Her tour promoted the new book Cartas a Karina, a collection of 19 letters by Oscar López to Clarisa’s daughter Karina. López, now 73, has been jailed in the United States for more than 35 years.
The story of his political awakening after being drafted into the U.S. Army in June 1965 and sent to Vietnam, his steadfast commitment to the fight of the Puerto Rican people against colonial rule, and his outrage over the inhumane treatment of fellow prisoners by the U.S. “justice” system are eloquently captured in the pages of the book.
Nearly 100 people listened as professors and students read several of the letters aloud at the Hostos meeting. Professor Ana López, who chaired, said that now is a good time to step up the pressure on President Barack Obama to commute López’s sentence.
Born in Puerto Rico, the son of a small farmer, Oscar López moved to Chicago when he was 14. After his father abandoned the family, he dropped out of community college and went to work.
In one of the letters López recalls how he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where his squad was ordered to occupy a small village. One day, a young peasant approached him “put his arm next to mine, and said, ‘same thing,’” he writes. “We had the same arms, sinewy from hard work.”
A few nights later the squad commander ordered them to open fire after some noise was heard outside their camp. The next day they learned they had killed the villagers’ only water buffalo, crucial for working the rice fields. The young man who had showed López his arm was crying over it. Experiences like this turned López into an opponent of U.S. imperialism.
When he returned to Chicago in 1967, López joined fights against substandard housing, racist discrimination and police brutality. In another letter he describes how Charles Brown, president of what was then Illinois Bell, had refused to meet with protesters demanding the company hire Latinos and open bilingual offices in the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities.
They went to Brown’s church and made a presentation about their fight. Later they got a call from one of the parishioners giving them Brown’s address. Buses of Latino workers and their families headed to Brown’s home and held a picnic protest around his pool. In the end Illinois Bell agreed to their demands.
López was arrested in May 1981. Prosecutors claimed that he, and 11 others arrested the year before, were members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a group that took credit for a series of bombings protesting U.S. colonial rule in Puerto Rico. They had no physical evidence that López was involved in any act of violence. Instead, he was found guilty of “seditious conspiracy” and interstate transport of weapons. He was sentenced to 55 years in jail.
Five years later López was framed on new charges of conspiring to escape. For the next 12 years he was kept in solitary confinement at federal prisons in Marion, Illinois, and Florence, Colorado.
Clarisa López read from one of her letters in the book, describing those 12 years. “Our visits were through a glass, a cubicle with two telephones and two chairs,” she said. “They would escort you, handcuffed, with 6 or 8 guards.”
She wrote that when she was a teenager she asked her father why he dedicated his life to the struggle for independence of Puerto Rico as opposed to being with his family. But she said she grew to understand that “you desired that my generation and those to come would have a better and a more just world” and that “for you it is not, nor was it, a sacrifice.”
To find out how to get the book, go to bit.ly/cartas-a-karina.