Puerto Rico militant freed from custody after 36 years

Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Puerto Rican nationalist who spent more than three decades behind bars for his role in a violent struggle for independence from the US, will be celebrated as a hero upon his early release Wednesday and honoured next month in New York City's massive Puerto Rican Day parade. The group 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.

Joe Connor, whose father was killed in the Fraunces Tavern bombing when Joe was nine, told NPR, "I would love to ask people who support his release and say, If not a terrorist, what has Oscar Lopez done to help the Puerto Rican people?"

Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera is being released Wednesday from house arrest after decades behind bars in a case that has made him a martyr for his supporters but outrages those who lost loved ones in.

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.

Lopez Rivera is set to be honored with a special "National Freedom Hero" award at next month's Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan. But independence has received less than 6 percent of the vote in four previous referendums.

He was arrested and charged with "seditious conspiracy" for his role in FALN activities in 1981 and sentenced to 55 years in prison. The leftist group Armed Forces of National Liberation, also known as FALN, claimed responsibility for the bombing that killed four people and injured more than 60. At his sentencing, a federal judge termed him an "unreconstructed revolutionary".

Other sponsors for the parade include AT&T, Coca Cola and the New York Yankees. That request was denied, and Lopez Rivera was eventually sentenced to 55 years in prison - a sentence nearly 20 times longer than those handed down for similar offences. Four were killed and dozens injured in the blast.

Since yesterday afternoon, the independence leader was without the electronic shackle they placed on him at the end of January when the then United States president Barack Obama pardoned him, after more than 35 years in prison.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton offered Lopez clemency but the inmate rejected the offer because it excluded two associates who have since been released.

In an interview with the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Dia, Lopez Rivera said: "I want to enjoy Puerto Rico, my family". The island's 3.5 million residents are USA citizens and serve in the military.

  • Leroy Wright