At 7:30 a.m. López Rivera, now 74 years old but looking fit, walked out of his daughter Clarisa’s apartment, where he had been under house arrest for the final three months of confinement. He was greeted by some 50 supporters and serenaded by the student choir of the University of Puerto Rico before being driven to a federal office to have his electronic ankle bracelet removed.
Later he was joined by dozens of jubilant supporters at a news conference held in El Escambrón beach park, in front of the Caribbean waters he had long dreamed about seeing again.
He was accompanied by Clarisa López, other independence fighters who had spent time in U.S. prisons, a lively contingent of the group “35 Women for Oscar” — both from here and from New York — and students on strike at the University of Puerto Rico. Also bringing solidarity was a delegation from the Socialist Workers Party headed by Osborne Hart, SWP candidate for mayor of New York.
“There are two things I know how to do — fight and work,” López replied when asked about his plans.
He said he will visit all 78 towns and cities across the island to listen to what people have to say, both about the catastrophic conditions Puerto Ricans face today under U.S. colonial rule and how best to free themselves from it.
That afternoon more than 2,000 people turned out for a celebration of his release.
Thanks supporters worldwide
In face of a growing international campaign for López’s release, President Barack Obama commuted his sentence May 17 just before leaving office.
López thanked the Human Rights Committee in Puerto Rico and the U.S.-based National Boricua Human Rights Network for their years of persistent work, as well as “35 Women for Oscar,” which held monthly rallies in San Juan, New York and Chicago to demand the U.S. government free him.
He expressed gratitude for the support of unions, community organizations, and others around the world, including the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and “very especially Cuba.” He made special mention of the five Cuban revolutionaries who also spent years in U.S. prisons on frame-up charges.
López received congratulations by phone from Fernando González, one of the Cuban Five and now president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). González had shared a cell with him for more than four years in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Cuban President Raúl Castro sent him a message saying, “History will not forget your steadfastness and loyalty to the cause of independence of Puerto Rico, which is essential for Our America.” López will visit Cuba in November.
Oscar López was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Chicago when he was 14. Drafted into the U.S. Army, he was sent to fight in Washington’s war against Vietnam, an experience that he said “transformed me.” After returning to Chicago he joined protests against cop brutality, job discrimination, and poor housing, and for bilingual education. He became committed to the fight to free Puerto Rico from U.S. colonial rule.
López was among a group of independence fighters who in 1980–81 were arrested and accused of being members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which took credit for bombings of U.S. businesses with ties to Puerto Rico. He was sentenced to 55 years of prison on trumped-up charges, including “seditious conspiracy.” Subsequently a court increased his sentence to 70 years.
Resistance to growing colonial crisis
At the press conference the independence fighter condemned “the criminal junta” — the U.S. government-imposed Fiscal Oversight and Management Board — that has dictatorial powers over Puerto Rico’s budget. Its job is to maximize payment on the $74 billion debt owed to wealthy bondholders.
Over the past decade the Puerto Rican government has laid off 30,000 public employees, hiked sales taxes, frozen public workers’ wages and closed schools. The health care system is on the verge of collapse, with brutal cuts in Medicaid funding and an exodus of doctors and nurses to the United States.
López denounced “the local elite that has helped Washington and Wall Street run the colony since 1898, when the U.S. government militarily invaded and occupied Puerto Rico, to the present day.”
“What quality of life do the colonialists offer the people?” he asked. “All they know how to do is to squeeze the last dollar from the pockets of every Puerto Rican who works and sweats for our country.”
He saluted the students at the University of Puerto Rico who have been on strike since the end of March to oppose projected cuts of $450 million — a third of the university’s budget.
The independence fighter called for the unity of all those working for the decolonization of Puerto Rico, both on the island and among the growing numbers of Puerto Ricans living in the United States.
The afternoon “Welcome Home Oscar” rally filled the Río Piedras square. It was a festive event, with performances by Andy Montañez, Roy Brown and other musicians. It closed with brief remarks by López and longtime independentista Rafael Cancel Miranda, who read a poem entitled “No me arrepiento” (I have no regrets).
The following day López flew to Chicago to take part in celebrations there, and then back to Puerto Rico, where he was welcomed in San Sebastián, the rural town where he was born. The town hall meeting drew veteran Nationalists, younger independence fighters and activists in the fight to stop coal ash contamination in the town of Peñuelas.
Accompanied by his brother and sisters, López was welcomed by the town’s mayor, Javier Jiménez, of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. The mayor’s presence underscored the breadth of support won in the fight for López’s freedom.
López told the crowd that Puerto Ricans are told the island is too small and lacking in natural resources to become a sovereign nation. “But our principal resource is the human beings” of Puerto Rico, who have demonstrated their ability to create and to fight, he said.
The fight for Puerto Rico’s independence is strengthened by international struggles, he noted. “It’s part of the fight for a better world.”
Socialist Workers Party brings solidarity to Puerto Rico
Oscar López in Chicago: US colonialism is a crime
Oscar López schedule
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