Thousands march in Puerto Rico to demand U.S. free independence
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Shouting "freedom for the patriots!",
thousands of Puerto Ricans marched in San Juan Sunday to demand that
Clinton pardon 16 independence fighters jailed for sedition.
The demonstrators carried photos of the activists, members of the Armed
Forces for National Liberation (FALN) and the Macheteros guerrilla
groups. The two organizations carried out more than 130 bomb attacks in
the United States between 1974 and 1983 to demand independence for this
Sound trucks blared patriotic music as marchers guided floats through San
Juan's banking district to a rally in front of the U.S. Federal Building. A
protester costumed as the Statue of Liberty walked on stilts carrying a
Puerto Rican flag and photographs of the prisoners.
"President Clinton should listen to this (protest) and bring them home,"
one demonstrator, college student Juan Carlos Colon.
Police said the demonstration was peaceful.
Clinton offered to free 13 of the prisoners on Aug. 11 but demanded that
they ask for clemency in writing, renounce violence, and abide by parole
conditions that would bar them from meeting with other convicted criminals.
Independence activists say those conditions are humiliating and would
effectively bar them from meeting with pro-independence comrades, since
many activists on the island have criminal records.
"The (conditions) are onerous, an insult to the dignity of a people that
inalienable right to fight for its liberation," said Lolita Lebron, who spent 25
years in prison for leading a shooting attack on the House of Representatives
On Sunday, she and other demonstrators said they wanted full pardons for
In the United States, Clinton's clemency offer has outraged victims of
FALN bombings and some politicians.
The president was criticized Sunday by Dick Armey, majority leader of the
U.S. House of Representatives, who said Congress might consider a
resolution condemning the action. Republican Rep. Dan Burton said it "sends
the wrong signal to terrorists around the world."
In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Friday also urged Clinton to
revoke the offer. The FALN is suspected of planting 49 bombs in New
York between 1974 and 1977; and in 1975 it bombed Greenwich Village's
historic Fraunces Tavern, killing four people and wounding 60.
Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when U.S. troops seized
it from Spain during the Spanish-American War.
The island's 3.8 million residents are U.S. citizens and can be drafted
military, but they cannot vote for president and have no vote s, when a wave
of arrests broke up the movement's more radical groups. In a December
referendum, less than three percent of Puerto Ricans voted to become a