Terrorist or Hero? Puerto Rican Nationalist to be Freed

Puerto Rico nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera was freed from house arrest Wednesday after decades in custody in a case that transformed him into a martyr for his supporters but had outraged those who lost loved ones in a string of bombings. He was never tied to specific bombings, which caused few injuries.

"We have to thank him for giving his life for our island", Nelson Cortes, a New York-based waiter who supports Puerto Rican independence, told the Associated Press news agency.

One of the longest-serving political prisoners in US history is officially a free man.

Rivera - who helped form the violent Puerto Rican independence group FALN (Fuerza Armadas de Liberacion Nacional, Spanish for Armed Forces of National Liberation) that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the Big Apple and several other U.S. cities in the 1970s and early 1980s - smiled and waved to a throng of supporters outside his daughter's San Juan home, before hopping into a white Jeep.

Goya Foods recently ended its long-time sponsorship of the New York Puerto Rican Day Parade after parade organizers chose to honor FALN terrorist Oscar López Rivera. One of the bombings, at the Fraunces Tavern in NY in 1975, killed four people and injured more than 60 others.

A poet wearing a mask of Lopez Rivera's face at an event asking for Rivera to be released. There has been a campaign to free Lopez Rivera over the years, drawing support from Pope Francis, former President Jimmy Carter and "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. "I have some skills - organising, helping young people - that I want to share with people".

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But his supporters note he wasn't convicted of bombings but on sedition and other lesser charges.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House of Representatives, said she's seen how Lopez Rivera unites the country. After being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War and returning to Chicago, Lopez Rivera joined the struggle for Puerto Rican rights. He served more than a decade in solitary confinement after a second conviction for attempting to escape.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton offered Lopez Rivera a pardon in 1999, but he rejected it in an act of solidarity with other Puerto Rican activists who had not been offered clemency, teleSUR noted.

Lopez was released from prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and arrived in Puerto Rico in February to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest. A federal judge termed him an "unreconstructed revolutionary" and Lopez said Puerto Ricans should fight for their island's independence "by any means necessary".

The United States seized Puerto Rico from Spain during the Spanish-American War.

Puerto Rico has been under USA jurisdiction since 1898, and its people have been US citizens since 1917. The U.S. commonwealth receives billions in federal funds but people can not vote for president and have no vote in Congress.

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