San Juan, Puerto Rico, mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz’s visit to New York last week made headlines, but for the wrong reasons. Cruz claims to have been booted from a cab when the driver decided that he didn’t want to take her to the Bronx. Several city newspapers reported on the flap. Buried deep within those stories, though, was a more outrageous detail: Cruz came to the Big Apple to press for the unconditional release from federal prison of Puerto Rican nationalist and convicted felon Oscar López Rivera.
López Rivera, now 72, has served 34 years of a 55-year sentence for seditious conspiracy against the United States government, as well as a variety of other crimes related to his tenure as a leader of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN). During the seventies and eighties, the clandestine Marxist-Leninist terrorist group planted over 130 bombs, mostly in Chicago and New York, meant to strike at the foundations of what it called the “Yanki capitalist monopoly.” In 1988, López Rivera earned an additional 15 years for plotting a murderous escape from prison.
López Rivera’s supporters on the radical Left—including New York City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—have long argued for his release on the grounds that he never did anything wrong. Appearing alongside Cruz on the steps of City Hall last week, Mark-Viverito declared, “Oscar has never been convicted of a crime, Oscar has never hurt anybody, he was never involved in any action that hurt anybody, he strictly believed in independence of Puerto Rico, and he was jailed for his political beliefs.”
Really? In addition to his conviction for seditious conspiracy, López Rivera was convicted of numerous felonies, including possession of an unregistered firearm; interstate transportation of firearms with intent to commit seditious conspiracy, and interference with interstate commerce by use of violence; interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle; conspiracy to escape, to transport explosives with the intent to kill and injure people, and to destroy government buildings and property; aiding and abetting travel in interstate commerce to carry out arson; and using a telephone to carry out arson.
López Rivera is no political prisoner; he is incarcerated for his deeds, not his thoughts. Countless Puerto Ricans support a range of possible changes to the political status quo on the island, up to and including full independence. Comparatively few have set up “bomb-making factories” in rented apartments and instructed fellow revolutionaries on “how to make a bomb using dynamite; convert a battery and a wrist watch into timed bombing-detonation devices; and how to make gun silencers.” Fewer still have defiantly told a federal judge, “I am an enemy of the United States government.” In 1998, López Rivera told a reporter, “The whole thing of contrition, atonement, I have problems with that.” The following year, he turned down President Bill Clinton’s clemency offer because the deal required López Rivera to foreswear armed struggle against the United States. Twelve other FALN members accepted Clinton’s pardon.
Thousands marched in support of López Rivera’s release in Mark-Viverito’s East Harlem district this weekend. Among them was his daughter, Clarissa Lopez. “It’s hard to be raised by a single mother and far away from your dad,” she said. Joe Connor can relate. On January 24, 1975, a ten-pound dynamite bomb planted by the FALN at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan exploded, killing his father, 33-year-old Frank Connor.
“I empathize with someone who loses their father,” Joe Connor said in a telephone interview this week. “But they should go back and realize why they lost their father. My father was murdered. We didn’t ask for this. [López Rivera] brought this on himself.”
In 2011, Joe Connor attended a parole hearing for López Rivera in Terre Haute, Indiana. He and the other survivors of the FALN’s murder spree offered López Rivera “multiple opportunities” to express remorse. He rebuffed all of them. “Instead,” Connor wrote afterward, “even with his very freedom at stake, he provided nothing more than lies, rambling obfuscations, political diatribe, blaming everyone but himself and childish rationalizations for his admitted career in the murderous FALN and multiple prison escape attempts.”
Releasing Oscar López Rivera from prison makes no more sense now than it did in 1999, when the FBI opposed Clinton’s FALN pardon. “I think they’re criminals and terrorists and represent a threat to the United States,” assistant FBI director Neal Gallagher told Congress at the time. Yet, despite López Rivera’s many convictions, his clear lack of remorse, and his continued willingness to wage war against the United States, the political Left is amping up pressure on President Obama to grant him unconditional release. “Barring a pardon from Barack Obama or his successors,” wrote Sandy Boyer at SocialistWorker.org, “Oscar López Rivera is virtually certain to die in a U.S. prison.”
Let it be so.