Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Chicago supporters to honor freed Puerto Rico nationalist

Chicago supporters to honor freed Puerto Rico nationalist

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 USA, will be celebrated as a hero upon his early release Wednesday and honored next month in New York City's massive Puerto Rican Day parade.

The Marxist-Leninist group claimed more than 100 bombings in the 1970s and 1980s, including in Chicago.

"I've had long hours in the middle of the night trying to figure out what I am missing, why he has all this support", said Diane Berger Ettenson, 70, who was six months pregnant when her husband, Alex Berger, was killed in a still-unsolved 1975 explosion that killed four people and wounded 60 at Fraunces Tavern, a restaurant in New York's financial district.

He wasn't convicted of any role in the bombings.

"Hamilton" star Lin-Manuel Miranda, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others applauded Rivera's release and the man's commitment to Puerto Rican independence while those who suffered from the actions of FALN express bafflement and outrage.

Supporters of the 74-year-old, who spent 35 years in prison, are also expected to honour him next month in New York City's massive Puerto Rican Day parade. He is expected to be recognized in Chicago this week and honored by his supporters in NY with a parade on Puerto Rican Day June 11, the AP said. The island's 3.5 million residents are USA citizens and serve in the military. They pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes but not federal income tax.

Those who have supported him, including former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Francis and U.S. Sen.

"He has his champions and his critics, but this much is true: He served a lifetime in prison, including 12 years in solitary confinement". He'll be feted across the island and in Chicago later this week.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has spoken on the phone with newly freed Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera.

Lopez was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1981 after he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, armed robbery, a weapons violation and four counts of interstate transportation of stolen vehicles.

He later faced an additional 15 years in jail after he was convicted of conspiring to escape from prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

In 1999, then-President Bill Clinton offered to commute the sentences of Lopez Rivera and several FALN comrades; Lopez Rivera rejected the offer, however, because two group members were not included. He has been staying with his daughter at her home in the capital of San Juan.

In an interview with the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Dia, Lopez Rivera said: "I want to enjoy Puerto Rico, my family".

Other sponsors for the parade include AT&T, Coca Cola and the New York Yankees.

The U.S. territory is now mired in a decadelong recession for which many blame the U.S. government, partly because of the elimination of tax credits that many say led to the collapse of the island's manufacturing sector.

"We have had plenty of exercises yet the status of Puerto Rico has not changed", he said. Sixty-one per cent who answered a second question said they favoured statehood, but almost 500,000 left that question blank, leading many to question the results.

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