But in a sign of the U.S. rulers’ concern about the support for López in Puerto Rico and the boost his return gives to the working-class struggle there, he remains under strict conditions of home confinement, including a ban on making any public statements, until his official release date of May 17. He is required to wear an electronic bracelet.
López was imprisoned on frame-up charges, primarily of seditious conspiracy, because of his activities in support of independence for Puerto Rico, a U.S. colony since 1898. He was accused of being a leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which took credit for bombings of businesses in the U.S. that operated in Puerto Rico. López was never charged with any act of violence.
Under the mounting pressure of the broad support in Puerto Rico and the U.S. for López’s release, then President Barack Obama commuted his sentence Jan. 17.
López’s daughter, his lawyer Jan Susler, U.S. Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, and Alejandro Molina, co-chair of the National Boricua Human Rights Network, greeted him outside the Terre Haute, Indiana, prison gates. They were later joined by Oscar’s brother José López, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
At a press conference in San Juan that evening, Clarisa López urged those in Puerto Rico who are anxious to see and speak with her father to be patient. “We can’t do anything that could give the U.S. Bureau of Prisons an excuse to return him to federal custody,” she said.
“On May 17 the big party starts,” she said. While still in prison, Oscar López made plans to visit every municipality in Puerto Rico to thank people for their support and promote the fight to end the island’s status as a U.S. colony.
“The U.S. government refuses to admit that it has any political prisoners,” Susler told the press. “But the way López has been treated proves that’s not true, including his more than 12 years in solitary confinement. After his sentence was commuted, prison officials insisted López keep reporting to guards every two hours,” she said.
López was turned over to the custody of Gutiérrez, on the condition that they make no stops in Chicago and that there be no organized welcome for him in Puerto Rico. When other Puerto Rican political prisoners were released earlier — including Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Oscar Colazo and Carlos Alberto Torres — they spoke to sizable rallies in Chicago.
When the delegation arrived at the prison to pick him up, López was holding a Puerto Rican flag, surrounded by guards armed with rifles, his daughter said.
“I’m not even allowed to say ‘thanks to you’ in the name of my father,” she said at the press conference, referring to the conditions of silence Washington has imposed. “So let me say ‘thanks from me.’”
José López described how his brother first became involved in a wide variety of struggles in Chicago. He moved there from Puerto Rico when he was 14 years old. He was later drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam.
“Oscar came back to Chicago in 1967, the year after one of the largest, if not the largest, rebellion of Puerto Ricans in the United States, the 12, 13 and 14 of June 1966,” Oscar’s brother said. “Puerto Ricans said they were no longer going to accept being completely marginalized from all aspects of what an ordinary citizen deserves in a society.”
“Oscar said that going to Vietnam was a mistake, to fight against a people who were fighting against colonialism, while in this city the police and national guard were shooting at Puerto Ricans,” José said.
Although Oscar López’s fight for release was supported across the political spectrum in Puerto Rico, not everyone on the island is pleased with his return.
Carmelo Ríos, spokesperson in the Puerto Rican Senate for the ruling New Progressive Party, currently the majority party, criticized those he charged were “exalting” someone who doesn’t deserve it. They have forgotten those of us “who didn’t go underground to see how we could undemocratically overthrow a government we don’t agree with,” he said.
Workers on the American Airlines flight to San Juan had a different attitude. “One of the flight attendants came up to Oscar as we were about to land,” San Juan Mayor Cruz told the press. “She gave him a wing pin and said ‘Bienvenido a su casa’ [Welcome home].
“Then the head of the flight attendants crew came up and said, ‘It’s an honor to have you with us, sir.’” Cruz added.
Thousands in Puerto Rico protest anti-labor measures
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