers in the street. They recognize him
from last month's airport welcome, thronged by hundreds, which was broadcast
by local and national media.
``This is the longest period I've ever been here,'' said Jimenez,
43, whose parents
took him from Puerto Rico to Chicago when he was 1 month old. Before his arrest
in May 1980 with Valentin and Pagan in a van carrying weapons, he had only
been back once, for less than a week.
Self-described political prisoners, they are derided as terrorists
by some here,
hailed as heroes by others.
Mostly, they are grappling with the mundane day-to-day realities
of re-entry into
life in the place they describe as ``my homeland'' in the dusk of the post-Cold War
And while they say their tactics have changed, they still espouse
revolutionary fervor -- complete with salutes to their comrade Fidel Castro and
contempt for American consumerism.
``The problem is not us, the problem is colonialism,'' said Jimenez.
``I still believe
in what I believed in before. Puerto Rico has a right to independence and
Pagan echoes his words in a separate conversation because the
soldiers of the FALN, the Spanish initials of the Armed Forces of National
Liberation, cannot associate as a condition of their parole.
``My zeal of fervor of wanting my country to be free doesn't change,''
``But there are different tactics and different times. I think, then, that everyone felt
that revolution was around the corner -- not just us, the blacks and the
Palestinians. We knew of the success of Cuba and Vietnam.''
While she was in jail, she said, ``history changed. The Soviet
bloc failed, the wall
in Berlin fell, the whole socialist thing fell. Cuba still continues and I commend
Fidel Castro for being able to fight against an unjust embargo and the Cuban
people are able to survive. Cuba has succeeded. It has a society that has
education, that has employment -- I'm hoping someday to visit.''
Meantime, she can't leave her friend's white stucco home for more
days without her federal parole officer's permission.
And, no, she says, even though her ex-husband has lived in Havana
for more than
two decades, she hasn't heard from William Guillermo Morales -- or anyone else
on the island since arriving here in mid September.
Has Castro called to congratulate her?
``I wish,'' she sighed.
None say they regret their activities. So what changed?
``The movements. You have to march with the rhythm of time and
seems to be the years of resolution,'' said Valentin, who still punctuates her
sentences with a decidedly '60s right on. ``At that time, in different parts of the
world, people were acting by taking up arms.''
Besides, all three said, much of Puerto Rico is united behind
a peaceful political
campaign to drive the U.S. Navy from a bombing range at the eastern island of
Vieques; two decades ago Puerto Ricans were too timid -- or too scared -- to
confront Washington on what Valentin calls nationalist issues.
When the Puerto Ricans were captured on the outskirts of Chicago
in 1980, they
refused to offer a defense and were convicted of seditious membership in a
movement that was eventually blamed for dozens of bombings of U.S. federal
Following the lead of Morales, who blew off part of his face and
fingers in a
bomb-making factory in Queens, they declared themselves prisoners of war and
received nearly life-long prison sentences. By then Morales was in Havana. He
escaped from a prison at New York's Bellevue Hospital and was spirited by black
revolutionaries to Mexico.
For years, their cases were mostly forgotten. Bombs blamed on
the FALN have
not exploded/ for at least a decade.
Law enforcement authorities argue that the violence stopped because
arrested the ring members, and locked them away.
For his part, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello said Friday that
President Clinton's decision to release the 11 prisoners in September, because
their sentences were long, and they had agreed to disavow violence.
Rossello advocates not nationalism but statehood as a solution
to the island's
Rossello said the 11 were neither revolutionaries nor political
considers them terrorists. ``If you plan to construct and detonate bombs, that is a
crime and a terrorist action. That's the bottom line.''
The governor added that he agreed with a 1996 Justice Department
released by Congress last week that characterized the group as still a national
``They exist. In reality their numbers are very small but it only
takes one person to
put a bomb,'' he said. ``The Unibomber was one person.''
Pagan, who still sprinkles her English with New York Yiddish,
bristled at the
comparison. ``Bubbeh, we were part of a revolutionary international struggle. You
cannot equate that with the Unibomber. Was George Washington not considered
Yet Valentin, 53, a former Chicago public school counselor who
had a 7-year-old
son at the time of her arrest, had no time for such soul-searching Saturday
While weighing a research position offer from the University of
Puerto Rico, she
was rattled by a more practical part of her island existence: finding a friend to help
her take 8-year-old Carina to the doctor, for fear her cold could trigger an asthma
``I'm still fitting into my grandmotherly role,'' she said. ``Everything
is new to me.
This is the first time I'm living here full time. I'm new at taking care of children