Oscar López Rivera has already spent 32 years in prison in the United States. It is said that he is the longest-serving political prisoner in the western hemisphere. Originally, he was sentenced to 55 years for “seditious conspiracy”; later another 15 were added for a total of 70 years, due to an alleged escape attempt. The only crime he committed was to fight for Puerto Rican independence.
Puerto Rico has been under the dominion of the United States since the invasion of the Island in 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War. Since then, there has been a series of struggles by groups seeking to free Puerto Rico from United States control through armed combat, perhaps the most dramatic example of these conflicts being the nationalist uprising of 1950 in the town of Jayuya.
In the case of Oscar López, even the United States government recognized, under the presidency of Bill Clinton, that the sentence that Oscar is serving is disproportional to the charges brought against him. In 1999, President Clinton offered him a pardon, but Oscar rejected it because his comrades, prisoners like him, would continue to be deprived of their freedom.
Oscar, like other comrades who have been imprisoned for fighting for Puerto Rican independence, assumed the status of prisoner of war on being an anticolonial combatant. He does not recognize the United States jurisdiction, and demands instead that an international tribunal bring him to trial, or one from a third country that is not involved in the conflict between the United States and Puerto Rico. As Alejandro Torres Rivera, writing for Red Betances [es] says:
De acuerdo con el Protocolo I de la Convención de Ginebra de 1949, la protección que dicho Convenio Internacional reconoce a los prisioneros de guerra, se extiende también a personas capturadas en conflictos o luchas contra la ocupación colonial, la ocupación de un país por parte de regímenes racistas y a aquellos otros que participan de luchas por la libre determinación de sus pueblos. Así lo ratifica también la Resolución 2852 (XXVI) de la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas de 20 de diciembre de 1971 y la Resolución 3103 (XXVIII) del 13 de diciembre de 1973, cuando establece:
“Todo participante en los movimientos de resistencia, luchando por la independencia y la autodeterminación si es arrestado, tiene que recibir el tratamiento estipulado en la Convención de Ginebra.”
De acuerdo con el referido protocolo, un prisionero de guerra no puede ser juzgado como un criminal común, mucho menos si la causa de tal procedimiento descansa en actos relacionados con su participación en una lucha anticolonial.
In accordance with Protocol I of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the protection that this International Agreement recognizes for prisoners of war, extends also to people caught in conflicts or struggles against colonial occupation, occupation of a country by racist regimes and to those others who participate in struggles for the self-determination of their peoples. It is also ratified by Resolution 2852 (XXVI) of the United Nations General Assembly of 20 December 1971 and Resolution 3103 (XXVIII) of December 13, 1973, when it is established that:
“All participants in the resistance movements, fighting for independence and self-determination, if arrested, must receive treatment as stipulated in the Geneva Convention.”
In accordance with the protocol referred to, a prisoner of war cannot be judged as a common criminal, much less if the cause of such a procedure rests on acts related to his or her participation in an anticolonial struggle.
Oscar López’ situation has united Puerto Ricans across ideologies. 32 x Oscar [es] was an event during the week of last May 29, the sad anniversary that marked his 32 years in prison, organized by a diverse group of Puerto Ricans who have a common goal: the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera.
This group of people, the majority of whom are women, will continue to meet on the last Sunday of every month until the United States government frees Oscar. (To see a photo gallery of the activity of 32 x Oscar, click here. [es])The campaign for Oscar's release has also hit social networks. There are various pages on Facebook that were set up to raise awareness about Oscar's situation and demand his release, among them, 32 x Oscar [es] and Free Oscar López Rivera Now. Also, there is a petition requesting that the president of the United States, Barrack Obama, grant Oscar López a pardon.
On the 32nd anniversary of Oscar's imprisonment, many people, including politicians, writers, actors, singers, artists, and individual citizens from different backgrounds, imprisoned themselves symbolically in protest against the unjust and lengthy sentence. The cells, designed by the artist Nick Quijano, have the same dimensions as Oscar's, and were located in public squares in various towns across Puerto Rico.The call for Oscar's release has found sympathy in the international community. The Anglican archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, has supported the case for his release:
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, writing for Cubadebate [es], has also joined the growing chorus of voices in favor of Oscar López's freedom:
Oscar López Rivera debe ser puesto en libertad ya, inmediatamente y sin condiciones. Esa es una decisión que puede tomar el Presidente Obama ahora mismo y hay que exigirle que lo haga sin más dilación. No debería ser difícil para él.
Después de todo, esa decisión la tomó Bill Clinton en 1999, hace ya catorce años. Si entonces Oscar no salió de la cárcel fue porque se negó a ello sino eran liberados también otros compañeros que estaban en prisión y ya han recuperado la libertad.
Oscar López Rivera should be released now, immediately and unconditionally. That is a decision President Obama can make right now, and it must be demanded that he do it without further delay. It should not be difficult for him.
After all, this decision was made by Bill Clinton in 1999, fourteen years ago. If Oscar did not leave the prison then, it was because he refused to do so unless the other colleagues who were with him in prison were also released, and they have already regained their freedom.
On his blog, filmmaker Vagabond Beaumont writes about his film Machetero, inspired by Oscar's life, reflecting on the unimaginable difficulty of being Oscar López Rivera:
The irony of Oscar’s situation is not lost on anyone who even takes a precursory look at Oscar’s life or at the history of US colonialism in Puerto Rico. Oscar Lopez Rivera is Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico is Oscar Lopez Rivera. It’s got to be unimaginably difficult to be a living symbol that most don’t want to pay attention to. It’s got to be unimaginably difficult to have your life reduced to that of a living martyr by both the US government that labels you a “terrorist” and to many Puerto Ricans who are reluctant to call him a hero and support him or his cause, much less follow his example.
The fight for Oscar's freedom continues, and it seems that it has more and more followers. It remains to be seen if President Obama, who was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, listens to the clamor for justice.