Oscar López Rivera Free After 36 Years in US Prison

Puerto Rico’s independence leader and longest held political prisoner in the U.S. from Latin America will be free.

Archive image of Puerto Rican independentista Oscar Lopez Rivera.

The United States government announced Tuesday the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who has been imprisoned in the U.S. for 36 years for his struggle to free Puerto Rico from U.S. colonial rule.

Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Lopez’ sentence, which will expire on May 17, according to a White House source, consulted by the EFE news agency.

Clarissa Lopez, daughter of Lopez, will hold a press conference Wednesday at 10 a.m. in reaction to his release at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Lopez, born in Puerto Rico in 1943, is an independence leader in his native country. Upon returning to Chicago after serving in the Vietnam War, he joined the struggle for the rights of the Puerto Rican people and participated in acts of civil disobedience and other actions.

In 1976 he joined the clandestine fight for the independence of Puerto Rico as a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation. In 1981 he was captured by the FBI accused of “conspiracy” and for his militancy in the FALN.

At the time of his capture, he proclaimed himself a prisoner of war, protected in the first protocol of the Geneva Convention of 1949. The protocol protects Lopez for being a person arrested in conflict against colonial occupation.

The U.S. did not recognize the demand of Lopez and sentenced him to 55 years in prison, after an alleged attempt to escape, the sentence increased to 70 years in prison, 12 of which have been spent in isolated confinement.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999 offered him a pardon. The offer was made to 13 members who accepted, but Lopez rejected it because it included completing 10 years in jail with good behavior. Leaders from around the world, as well as human rights organizations, have demanded the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera.

On June 18, 2012, the U.N. Decolonization Committee approved a resolution, promoted by Cuba, in which it called for recognition of Puerto Rico’s right to independence and self-determination and urged the release of the pro-independence detainees in the United States.


Colonialism Is Puerto Rico’s Biggest Problem

In a statement marking his 74th birthday Friday, political prisoner Oscar Lopez said he has faith that “we will eradicate colonialism.”

In a statement issued on his birthday Friday, the Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar Lopez Rivera marked his 35th year as a political prisoner in the U.S. by saying that “whatever time I have left in this world I dedicate it to work and fight to help solve the biggest problem we face: the colonial status of Puerto Rico.”

The statement, released by Lopez Rivera’s daughter, comes as the international campaign for his release intensifies in the waning days of the Obama presidency, and as Puerto Ricans continue to suffer under a U.S. imposed debt restructuring program.

Over 125,000 people, including multiple Nobel Peace Prize winners, have signed a petition asking President Obama to grant clemency to the 74-year-old former leader in the Armed Forces of National Liberation, jailed by the U.S. in 1981 “because he struggled for Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination.”

“I can say that I have lived because I have transcended some of the many challenges that I have had to face, and continue to strive to transcend those that I have not yet overcome,” Lopez Rivera said in the letter. Offered conditional clemency by President Clinton in 1999, Lopez Rivera refused it because it was not offered to fellow activists and because he would not renounce his right to armed struggle against a colonial occupation.

A U.S. colony since 1898, Puerto Rico currently faces a crippling U.S. manufactured debt crisis. The newly elected right-wing governor announced this week the government does not have enough money to cover the civil service payroll for February and Lopez Rivera used his statement to highlight the root cause of the crisis: his country’s status as “the oldest colony in the world.”

“If we dare to live and if we dare to fight,” he wrote, “we can eradicate colonialism and transform our beloved homeland into the Edenic garden it has the potential to be, and live as a free people without colonial chains.”

Without independence, he said, Puerto Ricans will be unable to enjoy “a decent, safe, productive and healthy life,” and will be instead condemned to the poverty and oppression faced by many Indigenous peoples in the U.S.

Despite the fact that he is the only remaining Puerto Rican independence activist jailed in the U.S. — fellow FALN member Carlos Torres, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy along with Lopez Rivera, was released in 2010 — he credited his willingness to confront injustice as giving him the strength to survive behind bars.

“The impulse to confront everything that comes my way has made it possible to accumulate experiences that have made me very grateful to have lived all these years,” he wrote.