“A rough guess would be at least a couple dozen times,” he says in an April 5 phone interview from Camuy, Puerto Rico. “I spent every Christmas in solitary for years.”
“It’s meant to demoralize you and break you,” Torres notes.
Torres was arrested in April 1980 along with 10 other supporters of Puerto Rican independence. They were framed up on charges of “seditious conspiracy,” armed robbery, and “terrorism,” accused of being members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation of Puerto Rico. At one point during his June 1980 trial, Torres was gagged for speaking Spanish in the courtroom.
In 1999 President William Clinton offered to pardon or commute the sentences of 14 Puerto Rican political prisoners, but not Torres or Haydée Beltrán, who was arrested with Torres. Clinton said Torres was a leader of the FALN and was for “revolution against the United States.”
Oscar López Rivera, framed up on similar charges in 1981, refused the offer of clemency, mainly because it was not offered to Torres or Beltrán. Torres was released on parole July 26, 2010.
Far from being broken, Torres has continued to speak out for independence for Puerto Rico, which is still a U.S. colony, and for freedom for Oscar López and other Puerto Rican political prisoners. He has made three trips to the U.S. since his release, to New York, Chicago and the West Coast to promote the campaign to free López.
Torres also became a ceramic artist in prison. His art can be seen at cemiceramica.com.
Although Torres faced years of harassment in prison, many of the other Puerto Rican political prisoners had it worse, Torres says.
The U.S. prison population “exploded from when I first went to prison,” Torres noted. “The Bureau of Prisons couldn’t build prisons fast enough and they started building specialized prisons where the whole prison was an isolation unit, like in Marion, Illinois.”
“That’s where they put Oscar López, right from the beginning,” he says. “And two of the women political prisoners, Haydée Beltrán and Ida Luz Rodríguez, were kept in total isolation” for months in West Virginia.
Political work in prison“When we went to jail we knew that as revolutionaries it was our responsibility to continue the struggle the best way we could,” Torres explains. “That translated mostly to looking for ways to raise awareness among other prisoners, the social prisoners.
“The majority of prisoners hadn’t heard about the independence movement. Some thought we were a U.S. state, others thought we were already independent. But with rare exceptions, I was able to present the facts so that people could understand.”
Torres also got involved in fights to improve prison conditions. “In my first years in jail in Pontiac, Illinois, we actually put out a clandestine mimeographed newspaper, the Emancipator, which addressed some of the problems.” Over the years he also participated in organizing classes for illiterate inmates as well as AIDS awareness, Black history, and violence against women programs.
In all the dozen or so prisons where Torres was held, he reports, prisoners would receive newspapers published in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, including the Militant from time to time.
“We always shared them. The papers never made it to the garbage can. It was a newspaper train,” he says. “Sometimes someone would pass an issue back to you years later.”
In jail with one of Cuban FiveIn February 2002, while Torres was in the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisc., Fernando González, one of the Cuban Five, was transferred there.
“A Cuban guy who had left Cuba during Mariel and was being held on immigration charges told me a new Cuban had arrived,” said Torres.
“Somehow we bumped into each other and we got to talk. It was enlightening for me because although I was a bit familiar with the case of the five, I didn’t know how they were arrested and what their experience had been, how they were sentenced.
“Fernando had an endless well of books and he would share them,” Torres recalls. “You read constantly in prison so to have a person who has all these books, it was great for me. During our five years together we became close friends.”
Torres says he is optimistic about the fight for Puerto Rican independence and to free Oscar López.
In his tours he tells people, “We really should have a sense of urgency in relation to Oscar because he’s 69 and he’s been down in prison 31 years and has received the worst treatment. The reaction has been positive when I say we have to stand up and do something.”
For more information on the fight to free the Puerto Rican political prisoners, visit boricuahumanrights.org and prolibertadweb.tripod.com.
Write Oscar López Rivera in prison: #87651-024, FCI Terre Haute, PO Box 33, Terre Haute, IN 47808.
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