In 1999, a year before Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate from New York and a decade and a half before emails helped destroy her presidential ambitions, an adviser to her husband’s administration sent an email about proposed pardons of imprisoned Puerto Rican terrorists.
The pardons would be “fairly easy to accomplish and will have a positive impact among strategic communities in the U.S. (read, voters),” wrote Mayra Martinez-Fernandez, an adviser to the White House Working Group for Puerto Rico, according Debra Burlingame in The Wall Street Journal. Get that? Voters. Clinton, to be sure, issued the pardons.
Communists celebrated the pardons then, just as they did yesterday from Canada to Colombia to Cuba when President Obama commuted yet another convicted Puerto Rican terrorist’s sentence. But Martinez-Fernandez’s email still holds the clue. The president’s action carries the same unavoidable whiff of playing identity politics with a key voting bloc of the Democratic Party. In fact, you have to go back to Lyndon Johnson to find the last Democratic president who, in his waning days in office, didn’t spring from prison a Puerto Rican convicted of terrorist acts.
The beneficiary of Obama’s commutation this time is Oscar Lopez Rivera. He’s no angel, but he’s being lionized as one—and not just by too many Puerto Ricans, but also by celebrities.
Terrorists Are So Awesome, You Guys
Typical is Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame, who tweeted from London Tuesday that he was “sobbing with gratitude” after hearing the news. He promised he would reprise his signature role in a performance of the musical to be attended in Chicago by Lopez.
Also characteristic of Lopez hagiography is this article in the Daily Beast, which called Lopez “a political prisoner” and referred to his “anti-colonialist mission.” For the record, Puerto Rico has held no fewer than four referendums on its status. In the last one in 2012, more than 61 percent voted to ask to become a state, and less than 5.5 percent voted for independence.
Obama’s one-time friend Bill Ayers, himself a terrorist in the 1970s, tweeted out a celebratory “Oscar Lopez freed!” In the same tweet he asked for a posthumous pardon for executed Soviet spy Ethel Rosenberg.
Miranda, at least, ought to know better. His support for Lopez sadly puts into stark relief the “Hamilton” cast’s dress-down of Vice President-elect Mike Pence and his daughters and niece when they attended “Hamilton” in December. Actor Brandon Victor-Dixon pompously lectured to Pence: “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.”
Real alarm and anxiety is what Lopez’s group, the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, sowed through its nine-year campaign of terror through the United States. In one bomb attack in the busy Fraunces Tavern, in New York’s financial district in January 1975, it killed four people and injured 60, many maimed.
Votes Matter More than Justice
What was the FALN’s reason for creating all that suffering? It wanted to establish in Puerto Rico a Marxist republic, against, as we have seen through the referendums, the stated desire of the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans. Lopez, a community organizer in Chicago decades before our 44th president plied that trade in the same city, joined the FALN in 1974. He was a fugitive for five years before his arrest in 1981. Police discovered six pounds of dynamite in his Chicago apartment.
The editor of The Federalist, Ben Domenech, himself the scion of a well-known Puerto Rican political family, wrote Tuesday in The Transom that Lopez “recruited and trained a small army of terrorists to murder his fellow Americans. He built bomb factories. He taught the young and impressionable how to make devices that would kill and maim … When he was put on trial, he admitted to doing all he had been accused of – he showed no remorse.”
So why would Obama, with one foot out the door, pause to free this guy? We begin to get an inkling in Miranda’s gushing tweet, “Thank you, @POTUS.” Obama is but the third Democratic president to pardon Puerto Rican terrorists with the clock ticking.
In 1979, Jimmy Carter released from prison three Puerto Rican terrorists who shot at members of Congress from the House gallery in 1954, wounding five. In 1999 Bill Clinton pardoned 12 members of the FALN. In the words of The New York Times, they were serving long sentences for “sedition, possession of unregistered firearms, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, interference with interstate commerce by violence and interstate transportation of firearms with intent to commit a crime.”
Lopez was actually offered a pardon, too, but he refused it after President Clinton “demanded as one of the conditions of their release that the jailed Puerto Ricans renounce the use of terrorism to achieve their aim of independence for the Caribbean commonwealth.”
The news is that Lopez will go back to community organizing. But after almost four decades of playing politics with national security, this is one Democratic Party tradition America can do without.
This piece originally appeared in The Federalist