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Issue #1487      2  February 2011

Free Puerto Rican political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera

“My beliefs then and now are that there is no greater crime than to deny a nation its freedom; that I as a colonised subject, have never been a free man, therefore I’ve only had one choice – to fight for my freedom by any means necessary; and that ours is a just and noble cause to be defended in the Diaspora, in Puerto Rico…”.

Oscar Lopez Rivera

Oscar Lopez Rivera.

International law denounces colonialism as a crime and recognises a colonised people’s right to end colonialism by any means at their disposal. The United Nations recognises that these laws apply to the case of Puerto Rico. For many years now, the United Nations’ De-colonisation Committee has approved resolutions recognising the inalienable right of Puerto Rico’s people to independence and self-determination.

In 1981, Oscar Lopez Rivera, an organiser, activist and campaigner for Puerto Rican independence, was arrested by the FBI alleging he was an Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) leader. He is serving 70 years for “seditious conspiracy”.

Initially sentenced to 55 years, 15 more were added in 1988, based on spurious charges of participating in an escape conspiracy.

Between 1980 and 1983, 14 alleged members of the FALN were arrested, accused of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to prison terms between 50 and 90 years. The Puerto Rican Political Prisoners were a part of two clandestine organisations Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN) and Los Macheteros. Their arrests and subsequent imprisonment correspond to a planned effort by the FBI to destroy their organisations and repress their activities.

Oscar was not accused or convicted of causing harm to anyone or taking a life. Oscar’s projected release date was 2023, when he will be 79 years old. He has already served 29 years in jail, including harsh conditions of total isolation and sensory deprivation. Oscar Lopez Rivera is now 67 years old, making him among one of the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and indeed in the world. Of all the Puerto Rican political prisoners convicted in the early 1980s, only Oscar remains in prison.

In 1999, President Clinton commuted the sentences of 11 Puerto Rican political prisoners arrested in the 1980s, after they had served from 16 - 20 years as he felt that their sentences were disproportionately lengthy.

President Clinton also offered to commute Oscar’s sentence on condition that he serve an additional ten years, with clear conduct in prison before being eligible for release.

Oscar didn’t accept the president’s offer, as the offer did not include all the Puerto Rican political prisoners and from his experiences in prison, he thought his jailers would make it very difficult for him to successfully carry out these conditions. Under the conditions of Clinton’s offer he would have been released in 2009.

The other Puerto Rican political prisoner not included in Clinton’s proposal, Carlos Alberto Torres, was released in July 2010, after serving 30 years in prison.

In January 2010, Mark Tanner, the US Parole Commission’s hearing examiner, convened a hearing in the Terre Haute (Indiana) prison, to review the request of Oscar López Rivera, 67 years old, for release on parole.

As evidence of support for Oscar’s release about 15,000 letters were sent to the parole board and US President Obama asking for clemency. Oscar’s defence attorney Jan Susler argued that he met the criteria for release, has been a model prisoner, and was never accused of any rules violations. Moreover, that his release would not lessen the seriousness of charges (true or false) or promote disrespect for the law, and that a freed Rivera wouldn’t jeopardise public welfare.

Despite these efforts, on January 5 a US Parole Commission recommended he remain in prison until his mandatory 2023 release date or serve another 12 to 15 years before parole reconsideration, whichever comes first. During the hearing a seven-page political diatribe against Rivera was introduced, listing unrelated acts and unsupported conclusions.

Oscar enjoys wide support among the Puerto Rican people. Oscar’s supporters include the Puerto Rican Senate and the House of Representatives, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, several former governors, almost every religious denomination, labour unions, academics, mayors, city councils, community and human rights activists. He also has a great deal of support in the Puerto Rican community and the wider community in the USA, amongst them members of the Puerto Rican Democrats in the US Congress. International supporters include Anglican Archbishop, the Reverend Desmond Tutu and the World Federation of Trade Unions (Region of the Americas).

It is important to note that under United Nations Resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960, it states that colonialism is an international crime and that a colonised people have every right to use whatever means necessary to end their colonial plight (which includes armed struggle). This international resolution makes Puerto Rico’s colonial reality and the imprisonment of the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners an international crime and human rights violations. Puerto Rico’s colonial reality cannot be ignored.

The National Boricua Human Rights Network has launched the second phase of the campaign for Oscar López Rivera’s freedom. With a letter and fax campaign, the NBHRN are urging the parole commissioners to reject the wrong-headed and politically punitive recommendation of the parole examiner. We ask people to flood the Parole Board with letters. Send them to US Parole Commission, 5550 Friendship Boulevard, Suite 420, Chevy Chase, Maryland, 20815, USA. Please forward far and wide and post and repost. Visit: boricuahumanrights.org for more information.

“There is no justification for keeping Oscar Lopez in prison,” said Pedro Pierluisi, a leader of the New Progressive Party.

Oscar Lopez Rivera is in prison because of his commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico. He is the last of the Puerto Rican political prisoners still languishing in jail. His continued imprisonment is unjust and his release is long overdue. I urge you to add your voice to the campaign to free Oscar and do whatever you can to publicise his case.  

Next article – Palestine does not have to be a lost cause

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