It is ironic that news of the plan to honor convicted terrorist Oscar Lopez-Rivera in New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 11 surfaced almost at the same time a federal appeals court in New York denied Jonathan Pollard’s effort to ease his parole conditions.
While criminal cases are rarely mirror images, the disparate treatment of the two men is nonetheless startling.
The Pollard story is a well-known one. Mr. Pollard, an intelligence research specialist for the U.S. Navy, pled guilty in 1986 to giving Israel classified information and was sentenced to life in prison – the only American given a life sentence for spying for an ally. Thereafter he was unable to persuade Presidents Bush 42, Clinton, Bush 44, and Obama to grant him an early release. Appeals to various courts were also unavailing.
Mr. Pollard was finally released on parole in 2015 after serving 30 years. A life term in the federal system is arbitrarily defined as 30 years’ incarceration followed by a hearing in which a determination is made as to whether parole should be granted and what restrictions should be imposed for the period of the parole.
Thus Pollard, for a period of five years, is prohibited from going to Israel (where his wife had been living); has to observe a curfew; and his whereabouts are subject to monitoring, as is his workplace computer. (The latter condition, he says, has severely restricted his job opportunities.)
In 2016 he petitioned a federal district court to void the restrictions but the court ruled that the U.S. Parole Commission was within its discretion in imposing them. He then appealed to the federal appeals court in Manhattan which on May 18 rejected his latest petition.
It is important to note that Mr. Pollard was cut no slack along his journey to freedom. The only thing that came close was President Obama’s decision not to oppose the granting of parole in 2015.
Shift now to the matter of Oscar Lopez-Rivera. After two jury trials, Mr. Lopez Rivera was sentenced to a cumulative term of 55 years in prison – later increased to 70 as punishment for an escape attempt – for a long list of crimes including leading conspiracies designed to kill, injure, and maim. He was a leader of the FALN, an armed, clandestine terrorist group dedicated to the violent separation of Puerto Rico from the United States. The FALN was reportedly responsible for over 120 bombings, five murders, and many injuries. The FALN perpetrated the infamous Fraunces Tavern bombing in New York in 1975, the toll of which was four dead and many others wounded.
Mr. Lopez-Rivera insisted throughout his trials and imprisonment that he was a political prisoner because his crimes were in support of the political goal of independence for Puerto Rico. The fact that in several referenda held in Puerto Rico only 6 percent voted in favor of separating from the U.S. didn’t deter Mr. Lopez-Rivera from portraying himself as a Puerto Rican nationalist. Nor, indeed, was he swayed by the fact that if anything, the overwhelming sentiment of Puerto Ricans has invariably been in favor of U.S. statehood for the island.
How planting bombs in American cities could possibly “free” Puerto Rico from the bonds of American “colonialism” remains an unexplained premise.
In any event, Presidents Clinton and Obama seemed to have bought into the Lopez-Rivera nationalism assertion. Thus, when Hillary Clinton was taking preliminary steps to run for the U.S. Senate from New York in 2000, she reportedly persuaded her husband to grant pardons to Mr. Lopez-Rivera and his fellow FALN members in order to help her attract the Hispanic vote. She withdrew her support when the convicted terrorists refused to express any remorse for their crimes. However, she reentered the fold after all but Mr. Lopez-Rivera expressed remorse and were pardoned.
Mr. Lopez-Rivera remained in federal prison until his sentence was commuted after serving 35 years, less than half of his sentence, in violation of Justice Department rules.
Significantly, when he was released last week he declared, “We are a colonized people, and according to international law…all colonized people have a right to struggle for its independence, using all methods within reach, including force.”
It’s bad enough that an unrepentant terrorist complicit in murder and bombings didn’t have official doors slammed in his face and that his illogical political rant gained some traction in Washington. Even worse, however, is the celebration of Mr. Lopez-Rivera by the two top politicos in New York City and the organizers of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Thus, Mr. Lopez-Rivera will lead the parade a week from Sunday and be honored as its first “National Freedom Hero.” Moreover, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito are slated to march in the parade.
Mr. de Blasio said that while the FALN “did things that I don’t agree with and that were illegal,” Mr. Lopez Rivera had renounced terrorism and served honorably in the Vietnam War even while “having real political differences over how Puerto Rico was being treated.
The mayor has also said that “All things considered, I understand why so many Puerto Ricans – that’s 700,000 people in this city – respect that he fought for Puerto Rico in their eyes…. [I] don’t agree with the way he did it, but he did serve his time.… He was pardoned appropriately, he has renounced violence. So I’m going to do everything I would normally do with the parade.
So for the mayor, leftist liberation ideology trumps everything. Is this really the message he wishes to convey to our young people?
Ms. Mark-Viverito was even more explicit. She said that she saw nothing wrong with honoring Mr. Lopez-Rivera. Indeed, “ultra right wing forces” in Puerto Rico are trying to undermine the parade this year, she said, and claimed that Mr. Lopez-Rivera’s “political convictions were the reasons why he was put in jail…. He is a person who values life.”
Tell that to the families of the dead and the maimed of the Fraunces Tavern attack.
But consider also that in 2010 the parade organizers had announced they would be honoring Puerto Rico’s leading soap opera star, Osvaldo Rios. When it was revealed that he had earlier served three months in jail for beating his girlfriend, Ms. Mark-Viverito said Mr. Rios “is not a positive role model for my people, for my community, and for our children…. He is supposed to be our international representation, someone to emulate. Having him at the parade, what kind of message does that send? To me, it continues to be appalling.”
Of course she was right then. But is she now prepared to embrace a generation of bomb makers inspired by the noble Mr. Lopez-Rivera?
Happily, Governor Cuomo has changed his mind and will not march. And a slew of corporate sponsors have also reconsidered and withdrawn their participation. It’s not too late for the mayor and the speaker to do the right thing as well.