Born in Puerto Rico, López moved to Chicago when he was 14 years old and was later drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam. He grew to oppose the war and joined the fight to win freedom for the five Nationalists and independence for Puerto Rico. He was arrested in 1981 and railroaded to jail on frame-up charges of “seditious conspiracy.” Despite more than 12 years in solitary confinement and being required to report to prison authorities every two hours during the day, the U.S. government has been unable to break López’s spirit or opposition to U.S. colonial rule.
I used to go every Saturday to get a haircut and I heard the barbers and another client talking about Puerto Rican independence and the five political prisoners who were in federal prisons. They caught my attention. Up to that moment I knew nothing about the Five — Lolita Lebrón, Irving Flores, Andrés Figueroa Cordero, Rafael Cancel Miranda and Oscar Collazo López. The gentleman who was explaining what was going on was a Nationalist who often made the rounds where young people were hanging out. He would talk to us about them and ask us to get involved in the struggle. And that was how I started to take interest in the campaign for the freedom of our Five National Heroes.
Unjust and criminal Vietnam WarBecause those were times when the issue of the opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam was very prevalent, one of the first things I discovered about Rafael was that he had dared to refuse being drafted by the U.S. armed forces. He had done what I had refused to do. Because I didn’t want to go to prison I allowed myself to be drafted by the U.S. Army and ended up participating in an unjust and criminal war.
I became an opponent of the war once I had experienced it and knew how devastating and horrible it was. But Rafael at a very young age had had the courage to stand strong on his patriotism, on his profound love for Puerto Rico, for freedom and justice and had opted to go to prison rather than be used as cannon fodder in the wars the U.S. government was waging. He was about the same age I was in 1967 when on the first of March 1954 he had decided along with Lolita, Andrés and Irving to bring the issue of Puerto Rico’s colonial status to the U.S. Congress to let the world know what the U.S. government was doing to Puerto Rico. And what he and his compañeros did and the fact they were willing to sacrifice their lives to save our beloved homeland meant a great deal to me. They had set an example I chose to try to emulate.
Campaign for freedomSoon the campaign for their freedom started to take shape in Chicago. The campaign was already gaining momentum in Puerto Rico and in New York City. When I started knocking on doors and talking with community residents I was surprised to find out that some of them remembered both cases — the 1950 attack on Blair House carried out by Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo López and the 1954 one carried out by Lolita, Irving, Andrés and Rafael — and that most of them thought they were no longer in prison. They showed interest and concern for their plight and responded positively to the campaign for their freedom. While working on their campaign one of the moments I remember most was when Rev. José A. Torres suggested we name our escuelita puertorriqueña Rafael Cancel Miranda. And for a decade we were able to see the campaign gain more and more support until Sept. 10, 1979, when four of our Five National Heroes came home from prison.
During the 37 years that Rafael has been out of prison he has stood firm on his patriotism with his profound love for Puerto Rico, for freedom and justice, with his solidarity with the different factions of the independence movement and with Cuba, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, with the FMLN in El Salvador, with the Palestinian struggle, with the Zapatistas in Mexico et al. He is not only our national hero but also a real universal citizen.
Only 23 months after the release of our Five National Heroes I was sent to USP Leavenworth, the same prison where Oscar Collazo and Irving Flores had been released. But from the moment I walked into that gulag I knew I had the example of our Five National Heroes. And for over 35 years, especially Rafael has been my fountain of strength, hope and courage.
In 1986 I was sent to USP Marion, from where Rafael had been released. There were there several prisoners who knew him. They constantly asked me about him and how he was doing. The love and respect they had for him was immense and to this day I still run into prisoners who ask about him. I share with them photos, books and articles I have of Rafael. And when I have had the opportunity to talk with Rafael I tell them how he is doing.
I have seen Rafael only twice, in courts while on trial. We have not had many conversations. But there have been moments when I have heard him being interviewed. There is one interview that stands strong in my mind, it was by Radio Havana Cuba and he was accompanied by his beloved Angie. And I could sense in the middle of the night how much love Rafael has for our beloved homeland, but also for the struggle for a better and more just world.
I also heard an interview made in Nicaragua and again his words were the ones of the patriot who stands on his commitment to fight for freedom and justice and of the universal citizen who will never stop struggling for the independence and sovereignty of our beloved homeland, and supporting every organization that needs his support.
He is my mentor, my brother and my compañero forever. Let’s keep his example alive and let’s honor him every day by making his example our legacy. Much love to all. Let’s dare to struggle and let’s dare to win.
En resistencia y lucha,
Oscar López Rivera
Terre Haute, Indiana