Puerto Rican nationalist to argue for parole | WBEZ
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Puerto Rican nationalist to argue for parole

A former Chicagoan that some Puerto Ricans call a political prisoner will make his case to walk free.

A U.S. Parole Commission examiner is set to hear arguments Wednesday morning from Oscar López Rivera at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., according to Johanna Markind, assistant general counsel for the commission.

López Rivera, 67, is the last imprisoned Puerto Rican independence advocate among more than a dozen convicted in the 1980s of seditious conspiracy. Authorities accused him of leading the FALN, the Spanish acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation.

The group emerged in 1974 and claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings, mostly in the New York and Chicago areas. The assaults killed at least five people and injured more than 70 others.

But authorities didn’t charge the Puerto Ricans with killing or injuring anyone. So, according to López Rivera’s supporters, it would be wrong to keep him locked up.

“You have murderers and rapists freed after 10 to 12 years,” said Chicago activist Alejandro Luis Molina, a leader of a campaign urging parole. “On the other hand, you have Oscar López Rivera, who was not convicted of shedding one drop of human blood, serving a 70-year sentence. And he’s in his 30th year of incarceration.”

But some victims of FALN attacks want him to serve out the term. “Oscar López is a sworn terrorist; unrepentant and dangerous,” wrote Joseph F. Connor, whose father died in a 1975 bombing of a New York City tavern. “He has done nothing to assist the U.S. government or its citizens to resolve unsolved FALN crimes.”

López Rivera was sentenced to 55 years after a 1981 conviction of seditious conspiracy, weapons violations and other charges. In 1988, he received an additional 15 years for conspiring to escape prison. His attorney, Jan Susler of Chicago, said this week the charge resulted from a sting operation.

In 1999, President Clinton offered clemency to most of the imprisoned Puerto Ricans. López Rivera declined the offer, partly because it excluded his comrade Carlos Alberto Torres, said Susler, who represents both men.

A campaign for Torres’s parole led to his release from a downstate Illinois prison last July. After more than 30 years behind bars, Torres returned to a hero’s homecoming in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood before settling in Puerto Rico.

López Rivera, a Vietnam veteran, turns 68 on Thursday. His Chicago relatives include a younger brother, José López, who directs the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, an influential Humboldt Park group. López Rivera would settle in Puerto Rico if he received parole, his supporters say.

Markind said the case’s examiner will also hear Wednesday from some victims of the bombings. Opponents of López Rivera’s parole bid have “inundated” the commission with calls in recent days, she added.

Meanwhile, Markind said, the commission has received more than three large boxes of letters urging parole.

The commission, a Department of Justice unit based in Maryland, is led by a four-member board appointed by the president. Markind said it could take months for the commission to decide López’s fate.

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