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A Fair Deal for the FALN
August 13, 1999
Copyright © 1999 CHICAGO TRIBUNE. All Rights Reserved.
President Clinton's main condition for releasing 11 jailed
members of the Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation
(FALN), a pro-independence group with a long and violent history,
seems fair and simple enough: They must renounce the use of violence.
Not their political convictions or their rights of free expression
or association, mind you. Just the use of violence to force their
political agenda--Puerto Rico's independence--down the throats
of their fellow Puerto Ricans, who have insistently and overwhelmingly
declared they don't want any part of it.
So far FALN supporters have dismissed the offer as "unacceptable,"
"unjust" and "inhuman." San Juan's archbishop
complained about the other FALN members not being freed, while
the Rev. Jesse Jackson called the terms "extraordinary and
These people were not imprisoned for picketing Congress, forming
a political party or leafletting. They were all duly convicted
in Chicago during the 1980s of conspiracy, armed robbery and various
weapons charges, all in connection with the FALN's terrorist campaign.
They have served 14 to 19 years in prison, though some have as
much as 65 years left in their sentences.
Clinton also offered to reduce the sentences of two other FALN
members, including one ringleader convicted in 1987 of plotting
a prison escape involving guns, explosives and a helicopter, and
to cancel fines imposed on three others.
The 11 who could be freed immediately were not directly responsible
for any deaths or injuries, but their activities were an integral
part of a terror campaign by the organization that, between 1974
and 1983, killed six people and injured more than 70 others, as
a result of about 130 robberies, bombings and armed attacks, mostly
in Chicago and New York.
And curiously, despite the FALN's strongarm tactics--or perhaps
because of them--public support in Puerto Rico for independence
bottomed out last year at less than 3 percent.
The White House correctly pointed out that the sentences imposed
on some FALN members were draconian--about seven times as long
as those imposed on other criminals convicted of similar crimes.
So a presidential clemency review was in order. But so is the
requirement that the convicted FALN members renounce violence
and terrorism if they are to be released.