Puerto Ricans to Welcome Freed 'Patriot'
by Chip Mitchell
July 26, 2010
A federal prison in downstate Illinois is scheduled to release an Oak
Park and River Forest High School alumnus today. Carlos Alberto
Torres once topped the FBI's Most Wanted list. After his 1980 arrest
in Evanston, prosecutors called Torres a terrorist. A jury found him
guilty of seditious conspiracy. But some Puerto Ricans on Chicago's
Northwest Side are planning a hero's homecoming.
The posters for today's celebration call Carlos Alberto Torres a patriot.
LOPEZ: Carlos has spent 30 years in prison.
José López directs the Puerto Rican Cultural Center here in Humboldt Park.
LOPEZ: That's longer than almost any political prisoner in the world.
Torres worked in a Puerto Rican movement that opposed U.S. control of
the island. Authorities called him a leader of the FALN. The Spanish
acronym stands for Armed Forces of National Liberation.
The group emerged in 1974. It claimed responsibility for dozens of
bombings and armed robberies, mostly in New York and Chicago. The
assaults killed five people and injured more than 70 others.
The targets included the Cook County Building, the Merchandise Mart
and a shopping mall in northwest suburban Schaumberg.
MITCHELL: One of the most daring attacks was in a building that was
here at Dearborn and Washington downtown. It was March 15, 1980. The
Carter-Mondale presidential campaign was using a couple floors for a
headquarters. A half-dozen FALN members with shotguns and rifles
burst in. They bound and gagged people, ransacked the offices and
spray-painted Puerto Rican independence slogans.
BERG: People took up arms as a way to push things forward.
The University of Pennsylvania's Dan Berger is an expert on 1970s radicalism.
BERG: Groups like the FALN, the Weather Underground, the Black
Liberation Army and others were all shaped by an extreme sense of
state repression -- of people being killed, arrested, locked up,
forced into exile.
The FALN had ties to clandestine groups in Puerto Rico. Torres's
attorney is Jan Susler of Chicago.
SUSLER: A body of international law developed that said colonialism
really is a crime against humanity, and people who are colonized have
a right to use any means at their disposal, including armed struggle,
to fight that crime against humanity.
JONES: You might say that that was a laudable goal, but their methods
of obtaining it were obnoxious and atrocious to the American system of justice.
Walter Jones Jr. was a federal prosecutor in Chicago who helped
convict Torres and nine other accused FALN members in a 1981 trial.
JONES: They were saboteurs. It wasn't like they were walking out in a
uniform, telling people that 'We were openly declaring war on you,'
but a cowardly act of leaving bombs lying around. It was the first
time that we ever locked down the federal courthouse so that you had
to come in through security. I certainly was frightened at the time.
Authorities arrested others with alleged ties to Puerto Rican armed
groups. And the movement lost steam.
Years later, a campaign for the prisoners' release led to a 1999
clemency offer from President Clinton. The offer excluded Torres.
Now he's spent three decades behind bars. The U.S. Parole Commission
has agreed to let him go.
José López, the cultural-center director, says Torres today is
committed to a peaceful resolution of Puerto Rico's status with the
LOPEZ: He is a grandfather. He will come back and be part of that
family. He will be part of the community that he comes to and he will
definitely move to Puerto Rico. The others, excarcerated in 1999,
have been doing a lot of good work, promoting Puerto Rican culture. I
believe that Carlos will do the same thing.
A Chicago caravan is picking Torres up at the prison this morning.
When he walks free, the only accused FALN member still in prison will
be López's brother Oscar. He refused Clinton's clemency and has been
in for 29 years.
Freed Puerto Rican Prisoner Defends Armed Struggle
After spending the last 30 years in prison, a Chicagoan who federal
prosecutors called a "terrorist" is flying back to Puerto Rico this afternoon.
Carlos Alberto Torres was born in Puerto Rico in 1952. His family
moved to New York and eventually to the Chicago area. In his 20's,
Torres worked with Chicago's Puerto Rican community, where he helped
create an alternative high school whose curriculum stressed the
island's culture and history.
Torres also got involved with a movement to end U.S. control of
Puerto Rico. Eventually he went underground. Authorities accused him
of belonging to the F-A-L-N, the Armed Forces of National Liberation.
The group emerged in 1974 and borrowed tactics from Algerians who
wreaked havoc in France during Algeria's war for independence. The
FALN claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings and armed attacks,
mostly in New York and Chicago.
They also specialized in what's known as armed propaganda. The idea
was to expose government weakness and draw attention to the
independence cause while avoiding bloodshed. But FALN attacks killed
at least five people and injured more than 70 others.
The FBI put Torres at the top of its "Most Wanted" list and Evanston
police arrested him and other alleged FALN members in 1980. A federal
jury found 10 of them guilty of seditious conspiracy.
A campaign for the prisoners' release led to a 1999 clemency offer
from President Clinton that excluded Torres, but the U.S. Parole
Commission finally ordered his release.
On Monday a caravan of supporters met Torres at the federal prison in
downstate Pekin, Illinois. On his way back to Chicago, he spoke by
phone with WBEZ's West Side reporter Chip Mitchell. Chip asked him
about his first moments of freedom…