Give President Obama credit: he didn’t wait until he was in the limousine on his way to Donald Trump’s inauguration to commute Oscar López Rivera’s prison sentence. Had he waited until mid-morning Friday, January 20, to do it, his symbolic sanction of domestic terrorism might have escaped the average American’s notice. Those who did notice might have called him a coward, but their objections would have been drowned out amid the day’s oaths and protests.
As it is, Obama chose to do it on Tuesday afternoon, January 17, at the same time he commuted the sentence of the American traitor Chelsea Manning. In its way, the out-in-the-open quality of these commutations is a statement of principle. Americans of every political stripe now have a chance to consider what the president has done. It was a bold move. It said: This is the real me. This is my idea of justice.
López Rivera is a sworn enemy of the United States who admitted to his role as a leader of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), the clandestine Puerto Rican nationalists who planted more than 130 bombs during the 1970s, mostly in Chicago and New York. The bill of indictments against the FALN and López Rivera need not be rehearsed here. He never denied anything. You can look it up.
In the 35 years that he has been behind bars, López Rivera has never indicated that he is sorry for the death and destruction he sowed during his days of rage. His steadfast commitment to violence has naturally attracted legions of left-wing admirers. They are, in the main, hashtag guerrillas who lionize the FALN’s twisted ideology and apologize for its murderous deeds from the comfort of their keyboards. Some, like New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Hamilton: The Musical creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, call López Rivera a “freedom fighter.” They say that there’s no physical evidence that he killed anyone. “The CIA did horrible things in Puerto Rico,” they offer in justification for the FALN’s bombing campaigns. “The U.S. colonized and brutalized a defenseless island.”
The appeal to old grievances is the last resort of the radical poseur. Take it from an Irish-American. I know plenty about what “they” did to “us” during “colonial days.” I know how badly those “imperialist bastards” treated our ancestors. At least in Ireland, the “freedom fighters” mostly confined themselves to attacking British soldiers (and each other). The world turned against the Irish Republicans when they began targeting British civilians.
The FALN was always less discriminating. On January 24, 1975, these self-styled freedom fighters planted a ten-pound dynamite bomb in a dining room at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan because, they said, “reactionary corporate executives” would be dining there. Harold Sherbourne, Frank Connor, Alejandre Berger, and James Gezork were killed that day. Civilians all, they lost their lives to the revolutionary vanity of López Rivera and his bandit friends. Then, as now, a tiny fraction of Puerto Ricans support the FALN’s nationalist ambitions.
During his years as the FALN mastermind, López Rivera made women into widows and children into orphans. President Obama is a father, and by all accounts a superb one. I know he can imagine how it would feel for Sasha and Malia to be left fatherless. He’s a smart guy, too, full of empathy, so he must know that the trauma of such a thing would never heal—not even after 42 years. The children of those whom the FALN killed still don’t have fathers. They never will.
Yet, despite his vaunted intelligence and celebrated empathy, Obama went ahead and made this appalling decision. All that mattered, it seems, was that the cool crowd wanted López Rivera to go free. Clearly, Obama wasn’t thinking about Frank Connor’s family or other American families whose lives were blown apart by FALN bombs. Instead, he gave aid and comfort to America’s enemies.
“López Rivera will answer to a higher authority than Obama,” Frank’s son Joe Connor told me last night after the news broke. “And he better be ready.” We’ll see. As for Obama, if the president did anything more shameful during his eight years in office, I must have missed it.
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