Puerto Rico: Machetero prisoner is released

Some 150 supporters greeted Puerto Rican independence activist Norberto González Claudio at San Juan's international airport on Jan. 15, hours after he was released from a federal prison in Coleman, Florida. González Claudio, a former member of the Boricua Popular Army-Macheteros, had served a three and one-half year prison term for his involvement in the group's 1983 armed robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Conn.—until then the largest heist on record. Arrested in May 2011 in the central Puerto Rican town of Cayey after 25 years as fugitive, González Claudio pleaded guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence. He was due to be released last September, but his time in Coleman was extended four months because of an alleged infraction. The activist's relatives and colleagues saw this as part of a pattern of physical and psychological torture they say he endured.

Supporters and relatives of another prisoner, Oscar López Rivera, were among the people greeting González Claudio at the airport. (El Nuevo Día, Guaynabo, Jan. 15; Univision, Jan. 15, from Inter News Service; Hartford Courant, Jan. 15, from AP)

López Rivera has been in the US prison system for 33 years for his role in another independence group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). He refused to accept a clemency offer in 1999 from then-US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and is now apparently the last prisoner from the group. Fellow FALN member Haydée Beltrán Torres was released in 2009, and her husband, Carlos Alberto Torres, was released in 2010.

González Claudio was the last prisoner from the Macheteros group, whose leader, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, was shot dead by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in September 2005. Víctor Manuel Gerena, the Wells Fargo driver who carried out the 1983 robbery, is reportedly living in Cuba. Along with African-American activist Assata Shakur (formerly Joanne Chesimard) and FALN activist William Morales, Gerena has become a target of US politicians seeking the return of US political exiles from asylum in Cuba as a condition for improved relations between that country and the US. (Hunterdon County, NJ, Democrat, Jan. 13)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 18.