A mural in Barrio Canas, Ponce, Puerto Rico for the freedom of Lopez Rivera/Photo: Flickr – Tito Caraballo
The Non-Aligned Movement have welcomed the U.S. decision to commute the sentence of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera and promoted the independence of Puerto Rico, a cause for which Lopez Rivera was thrown behind bars.
Lopez Rivera was sentenced to 35 years in prison but will be freed in May in a last-minute decision by President Barack Obama to commute the sentences of thousands of inmates including WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
The Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, was founded in the midst of the Cold War as an attempt by formerly colonized and colonized powers to build unity outside U.S. and Soviet spheres of influence. Following the commutation of Lopez Rivera, NAM said it “welcomes the recent decision,” adding that “in line with the founding principles of Bandung, (the Movement) reaffirms the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence … and expresses its strong support for the resolutions on Puerto Rico adopted by the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, while calling for its immediate implementation.”
The Puerto Rican figure was part of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, the clandestine front founded in the late 1960’s to free Puerto Rico from its “colonial condition” after years of U.S. government attacks on Puerto Rican independence activists.
After years of living underground, Lopez Rivera was arrested in 1981 and charged with “seditious conspiracy” for his role in a variety of FALN activities, including bombings and armed robberies. During his trial Lopez Rivera and other FALN activists told the court their actions were part of an anti-colonial war against the U.S., declaring themselves prisoners of war and requesting that their cases be handed over to an international court.
He was eventually sentenced to 55 years in prison, a sentence almost 20 times longer than those handed down for similar offenses.
Bill Clinton offered him clemency in 1999 as long as he publicly renounced armed struggle. He rejected the promise of early release on the grounds that it was not being offered to other Puerto Rican independence activists and because he refused to renounce the right of colonized peoples to armed resistance.