Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera poses for a portrait during an interview following his release from house arrest after decades in custody, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. (Carlos Giusti / AP)

A day after he was freed after more than three decades behind bars for his role with a Puerto Rican nationalist group that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings, Oscar Lopez Rivera was set to receive a hero’s welcome on Division Street in Chicago on Thursday.

President Barack Obama commuted Lopez’s 70-year prison term in January, clearing the way for his early release. Lopez has been on house arrest in Puerto Rico since shortly after his sentence was commuted.

Lopez was considered a top leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, and had been a federal fugitive for five years when he was caught in May 1981 by police in north suburban Glenview after a routine traffic violation. Federal authorities had charged him in 1977 in connection with 16 Chicago area bombings.

Lopez was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1981 after he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, armed robbery, a weapons violation and four counts of interstate transportation of stolen vehicles. At his sentencing, a federal judge termed him an "unreconstructed revolutionary."

He later faced an additional 15 years in jail after he was convicted of conspiring to escape from prison in Leavenworth, Kan.

FALN claimed responsibility for bombings at government buildings, department stores, banks and restaurants in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico during the 1970s and early 1980s.

The most famous was the still-unsolved 1975 explosion that killed four people and wounded 60 at Fraunces Tavern, a landmark restaurant in New York’s financial district.

Lopez, a Vietnam War veteran who moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago as a child, wasn’t convicted of any role in the bombings that killed six people and injured dozens, but those who lost loved ones hold him responsible.

"This guy was convicted of leading the FALN that murdered people," said Joseph Connor, whose father, Frank, was killed in the Fraunces Tavern attack.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton offered Lopez clemency but he rejected the offer because it excluded two associates who have since been released. Then in 2011, the U.S. Parole Commission denied his request for an early release.

Humboldt Park today scarcely resembles the neighborhood Lopez grew up in.

At the time, the area was littered with rundown buildings and plagued by unemployment. There were few thriving Puerto Rican businesses, and the education system wasn’t serving the neighborhood well.

"Literally the community was burning around us," U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said.

Now there are numerous prominent Puerto Rican political leaders in the city and a stretch of Division Street now known as Paseo Boricua — Puerto Rican passway — welcomes visitors with a steel Puerto Rican flag overhead.

Before his arrest, Lopez helped set the change in motion, local Puerto Rican leaders said.

"Many of the things we celebrate today in our neighborhood, institutionally, began with him," Gutierrez said, citing Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School and the Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center, which Lopez helped found.

"He fought to make the educational system more responsive," Gutierrez said. "He saw young Puerto Ricans arrive from the island to be put in special education, put in a corner to play checkers…he fought to change that."

The Associated Press contributed.

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