A Clinton administration official said the members of the Puerto Rican independence group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known as FALN for its initials in Spanish, would be freed from prison or have fines lifted if they agreed to renounce violence, refrain from meeting with other independence leaders, and obey stringent guidelines barring them from using weapons. [includes rush transcript]
“This is an injustice,” said Clarissa López, daughter of Oscar López, who is one of two prisoners who under the clemency would still have to serve some time. “These are shameful demands,” said Lolita Lebron, who in 1979 was granted clemency for the shooting attack by President Jimmy Carter. “The President has insulted the dignity of the Puerto Rican nation and those who fight for its liberty,” Lebron said.
- Juan Figueroa, President and General Counsel, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
- Diana Crowder, attorney for Puerto Rican political prisoners.
- Susan Crane, served prison time with some of the Puerto Rican political prisoners.
- Carmen Santana, ex-wife of Alberto Rodriguez, Puerto Rican political prisoner.
- Mumia Abu Jamal, political prisoner and death row inmate.
AMY GOODMAN: Right now we’re going to turn to the latest news that has hardly made headlines, perhaps intentionally or not, with the White House and Justice Department putting out this news very late yesterday afternoon into the evening. There is a small box on this in the New York Times today: “Clinton to Commute Radicals’ Sentences.”
And it says, “Under continued pressure from minority politicians and human rights activists, President Clinton agreed [yesterday] to commute the sentences of 16 members of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that was involved in more than 100 bombings of political and military installations in the United States at least 15 years ago.” This is how the New York Times is putting it.
It goes on to say, “Most of the 16 were convicted of crimes like seditious conspiracy, possession of an unregistered firearm or interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle. Yet some were sentenced to more than 50 years in jail, a length of time that the President viewed as excessive,” this according to administration officials. “Most have already served at least 19 years. One was sentenced to 90 years and has served nearly [a quarter of a century] and the others have served at least 14 years.”
Now, the Justice Department said yesterday that the members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation would be freed if they agreed to renounce violence, don’t meet other independence leaders, and obey a ban on using weapons. Eleven prisoners would be released immediately, if they agree. Two would have to serve more prison time. Three would have the unpaid balance of their criminal finds cancelled. President Clinton also required the prisoners sign statements requesting commutations.
Well, for the first half of today’s show, we are going to take a look at who these people are, who these men and women are, whose sentences President Clinton is commuting, if they agree to sign these statements. In the second half of the show we’ll be going to Colombia to find out about the Colombian coke caper. That’s right, the wife of the army commander leading the US government’s anti-drug efforts in Colombia being charged in connection with a cocaine smuggling ring into the United States.
We’re joined right now by Diana Crowder. She has long been involved with the struggle of the Puerto Rican prisoners. ProLibertad has been calling for amnesty for the Puerto Ricans who are in prison that President Clinton has said he will grant clemency to under certain conditions.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!
DIANA CROWDER: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t we start by you laying out just who these people in prison are? The New York Times talked about them being involved in more than a hundred bombings of political and military installations in the United States at least fifteen years ago, but how would you describe them?
DIANA CROWDER: Well, first of all, let me start by saying that they never charged any of the current prisoners with any bombings or with any actions. The main charge was seditious conspiracy. And as that says, conspiracy is conspiring. It’s thinking. It’s a thought process. It is not an action. The actions, if you can call them actions, that gave them the rest of their sentence were possession, as you just read out from the Times. And as we know, if somebody’s convicted for possession of weapons or possession for items for bomb making, they would have been out within a couple of years. So, what they’re really serving is the time for seditious conspiracy.
I need to put this in a little context, give some historical background here. The island of Puerto Rico was invaded by the US Marines in 1898. Prior to that, they’d been a colony of Spain. And since that time, there has been resistance to the occupation of the island by many different groups, but the main groups being independentistas. And to rush quickly from 1898 to the end of the '40s, when they took a plebiscite, when they took a survey back then at the end of the ’40s, beginning of the ’50s, the majority of the Puerto Rican people wanted independence. And we don't tend to hear that. What we hear is about the latest plebiscite, where independentistas are getting three percent, five percent.
What happened after that survey where the majority wanted independence is the US criminalized the independence movement. They either killed them, put them in jail, or intimidated them through the FBI, similar to the COINTEL Program that took place in the United States. The dossiers that were kept on the independentistas or even people related to them — relatives, friends, co-workers — are known as carpetas. And just recently, a few years ago, the carpetas became public information, so that you could request your dossier and see exactly — if you thought you had a file, you could see exactly what was in your file. And I remember a young lawyer talking at one of our events. He’d brought his mother’s carpeta, his mother’s dossier, to show other people exactly what this meant. And his mother had been followed into church, and the FBI investigators had commented on how low she genuflects. This is the kind of intimidation that went on in the lives of ordinary people, so it’s no wonder that many people became very afraid to be connected to the independence movement.
But as time moved on, liberation movements throughout the world took place. Africa, South America were given independence from their colonizers. But this did not happen in Puerto Rico. And those in the independence movement tried to bring the attention of colonialism to the United States by having a liberation movement. And the group, as a whole, would commit bombings as symbols of resistance to try to bring to the attention of the US government their plight, because they weren’t being heard any other way.
In the early '80s, there were two major arrests of the FALN. The first group took place in 1980, and then the second in ’83. And then there's two other prisoners that make up the fifteen political prisoners, and they’re from the Macheteros, and they stole money.
AMY GOODMAN: Macheteros?
DIANA CROWDER: Los Macheteros.
AMY GOODMAN: Macheteros
means “machete wielders”?
DIANA CROWDER: Right. And they stole money to be used for the independence movement. The prisoners, the FALN, the liberation movement, did not defend themselves. They realized they were not going to get their day in court if they were going to be tried by the very people that they were trying to get independence from. And they asked for their cases to be tried in international court. The US refused to grant that. So they did not defend themselves, and they did not have chance to cross-examine and point out any inconsistencies in the case of the government. But I repeat again, the government brought no evidence to connect them with any bombings or any acts of aggression.
The international, the United Nations —-
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, of this group of sixteen, how many people are part of that group, Los Macheteros, the case that you’re talking about?
DIANA CROWDER: Two, two.
AMY GOODMAN: Two. And who are they?
DIANA CROWDER: Antonio Camacho and Juan Segarra-Palmer.
AMY GOODMAN: And are they two of the eleven who are going to be granted freedom -—
DIANA CROWDER: No.
AMY GOODMAN: — right away, if they sign?
DIANA CROWDER: No, they’re not.
OK, in terms of the international community and the United Nations, the United Nations has repeatedly put Puerto Rico on the list of countries that are still a colony and that needs to be decolonized. And international law gives those people that are oppressed and colonized the right to defend themselves and to fight for their independence by any means necessary. So, under international law, even those who were part of the groups, who were individuals connected to the bombings, have international law behind them, supporting them.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Diana Crowder, who is with the group ProLibertad, which has waged an amnesty campaign for Puerto Rican political prisoners in the United States.
We’re also joined in the studio by Juan Figueroa. He is president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
And we welcome you, as well, to Democracy Now!
JUAN FIGUEROA: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Diana Crowder has just been giving us a whole background on the Puerto Rican independence movement to lay the framework for who these sixteen people are, and she went through the Macheteros and the two people who are part of the sixteen that are included in this case, though not two of the eleven who are being granted immediate clemency. Can you give us a little more background on who the other fourteen people are, as a group, what cases they were involved with?
JUAN FIGUEROA: Actually, what I’d like to do is pick up on a point that Diana made, because I’d like to put some perspective on this so that people realize just what an extraordinary event this is in recognizing that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. And I’d like to do that by just pointing to the fact that I grew up in the island of Puerto Rico. I graduated from high school there, and I came to the States to go to school. And one has to understand that the FBI’s almost sole reason for being in Puerto Rico is to hunt and to persecute people who believe in independence. These are lifelong careers of people who are in government, whose major purpose in life, it would seem to be, is to stamp out people who believe in independence.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for stations to identify themselves, but when we come back, Juan Figueroa, maybe you can give us some examples of what it is that the FBI has been doing in Puerto Rico, particularly also as it relates to these sixteen people. We’ll also be joined by the mother of one of the Puerto Rican prisoners, Alberto Rodriguez, joining us from Chicago, to talk about her son’s case and what his response is to the offer by President Clinton. And we’ll also be joined by a woman who is a different kind of activist. She’s a Plowshares activist and served time in prison with a number of the women who are included in this Puerto Rico 16, the sixteen people that are being included in the Justice Department’s offering.
You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers, as we respond to the latest news that came down last night of the President Clinton’s offer of clemency to a number of Puerto Rican prisoners in the United States. The group of sixteen convicted of crimes like seditious conspiracy, possession of an unregistered firearm, or interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, most of them having served at least nineteen years. One sentenced to ninety years has served a quarter of a century so far. Others have served at least fourteen years. We’re getting the background on the cases of these people, and we’ll get, hopefully, what some of their responses are.
Juan Figueroa is with us, president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. And when the Macheteros were tried in Hartford, he was a Connecticut state representative. Also, Diana Crowder is with us, attorney. She is with the group ProLibertad, which is the group that has been fighting for amnesty for this group.
Juan Figueroa, you were just talking about the FBI in Puerto Rico.
JUAN FIGUEROA: Yes. My point is that if you grew up in Puerto Rico or you’re familiar with island politics, you would realize that over the years the FBI in Puerto Rico is not known for major sting operations involving political corruption or drugs, etc., etc.; they’re really known for hunting down and persecuting people who believe in Puerto Rico’s independence. And I think what’s really extraordinary about this act in 1999 is that it follows the debate last year in Congress, where for the first time I think all political parties and everybody who’s involved — who was involved in the process of a bill that sought to give the “opportunity,” quote-unquote, for Puerto Ricans to determine their fate politically, recognized that Puerto Rico was a colony. And it was openly talked about and admitted by everyone who was involved. And the crimes that these Puerto Rican brothers and sisters were alleged to have committed all stems from their belief, and their simple belief, that Puerto Rico should be independent. And as a colony, they have that right under international law, to fight for their country’s independence.
So I think what’s extraordinary about this, and what I think it’s important to recognize, is that the unity that you saw of both the Puerto Rican people in the States and in this country asking the President to pardon these sixteen Puerto Ricans in jail is because everybody understands that there is a war, an ideological war, and that there is persecution by those who don’t want Puerto Rico to be independent, and that the FBI has made it its big reason for being, and that you have career officers who put their lives on the line, supposedly, for this. And so, the fact that this has happened is another step, I think, in people realizing and recognizing that Puerto Rico is what it is, a colony of the United States, and that we have been so for more than a hundred years. And I think that that is the impetus for having the President pardon these brothers and sisters.
AMY GOODMAN: Some people have said perhaps also his wife’s possible run for the Senate in New York might contribute to it, to increase the support of the Latino community here, the Puerto Rican community, in particular. Diana Crowder?
DIANA CROWDER: Yes, absolutely. City Councilwoman Margarita López —-
AMY GOODMAN: The New York City Council.
DIANA CROWDER: Yes, and state senators and assembly people and the three Puerto Rican Congress people have made it really clear that the presidential candidate Al Gore and Hillary Clinton are going to be asked their positions and that if they’re not pushing Clinton to release all of the prisoners, that they will not support the candidates. And there’s even been talk about bringing it upon the floor of the Democratic Convention. And I would like to say again that this is not clemency that is being offered, and we will go back to our elected officials, and we will educate the Puerto Rican community that they do have power in their vote, and they can withhold that vote until all of these prisoners are free with no conditions.
AMY GOODMAN: And those three Congress members, one from Chicago, Luis Gutiérrez, two from New York, José Serrano and Nydia Velázquez, the three Puerto Rican Congress members that serve in Congress now.
We’re also joined on the telephone by Carmen Santana, who is the mother of Alberto Rodriguez, who is in prison now in Beaumont, Texas. He was raised in Chicago, while in high school part of a generation of Puerto Ricans who demanded recognition of their history and culture. And in 1983, Alberto was working as an academic counselor at Northeastern Illinois University, completing his thesis requirements for a graduate degree from Governor State University. He is one of the eleven whose case would be commuted, and he would be freed, if he signed the statement.
Carmen Santana, welcome to Democracy Now! Carmen Santana, hi.
CARMEN SANTANA: Hi. Actually, I wanted to make a little correction: In 1983, Alberto and I were married, and I’m the mother of his children.
AMY GOODMAN: Ah, OK.
CARMEN SANTANA: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: What is Alberto Rodriguez’s response? Will he sign the statements that say he renounces violence?
CARMEN SANTANA: Well, his response is that, like all the other prisoners, they are looking at this matter. You know, they are talking about it through their lawyer, Jan Susler, who was making a lot of phone calls yesterday. And everybody has to get together, talk about this, and see what it is that they’re going to do. Obviously, as it was said yesterday in an activity -— and I know it was said in Puerto Rico, because I saw it on the international news — that each person is a — you know, can make their own decision, and each person is going to be welcomed back into the community as a hero, into the Puerto Rican community. And so, you know, Alberto now is — in fact, yesterday, you know, there’s so much red tape with the prison, Jan was not able to fax him the letter that was sent from Washington, you know, giving him the information. So he hasn’t even seen the paper. It’s been read to him over the phone. He will see it today, hopefully, if they can get it through.
AMY GOODMAN: Diana Crowder, you spoke to him afterwards. What — he learned of it on television?
DIANA CROWDER: I had spoken to him yesterday morning about an article in El Nuevo Día, so he knew there were rumblings. But around 5:30, he was sitting in the television room watching Univision, and it said that the sixteen Puerto Rican political prisoners had been released. And he looked around at his compañeros and said, “Well, I’m out, but I’m not.”
CARMEN SANTANA: Correct.
DIANA CROWDER: That’s how he learned about it.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is your reaction, Carmen Santana, as well as your children’s?
CARMEN SANTANA: Well, you know, at first we were elated, because on the news they were projecting it as a clemency thing. And then, when we find out that there are all these conditions, you know, it’s by no means clemency. We, of course, you know, are hoping that with a little bit of negotiation, with things, you know, happening in Washington, that he can be out within at least a month or within a week. We don’t know when. But obviously, I mean, his kids are incredibly elated. His son was nine months old. Ricardo, he was nine months when Alberto was arrested. So he’s going to be seventeen in October. So he’s lived his whole life without his father present in the home. They have a wonderful relationship, and it’s developed in prison. That just goes to show you what kind of person Alberto is. And his daughter was five years old, and she’ll be twenty-two in October. We are really happy about this.
Let me tell you one thing. I got a call this morning from Puerto Rico. We’ve gotten a lot of calls from people wishing us, you know, well and expressing their happiness. And someone was saying that Senator Jorge Santini, who’s a statehood proponent, was on TV this morning in Puerto Rico and said that this is outrageous, that these conditions are illogical, that this is the time for these prisoners to unite, to get together, and how can they say that they cannot talk to each other? And, you know, my only comment was — to that person was, you know, the statehood proponent needs to know that racism goes a long way, you know, before democracy kicks in. And basically, that’s all it is, is, you know, the President wants these people to go to him and ask for forgiveness, when there’s been a campaign for over six years for their clemency. And I think it’s just, you know, they’re being bullied.
AMY GOODMAN: Carmen Santana, we’re also joined by a surprise guest, who has talked about and written about Puerto Rican political prisoners in this country, as well as other prisoners, and specifically focuses on the issue of death row. We did not expect to be having him join us live on the program today, but since he called, and it’s so difficult to get a call in from the Pennsylvania state correctional institutions, we want to welcome Mumia Abu-Jamal to Democracy Now!
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: On a move, Amy. How are you?
AMY GOODMAN: Good. You are just hearing this news perhaps for the first time about the sixteen Puerto Rican prisoners and the offering that the Justice Department and President Clinton is making them, eleven immediate freedom if they sign a statement that says that they will renounce violence and that they will not meet with other independence leaders if they get out, and will obey a ban on using weapons. I’d like to get your response from prison.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, initially, I would say ¡Libertad para los presos politicos de Puerto Rico! Freedom, for all of them, is a very just and righteous demand. But the terms, as I understand them, as I’ve heard them from the relatives and friends and supporters, is not liberty or freedom at all. I mean, they don’t have the freedom of association that is alleged to be a constitutional right.
And I am reminded, when I hear the condition about the renunciation of violence, that that is almost identical to the same condition that was put on the ANC prisoners, like Nelson Mandela, in South Africa. And it shows that what they’re being given is a form of probation in the street, which isn’t freedom because they’re not free to be the political persons that they are. It’s a kind of halfway acknowledgment that they are political prisoners, but it’s a denial of their right to be political people in freedom. So it’s a half-freedom. It’s a halfway house kind of freedom. And I agree with the last comment that was made about it’s outrageous. It should be fought, because it’s a kind of an allowance of their bodies to be free, but a restriction on their political activities.
AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking to us from death row in Pennsylvania. Mumia Abu-Jamal has served more than seventeen years on death row in the case of a conviction of a killing of a police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in 1981. Many have condemned the trial that he was a part of that found him guilty, saying that it was not fair by any standards, have been calling for a fair trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. I want to thank you very much for being with us.
I think that phone just got cut off. We want to talk about Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case with him, but I think we’re going to have to save that for another time. But it is very interesting to get the comment of Mumia Abu-Jamal on this day after the White House, because of pressure of human rights activists and longtime organizing of the Puerto Rican community, has offered a kind of deal to sixteen Puerto Rican prisoners. Mumia Abu-Jamal just having spoke from prison in Pennsylvania, we were not able to get any of the Puerto Rican prisoners themselves on the line today. Just a fluke that we got Mumia Abu-Jamal on the day that this has come down, since he has addressed the issue a number of times. I’m sorry that we did get cut off from Mumia Abu-Jamal, and I don’t know what that is, although just before he came on, we did hear the tape saying that he was calling from a correctional institution. Maybe he surprised many authorities with that phone call.
But we are also joined on the telephone by Susan Crane, Susan Crane who is just out of prison. She is a prisoner in another kind of case, has been over time, and that is Plowshares actions, hammering on warheads around the country in protest of nuclear weaponry. She was in prison in Dublin, California with a number of the women who are part of this group of sixteen who President Clinton is making an offer to.
And we welcome Susan Crane to the telephone right now, speaking to us from Jonah House in Baltimore, where she resides, Jonah House being a home for peace activists who engage in these Plowshares actions. Welcome to Democracy Now!
SUSAN CRANE: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you tell us about the women you served time with in Dublin, California, who are part of the group of Puerto Rican political prisoners?
SUSAN CRANE: Well, I was there with Carmen and Alicia and Lucy and Dylcia.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you give us their full names?
SUSAN CRANE: Carmen Valentín and Alicia Rodríguez, Lucy Rodríguez and Dylcia Pagan.
AMY GOODMAN: Two of them, sisters.
SUSAN CRANE: Yes. And they were all wonderful women and a bright light there in the prison for all of us. I found that their presence brought dignity and hope to all of us. And really, you know, over the years, they taught many things. Dylcia was teaching aerobics and ceramics while I was there.
AMY GOODMAN: I should say that Dylcia Pagan was also the subject of a documentary on PBS just a few weeks ago, her story as well as the story of her son, who lives in the United States, is now a filmmaker himself. Dylcia Pagan in Dublin, California now and could face immediate freedom if she accepts the terms of the release. What was the prison like where these women continue to serve, Susan Crane?
SUSAN CRANE: Well, it was very crowded, for one thing. And there wasn’t adequate medical care and hardly anything in the way of education. A woman could be there, sentenced for ten years, walk in, and walk out ten years later, fifteen years later, without any trade or skill. That doesn’t seem right to me. It’s all a very inadequate, very crowded situation.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by “crowded”?
SUSAN CRANE: Well, when I was there, which was just a few months ago, there was — there were over a thousand women and in a facility that might have been made for 300 or so. I was housed, permanently housed, in a room, in a cell, that was built for one person, and there were four of us permanently housed there. Many of the women were housed three in a room built for one. That’s way overcrowded.
AMY GOODMAN: What kind of activities did the women who’ve been charged with these crimes of seditious conspiracy engage in in the prison?
SUSAN CRANE: Well, for one thing, they gave all of us encouragement. They spoke out against racism. They spoke out for justice. And, you know, in a group of women from all different cultures from around the world, there were about — in that prison, there’s about 60 percent foreign nationals, so you have people speaking different languages, coming from different cultures, with different belief systems. And, you know, it’s easy to find racist solutions to things. And Carmen, Alicia, Lucy, Dylcia always were speaking out against that, that that’s not a solution. You know, we are sisters together.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was the Latino population of Dublin, California?
SUSAN CRANE: It was — it’s very high. It was, I’d say, around 70 percent, 75 percent.
AMY GOODMAN: And the actual activities that they engaged in in the prison to help other women prisoners?
SUSAN CRANE: Well, speaking to people, you know, not letting racist remarks go by, you know, just speaking out, not being afraid to confront other people, you know, helping with empowerment. The prison didn’t want to allow anything that would teach empowerment to the women. So, you know, you get together with people, and I found that the political prisoners were always trying to create situations where people could learn about empowerment.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, this is a sidebar on the story, but, Susan Crane, we had you on a few weeks ago with Phil Berrigan and Michele Naar-Obed, other people who have participated in Plowshares events. But I see similarities in how people are dealt with, especially when they come out of prison. We had you on in a studio in Baltimore. And Michele Naar-Obed, one of the three Plowshares activists who was out, has just been put back in prison for another year, because she came back to live at Jonah House, where other activists live. Now, you’ve come back to live there. Your judge let you do that. Hers wouldn’t and has put her back in prison. And one of the issues the judge raised was her coming on the radio program Democracy Now! That infuriated the judge. And she said, in the case of her coming on the radio show, what angered her was that she was with two other, quote, “convicted felons” — you and Phil Berrigan. And I was wondering — I was seeing a parallel between that and one of the conditions for the Puerto Rican activists, who could be let out of prison if they sign a statement that says they won’t commingle with other independence leaders.
SUSAN CRANE: Well, to me, it doesn’t seem like people’s rights should be taken away like that. I really couldn’t hear what Mumia was saying, but — because it was low on the phone here. But the whole idea of Clinton coming out and saying that people have to renounce violence, when he is one of the most violent — this country is the most violent country in the world. And here we are still dropping bombs on Iraq. We dropped all those bombs on Yugoslavia. We’re putting depleted uranium around the world. And how can he, who uses violence as a tool all the time, talk about renouncing violence? So ironic.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Susan Crane, I thank you for joining us from Jonah House in Baltimore, Susan Crane, just out of prison, just having left some of the Puerto Rican prisoners who are in prison in Dublin, California, the women in the case, like Dylcia Pagan, as well as three others.
You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll wrap up the discussion after stations identify themselves. Please stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with this national daily grassroots radio program, getting the latest reaction to last night’s announced offering of the White House and Justice Department to sixteen Puerto Rican prisoners around this country who have been charged with seditious conspiracy, a very nebulous but powerful charge that has led to them being imprisoned to sentences of something like ninety years. Many of them have served something like nineteen years in prison. Juan Gonzalez isn’t with us today, my co-host on Wednesdays and Fridays. He’s in Puerto Rico with Jesse Jackson, actually, on the Vieques story, the possibility of — well, tremendous pressure to get the Navy out of Vieques right now because of the bombing and the damage that it has done by the US Navy. But also, he is there as all of this news comes down, and he’s written extensively about the Puerto Rican prisoners.
Juan Figueroa is with us, as he has been through the show. Juan Figueroa, president and general counsel at Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. That charge, seditious conspiracy, that Diana Crowder, who’s also with us, of the group ProLibertad that has led an amnesty campaign for these prisoners, is one that Juan has written about and compared what other cases have gotten when someone has an illegal possession of a gun to the Puerto Rican prisoners.
JUAN FIGUEROA: And there’s no question that what happened here is that the sentences that these prisoners received as a result of these charges were way out of — when you compare them, they were much, much higher than violent felonies, as a matter of fact.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s something that even President Clinton raised.
JUAN FIGUEROA: That’s right. So, obviously, this was a tool that the government has used, and used very effectively, in this case in putting away people who happen to believe in the independence of Puerto Rico. And when you add the fact that they didn’t recognize the jurisdiction of the court, did not have counsel to defend themselves, didn’t believe in the process, and didn’t participate in the process, then you had the results that you had. This was recognized by a lot of people around the world. And I sort of want to make the point that I made earlier, which was the uniqueness about this is that both the Puerto Rican people on the island here have been united, notwithstanding whatever political stripe you come from, in seeing that this is an unjust situation, that it is wrong, and that these folks need to be put out of jail — gotten out of jail without any conditions attached.
AMY GOODMAN: I just want to raise some of the people who have supported amnesty for these Puerto Rican prisoners: Bishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, both Nobel laureates; José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Nobel laureate; Rigoberta Menchú of Guatemala; William Wardlaw, Amnesty International, Nobel laureate; Thandi Luthuli-Gcabashe of South Africa, Nobel laureate; as well as the Cardinal of New York, John Cardinal O’Connor; Coretta Scott King; the former mayor of New York, David Dinkins; United Church of Christ; the National Conference of Black Lawyers.
Where do we go from here, Diana Crowder?
DIANA CROWDER: The first thing that we should do is a massive call-in to the White House. I heard a listener on the previous program ask for the name of Dawn Chirwa, C-H-I-R-W-A. She’s in the White House counsel handling this case. Her phone number is (202) 456-7900. That’s (202) 456-7900. Her fax is (202) 456-1647. That’s (202) 456-1647. That’s her fax.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are you calling for?
DIANA CROWDER: Que salgan todos, that all of them come out and with no conditions. What they’re offering is parole. The taking away the right to assemble with whoever you want to is a parole condition. We’ve been working for sixteen years — excuse me, for six years for clemency, for amnesty, not for parole. So we want no conditions. This is an unconditional release.
The second thing, you should get in contact with your local committees, whether it’s the national committee in Chicago, ProLibertad in New York. There’s an email address, prolibertad99(at)yahoo.com. That’s prolibertad99(at)yahoo.com. Go into the websites of the different prisoners and find out what you can do locally for the demonstrations that are going to take place in the next couple of days.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is one, for example?
DIANA CROWDER: There’s going to be one at the United Nations at Ralph Bunche Park, which is at 42nd and First Street this Friday.
AMY GOODMAN: This is in New York City.
DIANA CROWDER: In New York City at 5:00 this Friday. Please be there. That’s Ralph Bunche Park, 42nd and First Street at 5:00 this Friday.
AMY GOODMAN: I guess our California listeners will have to get their tickets now, order them in advance. You don’t have that seven-day waiting period even. Well, are we going to see, Juan Figueroa, any people, do you think, taking this offer?
JUAN FIGUEROA: It’s hard to tell right now. You know, the last twenty-four hours, as Diana can attest to this, have been really very confusing, in the sense that, you know, we’re only now seeing sort of the fine print about what exactly the White House or the President is offering. And as I think was mentioned earlier, in the end, it’s going to be an individual decision, I think. But I think what’s important to keep in mind is that the battle is not over, obviously, that the fact that you have individual — that you have conditions and that there will be individual decisions that will be made does not, obviously, end the problem. We have a problem. Puerto Rican political prisoners remain in jail. They all need to be out. They all need to be out without any conditions. You can’t restrict constitutional rights. I mean, you’re either going to be — you either provide the clemency and accept this, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that.
AMY GOODMAN: On that note —
JUAN FIGUEROA: You can’t compromise this.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all very much for being with us, Juan Figueroa of Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Also thanks earlier to Carmen Santana, the mother of Alberto Rodriguez’s children, Alberto Rodriguez in prison in Beaumont, Texas, one of the Puerto Rican 16. Also thanks to Diana Crowder of ProLibertad, and for the website of ProLibertad, which is a very complicated one, you can go to our website and get all the phone numbers that have been mentioned today, as well as the website, and that’s at www.pacifica.org, www.pacifica.org.