The spreading of exaggerations, distortions and outright falsehoods is a commonplace tactic of those in power. In the past several weeks, the international freedom campaign for Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera has suffered numerous attacks from the mainstream press and conservative pundits. López Rivera has been incarcerated since 1981 for his involvement in the Puerto Rican independence movement, a cause legitimated by international law and the United Nations protocol on decolonization. Before his imprisonment, he served as a community activist and founder of numerous grassroots community and educational organizations in Chicago. Though López Rivera counts on widespread support within the Puerto Rican/Latino community and progressive sectors around the globe, recent attacks by the Right have attempted to sabotage his appearance before the U.S. Parole Commission.
Using various media outlets, the opposition has tried to shift the debate through sensationalistic articles and opt-eds. The most recent article, published in the Sun Times, represents another propaganda piece masquerading as journalism. In the article, “Gutierrez pushes for release of imprisoned former Chicago FALN leader,” author Dave Mckinney advances unsubstantiated and ideologically-motivated claims, which virtually – and this I suspect is no coincidence – the official line of the F.B.I. and broader ‘intelligence’ community. This most recent article, just as those that preceded it, have displaced the facts, drawn convenient connections without evidence, and constructed an ‘objective’ narrative devoid of journalist integrity. This, of course, is not surprising and to be expected. Notwithstanding, it is important to set these falsifications straight and maintain the legitimacy and humanity of the campaign to free Oscar López Rivera.
One of the consistent threads in opposition articles is the fallacious attribution of a host of actions to López Rivera. For instance, he is accused of planning and executing the 1974 bombing of Fraunces Traven. To be clear, there is no evidence tying López Rivera to this event. But conservative commentators will not be deterred by something as troublesome as ‘evidence.’ In their eyes, López Rivera is guilty; no matter what the evidence supports or what his conviction is based on. They obviously hold in contempt the old adage: innocent until proven guilty. What they want is for López Rivera to remain in jail for virtually the duration of his life regardless of the facts of the case. The opposition operates by a different code: guilt by suspected association. Though they have tried to muddle the truth, I should firmly stress that López Rivera was not convicted of harming anyone or causing bloodshed.
Right wing attacks against López Rivera’s campaign ignore the fact that he was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” and related charges. It is important to note that in the 20th century, this highly-political charge was almost exclusively used against Puerto Ricans advocating for Puerto Rican independence and other progressive, liberatory movements. One of the immense and tragic ironies of the case is the fact that Oscar López Rivera was convicted of the exact same charge as Nelson Mandela. While the U.S. government (now) hails Mandela as a symbol of freedom, López Rivera is depicted as an “unrepentant separatist” bent on violence. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Thus contrary to the claims of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, López Rivera is not a fanatical endorser of violence. In fact, he and all of the now freed Puerto Rican political prisoners have – on numerous occasions – renounced violence and have expressed a deep commitment to resolving Puerto Rico’s colonial status through civic means. Former President Clinton, who released 11 Puerto Ricans incarcerated for “seditious conspiracy” and offered to release López Rivera after an additional 10 years, affirmed publically that these individuals posed no threat to civil society. In contrast to the false allusions circulating the internet, López Rivera did not reject Clinton’s offer due to a commitment to violence. The truth of the matter is simply he did
not want to accept an offer not extended to all his co-defendants.
Each of the articles and blogs postings advocating the continued incarceration of López Rivera have unsuccessfully tried to wash away the wide and broad-based support for his release. In the past several months, over 20,000 letters of support have been sent to the Parole Commission. Support is also quite diverse, including community leaders, cultural workers, professors, politicians, family, and the public at large. As seen in the recent McKinney article, supporters of his release, like Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, have begun to be attacked directly in the press. The opposition fails not only to recognize the legitimacy of support, but also the fact that supporters like Gutiérrez are not alone. This freedom campaign counts on the expressed support of Congresspersons José Serrano and Nydia Velázquez (both of NY), Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, former Puerto Rico governor, Anibal Acevedo Vilá, mayors from across the island of Puerto Rico and elected officials from the following U.S. states: New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio. Moreover, he has received the support of Nobel Peace Prize honoree South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and religious leaders throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
For the past three decades – twelve of which spent in a sensory depravation unit – Oscar López Rivera has been confined inside prison walls. Though he was never convicted of taking a life or harming anyone, he has received a longer prison sentence typically given for murder, rape, or child molestation. A parole appointed examiner recently recommended that López Rivera serve an additional 15 years. Mind you, he is already 68 years old. In addition to attempting to erase the facts of his case, they have also tried to erase the fact that López Rivera is an accomplished writer, thinker and artist. They willfully ignore his history of community activism, his Bronze Medal of Honor received in Vietnam, and his life work of fighting for a more equitable and humanistic world. His family and the Nation of Puerto Rico desperately await his return to his homeland. His continued incarceration is a human rights violation of the first order. It is time to bring Oscar López Rivera home. Anything less is a grave injustice, motivated not by the facts of his case, but by an ideological agenda opposed to freedom. Free Oscar!
To support and learn more about the
Oscar López Rivera Freedom Campaign
Commentary by Michael Rodríguez Muñiz