January 11, 2011 | 17 comments
Oscar Lopez-Rivera was offered clemency by Bill Clinton but refused to show remorse. Now he’s up for parole.
Oscar Lopez-Rivera was one of the leaders and founders of the fringe Puerto Rican nationalist domestic terrorist group known as the FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation). In a highly controversial move in August of 1999, Bill Clinton offered clemency to 12 members of that group (including Lopez), along with four other members of their closely allied group the Macheteros (machete-wielders), who were based primarily on the island nation.
The 11 other members of the FALN finally accepted the conditions of the clemency a month later by expressing remorse (in a move that was engineered by then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder). However, in a surprising move, Lopez refused the offer. This was even after he had made two previous escape attempts (the sentence added for the second attempt would have delayed his immediate release).
Lopez had been sentenced to 70 years for seditious conspiracy and a variety of weapons charges as well as the second thwarted escape attempt (which included plans for the use of violence).
However, he is now attempting to gain his freedom, and a parole hearing is set for January 5th. It may be instructive to understand more about who Oscar Lopez is, and why an early release is not only an insult to the victims of the FALN, but an affront to justice and quite literally an act of madness.
OSCAR LOPEZ HAD FIRST MET Carlos Torres in Chicago in 1972, and before long the two had forged a bond that led them to become leaders of the fledgling Puerto Rican terrorist group, the FALN. The first bombings began in 1974, and the group’s most noted early action was the bombing of the historic Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan in January of 1975. The lunchtime bombing killed four diners and injured 60.
The bombings continued at a furious pace including targets in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Newark and Miami. Attacks were sometimes co-ordinated with the Macheteros, with that group setting off bombs at various locations in Puerto Rico.
In 1977, a warrant was issued for Oscar Lopez on charges of dealing with and the possession and storage of explosives. That same year, both Torres and Lopez were indicted in Chicago for the receiving of 200 sticks of dynamite from Colorado and concealing them at their Chicago apartment.
On April 4, 1980, a major break for authorities came when 11 FALN members were arrested in Evanston, Illinois, while preparing to rob an armored truck. They included Torres and his wife Marie, new FALN recruit Alfredo Mendez, and Ida Rodriguez, the wife of Oscar Lopez. Carlos Torres later told an interviewer that upon his arrest, “prison was not a deterrent to us.… I was angry because I realized that I was going to be in jail for a very long time.”
Documents discovered after the arrest led to a raid three days later of a house in Milwaukee that was rented by Oscar Lopez and Ida Rodriguez. The residence was loaded with bomb-making material, and authorities thought that they had just missed capturing Lopez. The next day, authorities searched an apartment in Jersey City, N.J., that was rented by Carlos Torres and found even more bomb-making material.
It should also be noted that bombings in the Chicago area immediately ceased after the Evanston arrests. There had been 29 bombings and 10 people had been injured, some of them grievously.
After the conviction of his ten compatriots in Chicago, the remaining at-large members of the FALN began to reconstitute under the leadership of Lopez. One of them was Alejandrina Torres, the stepmother of Carlos Torres. In May of 1981, however, Lopez was arrested after being stopped for making an illegal left-turn. The next day, FBI agents discovered bomb-making material in a Chicago apartment rented by Lopez.
At the opening of his trial, Lopez stated that, “this is not a trial, it’s a kangaroo court.” FALN member Alfredo Mendez, who had since started co-operating with the government, testified at length about Lopez. Mendez stated that Lopez taught him how to make a bomb using dynamite, convert a battery and a wrist watch into timed bombing-detonation devices and how to make gun silencers.
Mendez added that Lopez told him that “everybody in the organization has to know how to make bombs… in case they have to survive and keep the organization alive.”
After his conviction, Lopez addressed Judge McMillen prior to his sentencing. “I am an enemy of the United States government.” Lopez also added, “I show respect for human beings but I don’t think it is reciprocated.” Judge McMillen called Lopez “an incorrigible law violator,” and then sentenced him to 55 years in prison.
By 1983, the few at-large members began plotting to break Lopez out of Leavenworth, including Edwin Cortes and Alejandrina Torres. On March 8, the two were captured on FBI surveillance tape at their rented Chicago apartment making bombs.
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