Puerto Rico nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera was freed from house arrest Wednesday after decades in custody in a case that transformed him into a martyr with supporters but outraged those who lost loved ones in a string of deadly bombings.
What was Obama thinking, when he ordered the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera during his last day’s in office?
During the 1970s, Lopez Rivera headed a Chicago-based cell of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which waged a futile but violent struggle to win Puerto Rican independence.
The FALN claimed responsibility for more than 120 bombings between 1974 and 1983 in a wave of senseless destruction that killed six and injured dozens.
In 1981, a federal court in Chicago sentenced Lopez Rivera, then 37, to 55 years for seditious conspiracy, armed robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to destroy government property.
Notably, the seditious-conspiracy charge was not some “thought crime,” as Lopez Rivera’s lawyer has said: The indictment listed 28 Chicago-area bombings, some of which caused injuries, as “overt acts” in support of the conspiracy.
FBI agents discovered dynamite, detonators and firearms at two residences occupied by Lopez Rivera. At trial, a cooperating witness from the FALN testified that Lopez Rivera personally trained him in bomb-making.
He defiantly challenged the legitimacy of the court that tried him. Shortly after entering federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan., he and FALN members on the outside hatched an escape plan; the FBI foiled it by arresting Lopez Rivera’s would-be helpers, who were armed with guns and explosives. A conviction for that escape attempt added 15 years to his sentence.
In 1999, Lopez Rivera was one of 16 imprisoned Puerto Rican terrorists to whom then-President Bill Clinton offered executive clemency.
He refused, reportedly because Clinton’s offer did not include one of the FALN members who had tried to break him out of Leavenworth.
In addition, Clinton required the Puerto Ricans to renounce violence as a condition of receiving clemency.
Obama’s offer came with no such requirement — in puzzling contrast not only to Clinton’s policy in 1999, but also to White House statements that Chelsea Manning deserved clemency because she accepted responsibility and showed remorse.
Wearing a black shirt and jeans, the 74-year-old grinned broadly and waved to supporters through a fence at his daughter’s San Juan home before getting into a white jeep. He was scheduled to stop at a federal building to return electronic tags that monitored his movements during his home confinement.
Roughly 50 people congregated in the streets outside the apartment building in San Juan’s Santurce district holding flowers and Puerto Rican flags, some chanting: “Free at last!” A group of singers from University of Puerto Rico’s choir harmonized as Lopez drove past. A street celebration 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.