At the 2013 funeral of South African President Nelson Mandela, who had been imprisoned by the U.S.-backed apartheid regime in South Africa for 26 years previous to liberation, President Barack Obama said that “around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs.”
He should look homeward. Puerto Rican freedom fighter Óscar López Rivera has now spent 34 years in a U.S. federal prison for the “crime” of struggling for the freedom of his homeland — Puerto Rico. In 1981, he was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” for his participation in the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). That was for his political beliefs! There was no conviction for bombing or injuring anyone.
Yet despite strong pressure from the Puerto Rican government and political leadership, the AFL-CIO, Nobel laureates Desmund Tutu and Mairead Maguire, and many, many progressive organizations in the U.S. and around the world, Obama so far has refused to release him.
In 1999, over the protests of the FBI, the U.S. attorney’s office and Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Bill Clinton offered clemency to López Rivera and twelve other Puerto Rican nationalist prisoners. The twelve others accepted, but López Rivera turned the offer down. Clinton had demanded, however, that López Rivera serve ten more years of a fifteen-year sentence for a spurious “attempted escape” charge. López Rivera rejected Clinton’s offer, also not wanting to leave imprisoned other prisoners whom Clinton had excluded from his action.
Now, 16 years later, all the other nationalist prisoners are out of jail. But López Rivera still languishes in federal prison, the last “independentista” behind bars. He spent 12 of those 34 years in solitary confinement in some of the highest security prisons in the country.
Puerto Rico has been under U.S. domination since Washington seized the Caribbean island in 1898. Before that it had been a colony of Spain. U.S. citizenship was forced on Puerto Ricans in 1917 — just in time for 20,000 Puerto Rican youths to be drafted into the U.S. military for World War 1.
In 1948, when López Rivera was five, the U.S.-controlled Puerto Rican legislature made it illegal to own a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic song, even to speak in favor of independence. That law was repealed in 1957.
At 14, López Rivera moved to Chicago. He fought in the Vietnam War, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal. He then helped establish Illinois’ first Latino cultural center and organized to improve housing for Puerto Ricans in Chicago.
During the 1970s, López Rivera devoted himself to the FALN and the freedom struggle for Puerto Rico. In his defense against the charges brought against him, López Rivera argued that under international law he has the status of “prisoner of war.” International organizations have declared Puerto Rico to be a colony of the U.S. The United Nations General Assembly, within a resolution against international terrorism, excluded people seeking “the inalienable right to self-determination and independence of all people under colonial and racist regimes.” (mintpressnews.com, May 14)
The U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization approved a resolution in 2013 that called on the U.S. to “end the subjugation” of Puerto Rico and to release López Rivera.
On May 29, there will be a march to free López Rivera through 34 municipalities in Puerto Rico, ending with a huge rally at the Federal Courthouse at Hato Rey. There will be demonstrations and rallies in 34 cities across the U.S., as well as events throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia. In New York City, there will be “A Day For Óscar López Rivera, One Voice for Óscar,” a march and rally to demand the release of Puerto Rican activist and icon Óscar López Rivera.
Workers World urges its readers to support these demonstrations and meetings and join the call to free Óscar López Rivera.
See freeoscarnycmay30.org for more information.