Puerto Rico Herald
January 25, 2004

Hundreds Greet Nationalist Freed After 19 Years In Prison

By Laura Rivera Melendez of Associated Press

Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

CAROLINA, Puerto Rico (AP) - Hundreds of Puerto Rican independence supporters welcomed home a nationalist who spent 19 years in prison for his involvement in the 1983 robbery of an armored truck in Connecticut.

Arriving at San Juan's international airport Saturday, the 53-year-old Juan Segarra Palmer told the crowd, "How good it is to be in Puerto Rico!"

Segarra Palmer was granted clemency in 1999 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, and he was freed from a prison near Orlando, Florida on Friday. Without Clinton's action, he would have been due for release in 2016.

"The sentence's long years didn't change your conscience!" people in the crowd chanted, waving Puerto Rican flags.

FBI officials have said they are still searching for four fugitives who in 1983 allegedly robbed the Wells Fargo armored truck of more than US$7 million in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Officials say one of them, Victor Manuel Gerena, allegedly injected two guards with a sleeping substance to facilitate the robbery. He is now on the FBI's list of top 10 most-wanted fugitives.

The robbery was carried out by members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group Macheteros, or Cane Cutters. The money was allegedly used to support their struggle.

Segarra Palmer said he felt sorry for his involvement in violence and said he hopes to "learn to be an instrument of peace."

He was one of 13 Puerto Ricans granted clemency by Clinton in 1999. As for his time in prison, he said "the most difficult thing isn't the conditions in prison. The constant worry of the prisoner is the well-being of his family."

He said he hopes to discuss his future role in independence efforts with those on the island, which has been a U.S. territory since the United States seized it from Spain in 1898.

"I do know that I want to serve. How I will end up serving, I don't know," Segarra Palmer said.

Among those who greeted him was Puerto Rican Independence Party leader Ruben Berrios and Lolita Lebron, who served 25 years in prison for a 1954 shooting attack that wounded five lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Other fugitives in the Wells Fargo robbery case include the brothers Avelino and Norberto Gonzalez Claudio, and Filiberto Ojeda Rios.

Cases of political violence have dropped on the Caribbean island in recent years, and a large majority of voters have shunned the independence party in past elections, instead choosing parties that support making Puerto Rico a U.S. state or leaving it as a U.S. commonwealth.