Puerto Rico mil­i­tant freed from cus­tody af­ter 36 years

Cape Breton Post - - News - BY CAR­LOS RIVERA GIUSTI AND DAVID MCFAD­DEN

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 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 har­mo­nized 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 or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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.

In an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, Lopez said he had no re­grets about his in­volve­ment with the FALN. But he stressed that “the is­sue of vi­o­lence is dis­carded com­pletely’’ by Puerto Ri­can “in­de­pendis­tas’’ and he said there has been no vi­o­lence for many years.

AP PHOTO

Ar­rival of Puerto Ri­can na­tion­al­ist Os­car Lopez Rivera ar­rives for a press con­fer­ence, sur­rounded by sup­port­ers, on El Es­cam­bron Beach fol­low­ing his re­lease from house ar­rest af­ter decades in cus­tody, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wed­nes­day. 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.

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