Harlem, N.Y. — The streets of Harlem saw the largest mobilization to date calling for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoner Óscar López Rivera on May 30. More than 3,000 people, marching under the slogan, “One voice for Óscar,” demanded President Barack Obama immediately release the Puerto Rican patriot.
López Rivera, 72, is now the longest-held Puerto Rican political prisoner. On May 29, he completed 34 years in the empire’s prisons — 12 of them in solitary confinement. He was accused of “seditious conspiracy” for belonging to the Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). This same charge was used against Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa before his release from prison. The FALN, based in Chicago, was fighting to free the Puerto Rican colony from its U.S. yoke.
The demonstration in Harlem reflected the broad support López Rivera has won in the past year. Based on protesting the violation of his human rights, the campaign has even added the voices of rightist politicians. A prime example of this is the letter from the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus — which includes right-wingers like the Cuban Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — calling for the prisoner’s release. It was recently sent to Obama.
Óscar López’s relatives led the march. His only daughter, Clarisa López, traveled from Puerto Rico the preceding night, after participating in demonstrations on the island. His brother, José López Rivera, a renowned teacher and community activist in Chicago, traveled here.
Also present were Puerto Ricans who hold political offices in Puerto Rico, such as the mayor of San Juan, and others who do so in the United States, including the New York City Council president, plus state and national legislators with varying levels of progressive credentials.
Although news media coverage highlighted the presence of political and religious leaders, it was the Latino/a people, mostly Puerto Rican, with supporters from the Dominican, Mexican and other Latin American nations, who were the most significant march participants.
Most contingents could be identified by their banners as belonging to pro-Óscar collectives. Also participating were organizations supporting other political prisoners, like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Organized labor had a strong presence, including a large contingent from 1199 SEIU, led by its vice president, Estela Vázquez. Members of solidarity movements and the U.S. left were also present.
The people in the street
The marchers came from 25 states, with many contingents identified by their hometowns in Puerto Rico. This reflected the immense wave of immigration in recent years that the Caribbean country’s devastating economic situation has provoked.
Alongside the march, another phenomenon occurred on the sidewalks. Many people who had been unaware of Óscar’s case wanted more information. During spontaneous gatherings, people explained the case and discussed Puerto Rico’s economic crisis. Many people wanted to know how to join the movement in New York City to free Óscar.
From tall residential buildings, people waved Puerto Rican flags and shouted slogans to greet the marchers. A Puerto Rican music shop, where gigantic Puerto Rican flags waved, played a song calling for Óscar’s freedom. It was written by Puerto Rican Danny Rivera.
Campaigns in Puerto Rico and Latin America
In Puerto Rico, the movement for Óscar has grown — as in the past the successful struggle to get the U.S. military off the island of Vieques grew. On the 29th day of every month, the “Free Óscar” movement and the women’s group “34 for Óscar” hold activities. The women’s organization, which organizes protests in Puerto Rico and New York, includes “34” in its name to show the number of years of his incarceration.
On May 29 of this year, the Second Walk for Óscar was held. It passed through 40 towns on the island in 34 days, carrying information about the case and collecting resolutions of support from those municipalities.
But the solidarity extends beyond Puerto Rico. In Cuba, there have been many events and conferences, including a demonstration called by the Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAL) at the Puerto Rico Mission in Havana.
In Venezuela, an Óscar López Rivera Solidarity Committee was formed in a neighborhood named after Óscar López Rivera, created by the Gran Misión Vivienda. President Nicolás Maduro has actively supported the cause of the patriot’s liberation. So, too, have other Latin American leaders, including former Uruguayan President José Mujica and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Public meetings supporting Óscar and Puerto Rico were held in more than 10 Latin American countries on May 29 as a result of decisions agreed to in the Final Declaration of the Summit of the Americas held in Panamá. In Panamá, Spain and Germany, public meetings and petitions called for Óscar’s release.
Many well-known individuals have also spoken out in favor of Óscar, such as Nobel Prize laureates Rigoberta Menchú from Guatemala and Desmond Tutu from South Africa.
The time has come to free Óscar López Rivera and Puerto Rico!