The New York Times
September 8, 1999

12 Puerto Ricans in Prison Accept Offer of Clemency

          By JOHN M. BRODER

          WASHINGTON -- The White House announced Tuesday
          afternoon that 12 jailed members of a Puerto Rican nationalist
          group had accepted President Clinton's conditional offer of clemency.
          Eleven will be eligible for release within days, while the 12th had his
          55-year sentence drastically reduced and will be paroled in five years.

          Two other jailed members of the radical group, known as F.A.L.N.,
          the Spanish initials for the Armed Forces of National Liberation,
          refused to accept the President's offer to commute their sentences.
          Clinton demanded as one of the conditions of their release that the
          jailed Puerto Ricans renounce the use of terrorism to achieve their aim
          of independence for the Caribbean commonwealth.

          Roberto Maldonado-Rivera and Norman Ramírez-Talavera, who
          both were released from prison several years ago after serving their
          sentences in a 1983 armored car robbery in West Hartford, Conn.,
          have not replied to the clemency offer and have until Friday to do so.
          The clemency offer would forgive the unpaid balance on fines imposed
          on them in the case.

          Joe Lockhart, the White House press secretary, said in a written
          statement Tuesday afternoon: "The President expects all those who
          accept the conditional clemency grant to abide fully by its terms,
          including refraining from the use or advocacy of the use of violence for
          any purpose and obeying all the statutory conditions of parole."

          The acceptance of the clemency offer further roiled an emotional political
          debate that has pitted the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, against her
          husband and riven the Democratic Party in New York. Mrs. Clinton
          announced her opposition to the commutations on Saturday, saying that
          the Puerto Rican nationalists had shown insufficient contrition for their
          acts and those of others in the independence movement.

          The Puerto Rican nationalists were serving sentences of as long as 90
          years in Federal prisons for offenses including sedition, possession of
          unregistered firearms, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle,
          interference with interstate commerce by violence and interstate
          transportation of firearms with intent to commit a crime. None of those
          whose sentences Clinton planned to commute was convicted of crimes
          that resulted in deaths or injuries.

          Clinton, who has not spoken publicly on the matter, said through a
          spokesman that the sentences were out of proportion to the nationalists'
          offenses and that the prisoners, some of whom have already served 18
          years in prison, deserved release if they forswore future acts of terrorism.
          The 12 members of the group who accepted the clemency offer,
          originally announced on Aug. 11, did so after consultation with their
          lawyer, Jan Susler of Chicago, who said at a news conference this
          evening that she was "elated by the prisoners' impending release."

          "I think it is a tremendous victory and accomplishment for the Puerto
          Rican people and people who love justice," Ms. Susler said. But she and
          another lawyer for the F.A.L.N. members, Michael Deutsch, added that
          they were concerned that after their release the nationalists would be
          subjected to harassment by law-enforcement officials and denied the right
          to peaceable political activity.

          The conditions of their parole include that they commit no further crimes
          and that they limit their association with other Puerto Rican nationalists
          who advocate violence.

          The lawyers said they planned to create a network of monitors in the
          United States and Puerto Rico to assure that the freed prisoners' rights
          are not abridged.

          The two nationalists who rejected the President's grant of clemency and
          who will remain in prison are Oscar Lopez-Rivera and Antonio

          Lopez Rivera was convicted in Chicago in August 1981 of numerous
          charges, including weapons violations and conspiracy to transport
          explosives with intent to destroy Government property, and sentenced to
          70 years in prison. Clinton had offered to reduce his sentence.

          Camacho-Negrón was convicted in Connecticut in June 1989 of
          conspiracy to rob a bank and foreign transportation of stolen money. He
          was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Camacho-Negrón had been
          released on parole but was returned to prison in February 1998 for
          associating with people active in the independence movement and
          becoming involved again himself.

          The acceptance of the commutation offers by 12 F.A.L.N. members
          further fueled the uproar over the President's actions, which has been
          opposed by most law-enforcement agencies, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani
          of New York, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York,
          numerous other lawmakers and victims of acts of terror committed by
          pro-independence Puerto Ricans.

          Mrs. Clinton said on Saturday that Clinton should rescind the clemency
          offer because the tardy response from the Puerto Ricans "speaks
          volumes" about their continuing advocacy of violence as a political

          Her opposition to the President's offer angered many Puerto Rican
          elected officials in New York, who accused her of betraying them in
          order to appear tough on terrorism.

          Mrs. Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said that she understood
          the strong emotions on the issue but she "stands by her statement" of

          Giuliani said Tuesday that the nationalists members had never expressed
          remorse for their acts or the acts of others in the nationalist movement,
          which has been involved in more than 100 bombings of political and
          military installations in the United States in the 1970's and 1980's.

          The Mayor said that Clinton had undercut his own Government's efforts
          to combat terrorism and urged the President to release files on the cases
          and the recommendations from Federal law-enforcement officials, who
          virtually unanimously opposed the grants of clemency.

          "You can emotionally be on one side or the other of this issue," Giuliani
          said, "but to say that it doesn't raise some very serious and legitimate
          questions and now to see his own political allies and close associates
          abandoning him like a sinking ship, you wonder what's going on here."

          Representative Vito J. Fossella, Republican of Staten Island, said tonight:
          "It is a tragic day that these terrorists may soon again be walking
          America's streets. I call on the President to unconditionally reject this
          offer of clemency. I don't want to see one more innocent American killed
          by this group."

          Fossella said a number of lawmakers would hold a news conference on
          Wednesday in Washington to protest Clinton's action.

          Senator Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
          said the panel would hold hearings next week to review the clemency
          offer, which he opposes.

          Some friends and relatives of the jailed Puerto Ricans were grudging in
          their thanks to the President and highly critical of Mrs. Clinton's
          opposition to the clemency grant.

          Gloria Quinones, one of hundreds of activists and religious leaders who
          worked for the release of the Puerto Rican nationalists, said, "This is an
          olive branch that the President has extended in the process of
          reconciliation between the United States and Puerto Rico, but it's a very
          scrawny one." Ms. Quinones, of New York, was a childhood friend of
          Dylcia Noemi Pagán, convicted of conspiracy and firearms violations in
          1981 and sentenced to 55 years in prison.

          Ms. Pagán was among a group of 10 who had been convicted on arms
          and conspiracy charges in Federal District Court in Chicago in 1981. The
          were arrested in Evanston, Ill., in 1980 on charges linked to 28 bombings
          in the area connected to the F.A.L.N. (Four others who were offered
          clemency were convicted on charges stemming from the Connecticut
          robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo armored car in 1983. None
          of the four were accused of taking part in the holdup, which the
          authorities said they believed to be committed by a security guard who
          was a nationalist sympathizer.)

          Ms. Quinones was critical of the President's condition that none of the
          prisoners meet or mingle after their release, particularly citing the fact that
          two of the prisoners who are to be released, Alicia Rodríguez and Ida
          Luz Rodríguez, are sisters.

          "There is no way sisters should be kept away from one another," she

          Ms. Quinones called Mrs. Clinton's repudiation of the President's
          clemency grant "a real insult" to the nearly one million Puerto Ricans living
          in New York.

          "She thinks that we are politically expendable, insignificant to her
          campaign," Ms. Quinones said. "We'll just see about that Hillary."

          Eli Escobar, a 24-year-old disc jockey in New York and son of one of
          the prisoners, Elizam Escobar, a painter who has been in jail for 19
          years, said the prisoners and their families had been in "purgatory" since
          the President announced the clemency grant a month ago.

          "We have been waiting a long time for that," Escobar said, "but when it
          came there were strings attached."

          He added that his father had not changed his views on Puerto Rican
          independence but no longer believed that terrorism was the way to
          achieve it.

          "It's a different time," Escobar said. "They have gotten older and wiser. It
          was more than 20 years ago. They have all renounced violence."

          Josefina Rodríguez of Chicago, the mother of the two sisters who today
          accepted the commutation of their sentences, said she was trying to
          ignore the political controversy.

          "I just want them to come home," Mrs. Rodríguez said. "I really don't
          care if Hillary Clinton wins or loses."