USA Today
September 9, 1999
Puerto Rico prepares to receive prisoners

                   SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The much-anticipated release of 11
                   Puerto Rican militants hasn't even happened yet and their supporters are
                   already challenging conditions of the controversial clemency deal with
                   President Clinton - especially one that may bar the prisoners, including two
                   sisters, from associating with each other.

                   Some here on Wednesday were asking: How do you give a heroes'
                   welcome to people who cannot meet? Also unclear was when they would
                   be freed and whether the majority of them would be able to come live in
                   Puerto Rico, as they wish.

                   The nationalists, members of pro-independence guerrilla groups that
                   carried out a wave of bombings in the United States in the 1970s and
                   1980s, on Tuesday accepted Clinton's offer.

                   Jim Kennedy, spokesman for the White House counsel's office, said the
                   group could be freed this week. But exact dates remain up to the Bureau
                   of Prisons - which referred questions back to the White House.

                   The uncertainty caused much indignation among the prisoners' supporters.

                   ''Obviously they are not going to get out today because of this arbitrary
                   bureaucratic delay that seeks to avoid a mass demonstration to greet their
                   arrival,'' said spokesman Luis Nieves Falcon, at a news conference
                   complaining about the conditions for their release.

                   The local Federal Parole Board would have to formally grant permission
                   to nine of them, who were living in New York City and Chicago before
                   their arrest, to leave those jurisdictions and come to this U.S. territory.

                   The 11 were convicted of sedition in connection with a wave of bombings
                   in the United States from 1974 to 1983 that killed six people and
                   wounded dozens. They were sentenced to serve 35 to 90 years in jail. A
                   twelfth prisoner accepted an offer that will keep him jailed another five
                   years. One prisoner rejected the offer in principle, and two were never
                   offered their freedom.

                   ''We will continue fighting together for those who stay behind,'' the
                   prisoners said in a message relayed during a three-hour conference call
                   with Nieves Falcon in San Juan and lawyer Jan Susler in Chicago.

                   Nieves Falcon said the White House had not responded to a request for
                   clarification of the conditions prohibiting the prisoners from communicating
                   with each other once they are free.

                   Jeffrey Farrow, the White House point man for Puerto Rico, said he knew
                   of no such request, and he denied there was any attempt to influence the
                   timing of the prisoners' release.

                   Farrow also said that parole authorities regularly make exceptions to the
                   rule about associating with felons when family members are concerned,
                   such as the sisters Alicia and Ida Luz Rodriguez.

                   Nieves said the uncertainty placed in doubt whether they could be invited
                   together to celebrate the most important annual event for Puerto Rican
                   nationalists, on Sept. 23. It marks an 1868 revolt when separatists seized
                   a small town and declared independence from Spain. The brief moment of
                   glory - the Spaniards retook Lares the following day - has become a
                   symbol of resistance also against the Americans, who took the island in

                   Supporters said the ban, if implemented to the letter, would interfere with
                   the released prisoners' plans, and their rights, to pursue their political goal.
                   Some suggested they may test the limitations if necessary.

                   ''The people of Puerto Rico will be their primary shield,'' said a defiant
                   Jorge Farinacci, one of the leaders of the separatist Macheteros faction
                   who was jailed for three years in connection with a sensational $7.1 million
                   heist of a Wells Fargo truck in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983. They ''will
                   be able to do all their political work and be able to meet.''

                   Farinacci, paroled five years ago, noted he has not been punished for
                   attending political rallies together with others with criminal records -
                   including the annual Lares rally.

                   Puerto Rican Sen. Kenneth McClintock said that the issue was being
                   artificially inflated.

                   ''They've misconstrued (the association ban) to advance their own political
                   goals ... to create sympathy,'' he said. McClintock said the Federal Parole
                   Board regularly makes exceptions about convicted felons associating when
                   they are related, as in the case of the Rodriguez sisters.

                   Copyright 1999 Associated Press.