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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 humiliating."


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.

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