Puerto Ricans Stage Symbolic Jailing in San Juan to Free Oscar López Rivera

Today in Old San Juan San Juan, a symbolic jailing is occurring at the Plaza de Las Armas to bring global attention to the freedom of Oscar López Rivera, a political prisoner who has been incarcerated for 32 years in a U.S. federal prison.

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El Nuevo Día is covering the event via a livestream and periodic updates. According to reports, several prominent Puerto Ricans, including pro-statehood Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez, writer Mayra Montero, senator María de Lourdes Santiago, Dr. José Vargas Vidot, pro-statehood leader Iván Rodríguez Cancel, actor René Monclova, comedian Víctor Alicea and business leader Atilano Cordero Badillo, are participating. Later in the afternoon, Franciscan priest Ángel Darío Carrero and singer Chuco Avellanet are expected to jail themselves.

“When one thinks of how oppressive this small space can be, I have only been in it for a half-hour, while Oscar has now been in jail for 32 years, more than any other political prisoner on this planet. I believe that this reaffirms our votes for his freedom, a struggle that Puerto Ricans of all political ideologies are a part of,” Santiago said.

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ProLibertadWeb.com offers more context about López Rivera:

[López Rivera] was active in various community struggles, mainly in the area of health care, employment and police brutality. He also participated in the development of the Committee to Free the Five Puerto Rican Nationalists. In 1975, he was forced underground, along with other comrades. He was captured on May 29, 1981, after 5 years of being persecuted by the FBI as one of the most feared fugitives from US “justice”.

Oscar, who has a daughter named Clarissa, is currently serving a 55-year sentence for seditious conspiracy and other charges. He was convicted of conspiracy to escape along with Jaime Delgado, (a veteran independence leader), Dora Garcia, (a prominent community activist) and Kojo Bomani-Sababu, a New Afrikan political prisoner.

Oscar was one of 12 Puerto Rican political prisoners offered some form of leniency by the Clinton Administration in the fall of 1999. According to the Chicago Sun Times, he “declined the president’s offer, which still would have him left with 10 years to serve on conspiracy to escape charges. Now he faces at least 20 more years in prison. His sister, Zenaida Lopez, said he turned the offer down because he would be on parole. ‘Accepting what they are offering him is like prison outside of prison,’ she said. Zenaida Lopez said her brother ‘was in total agreement’ with the decision of the 11 others to take the conditional clemency.” Oscar is presently in prison in Terre Haute, Indiana and his release date is 7/27/2027.

A 2012 post from The American Spectator calls López Rivera an “unrepentant terrorist.”

Lopez continued to make unrepentant comments well into the 1990s. He told the AP in 1998 that he had no regrets. “The whole thing of contrition, atonement, I have problems with that.” In 1995, Judge McMillen had told the Chicago Tribune that pardoning terrorists would send out the wrong message and that the FALN had “used weapons and bombs… they should serve out their sentences.”

Besides the numerous felonies that Lopez and the other members of the FALN were convicted of (which included numerous weapons and bomb-making charges), all of them also shared one underlying crime: seditious conspiracy. It is described in the U.S. Code as to “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States…”
In other words, a pure definition of terror. The FALN would set off nearly 140 bombs over nine years, killing six and injuring scores more. A police officer was also killed in Mexico after a shootout with FALN members.

Their closely allied group, the Macheteros, would kill six more. Their members have continued to foment violence over the years, and some of them remain at large, including Victor Gerena, who has been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list for a record 26 years. Fellow Machetero Filiberto Ojeda-Rios, who is also suspected of having direct ties to the FALN, died in a violent shootout in 2005. A third member of the group remains in prison.

And some of the former FALN members working to obtain Lopez’s release who expressed “remorse” in the past in order to obtain their own freedom now show none, including Carlos Torres and Alberto Rodriguez. Another FALN member, bomb-maker William Morales, escaped from custody in 1979 and is currently in Cuba.

Last week President Obama said the following:

For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, helping to explode our deficits and constraining our ability to nation-build here at home. Our servicemembers and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation — and world — that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. And to define that strategy, we have to make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom. That begins with understanding the current threat that we face.

One wonders what this country will gain by keeping López Rivera in jail. How much of a “threat” is he really, given that the violence that emerged from a struggle for the island’s independence is part of a different bygone era. Is “warfare” against those who support independence for Puerto Rico still a national priority? What does the United States gain from keeping López Rivera in jail?

Today in San Juan, Puerto Ricans have put aside their political ideologies to free one of their own. It is truly a rare moment in the island’s history, and the Obama administration should base its decision to free López Rivera on “hard-earned wisdom.”

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