IN NOMINE SATANAS: OSCAR LOPEZ RIVERA
by Efrain Suarez
Unemcumbered by reelection politics, President Obama used his last week in office to grant clemency to an imprisoned Puerto Rican terrorist who refused to renounce violence to get clemency in 1999.
Oscar Lopez-Rivera helped establish the Puerto Rican independence group FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional, Spanish for Armed Forces of National Liberation). The FALN claimed responsibility for more than 120 bombings between 1974 and 1983 in a wave of destruction that killed six and injured dozens. Their goal was to destabilize what they called the “Yankee capitalist monopoly” and achieve Puerto Rican independence.
While most of these early explosions caused only property damage, the FALN’s clear intention was to kill and maim. In December 1974, an NYPD officer responding to a report of a dead body in an abandoned building on 110th St. was seriously injured by an FALN incendiary device.
When a Chicago apartment serving as the FALN’s bomb-making factory was raided in November 1976, authorities learned the names of the group’s leadership. López Rivera and several associates became fugitives.
On Aug. 3, 1977, the FALN struck again in a coordinated attack in Midtown. An alert office worker at 342 Madison Ave., near 43rd St., noticed a suspicious package and evacuated the building. No one was hurt in the subsequent blast.
Workers at the Mobil Building at 150 East 42nd St. weren’t so lucky. An FALN bomb planted there killed 26-year-old Charles Steinberg. The building’s ground-floor windows blew out and several New Yorkers were critically injured by a shower of glass.
It was a bloody and chaotic midmorning scene in the heart of the city. An NYPD cop described the sidewalk in front of the Mobil Building to a Daily News reporter as a “human mess.” The FALN called in a dozen other bomb threats, forcing evacuations around the city. Mayor Abe Beame called the day’s violent chaos an “outrageous act of terrorism.”
But the group is best known for bombing Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan in 1975. The a 10-pound dynamite explosive went off during lunch and killed four, as well as a 1982 strike on NYPD headquarters. The powerful blast was felt blocks away. In an eerie foreshadowing of 9/11, dust-covered victims staggered through downtown streets. The FALN quickly took responsibility for the deadly deed.
When López Rivera was arrested in May 1981, the FBI found six pounds of dynamite and four blasting caps in his Chicago apartment along with numerous fake IDs. He was convicted in federal court of seditious conspiracy, violation of the Hobbs Act, illegal weapons possession, interstate transportation of stolen motor vehicles armed robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to destroy government property. The federal court in Chicago sentenced Lopez Rivera, then 37, to 55 years in prison.
We must note that the seditious-conspiracy charge was not some “thought crime,” as Lopez Rivera’s supporters have 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.
He will now be released on May 17, 2017 – 20 years ahead of schedule.
Now 74-years old, he told federal judge Thomas McMillen in 1983, “I am an enemy of the United States government”. There is no evidence that he’s changed his mind.
In 1988, his original sentence was extended 15 years after authorities disrupted an escape plot that included a plan to murder prison guards.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton offered to commute the sentences of 16 imprisoned FALN members. Most accepted, but López Rivera choked on the condition that he renounce his terrorist past. In 1998, he’d told a reporter, “The whole thing of contrition, atonement, I have problems with that.”
López Rivera’s supporters claim he is a political prisoner, in jail for his beliefs rather than his actions. They say there is no evidence that he personally killed anyone — which could also be plausibly said of Osama bin Laden and Al Capone.
Among those pushing Obama to pardon was City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“Oscar has never been convicted of a crime, Oscar has never hurt anybody, he was never involved in any action that hurt anybody, he strictly believed in independence of Puerto Rico, and he was jailed for his political beliefs,” she claimed at a June 2015 rally on the steps of City Hall.
“I faced Lopez six years ago at his parole hearing … If he had expressed any atonement, any sympathy or empathy … we’d have recommended he be released. But he didn’t,” said Joe Connor, who was a 9-year-old when his father, Frank was killed in the tavern bombing.
The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz-Soto, has told reporters that when he returns, that Lopez Rivera will work in the city council.
Matthew Hennessey – NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, Monday, January 16, 2017
Michael Gartland and Yoav Gonen