Mayor Bill de Blasio backed former President Barack Obama’s decision to commute the sentence Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera, whose organization was behind to the deadly 1975 bombing of Fraunces Tavern near Wall Street, arguing the convicted terrorist has renounced his old methods and that it’s “time to turn the page.”
Obama set López Rivera’s 70-year prison sentence to expire 34 years early on May 17, one of 209 pardons he issued before surrendering the Oval Office to President Donald Trump. Rivera was sentenced to 55 years in prison in August 1981 for seditious conspiracy and an array weapons charges, then to another 15 years in 1988 for conspiring to escape federal prison through the use of explosives. López Rivera was a member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación National, also known as FALN, which sought independence for Puerto Rico.
The group claimed that it was behind at least 70 bombings in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.—including the Fraunces Tavern blast—between 1974 and 1983 that resulted in five casualties, injuries and costly property destruction, though López Rivera’s sentence was not connected directly to those attacks.
“I think he first of all was not personally involved in violence, he’s renounced terrorism as part of the agreement to be released,” de Blasio told NY1’s Errol Louis in the weekly “Ask the Mayor” segment. “He had been offered clemency back in a previous administration. He’s a guy in his 70s, he’s served his time.”
López Rivera confessed in court to accusations of armed robbery, training individuals in making bombs, recruiting people to the FALN and effectively served as custodian of the group’s various dumps of guns and explosives. He maintained, however, that he was a prisoner of war and thus not subject to U.S. law.
In 1999, outgoing President Bill Clinton offered to commute López Rivera’s sentence as well as the sentences of all but two of his co-defendants on the grounds that López Rivera was never convicted of specific crimes that resulted in deaths or injuries.The only condition of the commutation was that the convict disavow violence.
But López Rivera declined Clinton’s offer, saying he did not want to abandon the other members of his community. If he had accepted the offer, he would have been released from prison in 2009.
When Louis asked de Blasio whether he would have a different opinion if López Rivera was younger, de Blasio maintained his position.
“I guess all of the above,” de Blasio reiterated. “A guy who didn’t participate in violence, has renounced violence, again has served a lot of time. I think it’s time to turn the page.”
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rico native and close de Blasio ally, has petitioned for López Rivera’s release for years, sent him emails, visited him regularly and even asked Pope Francis to help him regain his freedom.