Freed Puerto Rican Prisoner Defends Armed Struggle

July 27, 2010

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Carlos Alberto Torres returns to a hero’s welcome in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, photo by Charlie Billups

After spending the last 30 years in prison, a Chicagoan who federal prosecutors called a “terrorist” is flying back to Puerto Rico this afternoon.

Carlos Alberto Torres was born in Puerto Rico in 1952. His family moved to New York and eventually to the Chicago area. In his 20s, Torres worked within Chicago's Puerto Rican community, where he helped create an alternative high school whose curriculum stressed the island's culture and history.

Torres also got involved with a movement to end U.S. control of Puerto Rico. Eventually he went underground. Authorities accused him of belonging to the FALN, the Spanish acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation.

The group emerged in 1974 and borrowed tactics from Algerians who wreaked havoc in France during the colony's war for independence. The FALN claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings and armed attacks, mostly in New York and Chicago.

The group also specialized in what was known as armed propaganda. The idea was to expose government weakness and draw attention to the independence cause while avoiding bloodshed. But FALN attacks killed at least five people and injured more than 70 others.

The FBI put Torres at the top of its “Most Wanted” list. Evanston police arrested him and other alleged FALN members in 1980. A federal jury found 10 of them guilty of seditious conspiracy.

A campaign for the prisoners' release led to a 1999 clemency offer from President Clinton that excluded Torres. More than a decade later, the U.S. Parole Commission ordered his release.

On Monday a caravan of supporters met Torres at the federal prison in downstate Pekin, Illinois. On his way back to Chicago, he spoke by phone with WBEZ's Chip Mitchell, our West Side reporter. Chip asked him about his first moments of freedom (listen to the .

Related Story: Puerto Ricans to Welcome Freed ‘Patriot'