Michael Rodríguez Muñiz –
Puerto Ricans have a long history of fighting for the release of their patriots. This tradition began nearly two centuries ago with the struggle to free Puerto Rico’s first political prisoner, Mercedes Barbudos. Whenever Puerto Ricans have been incarcerated for resistance to colonial authority – whether Spanish or American – campaigns have emerged to demand their liberation. The contemporary moment, like the recent past, is no different. Today, there is a growing movement seeking the release of the longest held political prisoners in Puerto Rican and Latin American history, Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar López Rivera.
Last month, just days after International Human Rights Day on December 10 and a week prior to the anniversary of the adoption of the Puerto Rican flag on December 22, over 130 people gathered in New York City to discuss the future of the campaign for the immediate release of these two freedom fighters. The central topic was the somber fact that 2010 marks the 30th year and 29th year of Torres and López Rivera’s incarceration, respectively.
For the past three decades, they have endured the harsh separation from their families and community, as well as abuses suffered in prison. Charged with seditious conspiracy, Torres and López Rivera were imprisoned for their activity in support of Puerto Rican independence, a struggle for freedom legitimated by the United Nations protocol on colonialism.
The December 12 event was convened by the National Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN), an organization dedicated to the liberation of the Puerto Rican political prisoners and other human rights causes. Held at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, the gathering was attended by religious and civic leaders, youth, artists, community activists, and elected officials from throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Participants came from Detroit, MI; Providence, RI; Fitchburg, MA; Boston, MA; Springfield, MA; Cleveland, OH; Los Angeles, CA; and Philadelphia, PA.
Several prominent religious leaders attended the event, including Reverends Pedro Windsor (Chicago), Raymond Rivera (New York), Nozomi Ikuta (Cleveland) and Matt Meyer (New York). Artists such as Miguel Luciano, Tania Fronteras, Melissa Montero, Teresita Ayala and others also joined the event.
In attendance were former political prisoners Ricardo Jiménez, Adolfo Matos and Luis Rosa, who forcefully expressed the importance of building a movement of the same magnitude that successfully won their release in 1999. They called for renewed energy and unity among Puerto Rican communities in the Diaspora and in Puerto Rico, as well as among progressive sectors in the U.S. and abroad. New York Assemblyman, José Rivera and Executive Director of Chicago’s Puerto Rican Cultural Center and brother of Oscar López Rivera, José E. López, also made impassioned remarks.
In enthusiastic breakout sessions many creative ideas and plans were discussed. In upcoming months, these discussions will materialize in the form of specific events to be coordinated throughout the United States. For instance, events will be held in several cities of the U.S. and Puerto Rico on April 4 to commemorate the 30th year of Carlos Alberto Torres’ imprisonment. For this date, NBHRN chapters in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York will be organizing a special interactive art installation to dramatize the political prisoner’s incarceration. One of the most exciting developments was José Rivera’s idea on the possible hosting of a major concert dedicated to Torres and López Rivera before New York’s Puerto Rican parade.
In the final decades of the 20th century, the Puerto Rican people have won the freedom of two generations of Puerto Rican freedom fighters, the Nationalist Five in 1977 and 11 Puerto Rican political prisoners in 1999. Invoking this legacy, the national gathering in New York symbolizes a renewed movement to release two individuals, who have spent already more than a lifetime in prison for the freedom of a people.
For more information on the campaign, visit www.boricuahumanrights.org.