NEW YORK (CNN) -- The decision by a dozen members of the Puerto
Rican nationalist group FALN to accept President Bill Clinton's offer of
clemency is sparking mixed reaction in New York, home to 2.5 million
"We're elated that our brothers and sisters are coming out -- the sooner
the better," said Esperanza Martell, a supporter of Puerto Rican
"We are so happy. This means so much to us as the Puerto Rican
people," said Marina Elena Montalvo, owner of La Taza de Oro, one of the
city's oldest Puerto Rican restaurants.
But to Diana Berger, whose husband died in an FALN bombing, the
president's decision is incomprehensible.
"I truly believe they are terrorists. They are not political prisoners.
were not convicted of minor crimes," she said.
And Anthony Senft, a former police detective wounded in a FALN attack,
wonders "who is going to be responsible if they go back and set
New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir also criticized the
"These are not freedom fighters. These are not political activists. These
criminal terrorists," he said.
In the 1970s and 1980s, FALN, which supports independence for Puerto
Rico, is believed to have set off 130 bombs in the United States, most in
New York and Chicago.
Eleven members of FALN -- convicted of seditious conspiracy but not of
violent crimes -- are expected to be released over the next several days. As
a condition of their clemency, they had to agree to formally renounce
violence and not to consort with other felons.
Another FALN member had his sentence reduced and will be free in five
years. Two others refused to accept Clinton's offer of clemency, and two
have yet to decide.
"These are men and women who are not considered criminals by anyone in
our community," says Juan Figueroa of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense
Fund. "These are men and women who we respect for their ideology and
what they fought for."
The clemency controversy is part of a larger debate over the future of
Rico, which has commonwealth status within the United States. Residents of
the island are U.S. citizens, but, because Puerto Rico is not a state, they do
not have voting representation in Congress and cannot vote for president.
In a recent plebiscite, Puerto Ricans voted to retain their commonwealth
status rather than becoming the 51st U.S. state or an independent country.
Correspondent Maria Hinojosa contributed to this report.