Militant freed from custody after 36 years
SAN JUAN (AP):
Puerto Rico nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera was freed from house arrest yesterday after decades in custody in a case that transformed him into a martyr for his supporters but had outraged those who lost loved ones in a string of bombings.
Wearing black jeans and a shirt decorated with a Puerto Rican flag pin, the 74-year-old greeted cheering supporters through a fence at his daughter's San Juan home before getting into a jeep. Roughly 50 people held flowers, some embracing in tears and chanting: "Free at last!" A group of singers from University of Puerto Rico's choir harmonised as Lopez drove by.
Escorted by the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, he stopped at a federal building to return electronic tags that had monitored his movements during his home confinement and enjoyed a private breakfast as a free man. A street celebration in Rio Piedras was expected to draw thousands of supporters later in the day.
Lopez was considered a top leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, an ultranationalist Puerto Rican group that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings at government buildings, department stores, banks and restaurants in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico during the 1970s and early 1980s. The FBI classified the Marxist-Leninist group as a terrorist organisation.
The most famous bombing was the still-unsolved 1975 explosion that killed four people and wounded 60 at Fraunces Tavern, a landmark restaurant in New York's financial district.
Lopez, a Vietnam War veteran who moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago as a child, wasn't convicted of any role in the bombings that killed six people and injured scores, but those who lost loved ones hold him responsible.
"This guy was convicted of leading the FALN that murdered people," said Joseph Connor, whose father, Frank, was killed in the Fraunces Tavern attack.
At a midday press conference at the palm-lined Escambron beach, Lopez said "independistas" did not hate Americans but sought justice and full sovereignty for Puerto Rico. He expressed gratitude to the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua and thanked US presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for commuting the sentences of Puerto Rican "political prisoners" over the years.