The New York Daily News
September 07, 1999
 
 
Politics Buries Vow
 
FALN's pledge of nonviolence ignored

                   As we have all heard by now, Hillary Clinton called on her husband over the
                   weekend to rescind his clemency offer to a group of 16 Puerto Ricans
                   serving long federal prison sentences for terrorism.

                   Since they have not renounced violence, the First Lady said, the
                   terrorists, members of the FALN and the Macheteros, should not
                   be set free. On this issue, she agrees with Mayor Giuliani, her
                   likely Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate next year.

                   There's only one problem. Both of them are dead wrong.

                   The Puerto Rican prisoners renounced violence nearly three years
                   ago, and they did so again last week.

                   Furthermore, sources tell me, they are expected to accept
                   President Clinton's offer tomorrow.

                   Jan Susler, attorney for the prisoners, issued this statement last
                   Tuesday: "All of the 15 imprisoned Puerto Rican independentists
                   [sic] have unconditionally reaffirmed their commitment to
                   nonviolence upon release from prison.

                   That follows a statement the prisoners issued in early 1997, when
                   they acknowledged "with a sense of self-criticism" that the
                   FALN's "war of independence" had produced "innocent victims
                   on all sides" and pledged, if released, to participate in "the
                   democratic process."

                   Why have hundreds of press reports during the last two weeks
                   failed to mention those statements? Why have they continued to
                   portray the prisoners as unrepentant?

                   Jose Serrano, the congressman from the South Bronx, believes he
                   knows the answer to that and several other distortions of fact
                   surrounding the President's Aug. 11 clemency offer.

                   "Anybody who thinks this [furor] is about 15 or 17 people in
                   prison, about bombs and clemency to terrorists, is wrong,"
                   Serrano said angrily yesterday. "This is about the status of Puerto
                   Rico and what we as a nation are going to do about it."

                   For generations now, the United States has been content to keep
                   Puerto Rico as a forgotten colonial possession and tax haven for
                   corporations.

                   In the process, Puerto Rican terrorists became for this country
                   what Irish Republican Army terrorists were to England, or what
                   the Palestine Liberation Organization was to Israel a terrible
                   reminder that some were so unhappy with the inequality that they
                   would resort to violence.

                   Anyone who doubts that need only compare the average sentence
                   of 70 years these Puerto Ricans got for seditious conspiracy and
                   weapons offenses remember, none of the 16 was convicted of
                   actually setting a bomb or injuring anyone to those received by
                   many murderers, rapists and even other terrorists.

                   To his credit, Clinton, like President Jimmy Carter, who granted
                   clemency to four Puerto Rican nationalists in 1979, understood
                   that to heal long-running ethnic conflicts like these, a leader must
                   take a bold step, even granting amnesty to enemies in hopes of
                   turning them toward peaceful solutions.

                   His decision was hardly a sudden, slick tactic to shore up Hillary's
                   support among New York Puerto Ricans. This column revealed in
                   January 1997 that Cardinal O'Connor and Puerto Rican leaders
                   were pressing the White House for clemency as a symbolic
                   gesture of reconciliation on the 100th anniversary of the 1898 U.S.
                   invasion of Puerto Rico.

                   It was not just the small pro-independence movement calling for
                   their release. Even the most conservative leaders among the 6.6
                   million Puerto Ricans on the island and here supported their
                   release.

                   The Monica Lewinsky scandal, however, forced the White House
                   to postpone many decisions, this one included.

                   When he finally acted, Clinton must have expected the prisoners
                   would just be grateful and head for the exits. The idea of people
                   actually believing in a cause must be an alien concept to him.

                   It was not the anti-violence pledge that prevented them from
                   leaving right away. It was the fact that Clinton was freeing some of
                   them, not all. They didn't want to leave a trio of comrades behind.
                   In addition, they balked because parole conditions stipulate they
                   cannot even attend public meetings with one another. That would
                   prevent them from working legally for Puerto Rico's
                   independence.

                   Serrano is so angry at the First Lady's meddling that he has
                   withdrawn his endorsement of her expected Senate bid.

                   "Why are Hillary and everyone else upset about them taking three
                   weeks to decide?" Serrano asked. "We've had to deal with 101
                   years of waiting for U.S. to decide what to do with our island."As
                   we have all heard by now, Hillary Clinton called on her husband
                   over the weekend to rescind his clemency offer to a group of 16
                   Puerto Ricans serving long federal prison sentences for terrorism.

                   Since they have not renounced violence, the First Lady said, the
                   terrorists, members of the FALN and the Macheteros, should not
                   be set free. On this issue, she agrees with Mayor Giuliani, her
                   likely Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate next year.

                   There's only one problem. Both of them are dead wrong.

                   The Puerto Rican prisoners renounced violence nearly three years
                   ago, and they did so again last week.

                   Furthermore, sources tell me, they are expected to accept
                   President Clinton's offer tomorrow.

                   Jan Susler, attorney for the prisoners, issued this statement last
                   Tuesday: "All of the 15 imprisoned Puerto Rican independentists
                   [sic] have unconditionally reaffirmed their commitment to
                   nonviolence upon release from prison.

                   That follows a statement the prisoners issued in early 1997, when
                   they acknowledged "with a sense of self-criticism" that the
                   FALN's "war of independence" had produced "innocent victims
                   on all sides" and pledged, if released, to participate in "the
                   democratic process."

                   Why have hundreds of press reports during the last two weeks
                   failed to mention those statements? Why have they continued to
                   portray the prisoners as unrepentant?

                   Jose Serrano, the congressman from the South Bronx, believes he
                   knows the answer to that and several other distortions of fact
                   surrounding the President's Aug. 11 clemency offer.

                   "Anybody who thinks this [furor] is about 15 or 17 people in
                   prison, about bombs and clemency to terrorists, is wrong,"
                   Serrano said angrily yesterday. "This is about the status of Puerto
                   Rico and what we as a nation are going to do about it."

                   For generations now, the United States has been content to keep
                   Puerto Rico as a forgotten colonial possession and tax haven for
                   corporations.

                   In the process, Puerto Rican terrorists became for this country
                   what Irish Republican Army terrorists were to England, or what
                   the Palestine Liberation Organization was to Israel a terrible
                   reminder that some were so unhappy with the inequality that they
                   would resort to violence.

                   Anyone who doubts that need only compare the average sentence
                   of 70 years these Puerto Ricans got for seditious conspiracy and
                   weapons offenses remember, none of the 16 was convicted of
                   actually setting a bomb or injuring anyone to those received by
                   many murderers, rapists and even other terrorists.

                   To his credit, Clinton, like President Jimmy Carter, who granted
                   clemency to four Puerto Rican nationalists in 1979, understood
                   that to heal long-running ethnic conflicts like these, a leader must
                   take a bold step, even granting amnesty to enemies in hopes of
                   turning them toward peaceful solutions.

                   His decision was hardly a sudden, slick tactic to shore up Hillary's
                   support among New York Puerto Ricans. This column revealed in
                   January 1997 that Cardinal O'Connor and Puerto Rican leaders
                   were pressing the White House for clemency as a symbolic
                   gesture of reconciliation on the 100th anniversary of the 1898 U.S.
                   invasion of Puerto Rico.

                   It was not just the small pro-independence movement calling for
                   their release. Even the most conservative leaders among the 6.6
                   million Puerto Ricans on the island and here supported their
                   release.

                   The Monica Lewinsky scandal, however, forced the White House
                   to postpone many decisions, this one included.

                   When he finally acted, Clinton must have expected the prisoners
                   would just be grateful and head for the exits. The idea of people
                   actually believing in a cause must be an alien concept to him.

                   It was not the anti-violence pledge that prevented them from
                   leaving right away. It was the fact that Clinton was freeing some of
                   them, not all. They didn't want to leave a trio of comrades behind.
                   In addition, they balked because parole conditions stipulate they
                   cannot even attend public meetings with one another. That would
                   prevent them from working legally for Puerto Rico's
                   independence.

                   Serrano is so angry at the First Lady's meddling that he has
                   withdrawn his endorsement of her expected Senate bid.

                   "Why are Hillary and everyone else upset about them taking three
                   weeks to decide?" Serrano asked. "We've had to deal with 101
                   years of waiting for U.S. to decide what to do with our island."