After spending more than thirty years in custody for his role in terrorizing American cities with bombings during the 1970s and early 1980s, Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera was set free on Wednesday. Thousands of supporters who consider Lopez a martyr plan to celebrate the militant’s release in Puerto Rico, Chicago and New York City.
Now 74 years old, Lopez was a top leader of the Puerto Rican ultranationalist organization known as Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN.
FALN carried out more than 100 bombings at government buildings, department stores, banks and restaurants in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico. One of their bombs was responsible for killing four people and wounding 60 at a well-known restaurant in New York’s financial district in 1975. Even though he was never convicted of the bombings, the families of the victims still hold him accountable.
“This guy was convicted of leading the FALN that murdered people,” pointed out Joseph Connor. His father, Frank, was killed in the NYC restaurant attack.
In 1981, Lopez was convicted on charges of seditious conspiracy, armed robbery, a weapons violation and four counts of interstate transportation of stolen vehicles and sentenced to 55 years in prison. When it was discovered that he was attempting to escape from Leavenworth prison in Kansas, he received an additional 15 years in jail. His sentence was commuted in January by President Barack Obama.
Upon his release from house arrest on Wednesday, Lopez was greeted by his followers chanting “Free at last!” in San Juan. Supporters also want to honor him at the June 11 Puerto Rican Day parade along New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Over the years, he’s had support from Pope Francis, former President Jimmy Carter and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda as he fought to be released from prison.
“He has his champions and his critics, but this much is true: He served a lifetime in prison, including 12 years in solitary confinement. Don Oscar will spend his twilight years on the island for which he sought independence, and this feels fitting,” said Miranda said in an email. Calling him “don” gives him honor.
During the Spanish-American War, the United States took the island of Puerto Rico from Spain, making it a U.S. territory. The 3.5 million people who live there are considered to be U.S. citizens and serve in the military, but they cannot vote for president and have no voice in Congress. They do, however, receive billions worth of federal funding.
Lopez said that he now plans to “spend time with family and create a think tank to work on issues including climate change, the economy and the island’s political status.”
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