Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla used the territory’s U.S. Independence Day ceremony to dismiss serious crimes committed in the name of independence for the islands.
The “commonwealth” party governor, who last week called the U.S. “another country,” called for the release from Federal prison of Oscar Lopez Rivera.
He asserted that Lopez “is in jail simply for thinking differently.”
In addition, reiterating an earlier “demand” for Lopez’s release was “necessary” to celebrate independence and its heroes “fully, with heads held high, and with complete peace of mind,” the Governor contended.
He indirectly compared Lopez to founders of the U.S. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, who also “thought differently.”
In fact, Lopez is in prison because he refused a clemency offer in 1999 that required renouncing the use of violence and serving 10 more years for attempting to break out of the penitentiary.
Further, he was imprisoned initially for use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony, and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles as well as seditious conspiracy.
Lopez, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up and lived in Chicago, where he was a friend of now U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois).
He also was a leader of the FALN, the Armed Forces for National Liberation, a violent group that tried to force independence for Puerto Rico, although Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly reject the status. In a plebiscite last November, independence obtained only 5.49% of the vote. The plebiscite was won by statehood, which got 61.16%.
The FALN was linked to more than 100 bombings and five deaths in the 1970s but Lopez was not tied to these.
He refused to defend himself when on trial for other crimes, claiming that he was a “prisoner of war.”
Like other FALN members arrested for various crimes, he was given a sentence that President Clinton in 1999 found to be “out of proportion to the nationalists’ offenses” – in his case 55 years.
While in prison, he was also given an additional 15-year sentence for trying to obtain weapons and explosives in connection with a plot to break out.
Clinton offered conditional clemency to Lopez and 13 other FALN prisoners – often wrongly called “political prisoners.” Lopez was one of two who did not accept.
His sister said that this was because Clinton’s parole requirement would be like “prison outside prison.”
Before any of the 14 accepted the offer, Gutierrez and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-New York) helped lead a high-profile campaign to pressure Clinton to drop his conditions for commuting the sentences.
The campaign had no success but it provided time that Republicans in New York used to generate a firestorm of opposition. They saw the offers as an effort to boost the U.S. Senate ambitions of First Lady Hillary Clinton, although it was later found that she had not known of the offers beforehand and did not agree with them.
The opposition grew to be so widespread that the U.S. Senate voted 98-2 against the offers, a symbolic move that had no effect because the power to pardon is an exclusive power of the president.
Gutierrez and others hoped that the election of Chicagoan Barack Obama to the presidency would result in an unconditional clemency offer for Lopez. But Obama has not acted on petitions for his release.
The U.S. Parole Commission also denied Lopez parole in 2011.
Lopez has now been in prison for more than 32 years. He would have been out for four years under the Clinton offer that he rejected.