The editor complained when he saw the story. You can’t apologize for a terrorist, he said.

“But don’t you think people in this city would like to know how a native son came to be considered one of the most dangerous men in the country?” the reporter asked.

The editor reminded him that Oscar Lopez-Rivera wasn’t exactly a native son, that he had moved, to Chicago from Puerto Rico at age 12.

“All right. But he’s 45 now. Subtracting the seven years he’s spent so far in the hole, that’s 26 years living in Chicago. He had an apartment near North and Western, graduated from Tuley High School, and was highly respected in West Town for helping to improve conditions for poor Puerto Ricans.”


“Yeah, not to mention his service in the early years of Vietnam. He was a hero; the army awarded him the Bronze Star for valor.”

What did he do to win it?

“I don’t know,” the reporter said. “I wanted to ask him, but officials at the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown only gave us 30 minutes. He did say Vietnam changed him, that he began to realize the U.S. was the enemy of the poor peasant, the enemy of the campesino, and that Puerto Rico, like Vietnam, must free itself from the ‘Yankee invader.'”

He was using you to proselytize to the media. That’s in vogue nowadays.

“You sound like the government. They stonewalled me for five weeks, and then when I finally got the interview some flunky of the warden insisted on standing over us keeping time. ‘It’s for your own protection,’ he told me. Do you know that one of the government’s counterterrorism strategies reads, ‘The media . . . must never be permitted to demonstrate the terrorist as a normal human?”

The man isn’t your everyday citizen. He operated a safe house on West Haddon Street, right? He’s alleged to be a leader of the FALN, the Puerto Rican nationalists who were responsible for four deaths in a bombing near Wall Street in 1975. He participated in the armed takeover of the Carter-Mondale campaign headquarters here in 1980? Was captured in Glenview in 1981 and sentenced to 55 years for seditious conspiracy and weapons offenses?

“Don’t forget the part about teaching people how to make bombs. And his conviction this past December for plotting to escape. I’m not condoning what he did–although he says that a history of U.S. violence against Puerto Ricans provoked him. But should we just ignore him? There are at least 70,000 Puerto Ricans with similar sentiments.”

How do you know that?

“That’s the number of people living here and on the island who Puerto Rican police have listed as ‘subversive.'”

What does that mean?

“I guess it means they support making Puerto Rico an independent country after 89 years of saying ‘uncle’ to Sam, and they wink while a few young toughs calling themselves the FALN or Los Macheteros do the armed dirty work.”

How many of them are from Chicago? You need a local angle.

“The police didn’t say. But we know that roughly 3,000 people, or 3 percent of the city’s Puerto Rican population, turned out in 1979 to greet a group of nationalists freed from prison. And more Puerto Rican activists in U.S. prisons are from Chicago than from any other city–about a dozen. Two more await sentencing for supposedly trying to free Lopez-Rivera when he was held at a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.”

More than any city?

“Yeah. Look, there may be something particular here that produces people like Lopez-Rivera. He didn’t simply return from Vietnam to take up arms. He sought legal means. He worked for the Northwest Community Organization. He counseled drug addicts and founded an alternative high school. But somewhere along the line, the proponents of change always meet the powers that be and the latter bust heads open. Take the ’68 Democratic convention and the Humboldt Park riots and Hoover’s ‘dirty tricks.’ Some, like Lopez-Rivera, just never stopped fighting back.”

There you go apologizing.

“I’m sorry.”