The fight to release Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera continues to gain momentum and followers.
López Rivera, 71, has been imprisoned for 33 years in the United States charged with “seditious conspiracy” and “conspiracy to escape” for which he received a 70-year sentence. He is a fighter for the independence of Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States. Politicians, artists, and many people across different ideologies have united to ask US President Barack Obama to pardon López Rivera, who has been called the longest held political prisoner in the western hemisphere.
His case has received attention in recent weeks in various media outlets and at the United Nations from people who support his release.
In a letter to digital magazine 80, blogger, poet, and sociologist Guillermo Rebollo Gil reacted to an editorial published in June in the most circulated newspaper in Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Día, criticizing the way it tried to depoliticize López Rivera's imprisonment. The text in the editorial that Rebollo Gil found objectionable was the following:
Porque Oscar López Rivera, al margen de su ideología y de sus aspiraciones, es un ciudadano que dedicó dos años de su vida al servicio militar activo, en la guerra de Vietnam, y que se sacrificó duramente por el mismo Estados Unidos que ahora se empeña en mantenerlo aislado, tratando de acallar los reclamos para que lo excarcelen e intentando mantenerlo fuera del foco de la atención mundial.
Because Oscar López River, regardless of his ideology and aspirations, is a citizen who dedicated two years of his life to active military service in the Vietnam War, and harshly sacrificed himself for the very United States that now insists upon keeping him isolated, trying to quell claims to release him and trying to keep him out of the focus of the world's attention.
Rebollo Gil noted the importance of the fact that López Rivera's case is not merely framed as a matter of humanitarian concern, and urged people to remember why it is that he is a political prisoner. El Nuevo Día, the newspaper owned by the politically conservative Ferré Rangel family, published a series of López Rivera's letters from prison.
Que el Grupo Ferré Rangel, “al margen” de su ideología y sus intereses económicos, interese unirse al reclamo por la excarcelación de Oscar López Rivera, no le da la potestad para despolitizar la figura de Oscar. Su excarcelación no es un mero issue de interés humanitario. Oscar López Rivera es un prisionero político. Preso—es decir, marginado brutalmente—por “su ideología y sus aspiraciones.” Oscar es padre y abuelo y hermano, y escribe cartas preciosas. Es cierto. Son las cartas de un independentista puertorriqueño, injustamente encarcelado cuando era joven y bigotudo y pelú. Hoy es viejo y hermoso. Pero igualmente revolucionario. Sépase.
Even if the Ferré Rangel Group, “on the outside” of their ideology and economic interests, were interested in joining the cry for Oscar López Rivera's release, it doesn't have the power to depoliticize the figure of Oscar. His release is not a mere issue of humanitarian interest. Oscar López River is a political prisoner. Prisoner — meaning brutally marginalized — for “his ideology and aspirations.” Oscar is a father and grandfather and brother, and he writes beautiful letters. It's true. They are the letters of a Puerto Rican who is pro-independence, unjustly imprisoned when he was young, had a mustache and long hair. Now he is old and beautiful. But still the same revolutionary. Let it be known.
Poet Manuel Martínez Maldonado analyzed in an article for the magazine “Cruce” the injustice of having someone imprisoned for so much time for “seditious conspiracy,” a charge that historically the U.S. government has used to abuse anyone who disagrees with their discourse of power:
Es difícil ver, cuando no hay una guerra que represente el famoso “clear and present danger”, cómo abogar por la autonomía o independencia de Puerto Rico puede representar un riesgo a la estabilidad de los Estados Unidos. En el caso particular de Oscar López Rivera, encarcelado en 1981, sin haber sido acusado o convicto de ningún delito de violencia, el cargo de conspiración sediciosa es particularmente difícil de entender. [...] ¿Cómo puede ser una amenaza contra el gobierno y sus armas un hombre anónimo y envejecido, no importa lo que diga o lo que piense?
It is difficult to see, when there is no war that represents the famous “clear and present danger,” how advocating for Puerto Rico's autonomy or independence can pose a risk to the stability of the United States. In the particular case of Oscar López Rivera, imprisoned in 1981, without having been accused or convicted of any felony, the charge of seditious conspiracy is especially difficult to understand. [...] How can an anonymous and elderly man, regardless of what he says or thinks, be a threat to the government and its weapons?
Just outside the United Nations headquarters, there were demonstrations for López Rivera's release while the Decolonization Committee was holding its annual meeting. Inside, Eduardo Villanueva Muñoz, spokesman for the Puerto Rican Human Rights Committee, dedicated his presentation to López Rivera in a talk before the committee, which has considered the case of Puerto Rico each year since 1972:
Oscar López ha cumplido ejemplarmente su rol de ser símbolo de resistencia y lucha para su pueblo. Por eso sus ideales se mantienen vigentes y en mi país hay lucha comunitaria, lucha ambiental, lucha contra el racismo y la discriminación, lucha por mejores empleos y salarios justos, lucha en defensa del idioma vernáculo (el español) y la cultura que nos distingue como nación. Mil años de encierro no pueden servir para destruir esos ideales que son consustanciales a la naturaleza de las naciones, que aunque no tengan soberanía, culturalmente son naciones claramente diferenciables en el concierto de naciones del mundo. Mantener a Oscar López preso no sirve para disuadir a los que creen en sus ideales, al contrario son un estímulo para continuar la lucha y mantener sus ideales vigentes.
Oscar López has fulfilled his role of being a symbol of resistance and struggle for his people in an exemplary fashion. As such his ideals are still valid and in my country this are community struggles, environmental struggles, the fight against racism and discrimination, the fight for better jobs and wages, the fight in defense of the vernacular language (Spanish) and for the culture that distinguishes us as a nation. A thousand years of confinement cannot serve to destroy those ideals that are inherent to the nature of nations, that even without sovereignty are clearly culturally different nations in the concert of the world's nations. Keeping Oscar López a prisoner serves no deterrent to those who believe in his ideals, but on the contrary encourages them to continue the fight and maintain his ideals in full force.
Increased activity for López Rivera's release can be expected after the U.S. congressional elections in November, since President Barack Obama, now in his final term, will be able to make more decisions without having to consider their possible political cost. Meanwhile, people around the world are continuing to ensure that López Rivera's case does not become invisible.