Puerto Rican Independence Party welcomes Oscar López Rivera
SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) welcomed on Thursday activist Oscar López Rivera, who was liberated the day before after serving 36 years in federal prison for acts linked to the Armed National Liberation Front (FALN by its Spanish initials).
“Oscar has the enormous satisfaction of knowing that his prison martyrdom and the stoical dignity with which he faced it has served to continue to pave the difficult terrain of our libertarian struggle, and that the assured eventual triumph of independence will be the best monument to his sacrifice and steadfastness,” PIP President Rubén Berríos Martínez said.
In written statements issued by his office, the veteran independence leader said he met López Rivera several years ago when he visited him in a federal prison stateside, and more recently at his daughter’s residence in San Juan, where he served the last few days of his 55-year prison sentence.
“As of today, when you will enjoy full personal freedom, thousands upon thousands of Puerto Ricans will have the opportunity that I had, to know this example of the unshakable historical tradition of consecration and loyalty without limits to the cause of our national independence,” the PIP leader said.
The pro-independence activist walked out on the street Wednesday with a big smile on his face, determined to continue fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence, a commitment he has made in the city of Chicago, where he emigrated from a very young age.
After he completed his sentence, López Rivera thanked everyone who contributed to his release, while accompanied by his daughter and other local political figures, such as San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
“I come to fight and to work […] My spirit, my dignity and my honor are much younger today than the day I entered prison,” López Rivera said in his first publicly made statements,.
“I have found a Puerto Rico in a worse condition than I expected” after three decades, he later said in a press conference in Puerta de Tierra while accompanied by friends, family and his daughter, Clarisa.
“We have to take something positive out of every negative thing,” he said as he pointed out that the historical occasion is beginning to shape something positive, and stressed that these moments are significant after the U.S. government reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s colonial status.
In a message to the press, the former FALN leader said, among other things, that “during the years I spent in prison I always lived hopeful that I would someday return to my beloved homeland. Today is that day, although I have spent three months and eight days in Puerto Rico under strict home confinement restrictions.”
He also thanked the governments and people of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba and former Uruguayan President José Mujica, former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and his fellow former political prisoners for their pro-independence activism.
Regarding the former presidents, he said their decisions “made it possible for Puerto Rican political prisoners to no longer be in U.S. prisons, and that it was our people, the only ones to have achieved the release of their political prisoners.”
López Rivera reiterated he was not affiliated to the FALN attack on the Fraunces Tavern restaurant, which occurred on Jan. 24, 1975, in New York. He said he was in Puerto Rico then. “I don’t have blood in my hands, I can’t be a terrorist,” he added.
“Vieques gave us the example that we can unite without [resorting to] violence,” he said regarding his decision to give up the armed struggle.
In another part of his exchange with journalists, López Rivera expressed his solidarity with University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students on strike: “My heart and my spirit is with them,” he said.
As for the fiscal oversight board created by the federal Promesa law, which controls Puerto Rico’s public finances, he said it is an organization that has come to loot Puerto Rico.
López Rivera was sentenced in 1981 to 55 years in prison for seditious conspiracy in connection with the FALN and, subsequently, 15 more years were added to his sentence for an alleged escape attempt. Out of that sentence, López Rivera served 35 years in prison, 12 of which were in solitary confinement. On Jan. 17, then-President Barack Obama commuted his sentence.
López Rivera traveled to Chicago on Thursday, where he had moved to during his childhood and will be received by the city’s large Puerto Rican community.
López Rivera was welcomed Wednesday by more than a hundred people, who greeted him with affection during his first moments of freedom.
Even though the FBI never accused López Rivera, who was one of FALN’s main leaders, of participating in the 1975 bomb attack at Wall Street’s Fraunces Tavern restaurant, he always objected to any formal attempt at liberation. In that attack there were four victims and more than 60 injured.
Contrary to the clemency granted by President Bill Clinton in 1999 to FALN members and Los Macheteros, in the case of López Rivera, the head of the U.S. Justice Department recommended the commutation of his sentence.