Puerto Rican FALN prisoners face clemency decision
September 6, 1999
NEW YORK (CNN) -- First lady and probable New York senatorial candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to deal with the political hot potato tossed her way when President Clinton put an offer of clemency on the table for 16 imprisoned members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group.
Although the issue could explode on the Senate campaign trail in New York, which has 1.3 million Puerto Ricans, neither the prisoners nor their cause are very well known across the country.
The FALN conspiracy of terror targeted American interests with a series of bombings that rattled New York City and Chicago for nearly a decade beginning in 1974.
"The potential was to cause great havoc and destruction and to instill terror into the public of the United States," said former FBI official Oliver Revell.
FALN, the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation, is a group fighting to create an independent nation and end Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. commonwealth.
"Their purpose was to make it so difficult for the United States to retain sovereignty of Puerto Rico that we would essentially reject and release Puerto Rico," Revell said.
More than 100 bombings
FALN members have been called both patriots and terrorists. In their heyday in the mid- to late '70s, there were about 60 members, based primarily in Chicago, New York and Puerto Rico.
Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez has written about the FALN members.
"They're definitely considered people who believed in a cause and were willing to sacrifice themselves -- and, unfortunately, others -- to achieve that cause," Gonzalez said.
The FALN either claimed responsibility or were credited with 130 bombings, including one at Manhattan's Fraunces Tavern and another on New Year's Eve. By the time the bombings ended in 1983, six people were killed and dozens were seriously wounded.
The 16 prisoners at the heart of the proposed clemency grant were never convicted of the bombings. Their convictions were for seditious conspiracy and weapons charges. They received sentences ranging from 35 to 90 years.
It would not be the first time clemency has been offered to Puerto Rican separatists.
In 1954, four terrorists stormed the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five congressmen. They were granted clemency by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
Sticking point to freedom
The Puerto Rican activists remain passionate about their island's future.
But as a condition of their release, the FALN prisoners would have to agree to cut ties to one another and effectively stop the struggle for independence they began years ago. That's something one insider says the FALN members may have a hard time doing.
The prohibition on associating with one another is a common condition of parole, and authorities said if the prisoners violate their parole, the charges will be reinstated against them.
White House officials say the prisoners are scheduled to discuss the offer with their Chicago lawyer in a conference call on Wednesday, two days before the president's deadline to accept or reject his offer of clemency.
Correspondent Chris Black and Reporter Deborah Feyerick contributed to this report.
White House responds to criticism of clemency offer
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