September 8, 1999
Mixed reaction in New York to Puerto Rican clemency decision

                  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
                  Puerto Ricans.

                  "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. They
                  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
                  bombs again?"

                  New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir also criticized the
                  clemency offer.

                  "These are not freedom fighters. These are not political activists. These are
                  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 Puerto
                  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.