Puerto Rico: march for political prisoners

Thousands of people marched in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Oct. 8 to demand the release of four Puerto Rican political prisoners being held in US jails. Oscar Lopez Rivera, Carlos Alberto Torres and Haydee Beltran Torres have been jailed for over 25 years; they were arrested in the early 1980s for alleged involvement in the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a pro-independence group. Lopez Rivera, Torres and Beltran are serving stiff sentences for “seditious conspiracy” and other charges: 55 years, 78 years and life in prison, respectively. Jose Perez Gonzalez is serving a five-year sentence for acts of vandalism during the May 1, 2003 celebration marking the US Navy’s departure from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

The three-mile march from the Miramar neighborhood to Old San Juan was led by a number of former political prisoners, including Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Elizam Escobar, Carmen Valentin, Edwin Cortes, Ricardo Jimenez, Adolfo Matos and sisters Alicia and Lucy Rodriguez. Lebron and Cancel Miranda were jailed for a 1954 attack on the US Congress but were freed in 1979 by then-US president Jimmy Carter. The other seven were among 11 prisoners released after being granted leniency in 1999 by then-president Bill Clinton. Attending the march as a special guest was Nora Cortinas of Argentina, co-founder of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Oct. 9 from AP; Pro-Libertad website)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 22

See our last post on Puerto Rico.

  1. These men are terrorists


    From November 16 until December 1, the national offices of the United Church of Christ will be co-sponsoring and hosting the traveling art exhibition “Not Enough Space” commemorating the 25 years of imprisonment of terrorists Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar LĂłpez Rivera.

    In their promotional materials, the UCC is positioning the terrorists as political prisoners “serving long prison terms for acts and beliefs in favor of Puerto Rican independence.”

    Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? The truth is much different.

    Oscar Lopez-Rivera, was convicted on August 11, 1981 of seditious conspiracy, interference with interstate commerce by threats or violence, possession of an unregistered firearm, carrying firearms during the

    commission of seditious conspiracy and interference with interstate commerce by violence, interstate transportation of firearms with the intent to commit seditious conspiracy and interference with interstate commerce by violence and interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle.

    Oscar Lopez-Rivera, was convicted a second time, on February 26, 1988 of conspiracy to escape, to transport explosives with intent to kill and injure people, and to destroy government buildings and property, aiding and abetting travel in interstate commerce to carry on arson, and using a telephone to carry on arson.

    Lopez was sentenced to fifty-five years and fifteen years, respectively. He rejected the offer of clemency from President Clinton in 1999 (which was heavily promoted by the UCC), which would commute his total effective sentence from seventy to forty-four years.


    1) Don’t bother to write or email UCC leaders. From past experience, they won’t acknowledge it or respond to it and they feed off of negative responses – they call it “the cost of discipleship” which is their justification for anything they see fit.

    2) Tell other members of your church, family and friends that the UCC National Office is hosting and sponsoring a terrorist art exhibit. Encourage them to visit UCCtruths.com for details.

    3) If you have a blog or a web site, post something on this subject. If there are regular sites or blogs you visit, encourage them to cover this issue.

    4) Decide for yourself if you or your church should continue to fund the UCC National Office through OCWM

    What is the FALN? How are Oscar Lopez-Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres a part of this terrorist organization?

    The Fuerzas Armadas de LiberaciĂłn Nacional (Armed Forces of National Liberation, FALN) was a Puerto Rican clandestine terrorist group that advocated complete independence for Puerto Rico. FALN was responsible for more than 120 bomb attacks on U.S. targets between 1974 and 1983.


    Between June, 1975 and November, 1979, the FALN claimed credit for nineteen bombing and six incendiary attacks in the Chicago area. These included bomb targets such as the woman’s washroom in a hotel restaurant, (9/76), the bombing of the city-county building, (6/77), and Sears Tower (10/75). These bombings, credit for which was claimed by written communiqué or telephone calls, were frequently coordinated with bombings in New York, and eventually with actions on the island of Puerto Rico. The communiqués stated such things as “ a free and socialist Puerto Rico, if necessary, will be written in red blood” and “attempts to suppress it’s offensive would be met with “revolutionary violence”

    While initially law enforcement was unable to identify the FALN, in late 1976 a “bomb factory” was discovered in Chicago. This led to identification of Carlos Torres and Oscar Lopez as persons who controlled an apartment in which explosives tied to FALN bombings and FALN communiqués were found.

    In January, 1980, the FALN conducted an armed assault on the Oak Creek National Guard Armory in Wisconsin. Employees were threatened at gunpoint and one round was discharged in an unsuccessful effort to obtain access to the weapons vault.

    In March, 1980 the FALN conducted a takeover of the Carter-Mondale campaign headquarters. Workers in that office were held at gunpoint while the office was ransacked and spray painted. Lists of delegates to the convention were stolen and threatening letters subsequently were mailed to many of them.

    On April 4, 1980, eleven FALN members were captured in Evanston, Illinois as they were preparing to conduct an armed robbery of an armored car. Among those arrested was Carlos Alberto Torres, renter of the bomb factory found in 1976. Also among those arrested was Freddie Mendez, a relatively new recruit to the FALN. The arrests led the location of numerous safehouses through out the U.S. including those in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Newark, N.J. Searches of these safehouses yielded weapons and explosives and bomb paraphernalia tied to the claimed FALN bombings. Mr. Mendez, along with nine other FALN members, was tried and convicted of seditious conspiracy. Throughout the trial the FALN members refused to participate in the proceedings, claiming that the U.S. Government had no authority over them.

    Following his conviction, but prior to sentencing, Mr. Mendez reached out for U.S. Government authorities. Mr. Mendez subesquently cooperated with the government and provided significant insight into the operation of the FALN. Mr Mendez identifed each of his co-defendants as individuals who particpated in armed terrorist actions and/or the manufacture/delivery of FALN bombs.

    It is Mr. Mendez testimony that identifies the purpose of the gathering of the FALN members in Evanston on April 4, 1980, as well as the actions at Carter – Mondale Headquarters and the Oak Creek National Guard Armory.

    In addition to his experiences in armed assaults, Mr. Mendez also provided testimony regarding being tasked, with one other FALN member, Ricardo Jimenez, to place a bomb. Although Mr. Mendez did not ultimately participate in the placing of the device, he did travel on public transportation through Chicago with Jimenez and the live device to the intended target. As they arrived at the target late, they were unable to place the device there, and Jimenez dismissed Mendez, stating that he would take care of the matter. Mendez testified that Jimenez told him that he put the device in the washroom of a building.

    Mr. Mendez also provided information as to the functioning of the FALN. He described the FALN in court as a clandestine, revolutionary Puerto Rican organization whose goal was to build a peoples war in Puerto Rico and the U.S. through armed violence. Mr. Mendez also described in testimony, details of the rigors of clandestine operations, designed to preclude one member from knowing the activities of more than just a few others, in order to minimize risk from infiltration or government cooperation. He provided details regarding the training he received in counter surveillance techniques, maintenance of a safehouse, false identification and disguises.

    Between December 1981 and January, 1983, various agencies of Chicago law enforcement worked cooperatively to surveil FALN suspect Edwin Cortes. This led to the identification of an active FALN safe house maintained by Cortes and Alejandrina Torres in an apartment at 736 W. Buena Street, Chicago. Shortly after the identification of the specific safehouse apartment, the government sought, and was granted Title III authority to place microphones in the apartment as well as to establish video surveillance within the apartment. These were established in January, and February, 1983, respectively. On March 8, 1983, Cortes and Torres were observed via the video surveillance, cleaning and loading weapons and subsequently building firing circuits for explosive devices. A search of the apartment after the subjects had left yielded approximately 24 pounds of dynamite, 24 blasting caps, weapons, disguises, false identification and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Law enforcement sought and was granted court authorization to neutralize and/or seize the weapons and explosives, and maintain notice of the searches under seal. Subsequently, law enforcement intercepted conversations between Edwin Cortes and still unidentified co-conspirators in New York to arrange for the travel of an unknown individual to Chicago. On or about March 14, 1983, after several conversations with the unknown conspirators in New York, Cortes picked up a man at the airport and transported him to the safehouse. The man, referred to as Benjamin, remains unidentified. Thereafter, Cortes, and “Benjamin” met at the safehouse. They were joined by Torres and were seen gathering the weapons and other materials in the safehouse, and subsequently loading bags with materials into two vehicles, one a stolen vehicle, the other a vehicle registered in a fictitious name, and departing the safehouse apartment in the early AM hours of March 15th. Prior to leaving the safehouse Cortes made the comment to Torres that “ Yes but, she has to have it loaded and cocked further back. If they have to shoot, they can shoot..”

    On March 18, 1983, as a result of analysis of Title III intercepts in the Chicago safehouse, law enforcement established a surveillance outside of the ambulance entrance to Wadsworth VA hospital, where FALN leader Oscar Lopez was to be taken that date. Lopez had complained of a malady and had been notified well in advance that he would be taken to the hospital for tests on that date. The surveillance observed Torres, Cortes and “Benjamin” moving about the ambulance entrance for over an hour, all wearing disguises. During this time, Oscar Lopez was precluded from leaving Leavenworth Prison and the ambulance which would normally arrive at the hospital in the morning hours never did arrive, due to law enforcement intervention. Eventually, Cortes, Torres and “Benjamin” left the hospital area and were surveilled to an apartment in Kansas City which had been rented in a false name. A fingerprint of Alberto Rodriguez was subsequently located on an item in this apartment.

    On March 19, 1983, Cortes and “Benjamin” returned to the Chicago safehouse at 736 W. Buena Street. While there they were observed on video studying maps of the city of Pontiac, Illinios and Livingston County. FALN member Luis Rosa captured at Highland Park, Illinois following a robbery/kidnapping, was incarcerated at Pontiac State Prison. “Benjamin” subsequently left, returning to Puerto Rico. On March 22, 1983, Luis Rosa was moved from Pontiac Prison to Joliet State Prison. The next day Torres and an unidentified female travelled to the Bloomington, Illinois area, not far from Pontiac, Illinois. There, they rented an apartment under a false name. Later that same evening a telephone call between Cortes and Torres was intecepted on the Buena safehouse phone. In the conversation Cortes and Torres were overheard complaining about the “changes” made the day before.

    In March, 1983, Chicago law enforcement located a second Chicago FALN safehouse located on Lunt Avenue. Edwin Cortes and FALN member Alberto Rodriguez were observed to meet there. This apartment was also penetrated with court authorized microphones and video equipment. Through intercepts at this location it was determined that they were developing plans to rob a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), mobile safe operator of the daily collections. Cortes was subsequently observed conducting a surveillance at one of the CTA stops. In intercepted conversations between the two, the topic of whether or not underpaid guards would risk their lives was discussed. Escape routes and advantages of conducting the robbery at different potential sites was also discussed. In a May 15, 1983 conversation Alberto Rodriguez was overheard discussing ways of confronting the guard, stating they may have to “hit him upside the head” and that they may have to “shoot the guard, which makes a noise.” This plot was also diffused by Chicago law enforcement who confronted and obtained Identification from Rodriguez as he conducted a surveillance of a CTA station on March 16, 1983.

    On May 27, 1983, Edwin Cortes and Alberto Rodriguez were observed moving materials from the Buena Street safehouse to the Lunt Avenue safehouse. Following the move the two were observed driving around military facilities at Foster and Kedzie, Devon and Kedzie and 74th and Pulaski in Chicago. In early June, 1983, they were observed in the Lunt apartment working with the bomb building paraphernalia previously observed at the Buena Street safehouse. During this meeting Cortes instructed Alberto Rodriguez in how to assemble a firing circuit for an improvised explosive device. In addition to working with the bomb building paraphernalia, they were overheard discussing in detail the physical layout of the Army Reserve Center and GSA facility at 74th and Pulaski, Chicago and talking about the military sites, Cortes wondering aloud how to cause the greatest incendiary damage to vehicles there. Following this meeting they again were observed conducting surveillances of a Marine base, the Army Reserve Center and two military motor pools.

    On June 26, 1983, Cortes met Rodriguez at the Lunt safehouse. They were observed working with watches, pipe and pipe caps. They also tried on hats and makeup during this meeting.

    On June 28, 1983, Cortes inventoried bomb components at the Lunt safehouse. These included blasting caps, dynamite, detonating cord and batteries. He and Torres met at the apartment and prepared a communique. He subsequently met Rodriguez at the apartment, outside of the presence of Torres. With Rodriguez he drew maps and diagrams and wrapped blasting caps and the explosives which law enforcement had inerted.

    On June 29, 1983, Cortes, Torres, Alberto Rodriguez, and a fourth defendant, Jose Luis Rodriguez, were arrested. In comments at sentencing Judge George Layton stated, “One of the strange things about this case is that these defendants didn’t accomplish any of their purpose. The didn’t succeed in springing Oscar Lopez. They didn’t succeed in springing anybody from Pontiac Correctional Center. And they didn’t even succeed in planting the bombs. Why? Because in this case, in this court’s judgement, represents one of the finest examples of preventive law enforcement that has ever come to this court’s attention in the 20-some odd years it has been a judge and in the 20 years before that this Court was a practicing lawyer in criminal cases all over the country. Good, preventive law enforcement succeeded in keeping these defendants from doing what they were going to do. They were going to plant bombs in public buildings during a holiday.”

    The co-conspirator(s) in New York and Puerto Rico were never identified.

    Luis Rosado, a suspected FALN member from New York, remains a fugitive wanted on state charges in Illinois for the actions taken with FALN member Luis Rosa. Rosado failed to appear on 3/13/81.

    In 1985 a plot to break FALN leader Oscar Lopez out of prison at Leavenworth Penitentiary was brought to the attention of the FBI by a cooperative witness. In that case co-conspirators were tasked to obtain weapons and explosives for use in the plot. The plot was to involve forcing a helicopter pilot to land in the yard at Leavenworth. As the escape took place, explosive charges were to be used to distract and to deter guards from taking action to prevent the escape. Co-conspriators in that case were audio taped via court authorized intercepts as they purchased what they believed to be explosives to be used in the plot from an FBI undercover agent. One co-conspirator successfully burglarized a gun store near Littleton, Colorado, to obtain weapons for use in the escape. Due to intervention by law enforcement, none of the plans came to fruition.

    Why is the United Church of Christ helping these terrorists?

    In the 1990’s, Paul Sherry, then UCC president, Rev. Thomas A. Dipko, then Executive Vice President of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and Rev. Nozomi Ikuta of the United Church Board of Homeland Ministries actively lobbied and consulted with President Clinton, the Department of Justice and Congress on releasing the FALN terrorists from prison.

    According to notes from an April 1998 meeting in a candid discussion with Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, Rev. Paul Sherry was asked whether or not they (the FALN terrorists) had renounced violence. “Rev. Sherry said they would not change their beliefs. This probably meant they would not change their beliefs about Puerto Rican independence, although he gave a carefully phrased answer that did not make it entirely clear that they had renounced the use of violence.”

    On August 11, 1999 President Clinton offered clemency to the FALN terrorists and on September 7, 1999, 12 of the terrorists accepted the terms of the clemency. Clinton offered the clemency over the objections of the Anti-Defamation League, Sen. Patrick Moynahan and his wife, Hillary Clinton.

    On September 15, 1999, Rev. Nozomi Ikuta testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the clemency process and her lobbying activities. What became very clear through her own testimony is that the United Church of Christ did not, at any point, try to communicate with the victims of the terrorism. This prompted Rocco Pascarella, a former New York city policeman disabled by FALN bomb in 1982, to respond at the same hearings: “Did I understand correctly that some people from the group trying to gain clemency for these individuals met with somebody from Justice or the White House? If that’s the case then, I really think that that has to be the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Because as a victim I was never contacted by anyone.”

    On September 21, 1999, Reverend Dr. Thomas Dipko, executive vice president, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church of Christ testified before House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform. In a stunning exchange with Rep. Bob Barr, Dipko tap danced around direct questions as they relate to the church’s honoring of terrorists. This led Rep. Barr to actually show Dipko a surveillance video of one of the terrorists, Alejandrina Torres (herself the wife of UCC minister Jose A. Torres and mother of Carlos Alberto Torres) making a bomb:

    Mr. BURTON. Dr. Dipko, you took great pains to go to prison to talk to these people who were part of this FALN organization. Did you by any chance take any time to go talk to any of the victims?

    Rev. DIPKO. I do not know the victims personally except as I have met them here today.

    Mr. BURTON. Thank you. I yield the balance of my time to Mr. Barr.

    Mr. BARR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Dr. Dipko, your church I think refers to these people as POWs; is that correct?

    Rev. DIPKO. We have referred to these persons as prisoners of conscience.

    Mr. BARR. Your literature describes them as POWs. What’s the difference between a POW and a POC?

    Rev. DIPKO. There is a significant difference. A prisoner of conscience is a prisoner whether a citizen of this land or not. But this land is a lawful Nation and its laws must be taken seriously. These are persons who are not citizens of this land, as you well know, on the basis of our territorial agreements with Puerto Rico. It’s a strange arrangement indeed.

    Mr. BARR. I think you’re wrong on that.

    Rev. DIPKO. They are citizens of this land, but they are not entitled to the privileges of ordinary citizens.

    Mr. BARR. You’re wrong there too. The literature uses the term POW.

    Rev. DIPKO. What literature are you referring to Mr. Barr?

    Mr. BARR. This is a news brief from the Senate and it says, this is an article—”POW Alejandrina Torres to be honored,” further quote during the Senate, ”POW Alejandrina Torres will receive,” and then it goes on to describe, ”great accolades are bestowing on her, the church.” That’s where I’m seeing the use of the term ”POW,” which stands for prisoner of war. Are you saying this was an error, it shouldn’t have said ”POW”?

    Rev. DIPKO. I’m saying that ”prisoners of conscience” is the standard language that we have used.

    Mr. BARR. What is a POW?

    Rev. DIPKO. A prisoner of war would be a person who is from another nation and is in conflict with this Nation, as I would understand that term ordinarily, and therefore should be treated under certain international conventions.

    Mr. BARR. Which gets me back to my original question, why do you all consider these people prisoners of war?

    Rev. DIPKO. And I’m saying to you, as I understand our use of the term, our standard use for referring to them is ”prisoners of conscience.”

    Mr. BARR. Whoever wrote this might have been in error.

    Rev. DIPKO. It could well have been.

    Mr. BARR. Regardless of whether you describe this, this woman as a prisoner of war or prisoner of conscience, she apparently was singled out for recognition as an honored laywoman; is that correct?

    Rev. DIPKO. That’s correct.

    Mr. BARR. Was it her bombmaking capabilities that make her honored? What was it that makes her honored?

    Rev. DIPKO. She was honored because she had convictions about the self-determination of the peoples of Puerto Rico.

    Mr. BARR. If, in fact, the activities of her and her colleagues have resulted in many more deaths, would they still be honored in your eyes?

    Rev. DIPKO. No, they would not.

    Mr. BARR. Where is the distinction between killing only a certain number of people and killing a sufficient number to no longer be considered honored by your church?

    Rev. DIPKO. There is a presumption in your question that the church would say with you that she was guilty of killing even a single person. The church has not assented to that.

    Mr. BARR. Does the church’s definition of killing of a person extend only to the actual physical act between a perpetrator and a person being murdered, in other words actually pulling the trigger, stabbing the knife into the flesh and taking away a person’s life? Is that only in—as far as what the church’s definition of murder is?

    Rev. DIPKO. The church is not a civil or criminal court. We are saying back to you, sir, this is not what she was tried for or found guilty of. Those charges are well known to you on this panel.

    Mr. BARR. But you are, though, at the same time saying that the church does draw some lines.

    Rev. DIPKO. It certainly does.

    Mr. BARR. Apparently these people did not cross the line into being dishonored, they remained on the honored side.

    Rev. DIPKO. I’m saying to you as far as this church understands it, they were never tried for or found guilty of such acts as murder.

    Mr. BARR. Were you here earlier when we showed the tape of this honored——

    Rev. DIPKO. Yes, I was.

    Mr. BARR. That didn’t impress you at all? You still believe this is an honored person?

    Rev. DIPKO. That tape would have to have a lot more unpacking for me to understand where it came from and the circumstances under which it were made.

    Mr. BARR. Let’s look at it any way.

    [The videotape was played.]

    Mr. BARR. The woman at the bottom is your honoree, Alejandrina Torrez. They are manufacturing bombs designed to kill, maim, injure and destroy property.

    Rev. DIPKO. If that is an accurate record of the happening and that is in fact what she was doing, the church would wish to, of course, disassociate from it.

    Mr. BARR. In other words, she would no longer be considered an honored person?

    Rev. DIPKO. I would think so.

    Mr. BARR. Thank you.