After about three decades behind bars, a Puerto Rican revolutionary might soon be free at last.
A generation ago, Carlos Alberto Torres was part of a major movement for human rights and self-determination for Puerto Rico. Driven by the militant activism of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), the struggle was built on leftist anti-colonial principles and, naturally, provoked a virulent federal crackdown. Convicted of “seditious conspiracy,” Torres, like many of his compatriots, was slapped with an extreme sentence, which he is currently serving in an Illinois prison.
For some 45 minutes, the examiner posed questions, including some very pointed political questions about Carlos Alberto’s views on the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, and whether his thoughts on this issue have changed throughout his years in custody. He reviewed his accomplishments in prison and asked about his plans if he were to be released: to open a pottery studio in Puerto Rico.
Significantly, Glenn noted “the large number of documents showing community support sent to the parole commission.” He was referring to the thousands of letters and resolutions from all of Puerto Rico’s civil society, as well as from supporters throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
After a brief break, Glenn announced his recommendation: a presumptive parole date of April 3, 2010…. which would mark the 30th anniversary of Carlos Alberto’s imprisonment.
The final decision of the commission is due on June 16. Torres’s supporters are urging people to write letters of support.
As a vindication of the struggles of Puerto Rican activists, Torres’s potential release would hit on reemergent historical touchstones.
The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court has shed light on the plight of Puerto Ricans as subjects of colonial domination and as migrants to the U.S. mainland. And earlier this year, a political flashpoint in the appointment of Attorney General Eric Holder was his role the Clinton administration’s controversial decision to pardon to some imprisoned FALN members.
With the support of Puerto Rican community leaders and other political figures, the administration in 1999 granted the activists clemency, with some conditions. Conservatives reacted with outrage, foreshadowing the debates surrounding post-9/11 detainees: the administration was going “soft on terrorism,” they argued, sending a damaging message to the public and inviting future attacks.
Ten years on, the same reactionary rhetoric still echoes in today’s national security debates in Washington. Yet allowing Torres to return to his community could mark a small but notable, and tragically overdue, gesture of respect for the right to dissent.
Image: FALN activists Julio, Andrés, and Luis Rosado, with Pedro Archuleta in 1978 (latinamericanstudies.org)