Edwin Cortes

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Edwin Cortes was a Puerto Rican nationalist[1] and member of the FALN who received a sentence of 35 years[2] for seditious conspiracy and other charges. He was sentenced on February 18, 1999, and incarcerated in a U.S. federal prison. However, he was released early from prison, after President Bill Clinton extended a clemency offer to him on February 19, 1999.[3]

[see also Edwin Cortez https://www.sis.utk.edu/users/edwin-cortez]

Criminal activities, arrest and conviction

Cortes and 11 others were arrested on April 4, 1980, in Evanston, Illinois. They had been linked to more than 100 bombings or attempted bombings since 1974 in their attempt to achieve independence for Puerto Rico.[3] At their trial proceedings, some of the arrested declared their status as prisoners of war, and refused to participate in the proceedings.[4][5]

The arrest in April 1980 of a dozen FALN members in Evanston led to the identification of Edwin Cortes as a suspect. Nicknamed The Rabbit by law enforcement, a large team of local and federal agents placed him under nearly constant surveillance, which was used to identify a FALN safe house, which then was placed under surveillance.[6]

The surveillance team was able to place cameras and listening equipment in the apartment.[7] In the apartment, they found approximately 24 pounds of dynamite, 24 blasting caps, weapons, disguises, false identification and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The agents were able to neutralize all the ammunition and explosives in the apartment, by replacing the gunpowder with coconut charcoal.[8][9]

These actions plus information derived from continued surveillance foiled an attempt to free Oscar Lopez Rivera from jail during a trip to a hospital in mid March 1983. In addition, they forestalled similar escape attempts targeted for other FALN prisoners, housed near Bloomington, Illinois.[7]

Using surveillance, investigators documented Edwin Cortes training Alberto Rodriguez on how to build a bomb; evaluate the perimeter of Army Reserve Center and GSA facility at 74th and Pulaski; and plan to place bombs on July 4 of 1983.[10] This prompted the arrest on June 29, 1983 of Cortes, Alberto Rodriguez, and Alejandrina Torres and a fourth sympathizer (Jose Rodriguez).[11]

During the trial, Cortes and Torres painted a picture of Puerto Rico as a bleak world where American corporations, particularly drug companies, conducted unethical experiments, such as birth control tests, on Puerto Rican women; where the American government systematically effaced a rich, proud Puerto Rican cultural heritage; and where the powerful, shadowy hand of the Wall Street capitalist dictated the country`s politics and exploited its citizens and natural resources. They and their witnesses asserted that George Washington was a slave holder, that U.S. domination over Puerto Rico was illegal and that the FBI historically targeted the FALN for infiltration, disruption and annihilation. They invoked the names of freedom fighters from Northern Ireland, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and elsewhere; attacked the legitimacy of the 1898 treaty with Spain ceding Puerto Rico to the U.S.; accused government authorities of enslaving Puerto Rican nationals in a "cocoon of ignorance"; and cited a United Nations resolution that sanctioned war against colonialism.

The prosecuters countered: There may be something heroic about someone who dies for his beliefs, but there is nothing heroic about someone who sneaks out into the dead of the night, plants bombs and then slinks back into the sanctuary of a safe house before the bomb detonates.[12] In comments at sentencing of the three, Judge George Layton stated, “One of the strange things about this case is that these defendants didn’t accomplish any of their purpose. The didn’t succeed in springing Oscar Lopez. They didn’t succeed in springing anybody from Pontiac Correctional Center. And they didn’t even succeed in planting the bombs. Why? Because in this case, in this court’s judgement, represents one of the finest examples of preventive law enforcement that has ever come to this court’s attention ...They were going to plant bombs in public buildings during a holiday.”[10]

The three FALN members were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and sentenced to 35 yrs prison each.[11] In addition, the jury found Torres and Cortes guilty of bomb and weapons violations, interstate transportation of a stolen car and possession of an unlicensed silencer. Cortes and Rodriguez were convicted of conspiring to rob a Chicago Transit Authority money collector.[13]

None of the bombings of which they were convicted resulted in deaths or injuries.[3] Cortes was given a 35-year federal sentence for seditious conspiracy and other charges.[2]

Seditious conspiracy and human rights violations

Cortes' first 10 months in custody were spent in isolation, imposed solely because of the political nature of the charges against him, and ended only when a federal court ordered the prison warden to place him in the general population. There he became involved in the creation of cultural and social programs for prisoners and was also active in vocational and arts programs.[14][copyright violation?]

There were reports of human rights violations against the FALN prisoners. The prisoners were placed in prisons far from their families, some were sexually assaulted by prison personnel, some were denied adequate medical attention, and others were kept in isolated underground prison cells for no reason. Amnesty International and the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Administration of Justice both criticized the conditions. The conditions were found to be in violation of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.[14] A federal judge also addressed his concerns in the case of Baraldine vs. Meese.

Political prisoner

At the time of their arrest Cortes and the others declared themselves to be combatants in an anti-colonial war against the United States to liberate Puerto Rico from U.S. domination and invoked prisoner of war status. They argued that the U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to try them as criminals and petitioned for their cases to be handed over to an international court that would determine their status. The U.S. Government, however, did not recognize their request.[14][5]

For many years, numerous national and international organizations criticized Cortes' incarceration categorizing it as political imprisonment.[15][16]

Clemency and release from prison

Edwin Cortes was released from prison on September 10, 1999,[17] after President Bill Clinton extended him clemency.[18] Clinton cited Rev. Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter as having been influential on his decision to grant Cortes the clemency offer.[19][20] Cases involving the release of other Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners have also been categorized as cases of political prisoners, with some [21][22][23][24] being more vocal than others.[25][26][27]

The sentences received by Cortes and the other Nationalists were judged to be "out of proportion to the nationalists' offenses." [3] In criticizing President Clinton's decision to release the Puerto Rican prisoners, the conservative U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee also categorized Cortes as a "Puerto Rican Nationalist", echoing a recent Newsweek article.[28] In 2006, the United Nations called for the release of the remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners in United States prisons.[29]

Among the other convicted Puerto Rican nationalists there were sentences of as long as 90 years in Federal prisons for offenses including sedition, possession of unregistered firearms, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, interference with interstate commerce by violence and interstate transportation of firearms with intent to commit a crime.[3] None of those granted clemency were convicted in any of the actual bombings. Rather, they had been convicted on a variety of charges ranging from bomb making and conspiracy to armed robbery and firearms violations.[30] They were all convicted for sedition, the act of attempting to overthrow the Government of the United States in Puerto Rico by force.[2][31]

Had President Clinton not offered clemency, Cortes would have been released in 2004.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Mark Zambrano (July 21, 1985). Faln Divides Its Own People Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "United States Department of Justice. Office of the Pardon Attorney: Commutations of Sentences". Justice.gov. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e "12 Imprisoned Puerto Ricans Accept Clemency Conditions" by John M. Broder. The New York Times September 8, 1999
  4. ^ Prendergast, Alan. End of the Line. Denver Westword, July 12, 1995. Retrieved on 2008-11-21
  5. ^ a b ''The Puerto Rican movement: voices from the diaspora.'' By Andrés Torres. Temple University Press. 1998. Page 147. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  6. ^ Effects and effectiveness of law enforcement intelligence measures to counter homegrown terrorism: A case study on the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN); Roberta Belli, Final Report to the Science & Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, August 2012, page 23.
  7. ^ a b R. Belli, page 24.
  8. ^ Statement of the Special Agent (Retired) Richard S. Hahn before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearin on FALN Clemency, September 15, 1999. Redacted in the website for Latin American Studies. Also can be found at Official report of the Committee of the Judiciary, pages 33-35.
  9. ^ Richard Hahn interview[permanent dead link], page 48.
  10. ^ a b R. Hahn testimony.
  11. ^ a b R. Belli, page 27-28.
  12. ^ 4 Guilty In Bomb Plot, Chicago Tribune article, August 06, 1985, by William B. Crawford Jr.
  13. ^ W. Crawford, Chicago Tribune article.
  14. ^ a b c d "ProLIBERTAD. ''ProLIBERTAD Campaign for the Freedom of Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War: Arm the Spirit'' 30 October 1995". Hartford-hwp.com. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  15. ^ Peoples Law Office. Puerto Rico.
  16. ^ "Cable News Network (CNN). ''Eleven Puerto Rican Nationalists Freed from Prison.'' September 10, 1999". CNN. 1999-09-10. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  17. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons. U.S. Department of Justice. Immate Locator". Bop.gov. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  18. ^ "United States Department of Justice. Press Release. August 11, 1999". Justice.gov. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  19. ^ "CNN. ''FALN prisoners another step closer to freedom: Clinton condemned on Capitol Hill for clemency.'' September 9, 1999". Cnn.com. 1999-09-09. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  20. ^ "The Washington Post. ''Puerto Rican Nationalists Freed From Prison.'' By Charles Babington. September 11, 1999, Page A2". Washingtonpost.com. 1999-09-11. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  21. ^ United Nations General Assembly. Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling on United States to Expedite Puerto Rican Self-determination Process: Draft Resolution Urges Probe of Pro-Independence Leader’s Killing, Human Rights Abuses; Calls for Clean-up, Decontamination of Vieques. June 12, 2006.(GA/COL/3138/Rev.1*). Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York. Special Committee on Decolonization, 8th & 9th Meetings. (Issued on 13 June 2006.) The Approved Text reads, in part, "As in previous years, ...the Special Committee called on the President of the United States to release Puerto Rican political prisoners..." (page 1)
  22. ^ Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, City University of New York. Guide to the Ruth M. Reynolds Papers: Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. August 1991 and December 2003. Updated 2005. Archived July 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Reviews Puerto Rico - U.S. relations, including cases of Puerto Rican political prisoners.
  23. ^ Vito Marcantonio, U.S. Congressman. In his August 5, 1939, speech before Congress titled Five Years of Tyranny. (Recorded in the Congressional Record. August 14, 1939.) Archived January 12, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. In the words of Congressman Marcantonio, "There is no place in America for political prisoners...When we ask ourselves, 'Can it happen here?' the Puerto Rican people can answer, 'It has happened in Puerto Rico.' as he spoke about the treatment of Puerto Rican Nationalist and U.S. prisoner Pedro Albizu Campos. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
  24. ^ Chicago Sun-Times. Puerto Rican community celebrates release of political prisoner. Archived July 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Report states, "Chicago's Puerto Rican community celebrates the release of political prisoner Carlos Alberto Torres..."
  25. ^ "Fox News Network. ''Puerto Rican Nationalist Sentenced to 7 Years for 1983 Wells Fargo Robbery in Conn.'' May 26, 2010". Foxnews.com. 2010-04-07. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  26. ^ Danica Coto (2010-07-28). "The Huffington Post. ''Carlos Alberto Torres, Puerto Rican Nationalist Imprisoned In Illinois For 30 Years, Returns Home To Puerto Rico .'' July 28, 2010". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  27. ^ Martin, Douglas (2010-08-03). "The New York Times. ''Lolita Lebrón, Puerto Rican Nationalist, Dies at 90''. By Douglas Martin. August 3, 2010". Puerto Rico: Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  28. ^ "U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee. ''Al Gore: Quick to Condemn "Arms-for-Hostages," but What About "Terrorists-for-Votes?"'' September 21, 1999". Rpc.senate.gov. Archived from the original on 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  29. ^ United Nations General Assembly. Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text Calling on United States to Expedite Puerto Rican Self-determination Process: Draft Resolution Urges Probe of Pro-Independence Leader’s Killing, Human Rights Abuses; Calls for Clean-up, Decontamination of Vieques. June 12, 2006.(GA/COL/3138/Rev.1*). Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York. Special Committee on Decolonization, 8th & 9th Meetings. (Issued on 13 June 2006.)
  30. ^ "CNN. Eleven Puerto Rican Nationalists Freed from Prison.'' September 10, 1999". Cnn.com. 1999-09-10. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  31. ^ Hanley, Charles J. (1998-05-10). "The Seattle Times.''Puerto Rican Inmate Has No Regrets For His Terrorist Actions.'' By Charles J. Hanley. May 10, 1998". Community.seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
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