Chicago Honors an Unrepentant Terrorist

Recently, the Chicago City Council named a street in honor of Oscar Lopez-Rivera, the founder of the notorious terrorist group FALN. In President Obama's waning days in office, he commuted his sentence. He had been scheduled to serve until June of 2023, and after Obama's order, he still would remain incarcerated at the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana until May 17 of this year.

But early in February, a fervent Lopez-Rivera supporter, the far-left Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez, succeeded in having him transferred to Puerto Rico, where he will be with his daughter while under house arrest until his release this spring. "He got to go home to be with his daughter," said Gutierrez. But knowing the history of the FALN, which Lopez-Rivera founded and trained to kill, the same could not be said of the families of many of his victims.

In the 1970s and 80s, the FALN set off more than 130 bombs around the country. Twenty-nine of the bombings were in Chicago, where 10 people were injured, some of them seriously. But in New York, six were killed and scores injured, including four fatalities at the historic Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan on January 24, 1975.

Within 15 minutes after the bombing, the FALN boasted in a phone call and communiqué about the murderous attack. Lopez-Rivera's group would continue on until 1983, including bombings in Chicago, Miami, and Washington, and with two more fatalities in New York.

All of this was perpetrated in the name of independence, yet in three plebiscites since 1967, the island's residents have been equally divided between the current Commonwealth status and U.S. statehood. The vote for independence has never been more than 5.5%, and in a fourth plebiscite in 2012 the voters chose statehood by 61-33%. 

The real goal of the committed terrorists, however, is to ally with Castro's Cuba. According to the FBI, the FALN had trained there and "had received instruction in guerilla war tactics, preparation of explosive artifacts and sophisticated methods of sabotage."

Throughout the 1980s what stopped the FALN's deadly rampage was their capture and incarceration. After 11 of its members were tried and convicted in Chicago, they all stood up one-by-one upon sentencing and threatened the trial judge. Lopez-Rivera was captured afterward, but not before bomb-making material was found in his home.

He received a 55-year sentence, including multiple weapons charges and seditious conspiracy. In 1987, he was convicted of conspiring with others inside and outside of Leavenworth Penitentiary to obtain several deadly weapons and basically murder his way to freedom, but the FBI thwarted the plan, and another 15 years was added on to Lopez-Rivera's sentence.

And any sign of remorse has never been in his vocabulary. In 1986, Lopez-Rivera said "we have the right to wage (violence) by any means necessary, including armed struggle." He added that "we can anticipate more violence."

In 1999, when Bill Clinton stunned the world and offered clemency to a dozen members of the FALN including Lopez-Rivera (in what was then a clandestine attempt to help Hillary win the Puerto Rican vote in her race for the U.S. Senate in New York) at first none would sign a letter of remorse that stated they "would refrain from the use or advocacy of the use of violence for any purpose." They were then shockingly given a month to sign, and on the last day all did, except for Lopez-Rivera.

In 2011, however, he petitioned for release to the U.S. Parole Commission. Then at a hearing at the Terre Haute prison, he refused to apologize to family members of the victims of his group who were in attendance and he was subsequently denied freedom. After Donald Trump's victory last November, renewed pressure intensified on Obama to release him. In an interview last fall but published in January two days before Obama commuted his sentence, Lopez-Rivera stated that there was a right to achieve their goals "by any means necessary, including the use of force."

On January 17th, when Obama commuted Lopez-Rivera's sentence he also pardoned or commuted 270 others, including Chelsea Manning, the former soldier convicted of espionage. Two days later, he commuted 330 more, a one-day record, bringing his final total of clemencies issued to 1,927, including some convicted of weapons offenses.

About Lopez-Rivera, Congressman Gutierrez was overjoyed, claiming that he was a national hero in Puerto Rico, and that "it will be a blessed day when I can walk and talk with my friend in the fresh air... and I am looking forward to that day." Last July from the floor of the House, Gutierrez said that Lopez-Rivera was "not beaten, broken or sad," an "elder statesman," who was nonviolent and an "exemplary inmate." Gutierrez also expressed his support for independence, and he has always supported the tactics of the FALN.

After successfully having Lopez-Rivera returned to Puerto Rico in early February, his longtime friend and ally, Chicago Alderman Roberto Maldonado moved to have a street named after the unrepentant terrorist. Maldonado had previously been married to Gutierrez's sister and had run some of his earlier campaigns. 

In 1988, Maldonado resigned from an influential city job after it was found that he solicited campaign contributions for Gutierrez and had then received business from Maldonado's growing real estate agency. More recently, Gutierrez thought of retiring from the House, and Maldonado announced his campaign for that seat. When Gutierrez decided to run for reelection, Maldonado dutifully stepped aside and supported him. 

When Alderman Maldonado moved to name a four-block long street in the Humboldt Park area of the city's West Side after Lopez-Rivera, the Chicago City Council, chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and well known as one of the most corrupt in the country, made a special exception. They had already planned to discontinue the practice to name streets in honor of living persons, but slipped the Lopez-Rivera decision in under the wire on a 37-9 vote on a council dominated by Democrats 49-1.

The same day of the decision, the city suffered through seven more murders, including a woman who was eight months pregnant. The pace this year is already ahead of last year's record of 536 homicides, which had topped the 2015 record of 378, an increase of 42%. The question is, why would the city now honor an unrepentant terrorist?

Perhaps the council should have asked Joe Connor, who at the age of nine lost his 33-year old father Frank Connor in the Fraunces Tavern bombing. Lopez-Rivera is "a sworn terrorist,” said Connor, and added that "he was convicted of bombings in Chicago that did injure people... and Chicago is gonna put up a sign in his honor?" Connor added that "the idea that people will walk by and see the street sign and think that Oscar Lopez was some sort of a great person is diabolical."

Perhaps the Council should have listened to the moving words of Diana Berger-Ettenson just days after Lopez-Rivera's sentence was commuted. She had lost her husband Alex Berger in the Fraunces Tavern bombing in 1975 while she was sixth months pregnant. "For me, the month of January is extremely difficult," she said. "Every January is like a hole in the gut all over again even though it's been 42 years."

Berger-Ettenson added that Obama's pardon a week before the anniversary was especially painful and noted that "while Rivera will soon walk away from his murderous past, his victims' loved ones will never have that same opportunity."