12 Puerto Ricans in Prison Accept Offer of Clemency
By JOHN M. BRODER
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said that she understood
the strong emotions on the issue but she "stands by her statement" of
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."
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."
a number of lawmakers would hold a news conference on
Wednesday in Washington to protest Clinton's action.
G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
said the panel would hold hearings next week to review the clemency
offer, which he opposes.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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."
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
"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."
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."